A Conversation & Concert with Jamie McLean: Gramercy Theatre on January 27
There was no fanfare when the Jamie McLean Band took the stage in Fairfield a few weeks ago. Jamie had an unassuming, almost self-effacing manner. He walked quietly to the microphone; a handwritten setlist was dropped to the floor, the guitar strapped in place, and then the show began.
No energy had been wasted on introductions; instead it was all poured into the music. What followed was a tight set of original songs played with an earnest intensity by all three band members. Bassist Ben Mars traded guitar licks with the bandleader, eyes half closed, rocked back on his heels and with a genuine smile on his face. I watched Brian Griffin. The drummer’s eyes were fixed on his bandmates in anticipation of the small changes in direction and spur-of-the-moment improvisations that make live music a necessity.
Jamie surprised me; surprised me twice in fact. I expected rock, but the music didn’t fit neatly into that box. Rock, yes, but rock laced with a blues undertone and with an unexpectedly strong country flavor. I expected solid vocals, but got more than that. Jamie has a unique tone to his voice, a clarity and expression that are all his own.
I was intrigued, and wanted to know and hear more from the Band. I bought a ticket to the upcoming January 27 show at New York’s Gramercy Theatre, and asked Jamie if he’d be willing to chat about his music and the Jamie McLean Band. He graciously agreed.
You left the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to develop your own sound. How do you describe your music?
I’ve been writing music ever since I could play guitar, but it has really been in the last few years that I feel confident about the songs and the lyrics that I’m writing. Recently I’ve gravitated toward more of a blues/soul feel. I’ve always loved the blues but it seems like it’s finally appearing in my writing on a more consistent basis. The blues is a solid foundation for a song and I feel like I put my original spin on it. I’d describe the recent JMB material as being based in blues, rock, country and soul. I know that certain songs resonate with fans and I think it comes down to being honest. The more honest I can be with the song, the more it resonates with everyone. The whole common denominator of existence; you can feel it in a song on the radio or watching us perform live. We put our heart and soul into the music. It’s completely honest and I think people appreciate that.
Who writes original music for the Band?
I write the majority of the music. I wrote all the songs on Sunday Morning and Time of My Life. Brian wrote ‘Natalie’ on our Completely album. Generally I write alone and bring in a close to finished product to the Band. Everyone puts their fingerprints on it, but the lyrical content and vibe of the song sort of present themselves to me when I’m working on tunes. The process is always different. I’ve written a 4 minute song in 4 minutes. I’ve written a 4 minute song in 4 years. Generally the ones that fall in your lap and seem to have written themselves are the most honest and tend to be better songs, but not always. It’s an elusive process but I love it. I just to try to recognize when I’m in a good place for writing and go with it. If it’s not there I take a bike ride or see a show. Hopefully the feeling comes back another day.
Tell me about the relationship between the Jamie McLean Band and fans.
The relationship with our fans is amazing. We definitely feel close to our fans and at the end of the day they really are our friends. We see them regularly on tour, they keep up with us on our social media sites and they are the reason we can continue to do this. We want to keep that bond really tight. We ask our fans what songs they want us to play, what venues they really like, what songs we should cover. There is a huge back and forth between the band and fans that really fuels the entire vibe of the community. I definitely want to make our fans as happy as I can and to do that we keep the communication lines open. Last year we wanted to release more music more often and so we turned to our fans with a pre sale of the EPs. In return for their early bird purchases, fans were able to get signed CDs, house parties that we played, autographed guitars and more. It was a win/win because fans got more music plus extra goodies and we were able to finance a massive project of 4 EPs on our own without a record label. We also offer all our music as a “Pay What You Want”. This allows fans to download music for free or for any amount they’d like to pay. The response has been amazing. We’re able to spread the music to new fans and it has really worked with our fans. I’ve had people come up to me at shows and hand me $20 out of the blue saying “I downloaded your CD for free. It’s amazing and I thought you deserved more!”
