By: Stephanie Marker
Musically, I come from a background of Midwestern house shows and DIY music festivals, and while I’ve certainly seen my share of shows in grander venues, as well as smaller, intimate ones, I’ve always preferred the vibe of the house show, the palpability of the mood of the space. There’s something more to a dingy basement, over-warm and overcrowded, the air thick with the smell of beer and bodies, the terrible acoustics of the low ceiling and concrete walls of a Michigan basement. There are a handful of bands, though, that seem to bring that same feeling, that same sense of belonging and intentional togetherness of a house show, to a public venue, and going to see those bands in a bar feels like more than just another show; it’s an experience. Neutral Milk Hotel is one of those bands for me, along with Spit for Athena (in the old days), The Mountain Goats, and, perhaps most of all, mewithoutYou. And I am lucky enough, so far from home, to live in the same town as another such band, Brother Jac.
I first saw Brother Jac at the Wild Salmon, here in Lafayette, Louisiana, in the spring of 2013. I’d heard of the band, but didn’t know what to expect. That was back when they seemed to play mostly covers (or covers of covers), mainly of songs recorded by The Black Keys and The White Stripes. Even then, when they played as what some might call a cover band, their performing style was magnetic; they really knew how to draw the crowd into the sound, how to make the music inclusive, not just something that was happening onstage, separate from the main floor. I have since seen them in other venues around town, and I was at the Feed N Seed on December 6, 2014 when they released their first Album, Mother Tree, recorded right here in town at Leap Studios. It was clear that night, with the debut of their first album, that they’d found themselves as a band, that they’d found their sound.
Although Brother Jac currently reside in Lafayette, the band formed in Kaplan, Louisiana in 2011, with musicians Trent Turnley, Andrew Saltzman, and Hunter Miller. According to Turnley, though, the band didn’t really form its solid identity until Andrew’s brother, Jonathan Saltzman, joined the band on bass. It’s these three members, Trent, Andrew, and Jonathan, who found their sound through Mother Tree, what Turnley describes as a “solid beginning to [their] musical journey.” He refers to the songs on Mother Tree as “Marsh Rock,” a fitting description of the blues-inspired rock album, through which Turnley says, “you can definitely tell [they’re] from the swamp.” Theirs is a sound of blues that makes you want to move, and the inspiration of musicians like Dan Auerbach of the Midwest, and even Junior Kimbrough himself, straight out of Mississippi, is evident in the smooth style of their markedly southern music. He says they proved their point with that album, though, defining for themselves what it means to be from south Louisiana, and the band intends to work to evolve their sound and songwriting.
While the band continues to focus some of their energy on performances, including benefit shows, like Rock the Claus, hosted by the Feed N Seed, that help people in need, most of their concentration right now is focused on completing their second album, expected out tentatively in spring 2016. With this album, they’re hoping to expand their sound without letting go of their roots, and I, for one, am excited to see what they come up with.
For the time being, Lafayette is lucky enough to have these guys around, playing cheap shows in intimate venue spaces, but who knows for how long. I lived in Louisiana for over a year before I found them, and until I did, I was sorely missing the house shows and DIY festivals I was used to back home. Keep an eye out for their new album this coming spring, and in the meantime, check out Mother Tree, and head out for a show if you can swing it.
You can also check out their sound at www.brotherjac.com, www.facebook.com/brotherjac, and www.reverbnation.com/brotherjac. You’ll be glad you did.