Ed Roland has played stadiums and arenas. Theaters and clubs. He’s also played on the tiny stage at Eddie’s Attic for many a Christmas concert.
But when Roland unobtrusively stepped onto the close quarters of the Attic’s legendary stage last Tuesday, he was bookended not by his longtime Collective Soul bandmates, but by guitarists Christopher Alan Yates and Tomi Martin and bassist Brian Bisky, with drummer Mike Rizzi a few inches behind him.
The group, officially dubbed Ed Roland and the Sweet Tea Project, has existed for a year or so with a revolving door of musicians. But now it’s time for the next step, starting with a monthlong Tuesday-night residency at Eddie’s Attic and a similar arrangement on Sundays at the Melting Point in Athens.
The band has already recorded two albums, the first of which should be released in April, followed by a full tour.
At last week’s Attic show, which drew a nearly sold-out crowd, the quintet rolled through a set of new Americana/rockabilly songs including “I Don’t Want to Talk of Love” and “Change,” which dovetailed into Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” (sung primarily by Yates) – a perfect segue since the band’s songs proffer a distinctive Cash-like feel.
“Johnny Cash was my first concert. Every time I hear him, I think, ‘That is the coolest dude I ever saw live’,” Roland said a day after the Eddie’s Attic show.
During the loose set, Roland joked, “We’ve got the starts and stops down so far!” and later remarked, “I’ve played on stages everywhere. This is the most fun stage ever.”
He later elaborated on his comment.
“That environment [at Eddie’s] can be like your basement or living room. If I mess up, I start over. When there are so many people at a concert, you lose that intimacy. That isn’t a problem at Eddie’s! There’s no backstage, so when you’re in the audience before you go on, it sets the tone,” he said.
While the shows will mainly stick to Sweet Tea material, Roland noted that they did play a reworked version of Collective Soul’s “Shine” at their first Athens gig and plan to throw in other covers and maybe other C.S. songs as the residencies continue.
The relaxed vibe of the live show can be explained by Roland’s comfort level with his bandmates. His first-ever band was with Yates’ group, Premiere, a staple at Six Flags Over Georgia. Roland played lead guitar.
He met Bisky through Yates and has known Martin, who has played with TLC and Madonna, as well as on Justin Bieber’s last tour.
“He came home and wanted to get into some Americana, so we connected on that,” Roland, a Stockbridge native who lives with his family in Sandy Springs, said.
Rizzi formerly drummed with Sonia Leigh and bands that, Roland said, “I’d see them live and think how I’d love to play with some of them.”
One of Roland’s influences in establishing the Sweet Tea Project and moving forward with songwriting was the Traveling Wilburys – “You can hear those guys having fun,” he said.
He also started listening to more singer-songwriters, and credits Elton John’s early work as inspiration, as well as Rod Stewart’s epic song, “The Killing of Georgie.”
“I remembered that people want to hear stories. It’s helped me in the manner of opening up and letting people help me,” he said.
At the Eddie’s Attic show, Roland introduced the new song, “Keep Rolling Another Wheel” as, “one of the top five songs I’ve ever been part of.”
The wistful ballad was written at Roland’s home when Yates started noodling on the guitar and the guys began reminiscing about their first loves. Roland’s wife had some of her girlfriends visiting at the time, so they sat in as Roland and Yates developed the song.
“The reason we got into music was for the chicks. It never changes!” he said with a laugh.
Since the other Collective Soul guys have detoured with their own side projects – Dean Roland with Magnets and Ghosts, Will Turpin and Joel Kosche with their solo records – there is no additional strain on Collective Soul with Roland’s decision to concentrate on Sweet Tea for the moment.
But next year, which Roland considers the band’s 20th anniversary, Collective Soul will release another record and a box set.
“It’s a very proud moment. People want to hear us,” Roland said.
But for the immediate future, “I feel like 20 years ago, exactly like I did with Collective Soul. I want radio airplay [for the Sweet Tea Project], whatever the highest possibilities are for us,” he said. “We just appreciate that we can play these songs…but I hope the band gets recognized. These guys have been out there busting it for years. They’re great players.”
By Melissa Ruggieri, The Music Scene