This winter, South Riding singer-songwriter Torrey B is releasing a new EP. Setting his expressive voice and introspective lyrics to a loud mix of rock and soul, the project is the culmination of almost two years of work as a solo artist and the frontman of his band, FreeSoul.
The EP, provisionally titled “Past & Present,” is a continuation of a journey begun in 2017, with the release of his debut solo EP, also called “Free Soul.”
That record, made with his friend Robert LeGree of Jace Beats Productions, was a DIY project initially meant as a demo reel. “The reason we did that was just to get me booked for shows,” Torrey B said.
As they worked on it, it became an artistic statement in its own right.
“I was the first guitar [LeGree] had ever recorded,” he said. “He had only recorded rappers at this point. He was just used to vocal stuff.”
The duo experimented with different ways to mic a guitar, searching for the right tone, and ended up with a dreamy, cavernous, yet detailed, sound that fills the soundscape beneath Torrey’s layers of vocal lines and harmonies. The EP is quiet, but seems meant to be played loud to bring out the layers of ambient sound effects, backing vocals, percussive pick attack, and deliberative fretboard squeaks. “It doesn’t sound like a guitar, but it sounds like something that I like, which is fine with me,” he said.
The songs reflect Torrey B’s outlook on relationships and life, as informed by his childhood as a self-described military brat. This experience led to an open-minded, empathetic mindset laid bare in his lyrics. Moving from town to town, “you’ll see the same scenario, but you’re in a different place, and it’ll run out in a completely different way,” he said. “I try to think of things from different perspectives, so I’m not just preaching.”
“If I’m talking about an issue, I want to talk about the whole issue, not just spit some rhetoric and get my point across,” he said.
“Ms. Mystery,” the album’s opening track, is an example of this perspective-shifting approach. Describing the song’s first verse and chorus, Torrey said: “I wrote it about me.” The lyric, about someone disappearing from history, was already intact along with the song’s title and pensive guitar riff when he brought it in to record. It was at that point that producer LeGree inquired about the song’s title, prompting Torrey to change the pronouns and add a second verse inspired by watching passers-by while busking at metro stations. The song combines an abstract image of himself with that of a stranger, creating a previously non-existent character.
After releasing the EP, Torrey B wanted his next project to be bigger.
“What I envisioned in my head, I can’t do by myself,” he said. He reached out to members of his previous band, Mothership, and added a drummer and saxophonist to form FreeSoul, which played their first show at The Bungalow in Chantilly in late 2018.
Initially intended to be a backing band his EP, the band has taken on a life of its own. They have started selling their own merch, and billing the band separately from “Torrey B” the solo artist.
“Right now, we’re just playing stuff that I have already written, but I want to write with them, and they want to write with me, too. We’ve talked about it a bunch; we just need the time to practice,” he said.
Describing their sound: “I kind of want it to be like Living Colour, but not as hard.”
Live, the band eschews the atmospherics of Torrey B’s solo EP for an aggressive, electric barrage of riffs, drum fills, bass runs, and solos. The songs become more urgent, but he maintains that he wants to keep his music accessible to any audience.
“I don’t use profanity in my music,” he said. “I try not to exclude people in any way. That’s not for marketing or to be able to sell it. That’s just who I am.”
For the time being, the band has stuck to region’s brewery/winery circuit to hone their craft, keep momentum going, and as a source of income. However, Torrey B’s main goal for the band is to have enough original material to fill an hour-long set before targeting dedicated concert venues.
“I want it to be completely practiced and ready to go, like I was going to play at Wolf Trap. I want to be that ready before I start pushing the bands to venues like that,” he said.
The emphasis on the full band does not mean that Torrey B will stop playing solo shows, or to retire his brand as a solo artist in favor of FreeSoul.
“I don’t really put either one first,” he said. “If somebody needs a solo player, I’ll go play solo. If they ask for a band, I’ll call the band and see if they can make it, and if they can’t make it, we don’t play it. It really just depends on the situation.”
In both scenarios, he uses the opportunity to blend his originals with a repertoire of familiar covers. He doesn’t find difficulty presenting his songs to an unfamiliar audience of winery patrons or brewery-goers. “I think that if you make the effort to push your original music, you’ll be received either well, or not well if people don’t like it … but you’ll be received. People will listen to you, and they’ll decide whether they’re going to keep doing it or not. I don’t think that this area is against it.”
In addition to material off his first EP, both Torrey B and FreeSoul are playing new songs. The band recorded at Kokopelli Music Studio in Sterling, with that session resulting in a batch of new recordings, three of which are slated for their forthcoming EP. Filling it out will be tracks recorded by Mothership at Cue Recording Studios in Falls Church, a few years earlier—hence the EP’s prospective title, “Past and Present.”
The EP is scheduled for release on Black Friday and is in the mastering stage now. In the meantime, Torrey B continues to play concerts around Northern Virginia and the greater DC region, both as a solo artist and with FreeSoul.
To listen to Torrey B’s recordings and get updates on upcoming appearances, go to torreyb.com.