Sadler Vaden would like you to be more present. He says as much in the title of his new song “Be Here Right Now,” a rocking, romantic ode to escaping the distractions of modern existence that appears on his first solo album since his 2016 self-titled debut. “I want to take you away, somewhere safe and warm/and pull ourselves together, baby, get a break from the norm,” he sings, over aching guitar and a gentle beat.
On Friday, the singer-songwriter, guitarist, and guitar foil to Jason Isbell in the 400 Unit releases the new album Anybody Out There? The record comes right in the middle of 400 Unit album cycles: Vaden began writing the LP in between 2018’s The Nashville Sound and the upcoming Reunions, due May 15th.
Vaden self-produced Anybody Out There?, which features appearances from his 400 Unit bandmates Derry DeBorja and Jimbo Hart. As Vaden explains it, at least half of the album’s tracks predated any plan to make a second LP. But the song “Good Man” inspired him to put together a full project.
“In 2018 I released a few singles…and I wanted to keep the flow of creativity going,” Vaden tells Rolling Stone Country. “Around December of 2018 I wrote a song called ‘Good Man’ that’s on the record. I felt really good about that song. It just had a good mood and vibe to it and message, I thought. I didn’t want to just put it out there as a single. I thought it should come out with an album’s worth of material around it.”
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“Good Man” is a sunny, heartfelt anthem about striving to lead a kind and compassionate life, even — especially — when it’s difficult. Vaden wrote the song with guitarist Audley Freed, who has played with artists the Dixie Chicks and the Black Crowes. Sonically, the song encapsulates so much of what fans loved about Vaden’s debut album: melodic verses, a sing-along-worthy chorus and, of course, big, big guitars.
The same can be said of “Be Here Right Now,” which turns the bright optimism of “Good Man” into a hopeful plea. It’s one of several tunes, like the aptly titled “Modern Times,” that grapple with what it’s like to live in an age where our attention becomes more fractured with each passing day.
“[‘Be Here Right Now’] is really just talking about how I want my partner to be more present and not be so distracted by all this other stuff going on that we feed our brains all the time,” he says, adding that he wrote “Modern Times” motivated by a similar feeling.
Vaden is a well-known fan of the band Oasis (he regularly tweets his disappointment that the Gallagher brothers have yet to reunite) and laughs when it’s pointed out that “Be Here Right Now” calls to mind the title of the band’s 1997 album Be Here Now. “What’s funny about this is it didn’t even occur to me until I was doing the sequence of the record and I noticed the title,” he says. “So I was like, ‘Well, huh. I’ll just let people think I’ll did this on purpose.’”
While Vaden’s music regularly draws comparisons to heartland rockers like Tom Petty, it’s also easy to hear the Oasis influence on his brand of rock & roll, particularly in his vocal parts. Many of the vocal melodies replicate the infectious hooks of classic Oasis verses, while several of the songs’ arrangements recall the pomp and bombast of the group’s hits like “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and “Champagne Supernova.”
Fellow Nashvillian Aaron Lee Tasjan is a contemporary and kindred spirit of Vaden. The pair first met in New York City in 2011 through Kevn Kinney of Drivin’ N Cryin’, for whom Tasjan has done extensive production and guitar work. The pair performed an Oasis cover last year and Tasjan guests on the Anybody Out There? track “Peace and Harmony.”
“Peace and Harmony,” Vaden says, was directly inspired by the current social and political climate, particularly with regard to how hard it can be to carry on with everyday life while inundated with bad news from seemingly every direction. “I don’t want to get up, and pour the coffee in my cup,” the song opens, “I just want to lay in bed, let the world fade away.”
“I think a lot of us are feeling that way,” Vaden says. “I don’t think it has anything to do with being on the left or right… It’s not even like depression; it’s just tough to go out there some days. I was listening to a lot of George Harrison, so I think some of his influence seeped into the music. I also wanted a song with a message, one that was pointed but also very broad, too. I think [Tasjan and I] did a good job of that.”
While talking about the influence of Oasis and artists like Harrison and Petty, Vaden offers an unsolicited nod to 400 Unit leader Jason Isbell as also having had a major influence on him as a solo musician, particularly when it comes to writing lyrics.
“I worked really hard at getting better at lyrics, especially living in Nashville and working with such a fantastic lyricist [in Isbell],” Vaden says. “I don’t pry too much about his process but I know a bit about it. I’ve been in the room enough times to say, ‘Hey, what do you do when you’re trying to get things right?’ I’ve learned a lot from him.”
Vaden, Isbell and the rest of the 400 Unit will return to the road together in support of Reunions at the end of May, with a handful of festival and one-off dates in between now and then. Vaden will play a solo show at Mercy Lounge in Nashville on Saturday, along with a string of dates in support of Anybody Out There? beginning March 19th.
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