The Explorers Club: Local sextet discovers new terrain within familiar territory
Local sextet discovers new terrain within familiar territory
By Stratton Lawrence | Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Geographically speaking, phrases such as “the last frontier” are nearly moot in 2012. We’ve traversed, mapped and calculated the resource potential of nearly all of Earth’s surface.
Musically, however, artists continue to discover new territory every year. Still, that doesn’t mean that the styles of previous generations have outlived their viability.
The Explorers Club doesn’t sound like any other band you’ll hear in Charleston, but you may recognize a few tricks borrowed from a bygone era.
Songwriter Jason Brewer won’t shy away from the inevitable comparisons to The Beach Boys. Harmony-rich songs like “Run Run Run” and “Anticipatin’ ” from The Explorers Club’s sophomore release, “Grand Hotel,” released in February, could easily be tracks off a classic disc by the ’60s favorites.
That’s been an advantage and a hindrance to The Explorers Club’s growth. On the one hand, music-lovers of all shapes and stripes immediately recognize the quality of the music and its ability to transcend generational preferences. But on the other, how exactly do you a market a band of 20- and 30-somethings playing a musical style from 50 years ago?
A new audience
Brewer hopes that the group’s big gig opening for Earth, Wind & Fire at the North Charleston Coliseum will help expand the fan base.
“I was a Beatles fan, so my dad always played their version of ‘Got to Get You into My Life,’ ” Brewer said of his experience with Earth, Wind & Fire as a child. “They took an already great song that people really identified and got into and made it their own.”
Similarly, The Explorer’s Club has put its own Brian Wilson-esque spin on classic tunes such as “Proud Mary,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and Johnny River’s “Mountain of Love.”
For their slot at the Coliseum, however, they’ll focus on their own songs.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity to play in front of a diverse group of people: R&B fans, rock fans and even some jazz fans. Earth, Wind & Fire kind of stretches those genres all over the place,” said Brewer, downplaying any added pressure that comes with the big gig.
“Some bands kind of choke up when it’s a high profile thing, but we tend to do the opposite. If we’re relaxed, we play worse. When there’s a huge audience and momentum and excitement, we play our best. This is where we’re most comfortable: with a large group of people.”
“Composition” is a loosely used term among songwriters, but in the case of Brewer, his intricate songs, replete with horns and harmonies, are truly compositions.
Since the release of “Grand Hotel,” the follow-up to 2008’s “Freedom Wind,” The Explorer’s Club has launched a national push for the album, including plans for an upcoming tour as the backing and supporting band for another ’60s sensation, Paul Revere and the Raiders.
Dishing on Beach Boys
Brewer hopes that The Explorers Club can pick up the audience of music lovers who still cherish the old Beach Boys albums and sound.
He admits to being less than enamored with the new Beach Boys release, “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” which marks Brian Wilson’s return to the group.
“I think it’s so fantastic, even miraculous, that they’re all back together,” Brewer said. “They can still sing pretty well and they still look good and there’s obviously some creativity going into that record. But do I think they made a good choice with this album? Absolutely not.”
That critique doesn’t come from an armchair evaluator. Brewer is arguably one of the most knowledgeable historians of The Beach Boys’ career, emulating their arrangements into his own music to the point that it’s obvious within seconds of listening to an Explorer’s Club track.
“There are moments on the record that are really strong, but a lot of it sounds like ’90s adult contemporary radio with Beach Boys harmony involved,” Brewer said.
“That said, I’m a fourth generation Beach Boys fan, 40 years removed from when it was happening; but it just doesn’t appeal to me.
“I think they may have blown an opportunity to make one last great record, and, instead, they made an interesting record that doesn’t have much greatness about it.”
Brewer is clear to mention that he thinks “That’s Why God Made the Radio” is 95 percent better than most of what’s currently on the radio, but he can’t judge it as just a new record.
“I’m judging it as a new Beach Boys record,” Brewer said. “Still, 15 years from now, I will probably appreciate it a lot more than I do right now.”
That’s because, for now, Brewer is busy judging his own output as stringently as he does his idols’ (and making music that stands proudly with them).
For “Grand Hotel,” he recruited several members of Wilson’s backing band to fill out the sound during overdubs in Los Angeles.
He even had the chance to meet Wilson on several occasions.
Keeping with its motif, The Explorer’s Club released “Grand Hotel” not only digitally and on CD, but on vinyl, cassette and even 8-track.
Despite his mixed-reviews of The Beach Boys’ latest efforts, he still hopes “That’s Why God Made the Radio” succeeds, inspiring new fans to discover the old treasures as well as Charleston’s own The Explorers Club.