The Silos

Walter Salas-Humara sits on the edge of the bed in his Atlanta hotel room toweling dry his dark hair. Though it’s mid-afternoon, the freshly showered Silos frontman admits he’s still a bit bleary following another stop on the Silos’ U.S. tour to promote Come On Like the Fast Lane, their tenth album. But this veteran musician wants it known that he’s not complaining: “[Touring] is like a job and a vacation at the same time,” he says, his scratchy voice sounding perpetually in need of a cough drop. “We have friends all over the place, so for me working is a chance to visit all my friends.”

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In a couple hours, the New York City-based Silos will head on to Birmingham. But first, Salas-Humara has been asked to speculate why—after 20 years and Rolling Stone’s 1988 decree that they were “America’s Best New Band”—the Silos haven’t achieved any lasting fame. Suddenly, the easygoing guitarist tenses.
 
“It’s interesting to me that in a lot of articles I read about us, writers tend to bring that up, right off the jump,” Salas-Humara says. “They’re like, ‘Boy, these guys are great, and isn’t it tragic that they’re not huge stars?’ It’s so not like that. I wish people would just get over it. We like what we do. We’re happy people. There’s no tragedy here—just the opposite.”

The Silos

The 13 rollicking, alt-country tunes on Come On Like the Fast Lane make it clear that the Silos are in a celebratory mood. Even the sad songs are backlit with joyous melodies. Though Salas-Humara has released 18 albums, two of them solo ventures, others collaborative efforts, and ten solely Silos projects, Come On Like the Fast Lane may just be his favorite. “On this record I’m just singing as hard as I can, like I would in a club, so the vocals are, I think, the best I’ve ever done,” says a deadpan Salas-Humara. “There’s something about the new one that just has a real organic feel and sound to it that I find more instantly appealing.”

“It’s Really Almost Like a Marriage”

A self-described “team,” the current Silos lineup has toured together for nine years. Of drummer Konrad Meissner and guitarist Drew Glackin, Salas-Humara says, “We get along really good. That’s really important because we’re spending so much time together that it’s really almost like a marriage relationship.”

The Silos’ offstage camaraderie bleeds into their upbeat live shows, which showcase Salas-Humara’s parched voice, Glackin’s ripping guitar solos, and Meissner’s dynamic drumming. Unlike most bands, which position the drummer on the rear of the stage, Meissner’s drum set is positioned in the front. “He can do a lot of different percussion things, so live he’s really exciting to watch,” Salas-Humara explains. He’s equally in awe of Glackin, whose impressive career has included recording with the Crash Test Dummies, Susan Tedeschi, Graham Parker, and the Hold Steady. “When he plays guitar, he’s everything from Ry Cooder to Richard Lloyd or Allan Holdsworth—really wild, weird guitar style,” says Salas-Humara.

“All of a Sudden It Sounds Like Nirvana”

Glackin’s distinctive style was forged with a collection of Gibsons and Epiphones, among them a 1963 B-25, a 1919 Gibson A-4 mandolin, 1964 Epiphone Texan (a favorite of Paul McCartney), Gibson Skylark Lap Steel, and a Gibson EH-150 Lap Steel.

Though he calls Glackin the “guitar geek” of the bunch, Salas-Humara can geek out about guitars with the best of them—especially when he’s talking Gibsons. His abiding love affair with the historic guitar company began as a senior in high school, when he discovered a mahogany LGO buried under a pile of skis in the storeroom at his Colorado boarding school. “That was my guitar that I wrote songs on for many, many years until I bought the B-25 [in 1993],” he says. 

Over the last 14 years, Walter Salas-Humara has become most attached to his badly scuffed 1968 B-25, using it to write and record every Silos song. Finding that the acoustic sound wasn’t translating as powerfully on stage, Salas-Humara outfitted the guitar with a Sunrise pickup, plugged it into his amp and distortion pedals, and began using it live, too. “It was just a great revelation,” he says of plugging in his acoustic. “It sounded amazing.”

Known for their extraordinary guitar arrangements, the Silos find their extensive collection of new and vintage Gibsons ever helpful when scheming up new songs. “I get lots and lots of comments about our guitar tones because they’re interesting. I have a meaty guitar style, and people get excited because they’re watching me play a beat-up acoustic guitar, and then all of a sudden it sounds like Nirvana or something,” Salas-Humara says with a laugh.

The Silos

“We Really Couldn’t Afford Anything”

A year ago, the stars seemed aligned for the Silos to craft a killer new album. A sizable advance from Dualtone Records, which had released 2004’s When the Telephone Rings, had allowed them to secure Steve Earle as producer and Mario McNulty as engineer. All were to converge to record in Phillip Glass’ famed Looking Glass Studios over a period of several weeks. Then, the bottom fell out. “When I went to the label to secure the financing, they basically told me they just didn’t have the money,” Salas-Humara says. “We really couldn’t afford Steve, and we really couldn’t afford anything other than four days in the studio.”

Ever optimistic, the Silos decided that four days at Looking Glass would have to cut it. To save time, they agreed to record the album straight through, without listening to playback. “A lot of times you’ll cut a song, and then you’ll go into the booth, and everybody will listen, and everybody will comment, and 20 minutes will go by, and you’ll decide to do it again. We decided not to do that. We didn’t have time for that,” explains Salas-Humara. Instead, the Silos set up live and played live, and within four days, they’d recorded Come On Like the Fast Lane

The Silos then mined a connection with an old friend, who helped them get signed with Chicago’s Bloodshot Records. They haven’t looked back since. “Bloodshot’s been around for a really long time,” says Salas-Humara. “People know they’re getting a good album when they see Bloodshot. They’ve expanded our visibility so it’s been good all around.”

So far, the Silos have noticed more people at their shows. They’ve gotten a mailbox full of complimentary emails, and the album’s even snagged some radio play. Could this be, at long last, the Silos’ big break? Perhaps. But the Silos frontman is unconcerned.

“I don’t think fame has anything to do with music,” Salas-Humara says. “The biggest factor is just luck. I’d just rather do the best work I can, and try to make good records. I’d drive myself crazy worrying about all that other stuff.” 

Visit the silos at www.thesilos.net.

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