Watch Fairground Saints Go Marching Into Heavenly Territory

Mathematicians quick to point out that "three into one won't go" might want to think twice. After all, there are the Holy Trinity, the Three Musketeers and -- now presenting -- Fairground Saints.
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Mathematicians quick to point out that "three into one won't go" might want to think twice. After all, there are the Holy Trinity, the Three Musketeers and -- now presenting -- Fairground Saints.

This Los Angeles-based trio of gifted singer-songwriters with an aggregate age -- 68-- that's less than many grandmas came together through social media. And in only about a year, they already have developed a polished sound and exquisite three-part harmonies, landed a major record deal and exhibited the Musketeers' "all for one" attitude that raises their maturation level past the average Me-llennial.

For those who haven't heard of them or their music, it won't be long. Fairground Saints are about to break big with the release of their stunning self-titled album (Verve Music Group/Universal Records) on Aug. 21 and available now to preorder on iTunes.

All three -- Mason Van Valin, Elijah Edwards and Megan McAllister -- sat down in early July at separate locations in California for a phone conversation to discuss their origin story, analyze each other and tell why each of them are so committed to "dating our band right now."

Summing up their relationship, Van Valin said, "I think we're all pretty good friends. Our manager (Kimberly Knoller) said something really interesting to us a while ago that I thought was important. She's like, 'You guys have got to kind off fall in love with each other.' And so I think a lot of that's about being unconditional and finding ways to be best friends.

"We're all big fans of each other. We all challenge each other in different ways. I think any good friend that you have would challenge you emotionally or professionally in a lot of ways. That's kind of how it works with all of us. We're always pushing each other in good directions, I think."

If that makes you want to learn more about Fairground Saints and the pretty pop sheen they add to a solid roots-rock foundation, here's your chance. Warning: Joining the group love affair is inevitable.

Fairground Saints (from left): Megan McAllister, Mason Van Valin
and Elijah Edwards.

By the numbers: Easy as 1, 2, 3
1. Mason Van Valin, 23 years old, and a native of the Santa Ynez Valley in California, plays guitar and wrote the majority of the album's 12 songs.

Not that he's unpatriotic, but after completing a heavy load of touring dates recently, "I literally slept through the Fourth of July," he said.

He has plenty of tunes with snap, crackle and pop, though, that gave him the idea to form a band after busing tables at the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara and working as a solo act a few years ago.

2. Elijah Edwards, 19, and a fellow Santa Ynez Valley native, plays guitar, mandolin, keyboards, dobro and accordion.

For a teen about to explode on the scene, it's refreshing to know he spent the holiday at his grandma's house in Montecito, watching the fireworks from her roof.

A quick learner instrumentally, Edwards taught himself to play the dobro in a couple of days after meeting Van Valin through Facebook. The two formed a duo that developed a following in Ojai before they teamed up with producer Matthew Wilder in Malibu.

3. Megan McAllister, 26, grew up in the Michigan city where she won the Miss Greater Grand Rapids pageant in 2006, but moved to California after touring and teaching with the Corona-based music education nonprofit known as the Young Americans. Along with splitting most of the lead vocal duties with Van Valin, she plays guitar and dulcimer.

Getting a broad musical education by listening to her parents' record collection that included mom's Patsy Cline and dad's Musiq Soulchild and Brian McKnight, McAllister harmonized with her sisters for fun, then also became a solo performer for a while. But she was in the right place at the right time when her roommate in North Hollywood submitted a YouTube video that basically served as a band audition.

"We're like, 'You're cool but who's that girl in the back?' " Van Valin said. "It was Megan. She was pretty phenomenal. So we tracked her down."

A day after McAllister met Van Valin and Edwards, they started writing songs together.

Taking Wilder's connections, their self-confidence and enough songs to fill half an album, they went shopping for a record deal "to like every label there is," Van Valin said.

They were signed by Verve last summer after famed record producer and Verve Music Group chairman David Foster contacted Lucian Grainge, Universal Music Group's CEO, who immediately liked what he heard when they performed at a club across the street from the label's offices.

At the time, "It seemed like a natural turn of events," Edwards said. "But now looking back, you're like, 'Oh, we made a record and were signed to a major label within a year.' Like that's kind of crazy."

