The 400 Unit, Jason Isbell’s band, takes its name from a psychiatric ward in Florence, Alabama. When they hit the stage at the Arlington Theatre on Saturday, February 26, as part of UCSB Arts & Lectures’ 2022 season, what the audience will hear is the most accomplished, sophisticated, and uncompromising rock and soul music in America right now.
Although several members currently call Nashville home, their sound comes from a significantly different tradition than mainstream country. This brand of Americana is the music associated with Muscle Shoals, the northern Alabama region responsible for such deep cuts as “Do Right Woman,” “Dark End of the Street,” and “Out of Left Field.” Musicians from the Shoals revere the craft of songwriting regardless of genre and tend to get straight to the heart of matters when they let loose.
400 Unit guitarist Sadler Vaden is no exception. Like his musical partner Jason Isbell, Vaden speaks his mind on Twitter and elsewhere and practices a kind of humble candor that’s refreshing in a world where many musicians cultivate contrived personae. When I talked to Vaden last week by phone, he and his wife were at home with his son and looking forward to celebrating a birthday, Vaden’s 36th, the next day. We talked about songwriting, touring, and what it has meant for him to be part of this Grammy-winning breakout group.
How’s it going, Sadler? Are you looking forward to being on stage and the road again?
Yes, you know we had to start and stop during the last tour, and that was hard. We’re hoping this time to be able to make it straight through without interruption.
Sign up for Indy Today to receive fresh news from Independent.com, in your inbox, every morning.
Can you write songs while you are on tour?
I can sometimes. I’ll often get an idea for a riff on the road and remember it. I find it easier to write when I’m at home. It’s like I have an input node and an output mode, and they don’t happen simultaneously. When I’m touring, I’m on output.
How is it traveling with Jason? Is he like Elvis Presley?
[Laughs.] No, not at all. Touring with Jason and the 400 Unit is a joy because we love each other — or at least we still like each other. And, you know, the music ain’t half bad.
Can you give me an example of how you get along or what makes it worthwhile?
Sure. I love that we have a good time playing sad songs. That’s always been there.
I enjoyed the album Georgia Blue that you released to celebrate Joe Biden winning Georgia. You sang a song on that, “Honeysuckle Blue,” that’s from your other band, Drivin’ N Cryin’. Can you tell me about that?
Yes, you know, obviously we approach a covers album pretty differently than a record of originals, but that was nice to sing that one because it means a lot to many people in that part of the world, including me.
See Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at the Arlington Theatre on Saturday, February 26. For tickets and information, visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu or call (805) 893-3535.