“Montana isn’t just where I live,” says Drew McManus of Satsang. “It’s my heart and soul.”
On All. Right. Now., the extraordinary new album by Satsang and the band’s debut release for venerated indie label SideOneDummy, it’s also his muse. Written and recorded during an extended hiatus from the road, the album finds McManus reconnecting with his Montana roots and exploring a whole new palette of sounds and textures. He draws on the classic country his mother listened to and modern Americana to forge a joyful, rustic collection about letting go and living in the moment.
McManus, who moved to Red Lodge just over 10 years ago, rented out a barn in the Paradise Valley south of Livingston and converted it into a studio for the whirlwind recording session. He wanted his far-flung bandmates – bassist Karl Roth, drummer Ben Teters, and guitarist Stefan Kallander – to experience life in Montana for themselves and draw from the same well of inspiration.
“I told them that I wanted the record to play like an audio map of this place that I love so much,” he explains. “I wanted to make a soundscape for Montana.”
Although the COVID shutdown had passed when Satsang met in September, “there were definitely still high pandemic vibes where all my guys live,” says McManus. “They are all in major cities, so their communities were kind of a shell of what they were.”
In Montana, “a mountain is still a mountain and a river is still a river. So the solitude is the name of the game here always.”
That sense of silence and space permeates the new album. “When I flew the guys out to Paradise Valley, it was just us on the property – no outside influences. We just dove in. You can feel the landscape and solitude in the record for sure.”
Singer-songwriter Trevor Hall makes a cameo on the song “This Place,” and the music video by the same name. The tune celebrates “that ethereal place that we can tap into through music,” says McManus. “It’s not here or there – it’s past that … The only brother I would have had sing on something this deep is Trevor. He is a true sage.”
McManus produced the album himself, and while the songs here are certainly honest and deeply personal, they’re written in a spiritual language that taps into something far more universal, something inherent in the human condition that binds us on a shared journey to find ourselves and our place in this world.
The performances and arrangements are broad and spacious to match, reflecting the wide-open fields and soaring mountains that surrounded the band. The result is a lush, organic collection fueled by acoustic guitars, fiddle, and pedal steel. The warm, inviting record hints at everything from Uncle Tupelo and The Jayhawks to Gregory Alan Isakov and The Head and the Heart as it meditates on the power – and the pull – of home.
Though McManus was born in Montana, he actually spent much of his formative years in Des Moines and Chicago. His childhood was troubled, marked by physical abuse at home and a nose for trouble on the rough streets that surrounded him. By his late teens, he was struggling with alcohol and drug addiction.
After returning to Montana, where his biological father worked at a rehab center, he got clean and sober, married the woman of his dreams, and launched Satsang in 2016 with the band’s debut, The Story Of You.
Steeped in reggae, hip-hop and world music, the album was an uplifting affirmation that connected with fans around the globe, racking up roughly 15 millions streams on Spotify alone. McManus and his bandmates returned a year later with their similarly successful sophomore effort, Pyramid(s), which hit #1 on the Billboard Reggae Chart and #2 on iTunes. They pushed their sound even further with 2019’s Kulture, which incorporated a wider swath of influences from Motown to Tom Petty.
Relentless road warriors, Satsang built a devoted following one night at a time, sharing stages with the likes of Michael Franti & Spearhead and Nahko and Medicine for the People as they worked their way up from bars and clubs to massive festivals.
Satsang shares the stage with Franti and Spearhead again June 4-6, with concerts at the Gerald Ford Amphitheatre in Vail, CO, and three shows at Red Rocks in Morrison. They play the Mishawaka Amphitheatre in Bellvue, CO, June 9-10, before heading home for two sold-out shows at Red Lodge Ales. Mid-summer and early fall find the band on the East Coast and Midwest.
“We are all just really excited to play music together and be together again,” McManus says. “We haven’t all been together since making the album in September of last year, so we’re just pumped to connect and do what we do.”
McManus learned the word satsang during a month-long backpacking trek in Nepal. He says it translates to “in the company of truth” but can also mean “to have a sacred gathering to assimilate truth.”
“In our case, that’s the music,” he says. “I try to only write from that heart space. The head is the office, and the heart is our home. With music, it’s best to work from home.”
As to the challenges he’s faced along the way, “When you’re dealt a tough hand, you can either get bitter or you can get better,” he says. “You can blame your upbringing for everything and complain about what happened to you, or you can choose to believe that everything happened for you, to step into your power and become the person you want to be.”
In Montana, that’s precisely what McManus has done, turning his dreams into reality in a place that, some days, feels more like Heaven than Earth.
“My wife, my kids, Montana, they’re all one thing to me now,” says McManus. “They’re home.”
The new album is available June 4 on SideOneDummy.