Photo by Kingdom Photography
In your ears to In The Earth
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The term “jam band” is an all-encompassing umbrella term especially in this day and age where genres seem to have no borders. It’s not unusual for an act to incorporate frequent flyer instruments (bass, guitar, drums, keyboards) while also utilizing synthesizer technology that allows for audio manipulation both on the fly and planned. For Imperial Blend, a four-piece Greensboro act that is just now beginning to mature and move beyond the confines of local fame, it’s all about realizing their strengths and capitalizing on their sound as they progress in their musical journey.
Breaking down Imperial Blend, a self-proclaimed jam band (distinguishable by winding riffs and extended musical conversations), starts with the name: Imperial, which is “of or relating to an empire,” and Blend, which is “mixing a substance with another substance so that they combine together as a mass,” sums up precisely what the group is all about.
The sounds of Imperial Blend fall right in line with what you’d expect from a jam band, but the greatest part of that definition is how wide the net is when trying to describe them. One defining characteristic of jam bands is that it’s indefinable; the soundscapes can reach into the ethereal realms of rock ‘n’ roll, similar to the early Pink Floyd albums that laid the foundation for Dark Side of the Moon. Then there is the percussion, which rarely gets the spotlight in lieu of holding the beat, but Dave Teague’s drumming manages to dance in the ear in the same way Mike Greenfield’s and Chuck Morris’ (of Lotus) keeps you at bay while waiting for another crescendo. It’s the negative space in Imperial Blend’s tracks that keep the vibe going “” the places where fretwork and keyboards don’t infiltrate the song, but instead compliment the ambiance of the hanging notes.
“I listen to mostly hip-hop, I mean, all kinds of music, really, just anything but mainstream country,” said Ethan Riffe, the man plucking the bass and holding beats in Imperial Blend. Brennan Fowler echoed these sentiments while also acknowledging the entire group’s affinity for acts such as Sound Tribe Sector 9, Lotus and other jam bands that have reached a level of success that rising acts see as an apex.
“I feel like we are a little over halfway there,” Brennan Fowler, keyboardist for the band, added regarding the trajectory Imperial Blend is currently on.
Riffe interjected, “We are laying down some gigs and making some connections. We finally got some somewhat legitimate wheels “¦ we need to make it to these gigs to make them happen.”
Riffe bragged about the recent acquisition of reliable transportation, which for a band is one of the most crucial components to expanding into other markets.
“We’ve bummed countless amounts of rides, which is fun and all, but now we have our own thing,” Fowler said.
But aside from that recent step, Imperial Blend is also on readying itself for the forthcoming release of a new album, In The Earth, which for any new act, is a milestone that involves much more than simply hanging out and recording a few tracks.
Working with Wilmington’s Hourglass Studios, which has production credits with The Get Up Kids, Chris James and Soul Diary, Imperial Blend is in the final stages of copyrighting an album that has been in the works since the band got started in 2011.
“(In The Earth) is a compressed version of what we’ve played live for the past four years,” Fowler said. Imperial Blend practice in a rented climate-controlled storage unit in close proximity to the airport. It isn’t always easy transitioning to a different recording space, especially one that offers the primed acoustics of a recording studio verses the reverberations of a storage unit.
“It was different for all of us. When we all got in there and put our headphones on we were really confident about it, but we didn’t’ know how to approach it. Once we started playing, though, we really felt the room,” Fowler admitted.
The actual writing of the album seemed to happen as organically as the band coming together. When Fowler, Riffe, and brothers Dave and Chris Teague were all attending middle college, they happened to be outside playing hackysack and discussing musical interests.
When all parts came together “” musical interests, hobbies “” it made sense to play together. That was nearly five years ago, and Imperial Blend played its first show together in March 2011.
“The jam band scene is very close knit here,” Fowler said. “But I’d say that a lot of it relies on a handful of bands from this area.” Fowler nodded to the successes of The Mantras and Big Something, two local acts that have managed to break into the semi-mainstream thanks to namesake festivals such as Mantrabash and The Big What.
“I’d say those festivals really help out this area because it makes it a little bit more real to people to see things,” Fowler added.
Recently, Imperial Blend has played semi-local festivals such as Gratifly in South Carolina, which billed Papadosio as the headlining act. Moving forward, Imperial Blend hopes to see themselves on more bills like that, and with some exciting news that is yet to be announced, it seems those dreams could be made into reality in 2015.
The next step, naturally, is making the decision to remain independent or to connect with an agency that handles the business side of things.
“We have definitely submitted a few forms to a couple agencies, and we’ve got a couple offers, but, you know, we are just trying to lead in the right direction,” Fowler said.
Riffe added, “With the business side of things, you never want to be too hasty.”
It’s sort of a luxury to be in the position that Imperial Blend is in, despite having to manage all of its own business dealings. But both Fowler and Riffe excitedly speak on discussing bookings, making gigs happen and being able to do what they are passionate about on their own terms.
“I mean, we don’t mind coming out of pocket for shows “¦ it hasn’t broken us too bad,” Fowler said.
Riffe concludes, “We are just going to keep playing no matter what.” !
Imperial Blend headlines at The Blind Tiger in Greensboro on Friday, Feb. 6 starting at 10 p.m.