With financial backing and a divine combination of voices that falls somewhere between the Civil Wars and Fleetwood Mac, Fairground Saints feel they are ready for liftoff. As Van Valin said, it's like "you've got a rocket ship and they pay for all the fuel."

Growth spurt
Van Valin had a head start with his album contributions, writing the lively "Can't Control the Weather" when he was only 14 years old.

The son of a doctor who listened to James Taylor and Simon and Garfunkel and has written "some really great songs" himself, Van Valin said of his dad: "He's so unapologetically passionate about songwriting. ... He helped me to set up a standard while still being encouraging about my growth."

With three older sisters who "couldn't get past the sore finger stage on the guitar," Van Valin picked it up when he was 12 or 13, found it "really fascinating" and knew he wanted to be in a band "ever since I started playing."

If he was being serious, his musical tastes reach far beyond his roots/folk heroes.

"I freaking love the Bee Gees and I think it's important people know that," Van Valin said to conclude the interview. "I don't know why. I just want to put it out there."

Edwards has two sisters with professional music aspirations, a grandfather (Rolland Jacks) who's a playwright and "a pretty prolific songwriter as well," and learned his first song from his Uncle Craig, who played jazz piano.

If he wasn't a musician, Edwards would have been a zoologist. "I like classifying different flora and fauna, and I sound a like a nerd by saying that," he offered.

Yet bands have been part of his life since he was a member of a kids' jazz group for six years, starting at age 10.

"It's just a natural thing to be in a band," he said.

McAllister, who enjoys photography and Rollerblading in her spare time, got the earliest start of them all, writing songs from the age of 7.

"There's literally videotapes that my mom has of me where I'm like, 'I'm gonna be in a band, I'm gonna live in California. That's what I'm gonna do,' " she said.

"You're like Babe Ruth," Van Valin said of the New York Yankees slugger whose legend grew with folk tales about his home run predictions. "You're pointing to the outfield wall sign."

Name that group
Fairground Saints wasn't McAllister's first choice for their name, but the fact that this California transplant couldn't pronounce or spell the French word she wanted led to a quick dismissal.

"See, here's the thing," Van Valin good-naturedly explained. "Probably four letters into this 12-letter pronunciation, people are less interested. They're over it. It could have been amazing. They're not gonna try and Google that when they get home. Also, apparently, just a very commonly used word in France, so if you tried to hashtag our band, it got covered up in like 2 seconds by like 30 different hashtags. So it was just a disaster.

"What we did is ... I call it casting lots to the universe. We took magazine articles and clipped them out. Little words or phrases that popped out to us and eventually Fairground Saints came up."

McAllister was all for it, particularly when Van Valin attached a profound meaning to the name after seeing the Bill Murray movie St. Vincent.

"I thought the coolest thing about that film was that they kind of, not to be sacrilegious or anything, but I think (the message is) everybody's kind of a saint in their own way," Van Valin said. "And all these efforts that everybody has in their daily lives, big or small, that they make or sacrifices or whatever it is that go unheard ... they don't get notoriety for it.

"And the world seems to be sort of this chaotic explosion, similar to like a fairground whenever you go to it. So we just want everybody to feel included in that. You don't have to be an amazing person to be a saint in your own way."

Defined by song
While the album's last two numbers, "Turn This Car Around" and "Somethin' From Nothin' " were rollicking group efforts, each member of Fairground Saints added a touch of melancholy individually.

"When we were writing this album, we were all in kind of shitty relationships," Van Valin said.

Asked which song on the album best expressed their feelings led to some intriguing introspection.

Van Valin on "Ain't Much for Lyin' ": "It was exactly how I felt about a situation and so that ended up coming through," he said, remembering that songs like "Fred Jones Part 2" on Ben Folds' Rockin' the Suburbs were helpful but didn't fully fulfill his emotional needs. "And that's always the most satisfying thing in the world, being able to completely and totally express yourself. And sit down afterward and take a deep breath and go, 'Wow, OK, on to the next one.' "

McAllister, powerfully pouring her heart out on "Until Then": "I was going through a really, really painful breakup and writing that helped me through it, and I know that a lot of people -- even that I know personally -- have been through the same thing."

