Photograph by Sean Harris
Atlanta’s music community is so vast an industry veteran can get lost in the mix. That’s not exactly what happened to Dean Roland, rhythm guitarist for the multiplatinum Stockbridge, Georgia band Collective Soul (and baby brother to its lead singer, Ed). But when Dean’s side project–the Britrock-influenced Magnets and Ghosts, a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Ryan Potesta–released its debut album, Mass, in 2011, few trumpets sounded up and down Peachtree.
Now, with Magnets and Ghosts in the midst of recording a second full-length album and on an extensive tour that finishes at The Earl in East Atlanta this Saturday, the real fanfare is set to begin.
Roland, 40, and Atlanta native Potesta, 29, met in 2006 during the recording of Collective Soul’s Afterwords and bonded over their mutual love for arty English bands Elbow and Doves. Casual jamming ensued, and “it was crazy how everything fell into place,” says Potesta, a Berklee College of Music vet who was working as a recording studio intern at the time. “The first night Dean and I played together, we had four or five songs rolling.”
One of those tunes was “Hearts of Everyone,” the hummable 4/4 single written and recorded in the duo’s Atlanta studio, along with the straight-ahead “Like a Sunday” and the crunching “Light My Flame.” Polished in all the right places, raw in others and brimming with melodic, sophisticated arrangements that recall influences such as Tears for Fears, Radiohead, Oasis, and Nirvana, Mass rocks with heart—yet most of it sounds nothing like Roland’s other band.
He swears, however, that Collective Soul isn’t an elephant in the room.
“There are roles to be played in every band, and I’ve had the good fortune of being on the inside of something really special with Collective Soul,” Roland says. “I consider [my brother] Ed to be one the best songwriters of the past couple decades. But Magnets and Ghosts is an outlet that gives me something CS can’t. I relish not having any preconceived ideas of what the music is suppose to be. It’s creatively liberating to discover new territory for myself.”
Arriving for the August 24 show at The Earl, fans should check all preconceptions at the door, the duo say. Case in point: this past January, during its first-ever large scale gig—at Terminal West—Magnets and Ghosts brought a string section onstage to enhance the already expansive, orchestral sounds of “Hold On” and spun the dark grooves of “Morning Rails” into an epic barnburner. Potesta switched effortlessly between piano and guitar, sharing lead vocal duties with Roland, whose vulnerable tenor feels like a revelation to those of us who have known him as a sideman for so many years.
“His chord knowledge is crazy and immense. I don’t think he realizes how much he knows,” Potesta says of modest songwriting partner Roland. “We are a two headed monster in some ways. It gives us the ability to tackle a song from many different angles.”
Roland, who’s still a member of Collective Soul, says juggling that band’s still-busy touring and recording schedule is “a bit tricky” (CS recently played a gig in Jakarta, Indonesia, and is also making a new album); however, he and Potesta are fully committed to Magnets and Ghosts–and to continuing the sonic diversity of Atlanta’s music scene.
“You can’t control the ups and downs of the success that comes from the music you create,” Roland says. “You can only control how you react. I’ve tried to maintain a healthy perspective of humility. It’s all about learning and still being curious about what’s next: next song, next show, next album, and next tour. Anticipating something great seems like a fun way to live to me.”