James and the Drifters talk life, love, lineups

James and The Drifters

I am ecstatic to report romance is alive and well in 2015. And not just the dewy-eyed teen dreams of first love, either. All of the sticky aspects of passion are covered on Get the Spirit, the new James and the Drifters' EP: hometowns and illusions, innocence and obstacles, friendships and betrayal, and all of the messy in-between dealings that make us human. The Fort Wayne band's latest EP, is a lush, soulful, blues-filled medley of major life and love proportion.

And if you don't already have some love and spirit – this album can help.

Guitarist and co-songwriter Brent Chamberlin became a father and exchanged wedding vows in the same year. I asked Chamberlin what his wife thought about the final product. After all, I know many women who would love to have an album — hell, even a haiku — penned for them, about them, inspired by them. Hundreds of years of literature have been dedicated to this very theme!

"My wife was very pleased," he says. "She hears all the songs before anyone else and is happy to tell me if they're crap or worth recording. Not every song I write is about [my family] but every song is affected by them."

And how did they achieve that album's sound? A pedigree: Ben Tanner of the Grammy-nominated Alabama Shakes engineered; the band recorded at Muscle Shoals' FAME studios.

The band's line-up now includes founding members Chamberlin, Kyle Jackson and Andrew Freehauf — and they invited guitarist Andy Scheer and drummer Dan Willig to join the group. It's this line-up that created the nuanced blues of Get the Spirit.

According to Freehauf, the songs "just happened to come together over a weekend and they felt right. We wrote them, for the most part, at a house on a lake that we had retreated to in order to put ourselves in a  good space to create. Since they all came out of that time away and carried some of that same spirit in them, they grew and were shaped into a bit of a cohesive thought. It wasn't premeditated, but things just kind of came together that way."

Moreover, the mystique of musical knowledge adds to the romance of the album's sound: specific influences for this EP include the soulful Al Green, still performing as of 2015 and who received a 2014 award from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

"The most obvious example is on 'Can't Take No More,' " Freehauf says. "Green's influence was more subconscious in hindsight. As we listened to what we created, the melodies on the verses started to evoke some of the same feelings as classic Green. After we started hearing that, it made sense to add the horns heard on the track."

The band has also been influenced heavily by the Hoosier state and they have a particular goal in mind for the future.

"The people have been a huge influence," Freehauf says. "This whole project started from three individual songwriters deciding to pool their funds, talents, and songs in order to record some music. That was the jumping off point. Additionally, Indiana is a little bit insulated from the greater music community. There are definitely some cool things happening with Dead Oceans and Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian, but on a whole, people aren't sitting around waiting for their next favorite band to come out of the middle of a cornfield in northern Indiana. So every step of the way, we've had to work really hard to get our music heard. That hard work inevitably shapes you and turns you into something better than what you were before. We'd really love to get as many people as possible singing along at shows. We love playing these EP songs live. They're so much fun to play, especially when everyone is involved in some way."

There's hard work and dedication behind all the romantic notions listeners may hold. Between the release of the last full-length album, All that Gold, and the latest EP, the band has spent time, "sleeping on each other's shoulders as five dudes in a pickup truck." But let's be honest, therein lies more romance to the listener: Brothers in musical arms, committed against all 21st century obstacles to produce a sound while working around the clock to support all the loves of their lives.

"Learning about how the music business works has made our lives a lot easier. We don't have it all figured out but the more we learn, the easier time we have navigating this tricky landscape," says Freehauf. "Our lineups seem to be in a fairly constant state of evolution. Sometimes people's life situations change and that means a change for the band. That happened in a big way in between All That Gold and this new EP. The most important thing for our lineup is our relationships with each other. We trust each other and enjoy spending time together. If there is someone that can fit well with us relationally and can also add something to our sound, we'd be down. And we've got space for at least one more person in the backseat of that pickup truck."


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