Photograph by Gus Black
Photograph by Gus Black

At the ripe old age of 19, Mason van Valin was busing tables at a hotel restaurant and decided it was time to “fish or cut bait”; either he was going to pursue music full time or he was just going to stop.  Music won.  He put a notice on Facebook that he was looking for people to join him in this musical endeavor; 16 year old Elijah Edwards answered with a resounding “pick me!” and the two joined forces.  The pair set out playing blues covers around their California town together, but eventually became a little bored playing others’ tunes.  They decided to write music of their own, and began playing shows at random venues featuring their new music,  developing a small following of encouraging fans along the way.  The duo ventured to Malibu to record their music, and accidentally stumbled upon Megan McAllister singing on Youtube.  McAllister had been on an assignment traveling the world teaching songwriting to children, and had decided to stay in California after her adventure came to an end.  “I didn’t really want to be in a band before I met Megan,” explains van Valin.  “I’m kind of a control freak, and I wanted to do things my way, and Eli just wanted to play music, but when we met Megan, we realized we could have a bigger vision and create something really cool.”

The duo became a trio, and two years later, Fairground Saints are preparing to release their self-titled debut LP on August 21st via Verve Records (and NPR Music’s “All Songs Considered” debuted the album’s single “Turn This Car Around”!!!).  “We’re super stoked about the album.  We’re very proud of it, and we’re ready to get it out there,” says Edwards.  Each member is a songwriter, and had spent time honing his/her craft on individually before forming Fairground Saints:  “We’ve taken on the philosophy of throwing all of our individualities into the melting pot to create the “Fairground Saints smoothie” as I’ve called it,” says van Valin.  “As a band, our philosophy is to not really aim for anything in particular, and just sort of let it be what is is, and whatever our group is genre-wise, we don’t even really know.  We go all over the place.  We let it be as organic as possible.”

What does everyone bring to the table?  The group consensus is that Edwards is the “mad scientist;” “I think I’m the guy who shows up and plays something and people think it’s weird at first,” Edwards says.  “I like adding elements that wouldn’t naturally go together, and creating a synergy from that.  We’re all equally songwriters too.  We have a really friendly competition among us when it comes to songwriting, like when Mason brought “Ain’t Much For Lyin'” to us, Megan and I were like ‘dang!’ because it just such a good song, and it makes us want to bump up our songwriting a notch.   It pushes us to be better.”  “As for me,” McAllister says, “because a lot of my influences are from R&B music, which is random, I kind of bring in the heart and soul, and being a girl with a nurturing spirit, I’m like the bridge.” “She brings us balance.  She always calms the situation down,” says van Valin.  “Musically, she brings a lot to the table, a lot; and Eli got better at guitar in two years than I did in thirteen.  I’ve never heard Megan sing a bad note.  We humble each other in different ways.  I love our dynamic, we challenge each other.”

I love their dynamic too; I was able to catch their show at The Basement here in Nashville, and was amazed at their talent.  Fairground Saints have an obvious chemistry together, frequently employing immaculate three-part harmony, but also showcasing McAllister’s beautiful, crystalline voice, and van Valin’s emotively strong one.  Edwards is the master of all things stringed, easily moving from guitar to dobro to mandolin.  I have to agree with van Valin, it’s difficult to pinpoint a genre for Fairground Saints.  Whatever you choose to call it doesn’t really matter, because above all, it’s pretty fantastic.

The trio is based in Los Angeles for now, but there may be movement towards the Music City at some point;  “Nashville is my favorite thing in the entire world,” says van Valin. “I love it.  These are my people!  When I went back to California after my first time in Nashville, I felt like I had a hard time fitting back in there.  I think we’d eventually like to be here.”

Fairground Saints is currently touring, playing shows up and down the California coast to get people excited about what they’re doing and to build momentum.  Touring is fun and rejuvenating for the group; says McAllister, “when you play your songs so many times, they can lose their meaning, but when you play live for people, it brings the life right back to the music.”

You can pre-order their LP on iTunes now, y’all! You can also learn about and keep up with Fairground Saints here:

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