Sovereign Wants Change
Deitra Mag interviews Michael Yarnall and Keoni Rogers of Sovereign
Written by Tamara Styer | Photographed by Chet Smith
It's a few hours before Sovereign’s show at the Roadhouse in Springfield, MO, and front man Michael Yarnall is addressing the band’s use of meaningful lyrics. “I think we really focus on everything we write,” he says of their title track “Change”. “We don’t ever just sing any lyrics, we always have something that means something to us, and I know that it’ll mean something to everybody else. So we just try to focus on the lyrics to write something that applies to the world in a way that everyone else understands too.”
With political lyrics such as, “We’ve been waiting long enough / It’s time we make our plan / Haven’t you all had enough? / This time we’ll take a stand,” the band has injected their songs with a sense of their strong beliefs.
“Really it can be applied to any administration,” says guitarist Keoni Rogers, “any kind of government, or anybody that’s been really oppressed for so long that doesn’t really listen to the general public or anything like that, it’s just kind of an anthem, you know your own anthem to throw out there.”
“It applies to so many different things,” says Yarnall. “Me and Keoni went into the studio one night and he said, ‘Hey man, I’ve got these lyrics.’ We had like two sentences. He said, ‘I’ve been hearing this, I’ve been hearing this,’ and I was like, ‘Man, that’s a song.’ And five minutes later, no joke, the song was all done, and the band came in later and we were like, ‘This is our new song.’ We knew it was gonna be something special. It was just one of those things, man.”
With the growling moodiness of Godsmack, American traditional rock guitars of Alterbridge, and the new hard rock marketability of commercial bands like Daughtry and Staind, Sovereign offer a straight-ahead kind of music as well as the motto: Simple is Better.
“There are so many bands that overcomplicate things, I think,” says Rogers, then goes into sing-song, “Make a song, keep it simple, so all the kids can sing along.” The two laugh, “You know what I mean? As retarded as that sounds, it’s the truth. When you have simple, clear lyrics, it’s much easier for someone to connect to that. Or even guitar-work or music-work or anything like that. It isn’t always Danny Carey or Neil Peart on the drums, or Satriani on the guitar. It isn’t about how good a musician you are, it’s about how well you connect with your fans and what kind of imprint you’re leaving. Don’t overcomplicate things. Find your niche, find something that’s working for you, and do it, and don’t over think it.”
“As our drummer [Mark Hughey] says it best,” adds Yarnall, “if there are five hundred people at the show, 495 of them aren’t musicians. So five of them might get your complicated stuff, but 495 of them are just going to be there to sing along.”
This approach has proved effective so far for Sovereign on the Springfield music scene, rising up from no fans to people singing along at their concerts.
“I’d say one of the best feelings I ever had,” says Yarnall, “there’s a song on our album called ‘Tears.’ I wrote it a couple years back about a girl and it’s just a deep-lyric song. It was like our second or third show at Nathan P. Murphy’s [Springfield]. I looked out into the crowd and there was a girl out there singing it and crying. I was just like, that was the most amazing feeling anyone will ever feel.”
“We always try to get the crowd pumped up,” says Rogers, “but a lot of the times, especially in our home town, they’ve really been supportive, and when you have an energy and a vibe, and the kind of explosion you get from a crowd, you don’t even have to ask for it, it’s something unreal. Our fans have been every bit of one-hundred-percent awesome. I mean, we couldn’t have asked for more. We definitely feed off their energy a lot.”
Though Sovereign remember the hard work it took to get to where they are now.
“You play your first couple of shows, and you’re just trying to get your name out there,” says Rogers. “You take a while as a band, and you hone your skills, and spread your name out. Jeff Smith at Studio 2100, when we worked with him and got that album out, it just really brought the best out in all of us, and ever since then it’s been like a machine, and the people we play to can see that, see our passion. Well I hope they can anyways.”
“Definitely one thing we bring is a ton of passion, says Yarnall. “We all play our hearts and souls through either singing or the guitar and you can feel it just by looking at us that it’s the real deal to us.”
Sovereign’s band members, including rhythm guitarist, Robert Clayton, and bassist Austin Hart, hit it off right away. The same day the band posted on craiglist.com looking for a singer, Yarnall had posted. They scheduled an audition and clicked immediately.
“Sometimes you can just tell,” says Yarnall. “I’ve played in a lot of bands and nothing ever clicked the way it did when we played. We played one song together and we all just looked at each other and said, “Let’s do this.”
