Hard Soul is, as they described, “ready for anything.” Hard Soul is: Johnny Salka (vocals/lead guitar); Nick Kossor (guitar); Ryan Klaeysen (bass guitar); Mark Podbielski (drums); and Stephen Thompson (guitar/backing vocals). They are guys who pack themselves and their equipment into a vehicle and hit the road to tour as often as they can. The goal is to do great music, have fun and to play in front of as many people as possible. Hard Soul was a kickstarter success as their project was fully funded. Their success is attributed to hard work, camaraderie and being very serious about the love of music.
The band formed in 2011. What brought you guys together; was there an audition process, did you all know each other? What was the deal?
Johnny: I started the band back in 2011, but it was just my acoustic guitar and a few songs I had been working on. At the start I stuck to coffee shops and open mics to see how the songs would translate, but there was always the knowledge and desire that it would expand to a full band eventually. So I eventually tracked the first EP ‘Love Eats the Young’ on my own before starting to put together a band. From there we evolved up to the 5-piece we are today, adding members as we needed them and the songs changed and other instruments were introduced. We have the unique line-up where we can have two dual lead guitar lines going with an acoustic behind it, plus a mighty rhythm section backing it all up.
Nick: I joined in November of 2012. I responded to a craigslist ad Johnny had put up, did two auditions with the line up at the time, and have been happily involved ever since. We met Ryan through another band at our “Seize The Year” CD release show. We met Mark when he filled in on drums at a few shows during our 2013 summer tour. Last but not least, I had known Steve from our early open mic years in Saratoga.
Ryan: I met Hard Soul when I was playing with my old band, Neversink. A couple months later, Neversink ended up moving to Boston and I ran into Johnny and Nick at The Hollow (in downtown Albany, NY). The guys told me that they were looking for a full time bassist and I should come by to audition. I did and, after a couple practices with the full band, I was in.
Mark: On the 2013 Seize tour Hard Soul needed dates filled for drums. Johnny shot me a phone call prior to the tour to see what dates I could help out on. Johnny and I knew of each other before through playing with Eric Hohen (former drummer of Hard Soul). I was called because with this tour he needed somebody experienced and ready to go to fill in.
Steve: I joined the band in the middle of 2014, but had been filling in for some shows sporadically since 2013.
Guys, what made Hard Soul the band that you wanted to work with?
Ryan: First and foremost, I just really liked the music and was blown away by the production quality of ‘Seize the Year’ courtesy of the great Steven Goldman at Four Legs Records. After I heard that EP, I was 100% sold on being a part of this project. Another big reason why I was so excited to join was touring. Right after I became a part of the band, we were basically on the road playing shows all the way to West Virginia. So that definitely helped to sweeten the pot.
Nick: I didn’t care who or what group I was playing with when I joined, I just wanted to be in a band and play guitar in front of people. I had ZERO performance experience, MINIMAL guitar experience, and knew NOTHING what it was like to be in a band (as Hard Soul was my first). Hard Soul has taught me a lot and certainly matured me musically. I enjoy playing because of its potential, professionalism, and it’s downright FUN to play music with your friends on the road in front of new and bigger audiences.
Mark: Obviously the first thing you do is research when talking about this situation. Listening to the well done production of the recorded songs and videos definitely expressed that this wasn’t a fly by night production.
Steve: The music and group of musicians are good. And playing with these guys is a lot of fun.
Who came up with the name “Hard Soul” and from the band’s perspective, what does that mean?
Nick: Johnny came up the with name. To me “Hard Soul” is a term used to describe what it means to experience ups and downs then learn from those experiences to continue through life with more wisdom and clarity. Individually, and as a band we have experienced such moments just as the rest of the world has.
Ryan: What does the name mean to me? Part of it comes off as a bit jaded, a little more world-weary. You’ve developed tougher skin because of the experiences you’ve had. I don’t mean that negatively or anything, you’re just ready for anything.
Mark: Johnny came up with it. I feel it describes the melancholy of the material. Definitely expresses both worlds musically.
Steve: I believe Hard Soul was Johnny’s idea. I agree with Nick’s thought, life’s ups and downs. And how one can become calloused, but not “down” after these experiences.
Johnny: When I was trying to think of a name — I wanted something that most closely represented where the music and the lyrics met. The music is still loud and chock full of guitars, plenty of ripping solos. But in another sense it represented a manifestation of a series of experiences I had gone through as a musician and a person. As for the “soul” element, it’s not because I’m any sort of religious or spiritual person, so it isn’t a nod to any kind of theological perspective. It relates more to the personal nature of the lyrics; early on I took to calling it “heart on your sleeve rock n’ roll” because, to be honest, that’s what it was and still is. Honest lyrics over some fat riffs… and the occasional acoustic tune, too. Put the two together and there you go. I still have the sheet of paper tucked away somewhere that has the name scribbled down for the first time.
