While most local bands cross their fingers waiting for that one lucky break, Ann Arbor-based jam band Smokestack has a different plan: Create a powerful live act that keeps fans thrilled and venues packed.
Aside from their obligatory studio album, which was released almost three years ago, the quartet (James Sibley – keyboard, vocals; Chuck Newsome – guitar, vocals; Brennan Andes – bass, vocals; Dan Eichinger – drums) relies solely on word of mouth and distribution of live material (stick around after the show, you might get hooked up).
With their Colorado tour in progress, and plans intact to record a live album at Leopold Bros. on April 26, Smokestack certainly has their work cut out for them. The Michigan Daily talked to James Sibley over the phone as he and the band cruised the Colorado mountainside en route to their next venue.
The Michigan Daily: Let’s start at the beginning, what is it like to be a jam band getting started in Ann Arbor?
James Sibley: It’s hard, and it still is hard. We’ve found that there is a scene in Ann Arbor, but it’s kind of hidden, whereas out here I think there’s a bigger acceptance of jam bands. But it’s getting easier to get people out, because the word is spreading by itself.
TMD: So how long was it before you guys started headlining venues?
JS: In Ann Arbor, it was like six months or so, but you start in your hometown and it’s easy to fill those up, but then you can leave it and go 30 minutes away, or an hour away, and have two people show up.
So that’s the hardest part, not only getting your hometown market to come, but places father away. We’re starting to get multiple towns, which allows us to tour successfully, and not just go out, make no money, and come back broke.
TMD: How is it to be an aspiring jam band on the road?
JS: A lot of times we’re sleeping on floors of peoples’ houses … at the end of the show we’ll try to con someone into letting us stay at their house. But that part can also be cool, if you get to go back to these peoples’ houses and meet them. Then the next time you come back, you know them better, and they’ve helped you out in promoting it. But, it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.
TMD: Is there anything about jam bands in general that you would change?
JS: A lot of people think that you can just pick up an instrument and play without really knowing what you’re doing and just jam on a chord for two hours, and in that sense I think jam bands can get a bad name.
The way we look at it, it’s kind of an extension of jazz.
I think a jazz background is really important for jam bands, and you can tell those who have it from those who don’t.
TMD: You guys describe yourselves as “eclectic,” and I guess that sums it up, even though that’s not much of a description by definition.
JS: Yeah, it’s hard to describe what we do. It’s always a tough question, and we usually end up just listing off a whole bunch of styles. Our whole philosophy is that anyone in the band can bring in any kind of music, and we’re open to doing it. The more styles you can draw from, the more interesting and original your music is going to end up being.