If you had to curate the soundtrack to a sun-soaked downtown stroll, what kind of mood would it evoke? Would it capture hometown nostalgia? Perhaps the uplifting notion that good things are coming your way as the bay’s breeze flies over the Bridge of Lions?
Four St. Augustinians have joined forces in the name of making wistful music that while steeped in tradition, is ever progressive. Salt & Pine is a Folk Americana band with a bit of pop and rock flair. They are frontman Nolan Baker, vocalist Haley Thompson, and string maestro Matthew Kirkland.
I had the pleasure of meeting them earlier this year as part of a writing assignment. We sat down at Dos Coffee & Wine, sipped kombucha, and discussed all things music and St. Augustine. They are such friendly folks with a knack for effortlessly putting others at ease. Here’s a glimpse of what I learned about the rise of Salt & Pine...
“We’re a St. Augustine story all the way. We come together because of the Narrow Open Mics,” comments Nolan as he takes a retrospective look at his band's path. While making his rounds on the old city music circuit, guitarist and singer Nolan met Haley. Both were searching for people with whom to play music. After reconvening months later to rehearse a song Nolan wrote with Haley in mind, it was clear - their voices complemented each other. Eventually, the duo met Matthew after one of his own performances. Nolan’s enthusiasm for Matthew's talent moved him to use a direct approach, inviting him to join his band on the spot - he was in.
“I don't think I had the cable out of my instrument yet,” recalled Matthew with a hearty chuckle.
Some of Salt & Pine's first gigs were at Planet Sarbez. Within two months of forming, they enjoyed a write up and performance set arranged by Narrow Magazine. Prohibition Kitchen has also been a major player in their career. “This whole town is so supportive of artists,” appreciates Nolan.
As a small child, Nolan often penned poems. He kept at writing through his high school years before ever learning to play guitar. That would change when his college roommate turned out to be a guitarist. He taught Nolan four exercises and said to him, "Do that for a month." With that foundation, Nolan taught himself to play professionally, finding the perfect songwriting vehicle. His years of poetry could now serve as a backdrop for the lyrical tracks found on Salt & Pine's debut album, Sinking In.
Before she could speak, Haley's parents realized that theirs was a musical baby. She was already beating the family's washer and dryer with sticks to the tune of music. Haley’s musical outlets came in the form of drums as a child, then piano and guitar in her teens. Though she recalls being quite nervous during her first open mic, Nolan applauds her for not letting others see her sweat. He describes her as a "consummate performer.” A myriad of things can go wrong when performing live, but "her shaker is going to be perfectly in time like a metronome," says Matthew.
In his mid 20s, Matthew tapped into the music of his Southern Gospel and Appalachian heritage, setting off on his current trajectory. He first learned to play jazz bass. The Elvis-meets-teen angst movement that was Rockabilly resonated with Matthew. Music didn't always come naturally, though. After putting in countless hours of practice and study, he concluded, "...I didn't have to be tone deaf." Matthew is grandson to a guitarist and pianist. His grandpa once bought an omnichord for his wife so she could accompany him on songs. Grandma wasn't a fan and threw it in her closet circa 1983. Matthew stumbled upon it during a recent visit, and she gladly gifted it to him. It's been a nice feature for Salt & Pine as it pays homage to the folk revival.
Today, Salt & Pine keeps busy with steady live shows. They still perform at Sarbez to a warm reception from fellow open mic artists from their earlier days. Haley says it's like “playing on home field.” Their debut album was released in January, followed by digital release in February. Tracks can be purchased and streamed across platforms including Pandora and Spotify. They're already sitting on enough material for another record. Slated to be an extended cut, the band's second music video in the works.
When Nolan, Haley, and Matthew aren't performing, you might catch them playing tourist, kayaking, and supporting local artists. What they personally jam to lately ranges from Chris Stapleton to Metallica.
If you're curious about how the band's name came to be, think of the terms "salt" and "pine" as actions. As Nolan puts it, “To salt something is to heal or to preserve...you can pine for something." In a city pining after restoration in the wake of two major hurricanes, this is an act that speaks to the heart of who we are as resilient St. Augustinians.