THE EXPLORERS CLUB
The name game: it’s easy to play, way harder to win. When Charleston, SC native Jason Brewer adopted the name for his band back in 2005 (from a scene in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic: “Bill Murray, feeling all depressed, goes into a bar, and ‘Explorers Club’ is written on the wall. I thought, ‘What a cool name for a band!’”), he may not have known just how propitious a choice he’d made.
It won out over all contenders and it perfectly fit the music he wanted to make. Built on the formidable cornerstones of 60s and 70s pop-rock (Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, effervescent Top-40 singles), it would advance a unique contemporary approach that would explore and discover ever more creative ground. Since then, Brewer’s quest has led to three widely acclaimed albums—2008’s Freedom Wind, 2012’s Grand Hotel, 2016’s Together (plus a spate of singles, contributions to tribute albums, et al)—and now the simultaneous release of the new all-originals album The Explorers Club and the cover set To Sing and Be Born Again.
Of the Together album, PopMatters enthused, “The harmonies are tight, the melodies strong and catchy, and the overall mood is jubilant and uplifting, making it the perfect antidote for the toxic politics, violence, personal struggles, and controversies that swirl around all our lives like a constant cloud.” And that was written in 2016. The closing cut on The Explorers Club, “Look to the Horizon,” Brewer explains, “speaks to folks right now. It says, ‘Things aren’t always perfect in the moment, but look forward. That’s when they can get better.’”
Part of Brewer’s voyage of discovery has been acknowledging that ‘If you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself.’ From TEC’s very start, the musical vision was mostly Brewer’s; he’d recruit fellow musicians along the way, both in the studio and onstage, but he was clearly at the helm of the enterprise.
“We put out the Together record in 2016,” he recalls, “and did a few gigs and tours. But then later, when I said, ‘I’ve got a bunch of new music I want to do,’ some of the guys in the band had other commitments. And it was hard to get momentum flowing working around other musicians’ schedules. So, at this point there’s no longer a fully committed group.”
“I really felt like ‘I gotta make this record.’ I had songs and felt strongly about getting them recorded.” He enlisted additional musicians, but The Explorers Club and To Sing and Be Born Again are clearly, from start to finish, the realization of one man’s intent and imagination.
In Nashville (where he now lives), Brewer took his songs into Columbia’s Studio A. “I got studio players and some musician friends, and we did the majority of the tracking in three days,” he says. “There was a lot of history to soak up in that room: vintage Sixties guitars, the microphones Elvis used. It was like a classic Nashville session: one song every two or three hours. I’d given everyone charts and in some cases demos, and I’d tell them, ‘I’m looking for this type of thing here: what would an arranger for, say, Dusty Springfield do here?’”
With basic tracks cut at Columbia and vocals recorded at home or at the house of one of Brewer’s co-writers, both the new originals and the covers album were done at the same time. “There was no separation between the two,” Brewer explains. “I wanted both to sound similar; they had a mutual inspiration going on.” The latter’s track list came from several sources: “At our early shows, we’d always get asked to do covers. Fans were most stoked about the Turtles’ ‘She’d Rather Be with Me.’ I always thought Danny Hutton’s ‘Roses and Rainbows’ was such a cool song. And ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’: it was my mom’s suggestion. She’s been begging me for 10 years to record that.”
Guest vocalists on To Sing… include former Barenaked Ladies co-founder Steven Page, and Jay Gonzalez of Drive-By Truckers. “I saw Steven play a solo set in 2019 and I knew we had a lot in common,” Brewer remembers. “He’s such a great singer, a super nice guy and he did an amazing job [on Orpheus’ 1968 single “Can’t Find the Time”]. The Explorers Club had done shows with Jay when he did solo sets and I always heard a real Todd Rundgren flair in his singing. I knew he was a big Lovin’ Spoonful fan, so I just gave it a shot: did the track [for “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It”] and sent it to Jay. He sent back a great vocal, then we added harmony and the bridge.”
The Explorers Club album is, as one review said of its predecessor, Together, “a joy of a listen, a summer breeze.” It’s also, as Uncut asserted of the songs and arranging on the band’s debut, a triumph of “recasting [classic pop] sounds for the 21st Century.” It’s more too: super-soulful in the driving chorus of “One Drop of Rain,” tender and caressing on “Dawn” (“Probyn Gregory, from Brian Wilson’s band, came up with the middle ‘whistling piano’ part”) and resolutely hopeful on “Look to the Horizon.”
Brewer admits the current health crisis makes public performing a challenge, but he remains upbeat about taking his new music to audiences, most likely through live-streaming.
So where could TEC’s next expedition be headed? “It might be cool to take a bit of a left turn,” he says, mulling the question. “I get categorized by others as being very Sixties and Seventies oriented. But, within that mode, I’d like to take the basis of what I’m good at and add other things on top, to paint with a new brush.”
In 2021 Jason Completed work on a special fan centric album named Wattage! On this record The fans and followers of the group were enlisted along with many musical friends of the band to create a trip back to the heyday of radio.