Spending afternoons lunching at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills was something that Saint Motel never expected. They’d been staples in the Los Angeles indie scene for nearly a decade, yet never quite found the magic formula to move beyond their status as a local favorite. Yet, as the band sits poolside, nursing exotic alcoholic beverages and enjoying their meals, they can’t help but laugh at how fast 2015 has turned in their favor.
After spending a year rebooting their operation, the band hunkered down in a studio in Santa Barbara last year to come up with a batch of new songs, their first since 2012’s Voyeur. Though they originally were known for their guitar-driven indie rock, the quartet’s sound has evolved to become that of a more of a cinematic, experimental pop band.
Not too long ago, despite selling out venues across town and getting featured on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic, Alt 98.7 and KROQ, Saint Motel could never quite take that next step to stardom. Their clout as local headliners paired them with such opening acts as Imagine Dragons, Local Natives and Young the Giant — all of whom eventually skyrocketed past Saint Motel into amphitheaters and arenas.
Seeing their former openers surpass them in terms of popularity became a running joke within band circles.
“At first, I think it’s a little disheartening to see your peers rise above you so rapidly,” guitarist Aaron Sharp admits. “We never dwelled on it and had to get over it as quickly as possible — and kept going, even as we were just hanging on by a thread.”
“Looking at it the other way, it was like maybe we could make it, too,” adds bassist Dak Lerdamornpong.
For years, the band was seen on the numerous mock Coachella posters that adorned the Internet. Finally, after years of building themselves up, they landed a coveted slot at the festival that singer/guitarist/keyboardist A/J Jackson and Sharp have been longing to play since they first started Saint Motel as students at Chapman University.
“The biggest goal we ever had was, which isn’t even that big of a goal, was to play Coachella,” Jackson says. “Once we do that, we figured we could go live in a cave somewhere. We won’t go in a cave after this one, since there’s a lot more to do.”
When they first got the offer to play the festival in November, Saint Motel was in the midst of another European tour. They were awoken early in the morning to the news that had eluded them for years.
“We jumped up and down and were screaming,” Jackson recalls. “Then came the hard part of not telling anyone.”
Since they were announced on the lineup, Saint Motel has seen their success abroad translate at long last at home. Now signed to Elektra Records, the band has finally gotten the radio push that has long been just out of reach. The peppy “My Type,” which features a slew of horns and funky percussion, has ascended up the SiriusXM Alt Nation charts, and has become one of the most requested songs on terrestrial radio.
The band’s recent U.S. tour was a revelation. They played cities they hadn't visited in years, or ever, yet the shows were sold out, evidence that the years of laboring in L.A. were beginning to pay off. In recent months, they made their late night TV debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and also played The Late Late Show with James Corden.
Saint Motel played the Coachella main stage on Sunday afternoon, demonstrating that their burgeoning popularity is no fluke. “The event is known for taking chances and risks and is known as a tastemaker festival,” Jackson explains. “It was a long shot to get on the lineup… we got really lucky.”
Saint Motel is only beginning to experience success in the States on a tangible level. However, in Italy, they’ve become full-fledged stars. “My Type” has gone platinum and they’ve even been targets of the Italian paparazzi. “They know who we are over there and it’s so trippy,” drummer Greg Erwin says.
For years, they wondered when it would be their turn to join their peers. But despite seeing everyone around them succeed, Saint Motel never lost confidence in themselves. The long wait has allowed them to become more comfortable with who they are as a band.
“If we would have started this success five years ago, we may not have had our shit together as much,” Erwin says. “We think things through more now and we’re fortunate in that sense. We’re on such a good trajectory now because we know who we are and we appreciate all of the stuff that’s going on.”