How is the touring life? Does it get a little weary with a lot of traveling or is everyone excited to be like a road warrior?
Johnny: I love it; there’s nothing like leaving your hometown behind and heading out on the road to do something you love. You have to REALLY want to do it; I’ve been in bands with plenty of people who don’t quite understand the sheer number of hours involved just sitting in a van going from one city to another, only stopping to hit a rest-stop or fill up the tank. Traveling is a big interest of mine, and I do a lot of solo trips, so any chance I get to visit a new place is incredibly stimulating and exciting. The routes we take from city to city really interest me; we crossed over the Appalachian Mountains twice on this last tour, one pass taking us through the Smokey Mountains between North Carolina and Tennessee. That was a really cool stop to make and to finally see personally.
Nick: Touring life is awesome! I’m extremely used to being on the road from my judo career so domestic travel with the band comes easy. I would travel internationally for weeks upon weeks going from competitions to training camps to more competitions representing the USA for judo. Band touring is easy compared to beating my body up twice a day at practices, 12 hour flights, customs checkpoints, all while cutting weight. I do hope however that one day Hard Soul will become big enough to get some international touring.
Ryan: It’s what we’re doing this far. Making great music and being able to share it with as many people as we can. Touring is what I look forward to and I think that’s the same for everyone else. It can definitely get tiring every now and then, but you have to start somewhere and I think it helps to keep the big picture in mind. I’ll take a few hours of being uncomfortable in a van so that I can do this for a living.
Mark: Yes, I definitely have a road warrior mentality. It has always been in my blood doing it constantly being a business professional, and miles of gigs add up. It is not cut out for everyone, but when you can tour around and see different sites it’s educational as well as fulfilling. You definitely take a beating on your body especially when you get back to the hotel at 6am and get ready to drive in the early morning. I mostly feel it by being sore the next day. If I don’t feel sore, I didn’t put my heart into the performance.
Steve: Touring life is a blast, but exhausting at times with all the traveling.
Also, when it comes to touring and traveling, do you guys get tired of each other sometimes? And if so, what’s the remedy — take a walk? What do you guys do if/when you need space?
Johnny: There is burn out, for sure. It’s like being on vacation; eventually even your closest friends will start to wear on you, and only because you’re in a confined space with them 12 hours a day. I adopted headphones very early on to sort of center myself, but my main thing is working out or taking a nap. If we have the luxury, we’ll get two hotel rooms to get some extra space. I’ve found always keeping things light is the best way to cope with that sort of exhaustion in a group setting. Sometimes during long stretches in the van we all chime in on a song we know and fill in our own lyrics, and 5 minutes later we’re all dying laughing. A bit of levity goes a long way.
Ryan: Yeah, I think that’s inevitable though. That’s why I bring headphones. We’re all grown-ups though and I think we all know that if you have a problem you should bring it up and deal with it there rather than sit and let it fester.
Nick: Not often but sometimes we get under each other’s skin, haha. The five of us are great about it though. When we were in Tennessee, we all went for a workout. Ryan, Mark, Steve and myself played basketball and Johnny did his own thing. It was nice to get a de-stressing sweat in. The best part about it is we’re all friends and there will never be any hard feelings if someone needs to unplug and go solo for a bit. In Nashville after our gig, three went out and two stayed behind for a low key night. No one thought anything of it. Individuality is important.
Mark: To be honest, tour life does not give you your personal space. That’s why is nice when people step in and asking if there is something wrong and try to address it. You learn when there are good and bad times to say things. All in all everyone there is there for the same reason. Ear buds do definitely help to give some meditation time.
Steve: If that happens at all, the guys must deal with it internally. I don’t see any visible signs of anyone being annoyed with anyone else. I think we all get along well!
What about any significant others and kids at home – is it hard for them or for you or do they travel with you? The easy answer is “I’m free and single,” but that’s not always the case. Speak about any issues that aspiring traveling bands should be aware of.
Johnny: I guess you can say I’m “lucky” being able to say “I’m free and single” because it means I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what or who I’ve left behind (not that there is anything wrong with having someone back home to think of). I have the luxury to focus on the moment and what’s ahead of us, be it that night’s show or what part of the country we’re traversing. I relish those “in-the-now” moments; they inspire some great songs!
My girlfriend gets that this is my thing, but obviously you miss each other. It hasn’t created any issues or problems, though. Touring is one of the most important parts of being successful, so it’s good to have people in your life who support that.