Can you describe the relationship between the bandmates?
Brian Griffin, Ben Mars and myself are best friends, part time roommates, troubadours, bandmates, and business partners all wrapped into one. We are lucky because aside from making kickass music together, we get along great. If you travel the country for a length of time with anyone, things can get touchy. You miss your home, your bed, your loved ones and don’t miss the shitty hotels and traffic and fast food. But we love playing music so much and we are so tight that the small stuff rolls off of our backs pretty easily. We respect each other enough to give space and know when someone just needs a day to themselves or a bunch of cold beers at the bar. We’ve got a great team of management/publicity/agents that handle the day to day business so generally we are concentrating on making music, putting on the best live show possible and finding the nearest Waffle House. We’ve become pretty good at finding good food, good music and good times with nothing more than a GPS and an itch for the highway.
You are releasing four new albums this year – an amazing feat of creativity and productivity. How did you do it?
More than anything it comes back to the fans. I wanted to get them as much music as I could as often as I could. I know I’d be psyched if my favorite band was putting out new music every few months. I was also at a point where the songwriting was really flowing and I had more than enough music to release on one record. I knew I wanted to do a lot of different things. We just wrapped up recording our first live album. We asked our fans what they wanted to hear after our first EP Time Of My Life and they wanted blues. So…..into the shed I went and I came out with Sunday Morning which is all blues based material. Its worked out great for us. It keeps me on my toes creatively so I’m constantly working on new and different material and it gives the fans plenty of new music to enjoy!
You’ve worked with many well known bands and musicians, including American Idol winner Taylor Hicks. Are future collaborations planned?
I met Taylor last year and we really got to hang at a Red Cross benefit for the Alabama tornado victims in Birmingham. He’s such a nice guy and a phenomenal singer. I mean….the dude can flat out sing his ass off. We’ve got really similar taste in music. We both gravitate towards blues and soul and R & B so we have a lot of common ground and love playing together. We invited Taylor to join us at our Sunday Morning CD release party at Brooklyn Bowl in the fall and he came out and killed it. We learned a few of his songs and he learned a few of ours and then we jammed on some covers we both love. It was so good that we decided to do it again last week. We recorded a live CD for a very small studio audience and Taylor came up and joined us on my tune ‘Country Living’ and some Allman Brothers jams. It sounds spectacular and I can’t wait to release it this spring. We are looking to do some more live performances together this spring and I’m supposed to join him soon for some songwriting sessions. It’s all a blast for me and it’s been a ton of fun singing and playing with him. I definitely push it a little harder on the vocals when I know he’s up there with us.
What are your long-term goals for the Band?
Our five to ten year goals are to still be doing this because it’s a dream come true. Playing for fans in a live setting is so incredibly rewarding. We’d love to play some bigger venues and bigger crowds but it’s a slow burn and that’s the way we want it. Fifteen minutes of fame doesn’t interest me at all. I’ve been helping to produce and write for other artists and some television, and that is always rewarding, but at the end of the day I love singing my songs with my band and my fans. Its like one giant family and I couldn’t be happier.
The following live performance audio of the Jamie McLean Band was recorded at Fairfield’s StageOne venue on January 5, 2012. ‘Sing It’ is a new, original and yet unreleased song from the Band that features the vocal harmonies of Jamie McLean and Ben Mars, as well as a striking guitar solo that begins at the approximate 2:12 minute mark.
Use the comment section below to tell us what you think of the song, or to talk about the Band. Your comment will serve as your entry into a drawing to win a Jamie McLean Band music album. Four albums (two copies of Completely, two copies of Sunday Morning) are available. Winners will be notified by email on Thursday, January 26.
If you will be in the New York area, a few tickets remain to the Jamie McLean Band show at Gramercy Theatre on Friday, January 27 and can be purchased here. Co-headlining the event will be Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band; it promises to be a great evening of music!