The London Souls frontman Tash Neal talks being a Black guitarist and that thing that keeps his band going.

Words: Khari Clarke

This deceivingly-named Brooklyn-based band composed of frontman and guitarist, Tash Neal, bass guitarist, Kiyoshi Matsuyama, and drummer, Chris St. Hilaire, have been creating a stir below ground for a minute. But it’s their self-titled throwback-to-Woodstock-days debut album, which was recorded in just seven days at the legendary Abbey Road Studios—the same venue that has housed the likes of Pink Floyd and The Beatles—that might just set them above board.


We’ve seen many bands come and go, for a number of reasons. What your group dynamic like?

We all have a shared common sense of purpose and we really believe in the music that we make together. I think we’ve all recognized that there is something special that happens between the three of us when we play together that’s worth pursuing. I think that’s what will keep us together for years and years.

How did the band first come together?

We all had mutual friends in New York and we all had a mission for music. We all liked similar music, but at the same time different kinds of music. So we started playing together and thought we sounded really good. Once that happened, [we knew] we should keep doing this. Eventually we got better and started playing a bunch of shows in the New York area and then we started traveling.

Explain the band’s name to me? Who came up with it?

We got the band name when we were sitting around and trying to come up with something that looked good written down. Chris’ father had some band names that weren’t in use and one of them was The London Souls. We thought it looked great and seemed to fit us as a band.

Has anyone ever told you that you bear a slight resemblance to Jimi Hendrix in both look and sound? Interesting comparison, no?

Yeah, you know I’ve heard that all my [life]. And I’ve never actually played the same guitar that he played, but when your a Black kid playing the guitar, people will [compare you to him]. And that’s because for most people, [he’s] really the only Black guitar player they know. Out of hundreds of very important and influential Black guitarists, unfortunately most people only know Jimi Hendrix and Lenny Kravitz— that’s about it. So they see me “a Black guy with long hair” and that’s who they think of.

But you know, obviously, Hendrix is without a doubt one of the greatest guitarists that ever lived and I think more [bands] should be influenced by his music. Sadly, I don’t think they are. I don’t hear it in a lot of bands— that level of virtuosity or dedication to an instrument. So usually I take it as a compliment because I take the instrument very seriously and I love his music a lot.

How would you describe your sound personally and the band’s?

I would describe [my sound] as explosive from within. When I express myself while playing the guitar, I often try to hold back. But on occasion, I paint broad strokes with notes. The band’s sound is really the combination of all of our influences and the unique chemistry that happens between the three of us both musically and vocally.

There’s always an underlying message in music. What’s yours?

We want the people to feel anything when they listen to us and we also want to bring people together. We see at different shows that all kinds of people respond to what we do, and we love that. That’s what we want. There are people who think that people who look like us in the band, couldn’t be together—there a lot of people that don’t think that people who look different or have different backgrounds can accomplish anything together. So I think that it’s really a good thing when we can get people together that wouldn’t normally be together in the same room.

Your band’s self-titled debut album came out a few weeks ago — how long has it been in the works?

It took about a year, and we completed it in 2010. We continued playing shows and traveling in between when we finished it, and then we finally got to put it out. We did a few trips: we went to China, visited The Great Wall, Thailand. So we’ve been trying to step up in the meantime before people even heard the record. We had been keeping it to ourselves, so we’re really happy now that people are hearing it.


A while back you guys performed with Curren$y and The Cool Kids for Dame Dash’s party. How did you guys meet Dame?

We met Damon a couple of years ago actually, before we even recorded the album. One of his friends came to a show and then he came to a show that we played at some small club, and liked it. Then we became friends, then we traveled together and spent a lot of time together.

Are you guys Hip-Hop fans as well?

Oh definitely. Me and my brother grew up in New York in the ’90s. I love the Hip-Hop we grew up with and Hip-Hop now.

Who are some of your favorite Hip-Hop artists?

Growing up Biggie was huge. I loved A Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z, Slick Rick and Afrika Bambaataa. A few current artists too: Lil’ Wayne, Kanye West and I love what Rick Ross is doing actually.

Besides Hip-Hop, what other music were you listening to while you were growing up?

Funny enough, as a kid I didn’t grow up with Rock ‘n’ Roll playing in the house, so I didn’t really know what it was when I started playing guitar. What was played inside my house was The Temptations, Michael Jackson, movie soundtracks and watching MTV as a kid when they played videos. Before I was really seeking out music, I was just listening to whatever was coming out that I liked.

You mentioned that you didn’t listen to Rock ‘n’ Roll as a kid — what turned you on to playing the guitar and going down that path then?

It’s actually really crazy. My parents were musicians [and one day] they said to me and my brother, “Do you guys want to play an instrument? Think about what you would want to play.” I had this vision—well, I started playing the drums first, then I thought, “let me try the guitar.” I knew as a kid that if you had a guitar in your hand, you could communicate with a lot of people—I knew that. So I figured I’d try it and eventually I got pretty good at it. But I didn’t find out about Rock ‘n’ Roll until I was 14 really.

When I did, I kind of discovered everything at once and kept listening to that throughout high school. I started playing through all my favorite guitar records and just absorbed from it. Then I spent hours and hours when I got home just playing everyday. I just kept getting better and better, and I fell in love and just felt alive.

Talking about visions, tell me the future of The London Souls…

I think we want to make better records. I want us to have a pretty interesting and diverse catalog five years from now. I’m excited, I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m very optimistic and excited to see what we can produce and come with musically.

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