Slow-roasted sound

Jason Spooner Band celebrates fifth album with local shows
By Christine Dunkle | Nov 19, 2019
Photo by: Nicole Wolf Jason Spooner

Midcoast — Singer-songwriter Jason Spooner may not have been born with a guitar in his hands, but close enough.

“I always credit my interest in music to my dad's collection of eight-track tapes and vinyl,” Spooner said. “Looking back, it still amazes me that a three-minute song was able to ignite the imagination of an eight- or nine-year-old kid.”

His father had a cross section of stellar stuff from the '70s, from Simon & Garfunkel and Neil Young to Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash and Gladys Knight. The list goes on and on. Spooner considers that to be a renaissance period for lyric-centric songwriter material. “Song-craft became an interest of mine in this way and I still consider it to be somewhat of a magical art form,” he said.

The Jason Spooner Band performs album release shows in the Midcoast area this weekend: Friday, Nov. 22, at Skal Island Speakeasy on Vinalhaven and Saturday, Nov. 23, at Barrettstown Farmhouse in Hope. The shows celebrate their fifth album “Wide Eyed.”

While the band hails from Portland, Spooner lived on Lake Megunticook after college and also lived in Union for a bit during the late ’90s. They also made their last album, “Chemical,” at Hearstudios in Camden.

“I'm extremely excited about these shows as a former resident of the area,” Spooner said. “The region is near and dear to my heart and I'm always looking for an excuse to get back up there.”

Spooner’s choice of instrument also stems from his father’s record collection — he’s always loved the range between electric and acoustic guitar, and hearing Neil Young play acoustic sealed the deal. “It's an instrument that has so many flavors and tones,” he said. “It's impossible to get bored playing a guitar.”

It’s the rare musician who solely performs for a living out of the gate. So Spooner worked for a blues and roots record label right after college and learned about booking, recording and promoting. He also got to witness a variety of blues legends in recording sessions — guys who played with Muddy Waters, such as Pinetop Perkins, Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and more.

“[It] was a cool intro and crash course to the business side of music,” he said. “Every minute I got to take in was like school and church all at once.”

Spooner spent the first few years of his musical career as a solo acoustic act, and then put a band together in the early 2000s around the recording of his first record. They started as a trio and added keyboards a few years later. “We've been a quartet for about six years now and it feels like the ideal formation — two melodic elements and two rhythmic elements,” he said.

Besides Spooner on lead vocals and guitars, the band includes Adam Frederick on bass and backing vocals; Warren McPherson on keyboards, piano and backing vocals; and Dan Boyden on percussion.

For previous releases, the band always blocked out a few weeks to make records. Members had to get comfortable in a new space and be instantly creative on a 9 to 5 schedule. “It always felt very compressed and overly urgent – stressful in some ways,” Spooner said. “When recording music starts to feel like a day job, it’s time to change up the recipe.”

As the band approached recording this “Wide Eyed” album, they moved central operations to a small studio to have unhindered access at all hours. This spawned a period of unprecedented creative energy.

“We wanted things to feel more organic, more like a live performance,” said Spooner. “I like to think of the approach we took as slow-roasted. [It] gave us time to capture only the really inspired takes.”

He said if a song was destined to come alive at 2 a.m., the band could flow with it under no limitations. They weren’t staring at the clock and worried about moving on to the next task.

“Having our own studio space was huge,” Spooner said. “If an idea came knocking, I could spin over to the studio and capture it fresh, instead of writing something down on a notepad or humming a melody into my phone and hoping we’d come back to it.”

The quartet stands out with a signature sound that appeals to a range of audiences — roots rock, Americana, blues, folk and groove-oriented jazz with undercurrents of reggae and soul are all accounted for and supported by strong musicianship, arrangements and writing.

“I love the fact that music allows the listener to bring personal experience to the equation,” Spooner said. “Some of my favorite songs represent times, places and people in my life that will always be evoked by the music. That's incredibly powerful.”

The mixture of sound and emotion is working; in the last 15 years, the band has performed all over the country with acts as varied as B.B. King, John Mayer, Jackson Browne, Blues Traveler and more. They also won Live Act of the Year at the New England Music Awards.

“Our influences are all over the map as individuals,” said Spooner. “I feel like this record allowed us to tap into some of those influences without worrying if it fit our ‘official genre.’” He said his favorite records have that in common – artists who aren’t afraid to dig into what inspired them to pick up an instrument in the first place.

The band has been pushing two singles on national radio (both commercial and non-commercial/NPR stations) and are hitting numerous markets. Locally, they have been in the top 10 most played songs on WERU in Blue Hill for several weeks. “We've had a great reception thus far,” Spooner said. “I'm thrilled that we have current airplay on a variety of stations all over the country.”

Spooner said a single was recently added to rotation by 92.5 The River in Boston, which generally only plays major label bands. “[It] is a bit of a coup for an independent band like us,” he said.

Sara Willis at Maine Public Radio recently named the album her pick of the week and gave this endorsement: “A rich musical journey. Jason’s musical reach is wide and deep. And his songwriting is rooted in musicality, I mean the melodies are beautiful and goosebump producing. He can sing sweet and he can sing hard. And the band can rock! But it also can come close and intimate. As I said, wide ranging. There's a groove for sure.”

A few years ago, the group was invited to open for a popular ’90s band in Connecticut. They were a trio at the time — guitar, bass and drums. When they arrived, the headliner was still an hour away and the stage manager walked up and said, “They just called regarding drums... they don't want you to use your own drum kit, but they don't want you using theirs.”

“I looked at the guy, puzzled, and asked, ‘Is this a riddle?’ In the end, we were unable to perform with a drum kit and made the most of it,” Spooner said. “We scaled back to more of an acoustic vibe and our drummer played one of his drum cases with brushes instead of a full kit. We actually killed the gig and the audience really liked that we did something unexpected. Go figure!”

To date, the Jason Spooner Band has released seven songs on all digital platforms (Spotify, iTunes, etc.) as singles under the “Wide Eyed” title. They are also available on CD at all Bull Moose locations in Maine, CD Baby and at the live shows. The band is still deciding whether to release everything under one title by the end of the year, early next year, or keep the singles coming. They are experimenting with an episodic "release cycle,” so music lovers should keep their eyes and ears peeled. Learn more at jasonspooner.com.

Come out this weekend to see if they end up using all their instruments!

The Friday, Nov. 22, show at Skal Island Speakeasy, 6 Bodwell Lane, Vinalhaven is at 8 p.m. and costs $15. The Saturday, Nov. 23, celebration at Barrettstown Farmhouse, 42 Hatchet Mountain Rd. Drive, Hope is at 7 p.m. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the band performance is included with the cost of dinner; a special harvest menu is featured for the night.

The Arts & Entertainment deadline is Thursdays at 5 p.m. for events dated on/between the following two Thursdays. Please email press releases/photos to A&E Editor Christine Dunkle at arts@villagesoup.com.

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