Nick: “Be excellent to each other”- Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Mark: It is tough when you have a newly purchased house, and a fiancé and family back home. Obviously music is so important to me, but the tour life defiantly puts everything on hold. A small example is that if anything goes wrong, you are not there to fix it and you feel helpless. Whenever there was a good amount of down time it was nice to call home and update them on things going on. It helps tremendously when your significant other and family are so supportive of music in my life.
Steve: Well…I am single, with no kids, but I do have a dog that I need to make arrangements for. Whether it’s having a friend watch her, or get her to the Veterinary office for boarding.
What do you miss about home when you’re on the road?
Johnny: My bed, mainly. That, and my close friends and family.
Ryan: Other then my girlfriend, my friends and family. Also, video games.
Nick: I miss judo practice and my dog, haha. I bring a gi with me every time we’re away in case we’re playing somewhere close to a dojo. I remember during the 2013 summer tour (we were in Boston) I got a judo workout then jogged over to the venue right after to play the show. It was awesome.
Mark: First would be friends and family, but getting behind building my home music studio and other projects on the house sets the schedule back.
Steve: My pup, of course! And my own bed.
The band has a press agent and a booking agent. First of all, what made you guys decide to take the leap to outsource these functions and second what was the “thing” that made you decide to go with the people you did?
Johnny: Well, as a DIY band we keep everything in-house when it comes to all aspects of the band. Both our press and booking agent just happen to be people we trust and who approached us to help with reaching our goals as a band.
Ryan: It takes some of the pressure off of us and opens us up to more possibilities for booking. I think it just makes sense as you start growing to hire folks to help get your name out there as much as possible so you can end up playing in front of as many people as you can.
Nick: We’re always trying to elevate our game, and take things to the next level. Those two things help us do so.
Mark: The original music life is not at all enough to pay the bills. Seeking out help and outsourcing definitely helps your network. We all do great jobs within the band, but others know and have different pulls in opportunity. Some help you more than others.
Johnny: It’s almost impossible to handle all the responsibilities of these roles on our own. Outsourcing made sense, as well as provided another prospective with different experience.
Hard Soul’s fundraising campaign was a great success. What was the purpose of the campaign?
Johnny: We wanted to put out a new EP and hit the road; touring is basically the main reason to be in a band, unless you’re explicitly working as a songwriter. Nowdays touring is stupidly expensive, particularly when it comes to fuel costs, plus after you add in all the other expenses involved with recording and distribution you realize the financial tidal wave that’s coming. Normally labels take care of these things for bands with massive advances but, like I said before, we do things in-house and very DIY. So with the support of our fans we were able to track all the songs on ‘Fairer Shores’ at Four Legs Records in Washingtonville, NY with producer Steven Goldman as well as get the album pressed for distribution (on CD along with vinyl this spring!). It helped finance our entire winter tour with some breathing room for more dates and touring in the next couple months. DIY does have its advantages!
Ryan: The purpose of our kickstarter was to help raise money for our most recent tour and take care of some of the costs associated with the production of our new EP Fairer Shores. We just knew that the expenses were going to be a lot to shoulder on our own, so we thought that starting up a kickstarter would be the best way to help us earn some cash in a really short amount of time.
Steve: The purpose was to try to help fund the great amount of expenses coming up with the EP recording and production, pressing it to Vinyl, and the winter tour, as well as any of the MANY other expenses that a band faces.
What do you guys think made it so successful?
Johnny: Planning, consistency, and non-stop laser-focus on hitting our goal. Plus the incredible support from our fans. We approach everything with an organized plan, from our touring and recording commitments, so why should our Kickstarter be approached any differently?
Ryan: Our fans, family, and friends. We put a lot of effort into making sure that the word was out, but we would have obviously never would have made it without everyone’s support. It was pretty cool seeing how many people wanted to help us out. We also wouldn’t have been able to do this without the internet. So, thanks internet.
Nick: Constant promotion and I mean CONSTANT. For an entire month every minute of every day was dedicated to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, phone calls, emails, text messages, and videos to spread the word and thank people who supported and donated. To our delight, we hit our goal. THANK YOU TO ALL WHO PLEDGED!
Mark: To be honest, we didn’t want the video just to sit there and educate everyone about what was going on. We did above and beyond actions to get people to donate, for example judo lessons and drums lessons.
Steve: Having great fans and supporters is a great help! And being able to reach out via social media to get everyone seeing it and involved.
The band’s been touring throughout the U.S. Are there plans to go to other countries and how feasible do you think it is? … is it difficult to get a tour in different countries?
