The late-blooming but sudden success experienced by Atlanta’s Collective Soul was one of the mid-1990s’ big music stories.
Originally released in 1993 by an Atlanta indie label, the first Collective Soul album contained a song that got picked up by an influential Atlanta radio station. The popularity of band leader Ed Roland’s rock anthem, “Shine,” radiated beyond the Atlanta area, eventually going nationwide.
“Shine” became a No. 1 hit. The album of demos it’s featured on, Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, sold 2 million copies. After a spectacular launch, Collective Soul played the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock and more multiplatinum albums and hit singles followed.
But as Collective Soul nears its 20th anniversary, Roland is taking time away from the group that made him famous. He’s got a brand new band.
The acoustic-oriented Sweet Tea Project has performed a half-dozen shows so far. The band also recorded an EP and is recording a full-length album for release in March.
The Sweet Tea Project began about 18 months ago when Roland was home for a few weeks between Collective Soul touring. His coffeehouse musician friends in the Atlanta area started dropping by his home studio after their gigs.
“We just sat around and jammed,” Roland said. “We were just having a good time. All organic fun. And then I’d played songs for them that I’d written that don’t really fit Collective Soul.”
One of Roland’s musician friends suggested that the informal group play a show together.
“I made a call and we had a chance to open for Band of Horses,” Roland recalled. “We did that and people were very responsive. We had a blast and it was like, ‘All right. Now let’s make a record.’ That what we did.”
The Sweet Tea Project has another small run of dates ahead of it, including a Wednesday, Nov. 14, show at The Parish at House of Blues.
“The guys in Collective Soul are excited for me,” Roland said. “Those guys are doing some of their own stuff, too, which is great. We’ll come back together for the 20th anniversary of Collective Soul and do another record. But right now this is healthy for everybody.”
For now, the Sweet Tea Project is appearing in smaller venues, such as The Parish in New Orleans.
“Smaller venues can be very tight, but we’re listening, we’re looking at each other,” Roland said. “It’s reminiscent of how Collective Soul started.”
He also sees performing as a great way to prepare for recording sessions.
“To me, the best way to rehearse for a record is to go out there and play in front of people,” Roland said. “You can figure out your arrangement, what you like. The people help with that, too.”
The differences between the Sweet Tea Project and Collective Soul include instrumentation. Collective Soul rocks with loud guitar and bombastic drums. Sweet Tea takes a gentler, more acoustic-oriented path with banjo, ukulele and trumpet.
The songs are different, too.
“I’m trying to tell more stories,” Roland explained. “And I pick subjects that I’ve never written about before. Sometimes with Collective Soul it’s more about being cute and coming up with cool rhymes. With Sweet Tea Project it’s more organic and people can understand it easier.”
Regardless of his new musical love, Roland is forever grateful for Collective Soul’s breakthrough.
“I love telling young kids about it,” he said. “It gives them faith and hope in what they’re doing. You just have to be prepared when you’re given an opportunity, because you never know when that opportunity will happen.”