There’s a good chance that seeing the name Collective Soul will trigger the memory of a particular guitar riff. It’s from “Shine,” the band’s breakthrough hit. Once awakened, it will hum around the edges of your consciousness for days.
“Sorry about that,” singer and songwriter Ed Roland said recently from his home in Georgia, a gesture as polite as it was unnecessary. Creating something so distinctive hardly requires an apology.
“But there are just as many who are appreciative,” Roland added.
As evidence, please see Collective Soul’s headlining spot May 25 at the Sacramento Music Festival – part of a tour celebrating the band’s 20th anniversary, and eventually, the release of its nearly finished ninth album, “See What You Started by Continuing.”
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“It’s rock,” Roland said.
Tags of grunge and post-grunge aside, it has always been rock. It was rock in 1992 when Roland put together a demo with the idea of landing a recording deal. “Shine” was on the tape, and college radio stations picked it up, and college radio had power.
In a pre-Twitter world, however, the band had no idea about how the song was being received. Roland said they’d roll up to clubs in the Southeast and there would be 1,000 people waiting.
“It was like, ‘Who are we playing with?’ ” he said. “That song was bigger than the band.”
In 1993, Collective Soul released “Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid” on an independent label. In 1994, Atlantic Records gave the album a major label push and “Shine” went to No. 1 on Billboard’s rock chart.
By 1995, when “December,” from the band’s self-titled second record, became Collective Soul’s second No. 1, drummer Johnny Rabb was back home in Sacramento, a recent graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
He’d grown up in Carmichael, took drum lessons at Skip’s Music, and was ready to start a career. Rabb played around the city for the better part of two years before he split for Nashville in 1996 and began to mix session and touring work, playing for the likes of Tanya Tucker and Hank Williams III. He went to work for drum-maker Roland, promoting its acoustic and electronic drum lines and teaching at clinics.
Meanwhile, Collective Soul collected five more No. 1 rock hits, sold more than 10 million albums and went through a few drummers, including Ryan Hoyle, a friend of Rabb’s. Rabb already knew Collective Soul bassist Will Turpin (they’d met at a party through a mutual friend), when Roland approached him in 2012 at a trade show.
“We were drummer-less and he was doing a seminar and Will and I walked over to see him,” Roland said. They’d been auditioning drummers. After watching Rabb play, there was no way they were going to require Rabb to try out.
“Really?” Roland said. “I’m going to have him play ‘December’ ”?
He told Rabb the gig was his if he wanted it. Rabb wanted the gig. They jammed at Roland’s house and the deal was done. He joined Roland, Turpin and rhythm guitarist Dean Roland (Ed’s brother). Earlier this year, Jesse Triplett took over lead guitar duties.
After so much kicking around, and learning the most valuable sideman tricks – be flexible, be on time, be a pro – Rabb still sounds amazed by how easy the process was.
“Normally that stuff doesn’t happen,” Rabb said. Normally there’s talk of an audition that never happens. Normally there’s talk of a job that seems certain and then it goes to someone else. This one time, however, it worked and worked easy. Rabb was already a fan. He had the records.
“And every night when I’m playing, it’s a lot of different riffs and focal parts that get to me,” Rabb said. Not just “Shine.” Not just “December.” He’s looking forward to playing them in Sacramento. He’s already heard from old friends and teachers about the show. Rabb lives in Indianapolis now, an easy flight to Atlanta to rehearse or, in the case of the new album, record.
“It sounds huge and catchy,” Rabb said. “Great melodies. Great guitar riffs.”
Those two – riffs and melodies – have been almost interchangeable over Collective Soul’s years. As Roland said, he likes solos you can sing, solos like the Cars’ Elliot Easton plays.
Over the years, a lot of writing was done on the tour bus. But Collective Soul took much of 2013 off. The band played only 12 shows. “It was a chance to enjoy what we accomplished over the years,” Ed Roland said.
Roland worked with his side group, Ed Roland and the Sweet Tea Project, releasing “Devils ’n Darlins” in September. He hung out at home. “I’m a lucky man,” he said. “I have 135 guitars in my house.”
He made sure he had one of them, and an amplifier, in every room. That’s how he wrote the songs that make up “See What You Started by Continuing.”
Final mixes were under way earlier this month. The release date hasn’t been finalized, but the songs have already worked their way into the set list. It’s a tricky proposition for a band with the history and the hits Collective Soul has on file.
Nevertheless, “we made them the first two songs” of a recent show, Roland said.
Roland was pleased with the reception. He could see the fans process the new stuff, and even start to sing along. He knows everyone wants to hear the hits. They’ll play the hits, and they’ll do it without apology.