“You can have these really crazy, intense shows there. That kind of grungy environment just propagates intimacy; it’s a special kind of intimacy. Some of my favorite shows of all time have been at the Blind Pig,” said Joe Hertler in an interview with The Daily.
Fresh, funky and a little far-out, the pop band Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers is set for a two-night return to the Pig this weekend. I’m dancing already.
“We probably met, I want to say, five, six years ago. We were all in college. Half the band went to Central Michigan and half went to Michigan State,” Hertler said. “We were kind of just jamming in college and playing co-ops and stuff like that, and it slowly developed into something that was a little more involving.”
The group consists of Hertler (vocals, guitar and lyrics), Micah Bracken (keyboard), Jason Combs (bass), Aaron Stinson (saxophone), Rick Hale (drums), Ryan Hoger (guitar) and Kevin Pritchard (producer, bass).
Despite echoes of Edward Sharpe’s soul and Vulfpeck’s funk, Hertler’s songs often blossom from alt-rock. He’ll write a demo, then give it to the band, at which point the groovier elements start to bubble up as they work their Rainbow Seeker magic on it.
“Growing up in the ’90s, that was the music I connected to. It was the music that I first engaged with, which is kind of how it is for everyone from age 16 to their mid-20s. You know, those formative years where the music you listen to is what you tend to identify with,” Hertler said. “I guess that’s where the love affairs really started.”
Never having skyrocketed in popularity, the Rainbow Seekers have been gradually expanding their fervent fan base over the years. Each show is bigger than the last, and the group is driven by pure passion.
“It’s just really fun,” Hertler said. “All of us do other things, but so much of it is just part of your identity.”
On the band’s off-months, he works for the American Cancer Society and teaches English. To keep their experiences colorful, the Rainbow Seekers try to revamp a couple tracks each year.
“I’ve never been more excited to play ‘Jetski,’ of all songs,” Hertler said. “I’m always thankful that people like certain songs and respond well to them, but to redo them — while the core of the song is still the same — to have some things that have been changed is a fun challenge,” Hertler said.
Michigan-bred and Michigan-based, JH+TRS love, love, love their Michiganders. They’ve built a rainbow-seeking family through the band, and they carry pieces of home with them wherever they go.
“We’ve had opportunities to leave the state, and we’ve thought about it, as every band does … but this is our home. A couple years ago, we decided to stick it out here. If it doesn’t work out, that’s alright,” Hertler said. “One of the nice things about Michigan is that a lot of people leave and go to other places. When we go to Denver or LA or NY — just a lot of big cities — there’s always a couple hundred Michiganders.”
JH+TRS radiate a certain warmth that lets them exist in a lane of their own within the funk-pop landscape. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and every inch of their success is welcomed with nothing but gratitude. I met Hertler at the Espresso Royale on State, and it felt more like catching up with a friend than an interview. They’re a groovy bunch, and everything from their earnest lyrics to their smooth rhythms to their name itself is just one massive bear-hug.
The Rainbow Seekers’s most recent album, Pluto, is stunning in its existence as both heartbreaking and dance-inducing. I’m not a fan of using the word “real” to describe music, much less people, but this album — this band — is real in every sense of the word. They’re genuine in their joy and human in their heartache, and they’re all about connecting with people through unsullied authenticity.
“I think the focus of the music has always been the live show,” Hertler said. “Music is this form of communication, and when that communication is locked in, there’s a buzz you get. It’s in those tender moments where the magic is. I hate to be like, ‘It’s magical! It’s spiritual!’ But it is, in a way.”
Welcoming Ann Arbor like a second home, Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers will play the Blind Pig this Friday and Saturday.