Johnny: Canada isn’t a tough reach for us since our hometown is in upstate NY and is so close to Toronto and Montreal. But international touring is a whole other level. We’d obviously love to do some European festivals in the future or even a run of shows one day. Baby steps!
Ryan: Not in the near future, but it’s definitely something we would all be pretty stoked on doing. I think it would take a shit-ton of planning, but we could make it work. It’s definitely feasible; it would just take a lot of time and even more cash. Salzburg, Austria is the first stop though when it happens.
Nick: Where there’s a will there’s a way. I don’t think it would be ridiculously difficult, I’ve known a few bands locally that have done so. No problemo.
Mark: Logistics would be the toughest part. With outside help it is very possible.
Steve: I think we’d love to play in other countries! I think the opportunity to and when it is feasible will happen at the same time. I’m not sure how difficult it is, but we welcome the challenge! … I should probably get a passport!
Guys – if you could meet your younger teenage self, what would you say to you in terms of your music careers?
Johnny: I played a lot of heavy metal in my teenage years, so I could probably say: “Stop focusing on playing fast and focus more on playing correctly. Learn some real chords.” But that was just part of my journey as a kid. Looking back and critiquing my teenage musical passions doesn’t interest me; all I wanted to do back then was emulate James Hetfield from Metallica because I had deemed him as worthy of emulation, all in sacrifice of my own individuality, which is silly. What matters these days is learning from my past mistakes and, above all else, feeling happy and satisfied with what I’m doing. So I guess I should really say “just have fun and be yourself, and don’t’ worry about what other people think because they likely have their own insecurities they are covering up for.”
Ryan: Practice more, you fucking idiot.
Nick: “Hello younger, dumber Nick. Don’t tear your rotator cuff and labrum at a competition in Paris, and pick up a guitar sooner than 21…When this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re going to see some serious s*** ”
Mark: Not every day is roses, keep it up kid. (Hug) NOW GET BACK TO WORK!
Steve: Younger Steve, don’t give up on music just because you weren’t able to pursue it in college….you should probably pick up your guitar more than zero times throughout college, idiot!
Music is sweat, blood, tears, emotion all rolled up into hard work and discipline. Obviously, the gain is worth the “pain.” Please say why each of you do music and why your instrument is your one of choice.
Johnny: Why I play music? Jeez, I guess it goes back to trying to be “cool” in high school and impress girls. From there it became emulating my favorite bands and guitar players. I played in bands throughout college, but taking music seriously as a pursuit didn’t realistically happen until I had graduated and started Hard Soul. I made a good run of it in previous acts, but the music and the energy wasn’t there for me back then. I was a god-awful guitar player and singer in those early days; it goes back to me attempting to emulate other musicians rather than embracing my own voice. I hated the way it sounded, so I would distort and change it to fit the music I was playing. My rediscovery of acoustic guitar was what really changed everything for me; I settled into being comfortable writing more personal lyrics and nuanced playing. Plus I was able to stop harping on what I hated about my singing voice and worked on enhancing what made it unique and different. The music flowed from there.
Ryan: I play music because music is awesome and no one grows up wishing they’ll work in an office. As a kid, all I did was listen to music and learn everything I could about the bands I liked. I wanted to be as great as Queens of the Stone Age and play crazy festivals where a bottle of water is $15. As for why I started playing bass, I started because it was available. My older brother brought home a bass one day and, when he wasn’t using it, I would pick it up.
Nick: I initially chose guitar to impress a girl I was dating at the time. However, these days I play music for the pleasure of achievement, the pleasure of playing in front of people, and the pleasure of learning a new craft.
Mark: With anything I have done I have always been in a leadership type of role. Sports were being caption of the team, or being a catcher in baseball tying everything in. I get really deep into music, and percussion fulfilled the need of getting the energy out as well as being a backbone. It is super tough these days because all venues have different set ups. I can have my full custom kit ready to get when the show only offers minimal options. I have to just go with it and play to the best of my ability to what is offered. Guitars, basses, and keys always have their keys and stings in the same exact spot. Live shows don’t offer that for percussionists, but that’s why it’s another thing to step up and play your heart out.
Steve: I was always surrounded by music growing up and just felt normal to take it up. I wanted to learn how to play guitar after many years of learning saxophone. Guitar is a versatile instrument. And also allows me to sing at the same time, which is something else I enjoy doing.
What’s the ultimate goal for Hard Soul and how do you guys plan to achieve it?
Johnny: Constant improvement, better songs, bigger shows. I want to turn this into a career on the strength of our material and what we represent, but at the end of the day as long as I’m satisfied with who I am everyday as a person, and a musician, I’m happy and content. As the songwriter in the band, my goal is to write records with zero filler songs, and I think that I’ve been able to achieve that, too.