Sounds Local: 'A crazy experience'
When it comes time to record, most bands head to a studio or even choose to record at home. But the trio known as And the Traveler wanted the recording of its first disc to take place at a special location that would help foster its ambitious musical vision. The band from Yonkers, N.Y., which calls its music “experimental post-progressive rock,” found what they were looking for at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Greenfield.
“I have a home studio, but we needed to get away and get focused,” explained former Greenfield resident Max Johl, the band’s guitarist and lead vocalist. “It was my mom who suggested the church. At first we thought it would be a logistical nightmare, but it totally worked out.”
The band, equipped with a full arsenal of recording gear, moved into the church’s sanctuary for 12 days and transformed it into a full-out recording studio and faux dorm room. The church, which was built in 1895, has been home to many musical performances over the years, but nothing quite like this.
To capture what Johl called “a crazy experience,” the recording process was filmed by Camden Moriarty of Whately and a series of short clips were posted on YouTube. To view them, go YouTube’s website and search for “And The Traveler-12 days 1 Space.”
And The Traveler will celebrate the release of its new album, “The Road, The Reason” with a show at the Arts Block, 289 Main St. on Saturday, June 1, at 8:30 p.m. Also on the bill will be Haste!, Rebel Base and These Animals.
In addition to Johl, And The Traveler features Donald Perdomo on drums and Josh Goldberg on Chapman Stick. (The Chapman Stick is an electric stringed instrument played by tapping on the strings with both hands. It is capable of playing bass lines, melody lines, chords or textures). All the band members sing and often incorporate intricate harmonies into their songs.
Johl lived in Greenfield for 19 years before heading to Yonkers to attend college. He is a member of the All Souls Church and had been involved in various church programs over the years. He said the church was receptive to the idea of the band recording there. “They are a musical church and, in part, it is a way to give back to me for all the time I have given to them over the years,” he said. “We also paid them a fee, which was helpful to them.”
“The Road, The Reason” is a double-disc, 17-song concept album that tells a complex story about a traveler trying to rescue a girl from her evil uncle who holds her captive beneath a massive metropolis. “Oh how I know what it’s like underground/Your bodies won’t be found/I said it before and I’ll say it again/Oh how I know what it’s like underground” is from the tune “Underground,” which is an example of the elaborate tale the band weaves on this record.
The album was totally funded by fans and the story and the music was written by all the band members. The process of creating the story began about four years ago when Goldberg was jamming on guitar and Johl started singing some lyrics to the tune.
“I began to improvise lyrics and had part of a story in front of me,” recalled Johl. “Days later, Josh brought another tune to me and, once again, I improved the lyrics. From those two songs I had a beginning and ending point of a story and I began to write out a rough draft. Within a few hours, I had an entire rough draft.”
However, it took four years of rewriting and input from his bandmates before the story was completed.
The band has released a companion story book to go along with the album based on “The Road, The Reason.” It features artwork by former Pioneer Valley resident Joshua Warren.
Musically, as soon as you hear the disc’s opening track, “Steps,” a song which is heavy, melodic and progressive sounding, you know that you are in for a sonic roller-coaster ride. The band utilizes stylistic shifts, complex rhythms and quirky time signature changes to create music that is unlike anything that is being released today. (Of course, there aren’t many bands in which you hear a Chapman Stick, either). Call it a rock-jazz-classical hybrid if you will. Much of the material here has a sound that recalls the prog-rock era of the 1970s, when progressive rock bands were a dominant force in the music world. Think guitar riffs reminiscent of Yes, the jazzy style of Return to Forever and the storytelling of early Genesis.
While the disc is full of experimental sounds, there are also enough hooks and melodies to grab the ears of even the most casual music fan. Johl’s voice is somewhat reminiscent of Freddie Mercury and it is through his expressive vocals that he is able to bring this epic story to life.
When asked if the envelope-pushing bands of the 1970s were an influence to And The Traveler, Johl responds with a “no.”
“I grew up listening to The B-52s, Beethoven and show tunes,” said Johl, a classically trained musician who started playing in local bands while a student at Greenfield High School. That said, you will not hear music sounding like anything mentioned above while listening to “The Road, The Reason.”
“I know,” laughed Johl. “I love gypsy jazz, hardcore and rap. Josh is super prog-y in that he loves King Crimson and virtuosic solo players. Donald is a total punk kid and into metal.”
Next up, And The Traveler plans to bring “The Road, The Reason” to as wide an audience as possible.
“We worked really hard on this,” said Johl. “We had a vision and a clear goal and we feel it translates to the marketplace. We plan to get on a bus and tour as much as we can.”
Tickets are $7 and available at www.theartsblock.com or at the door.
Jim Matus and Doug Raneri CD release Friday at The Arts Block
And The Traveler are not the only ones unveiling some new music this weekend. Jim Matus and Doug Raneri will celebrate the release of their new CD “While Sleeping, Watch” at the Arts Block on Friday, May 31, at 8 p.m.
Jim Matus of Hadley is well known to Pioneer Valley music fans as the leader of the world music bands Mawwal and Paranoise, as well as for being a member of Impulse Ensemble. A gifted composer and arranger, his work with these bands has brought him widespread critical acclaim and he has now teamed up with percussionist Doug Ranier of Montague to further his musical journey
“While Sleeping, Watch” is seven instrumental tracks all written by Matus with the exception of one. Matus plays the laoutar (an eight-stringed electric-acoustic hybrid of a traditional Greek laouto and a guitar) while Ranier plays acoustic and electric percussive instruments. Matus wrote the songs last summer while sitting by a lake in Canada and has said that the song titles came to him in a series of dreams.
While there is an obvious eastern influence to this music, the duo also incorporates plenty of jazz and rock into its playing. This is music that ranges from the exotic and mystical to the folk-rock that brings to mind the sounds heard on “Led Zeppelin III.” Through it all, Matus and Raneri play with a passion and intensity that should translate to an exciting live show.
Advance tickets are $7 and available at www.theartsblock.com or are $10 the door. Matus and Raneri will open for Vieux Farke Toure at the Iron Horse Music Hall on July 5 at 7 p.m.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at email@example.com