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Savannah Shoulders Makes Some Noise On The Local Music Scene

Savannah Shoulders plays at the Roanoke Public Libraries’ Emerging Artists series.

by Gene Marrano

They call themselves Savannah Shoulders – named after a line in a song by folk musician Elliott Smith  – and they all go to local high schools. And they’re really good. The band – members hail from Hidden Valley, Patrick Henry and several private schools – have played at the Roanoke Public Library, Down By The River and at Festival in the Park recently, and will soon have a gig in Atlanta as part of a mini-tour. Then they’re off to record a new album in one of the country’s music centers, Nashville.

The group recorded their first album, Another Light, at the Music Lab, although they did not come together and practice at the Jefferson Center venue – unlike Suite 325, which did practice there and recorded their own album. At a recent Roanoke Library gig guest vocalist Abigail Cohen, a member of Suite 325, took a turn at the mic with Savannah Shoulders.

Zach Wiley (drums/vocals, Max Lee (bass guitar), John Pence (guitar/vocals) and Vander Warner (guitar) may be joined by Alan Connor (Hidden Valley High School) on drums this summer, which would enable Wiley to concentrate more on singing as a front man and guitarist.

Connor is part of another Hidden Valley-based “indie” band, Fine Linens, as well. Wiley and Warner have known each other since early childhood; Wiley had seen Lee at his church and eventually they formed a power trio funk band of sorts. Lee also plays bass for Suite 325.

The group wrote two originals and then expanded a few years ago. After the original guitarist left they added Pence, also a member of the group Twelve O’clock Knob. Wiley saw Twelve O’clock Knob play at Local Colors and then approached Pence about joining Savannah Shoulders.

“I get so fatigued by the end of the show,” said Wiley, referring to the physical workout rock drummers get.  Ironically one of his “Top 5 albums of all time,” The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, features drummer Phil Collins, who later moved out front on tours when he also became lead singer after the departure of Peter Gabriel.

Wiley is the principal songwriter for the group, which mixes in cover songs with originals during gigs. “It takes a lot of stress off Zack [to come up front],” notes Pence, who is also dual enrolled at Virginia Western Community College.

Their summer tour will take them “everywhere in between” here and Atlanta, said Wiley. “We’re very excited.”  Savannah Shoulders will try to keep the same lineup or at least for the next year or so; with most of the band members planning to head to Virginia Western to start college that will be a bit easier. Their music ranges from folksier stuff to straight on rock and roll – with a trace of the blues and other influences as well.

Wiley said he has written most of the music for the second album; Another Light was more of a collaborative effort.  The first album is available on iTunes.  Wiley said he is a “big, big Elliott Smith fan” when it comes to musical influences, but The Beatles remain his favorite band. “They kind of got me into music.” Nirvana and Foo Fighters influence him on the harder rock side.

Pence tends to favor Red Hot Chili Peppers (“that’s my thing”) but also likes lesser known indie label musicians that often don’t show up on the radar. Guitarist Vander Wander likes the blues, an influence that can be heard in Savannah Shoulders, while Max Lee gravitates towards funk and jazz, “a typical thing” for bassists ,according to Pence.

Savannah Shoulders’ music can be found on line at and at The group also has a MySpace page with links to music and can be seen on YouTube. For as long as they can keep it together Savannah Shoulders plans to be a presence on the local music scene. “It’s a lot of fun,” said Wiley.


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