Selfishness. It can be either a friend or foe in the songwriting process and the bigger musical world. For Blues Traveler, selfishness has been a long time coming. It’s what drives the band’s eighth studio album, ¡Bastardos!: a need for the band members to make themselves—and only themselves—happy while making music.
But ¡Bastardos! isn’t merely about a bunch of selfish, um, er, bastards making themselves happy or being overly indulgent. Musically, it’s about a band growing into itself not for the first, but the second time—remarkably—while simultaneously making sure to have fun and push the envelope creatively.
Ask the band members themselves, and they’ll tell you: After scaling the peaks of both the jam-rock mountain and the pop charts fairly early into their career, they faced a bit of an identity crisis: Were they a balls-to-the-wall/let’s-rock-till-dawn blues-rock band or a singles band? The Jay Bennett-produced ¡Bastardos! reaffirms that Blues Traveler is and has always been the former, the same band that built a devoted following from coast-to-coast for its epic sets, and for transforming the jam scene in the early ’90s via its beloved H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) festivals. Today, they play to sold-out crowds at such massive outdoor venues as Red Rocks in Colorado, The Wolftrap in Virginia, and Pine Knob in Michigan.
“This is just us being completely ourselves, and not thinking about what we should be doing,” says guitarist Chan Kinchla, noting that on previous albums the band spent maybe a little too much energy trying to appease everybody—from labels to producers to all of their fans. “Before we made this record, we decided, ‘Let’s just make records that we love and regardless of how they do commercially, at least we love’em and they’re all ours’”
But make no mistake, while ¡Bastardos! may not have been written and recorded with the radio in mind, that endless hooky side of Blues Traveler—be it in Kinchla’s riffing or frontman John Popper’s harmonica blasts—is still very much intact. They remain one of the few kingpins of the jam scene who can actually back up their grooves with carefully crafted songs and stories that are both witty and catchy.
And most of the stories running through ¡Bastardos!, the band’s debut for Vanguard Records, focus on falling in and out of love, and what can happen before and after a heartbreak: “During the process of making this record I ended my engagement, fell in love and caroused a lot,” says Popper, the band’s lyricist. “John’s been mixing it up romantically a lot more recently,” says Kinchla. “It’s almost like he’s singing about stuff that someone in their early 20s would be going through, because in the past he’s always been so insulated and kind of a loner. It’s been fun to watch him explore that side of life.”
As Popper exorcised his loneliness in such songs as “She and I” and “She Isn’t Mine,” he, Kinchla, Wilson, drummer Brendan Hill and bassist Tad Kinchla (Chan’s brother) turned demos and arrangements inside out or upside down and experimented with horns and syncopation and time signatures. Says keyboardist Ben Wilson, “We didn’t want to … Read More