One of her favorite songwriters growing up was Alanis Morissette, whose nakedly emotional revelations helped McAllister get "through whatever I was going through because I could relate to it. ... I wrote little ditties when I was 7, 8, 9, 10 but once I got serious about it, I wanted to write things that somebody else could relate to. ... And just as I've grown as a writer, it's just gotten deeper and more honest, and that's still the goal, to just share stories and relate with people. Just kind of give whatever gifts I feel like I've been given back."

Edwards on "Made to be Forgotten": "I kind of consider it a time capsule, where I was at the time," he said. "So I'd definitely say at the time it was exactly how I was feeling. That was a pure expression of where I was at. But I can say with confidence it's not really where I'm at now."

Group therapy
Asked to take part in a role-playing game as a therapist analyzing another member of the band, Fairground Saints were up to the task, revealing more layers in the process.

Van Valin on Edwards: "Eli, I call him the mad scientist. ... He's like the beginning of the universe. Just a constant chaotic explosion of creativity, like all the time. ... I don't think I ever hear a time when Eli's not making noise on something. So he's, just by some kind of magical default, just constantly creative. And I guarantee you, within the next 20 years, this guy will be the next Mozart or something like that. I really mean that."

Edwards on McAllister: "Megan is way better (at music) than you'd expect by first meeting her because she has no ego whatsoever. You meet her and you're just like, 'Oh, just a nice girl, like whatever.' And then when she gets on the microphone, you're like, 'Holy crap, I'm screwed.' ... And that secret weapon, I don't think she even intentionally uses but when talking to her, she's just so normal and really won't talk about music but then when she actually plays (guitar), you're blown away at how good she is. ... She's like one of my favorite guitar players rhythmically that I've ever heard."

McAllister on Van Valin: "Oh yeah, I'll give you my take on Mason. (laughs) ... Extraordinary. I couldn't really tell you exactly why I use that word. What I love about him is he's so unapologetically who he is. And he just kind of owns it. He has this authentic and distinct sound. Everything that he creates ... I could hear it from the other side of the planet and I would know that it's him, even if I don't see him. ... And there's so much feeling and just so much depth to every sound that he creates. ... And then he's a wonderful person, too. He's an intense guy but he's awesome. He has a really good heart and I'm just lucky to have him as a friend."

Who's the best?
Competitiveness is the nature of the beast in any business, but Fairground Saints don't mind giving props to each other in all aspects of life, never allowing anyone to feel like the third wheel. Challenged to pick a winner in a number of random categories as a final exercise, they were nearly in agreement on everything:

Best cook: Van Valin hands down, they say, and he quickly concurs. Making up recipes and hosting barbecues is his specialty, "Because I think cooking is so similar to music, at least in my head. I spend a lot of time mixing flavors in my brain to see what will and won't work and then trying it out. ...

"I will challenge anyone to a cook-off."

Best voice: McAllister. "She has all these tricks that we've never even seen," Van Valin said. "And like every once in a while I hear her do (something new), I'm like, 'What is that? Why don't you use that in the show?' "

"I'm saving it," McAllister said. "It's only the first album guys."

Best musician: Edwards. "He can basically pick up any instrument and figure it out in like 30 minutes," McAllister said.

Not wanting this to become a total lovefest, Van Valin said that's true as long as it's "anything with a string," noting that Edwards has yet to master the trumpet or any woodwind instrument.

Social media: Van Valin gives this one to McAllister, but they all have their area of expertise, saying she's the "photo master" (on Instagram), Edwards is the "hashtag master" (on Twitter) and he's the "caption master" (on Facebook).

Best driver: Van Valin takes this one himself, pointing out an occasion when he had to get behind the wheel of the van because someone else "was driving all sorts of scary."

Added McAllister: "I always feel safe when Mason's driving, so we'll give him that."

Best party animal: Edwards, who discloses, "I've never really drank. I don't need it. I'm already kind of there."

Serving as big brother of his younger band mate, Van Valin told him, "I'm just scared about what happens when you turn 21 and you start drinking. What's that gonna be like? ... You're either gonna freak out and then just explode or you're just gonna mellow out really hard."

All joking aside, it's apparent Fairground Saints know how to have a good time. One thing's for sure -- starting Aug. 21, count on them to deliver plenty of winning numbers.

Publicity photos by Gus Black.