With his rich voice, powerfully implemented over Sovereign's straight-ahead rock sound, Yarnall was exactly what Sovereign was looking for in a front man.
“A decent singer, vocal control, someone who wasn’t screaming,” says Rogers. “Michael came in and sang, and he was just a good singer. It really complimented the sound of music we were going for, you know modern rock kind of style.”
Once the band was completed, they began writing collaboratively to finish their 9-song freshmen effort, Change.
“It’s an effort from everybody,” says Rogers. “That’s what I really think is cool about Sovereign. It’s not necessarily just one person driving everything of the band, but everybody has an equal amount of input.”
When it comes to future plans, these guys just want their message to reach people.
Rogers says, “Any band you could ever talk to would say, ‘Oh we want to be signed, we want to be at the top, we want to be millionaires,’ and all that kind of shit, but what they really don’t tell you about being a fucking rock star is load-ins at 2 a.m. and shows every fucking night, and the singer’s got a fucking cold. And a lot of bands just fall apart through all that kind of stuff, because they get complacent and they get just tired of it all. I mean we would love to be signed and be on a major label and be on the Billboard Top 100 and do all that kind of stuff, as cliché as it sounds, I mean that would be awesome, but I really think we just want to get our message out to as many people as we can. If we were just going for the Billboard Top 100 and making money, we’d have a fucking contract at every show we played, asking for an $800 guarantee, but really you don’t get anywhere doing that stuff. When you’re trying to get somewhere and get your name out there, that’s not what it’s about. And really I think we all share that attitude.”
The friendship between Yarnall and Rogers is evident, and both are overwhelmed with inspiration.
“I could find inspiration in almost anything,” says Yarnall. “I can write a song about anything. Anything that touches me emotionally. I always feed off of my emotions, whether it be sadness or anger or happiness, and if I just get one feeling I can write a whole song about it. That’s what I like about it. With Keoni, he’s the same way. We can just sit down and say, man, I’m feeling upset about… whatever happened today, and I can tell him one sentence, and two seconds later he’s got a guitar riff written out, and then I can write a whole song about it. It’s really hard to say what inspires me or where I get my inspiration from, because that could be anything. I mean I could be inspired five minutes from now and write a whole song about it.”
One could conjure up the image of the two of them talking into late hours about life, writing lyrics on balled-up napkins and strumming chords on an unplugged guitar.
“I think emotion is what it’s all about,” says Yarnall. “You can write true things that people understand and relate to. You’ll notice [at a show] that everyone will be singing the lyrics because everyone can relate to it.”
That sense of friendship continues with the other members of the band, citing that as the main thing that keeps them going through the trials that every band faces.
“We’re a family,” says Yarnall. “We take it a step further beyond a band. We do have practice twice a week, and when we do practice or shows, we’re business. But we also hang out two or three times a week. We all get together and hang out as friends also, and that’s what makes a difference.
“We keep each other in check too,” says Rogers.
“If one of us fucks up or one of us is fucking doing some bullshit, you better believe that…”
“You’re getting talked to,” finishes Yarnall. “We look out for each other, and we’re a family more than we are a band, and it’s just cool that we can find people that have such musical talents, but we can still relate to each other’s lives and we’re good together, all of us.”
Though they are powering through, Springfield has proven a tough music scene for Sovereign.
“The upper class fucking killed it!” says Rogers. “What the hell happened to Carol's? And the Abyss?”
“It’s hard finding good venues anymore,” says Yarnall. “People are too busy…”
“Building lofts and coffee shops!”
“It’s very hard. It’s very, very hard,” continues Yarnall. “Springfield’s a hard area. But there’s still people out there, still a lot of fans out there, and we just need to step up and get some good bands going again, and keep playing. People are giving up. I’ve seen so many bands give up on the Springfield music scene, and we just need to keep going. Bring it back.
Venues are one thing for Sovereign, but fans are another.
“To our fans, there’s not enough that we could say,” says Rogers, “and at the same time I can’t even think of something to say. God! We are nothing without the fans! And if we reach one person a night, our job is done.”
“That’s the best thing you’ll ever have,” says Yarnall. “Money will never touch reaching one person.”
“If there was one fucking person in this bar and nobody else, and they loved the music, then I would feel good about the night,” says Rogers, overwhelmed. “So I mean, God! We can’t thank them enough, really. I don’t know if I had just one thing I could say to them.”
“Never give up,” says Yarnall. “Always hope, and thanks for the support.” DM
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All photography by Chet Smith, used by permission for Deitra Publications