Asheville-based jam band cuts loose in Greensboro
*Editor’s note: The Travers Brothership song “Individuals” was misspelled in the print version of this article. In the song “Individuals,” there was a lyric that was misheard. Both errors have been corrected online. Moves will no longer play at The Blind Tiger on June 14, this article has been updated.
Fraternal connections are at the heart of Travers Brothership, a soulful jam band from the Asheville area. Half of the band, twin brothers Kyle and Eric Travers, share DNA. And the other two band members — singer/bassist/songwriter Josh Clark and keyboardist/percussionist Ian McIsaac — have been part of this tight musical core since they were all in middle school up in Black Mountain. The music of Travers Brothership sounds steeped in soul, and southern rock, showing flashes of prog, a long-form jazzy improvisational spirit and the showmanship of classic rock. All four members are multi-instrumentalists, and they bring that wide-ranging eclecticism and group chemistry to their music.
Travers Brothership plays The Blind Tiger in Greensboro on Friday, June 14. I spoke with guitarist and vocalist Kyle Travers last week by phone as the band drove up to New York City for a show in Brooklyn and another in Vermont. They were supposed to have had some time off after a lengthy spring tour, but they’re the kind of steady-gigging band that get calls from their managers with performance opportunities, and when it comes time to decide, they nod in agreement at the prospect of spending more time making music. Playing together for hours and hours as teenagers is the thing that cemented their connection.
The band has a connection to the Triad area. One of their first regular gigs was a weekly show they had for a stretch at Wahoo’s Tavern in Greensboro. Travers remembers getting to the venue, which didn’t have a designated stage for live music at the time and having to rearrange some of the games and decor to make room for the band.
“We’d move the foosball table,” he said.
This spurs a discussion about how Travers Brothership sometimes — particularly in the early days — had a horn section, which made cramming into tiny clubs an added challenge. It added to the bigness of their sound. But for their most recent record, Let The World Decide, which came out last year, the group scaled down to a quartet. It’s funny to listen to the record and think that there was the potential for more to be wedged into the music because they manage to layer a fair bit of sound into the songs as it is.
“We started writing music that involved a lot more three-part harmonies,” Travers said.
OK, so, yeah, they have three-part vocal harmonies, like on the epic jammer “Individuals” off the new record. On the same tune, they also spool through aggressive funk with slap bass and clavinet grooves, then into face-melting guitar-shredding sections, with Travers bringing to mind Carlos Santana.
It’s a song with more than just instrumental muscle. Travers wrote it while he was working a soul-sucking warehouse job in Hickory.
“I worked 12-hour days there. I would go in before the sun came up, and I came out when the sun was down,” he said. “It was something I didn’t really enjoy doing.”
One of the lines in the song goes like this: “I hope you don’t find me working overtime in the factory.” Travers doesn’t shy away from hard work, and he didn’t want the song to seem snotty about the predicament of laborers, but after discussing it with his bandmates, they concluded that, since it came from real experience, there was a genuine truth to it. (The lyrics actually sympathize with the struggles of those trying to support families and pay rent while spending all their time on a job.)
Other songs on the album, such as “Mama Don’t,” settle into a soulful New Orleans feel with just piano and vocals. Elsewhere, like on “Sweet Anna Lee,” Travers Brothership add a touch of Americana. And then, on the long-form instrumental jam vehicle “Ursa Major” they cut loose in a high-octane funk fashion that conjures comparisons to Parliament or Stanley Clarke.
“We’re bringing the bass solo back. We’re heavy on it,” laughed Travers when I commended the band on their willingness to go places — particularly with regard to extended instrumental spotlight sections — that a lot of bands have steered clear of, perhaps for fear of being labeled excessive.
Record-closer “Do Confide” has elements of springy dub-reggae, with dramatic stops and starts folded together with Travers’ guitar heroics.
You could say they’re all over the map, but they’re sort of an all-terrain musical vehicle, able to navigate different turf with confidence and control. At different times they might sound like Allman Brothers, Phish, Frank Zappa, Stevie Wonder, the Dixie Dregs, early Rod Stewart, Michael McDonald, or Little Feat.
The jam-band umbrella is a big, wide one, with a lot of bands huddled under it. The one unifying theme is eclecticism — extended grooves, and anything goes. A lot of jam bands tend to throw in elements of zany humor, goosing up whiplash transitions and stark contrasts. Travers Brothership doesn’t exactly get manic or slapstick. There’s no real comic aspect to their jams. Instead, they fall back into jazzy, bluesy, rootsy modes of stretching out and exploring.
“We put soul as our first genre because, no matter how far out we get, I think the main lifeline of the music is trying to play soulfully and from the heart and make it have a meaning instead of a noodle or random trippiness,” Travers said.
The band is touring in support of Let The World Decide, but they’re thinking ahead to a live release that will capture the on-stage energy they bring to clubs and theaters, feeding off an audience and letting the music go in whatever direction it will.
“Our live show brings a whole other curveball,” Travers said.
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.
See Travers Brothership at the Blind Tiger, 1819 Spring Garden St., Greensboro, on Friday, June 14.