Music Interview: The Sweet Remains — Performing Only When the Stars Align
This is a folk/rock trio whose sound and haunting harmonies harken back to Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Eagles, and Simon & Garfunkel.
By Glenn Rifkin
Today’s music scene is marked by a legion of immensely skilled but generally undiscovered talent. Perhaps it’s always been this way, but given the advent of social media, the digitization of the record industry, and a direct pipeline to specifically-targeted audiences, the landscape is overcrowded with artists we may never discover.
These “famous to a few” songwriter/performers are a hearty lot, undaunted by missing out on the elusive taste of fame and fortune. They play and record and tour because they love the music, have something to say and, when they connect, they leave a mark on an audience that morphs into an enthusiastic fan base.
Such is the lot of The Sweet Remains, a folk/rock trio whose sound and haunting harmonies harken back to Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Eagles, and Simon & Garfunkel. Rich Price, Greg Naughton and Brian Chartrand are an unlikely band in that they live nowhere near each other and come together only for short tours and recording sessions. But this “geographically challenged” group is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and they will converge in Rockport, MA. on Saturday night, February 17 at the Shalin Liu Performance Center and Sunday night at the Bull Run in Shirley, Mass. What makes them distinct, besides their harmonies, is the fact that each has an active solo career, and with growing families and reasons to be near home, they perform only when the stars align.
Each is an accomplished singer/songwriter, which gives the group a treasure trove of material. They’ve recorded four albums and while they do an occasional Van Morrison or Beatles cover in concert, the original material has found a growing audience. In an era when many artists look askance at Pandora or Spotify, streaming music apps have been a boon to The Sweet Remains. Their music has had 30 million listens on Spotify and has spawned a global following. The band has toured all over the U.S. and in Denmark, Austria, and Germany.
The Arts Fuse spoke to Rich Price, who lives in Burlington, Vermont, about the band’s origins and what the future holds.
Arts Fuse: How did you first get together?
Rich Price: We’re unusual in that each of us had success as solo artists. I was signed to RCA and later Geffen Records. I was writing music for film and TV. Greg and I knew each other for many years, having met at Middlebury College. We were both big fans of Crosby, Stills & Nash and its incredible three-part harmonies. We talked about how we needed a third voice. I was living in L.A. and I became aware of Brian’s music. I loved his songwriting and his voice. I reached out to him and said let’s do some music. And we went on tour together.
AF: Was Greg part of that?
Price: No. Brian and I were on tour and about halfway through, I called Greg and said ‘I think I may have found that third voice.’ We had a show at Salve Regina College in Newport, R.I. and Greg joined us that night. We first played together in a hotel room in Newport and we knew from that first song, a Police song called “So Lonely,” that we were on to something. That really got us going.
AF: You started recording almost immediately.
Price: We put out our debut album ten years ago. We recorded almost the whole album in my apartment in Laurel Canyon. We named the album “Laurel and Sunset” which is the corner where my apartment was. It had a real sense of that whole Laurel Canyon scene, CSN, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, from the 1970s. The album came out in the summer of 2008.
AF: Musicians seem to hold a particularly harsh view of Spotify and streaming music services but your experience has been different. How so?
Price: We’re an example of how Spotify has helped an independent band. We’ve had 30 million listens on Spotify and we’re not getting rich on it, but it’s unusual for a band that nobody heard of to get such response. It gave audiences a chance to find us and we’re getting listened to. It helps us be more strategic about where we play across the country. We can go to promoters in certain cities and say, “Check out these numbers, a bunch of people in your town listen to our music.”
AF: You’ve also become movie stars, which may well help put you on the map. Tell me about that.
Price: Greg writes and plays music but he also grew up in an acting family. James Naughton, a two-time Tony winner and film star, is his father. James originated the part of Billy Flynn in Chicago on Broadway. His uncle David Naughton played the werewolf in An American Werewolf in London, and Greg’s wife is Kelli O’Hara, a Tony award-winning Broadway star. Greg wrote and directed a film called The Independents, which is loosely based on our experience as a band. It’s about three singer/songwriters at a crossroads in their lives. We did the entire soundtrack.
AF: How did you end up in the film?
Price: Greg has always been interested in acting. His original intention was to cast real actors in our roles but he realized how important the music was to the story so he didn’t want to include lip synching. He eventually decided he wanted us to play ourselves, so it stars us and James Naughton, Kelli O’Hara, Richard Kind, George Wendt. It’s a comedy/drama.
AF: Will it be distributed in theaters?
Price: Greg is looking for a buyer and distributor now.
AF: There are so many troubadours out on the road 300 nights a year, playing their music, making a living, but a long distance from stardom. Is that how you see yourselves?
Price: That is not a reality for us. We’re not going to do that. We’re playing four or five nights a week every eight weeks or so. Over the ten years of this band, it’s gone from being our full-time focus to now, we’re having kids, we have our own careers. But we’re not winding down either. Things happen organically. There’s a bunch of interest in the band we didn’t seek and it was never my intention to be in a feature film. But these things have breathed new life into what we imagine to be possible.
Glenn Rifkin is a veteran journalist and author who has covered business for many publications including The New York Times for more than 25 years. Among his books are Radical Marketing and The Ultimate Entrepreneur. His latest book Future Forward: Leadership Lessons From Patrick J. McGovern, the Visionary Who Circled the Globe and Built a Technology Media Empire will be published by McGraw-Hill in September.