Over the last two years the Sim Redmond Band has become increasingly popular in Rochester... and in Japan. At its initial Milestones appearances, audiences were mostly out-of-towners, fans that had followed the band from its hometown of Ithaca or from some jam-band haven like Geneseo.
But lately what I think of as the "Dave Matthews crowd" (he in baseball cap, she in casual sling backs) has discovered the mellow groove of SRB. They stand elbow to elbow with women in cotton smocks and men in dreadlocks, swaying together to a sound that is intense without being aggressive.
The new CD, Shining Through, may broaden the band's audience even more. SRB is breaking the mold in a number of ways. Its record label is a collective, based in a small college town. The band appears to be blissfully uninterested in musical trends popular in the mass media, and is expanding its audience through informal networks rather than trying to land a contract with a media corporation. This, in fact, is how SRB got to be big in Japan.
Last week, fresh from a nine-day Japan tour, Redmond took some time to answer a few questions about the new album and his musical history.
City: Why were there three years between "Life Is Water" and "Shining Through"?
Redmond: We've been busy. Raising families, making homes, playing music. We just really took our time finishing this record.
City: Why does "Shining Through" have more of a reggae feel and less of an African feel than the previous two CDs?
Redmond: We don't make a conscious choice about what kind of record to make or even what kinds of songs to write, we just feel it out. It is hard for us to even see it like that, the songs just are what they are, we try the songs a variety of ways at shows and in practice, but usually the songs dictate the sound. We always want to be trying new things.
I think there are some very new kinds of beats for us on this record too. The rock groove on "In An Instant" is quite a bit different, as is the Motown pop feel on "Ancient Chinese Secret." There is still a bit of the African beat too, but you're right, there is a lot of reggae on this record.
City: Why is Kevin Kinsella [of John Brown's Body] such a frequent presence on the new CD?
Redmond: Kevin played a big role in helping us get this CD finished. He gave us energy, ideas, songs, and has supported us in every way he can since we joined I-Town [the Ithaca record label]. We are all very good friends with him and he also happens to be married to one of our singers --- and it's not me!
City: How does playing a song live influence the arrangement that ends up on the CD?
Redmond: We do try songs a number of different ways. Trying to find that perfect arrangement can be hard. We experiment at our shows quite a bit to see what works. Sometimes we'll go with a different arrangement for the disc than live, whatever feels right. The arrangements tend to change even after the disc is released too. We are not concerned with reproducing the CD at live shows. They are really two different worlds.
City: Why is the sound of the first CD so different from everything that came after?
Redmond: It was probably a holdover of what I was doing acoustically by myself. It was really my senior project at Ithaca College. I was studying audio production and had been playing with the guys a little bit, so I called them in to do some tracking. I also met Uniit [Carruyo, the band's other singer] right around then and asked her to come sing on a few songs. So what you're hearing is the very early stages of us coming together, based mostly around my acoustic songs.
City: How did the Japan tour come about? Is your music played on the radio in Japan?
Redmond: Our discs were being sold to a couple of jam-band stores in Japan by [US distributor] Homegrown Music Network. Through word of mouth the music spread. Buffalo Records, a distributor in Japan, contacted us and began ordering directly in bigger quantities. The distributor really worked the record stores, found buyers who really liked SRB, and got the music on more shelves. They also worked the radio and had great success.
Life is Water has gotten a lot of airplay on the radio in the Tokyo area on three of the biggest radio stations. And there are only five real stations there, so that is huge. So Buffalo Records brought us over for a short promotional tour to support the new CD.
City: Where do you place SRB relative to the constellation of sound that folks call jam band?
Redmond: We got this question a lot in our interviews with Japanese media as well. I think the beauty of the jam band scene is that it is very inclusive of many different kinds of music and influences as long as there is some element of improvisation. Bands whose music doesn't fit easily into one of the pre-existing genres are often embraced by the jam-band community.
I myself am not a big fan of a lot of jam bands, but I do really appreciate the open-minded attitude in the scene. There is a good bit of improvisation in our live shows, but not nearly as much as a more jazz-based jam band. We are much more focused on the song writing, representing the song as best possible.
In short, I don't really think we are a jam band, but we are happy to be included in the jam band scene.
The Sim Redmond Band will appear for a CD release party on Saturday, September 18, at Milestones, 170 East Avenue, at 10 p.m. Tix: $7. 325-6490.
The band is the pistol-packin' ruler of Western swing and all the genres that lead up to it.