Blues Traveler may be one of the last bands to make it to the top the hard way (a.k.a. the traditional way). Starting in a Princeton, New Jersey garage by a group of high school friends, the jam marathoners soon moved on to playing dive bars in Manhattan. They found themselves touring and opening for their idols and inspirations, and soon radio play turned into music videos. What started as group of high school friends morphed into a platinum success.
Originally a foursome consisting of Brendan Hill (drummer) John Popper (vocals/harmonica) Chan Kinchla (guitar) and Bobby Sheehan, they experienced the peaks and valleys that come with critical and commercial success as a brotherhood. The loss of original bassist Bobby Sheehan in 1999 saw a brief hiatus, though the inclusion of Chan Kinchla’s younger brother Tad taking up the bass and Ben Wilson on keyboards has filled out the band as they returned to their independent roots.
Our chat with co-founder Brendan Hill keyed us in on the band’s innermost ideals regarding staying motivated, inspiration, and the creative process. Take a look at what he had to say, and then catch them live July 8 as they headline the Pleasantville Music Festival.
Blue’s Traveler is celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, boasting platinum and gold records, and fans around the world. After reaching a certain level of success, how do you set the bar? What keeps the creative juices flowing?
Being a musician has never been more exciting than it is now because it’s so eclectic with the Internet and all that is available to us to instantly just find out what we are up to and it’s a very exciting time. For me, I’m always thrilled to be on the road hearing what other bands are doing, performing with Blues Traveler, trying to push myself as well as the guys to be spontaneous and creative. For me, nothing beats being on stage with my good friends.
I’ve read that Blues Traveler writes their songs together, as a unit; can you tell me a little about that process?
In the past, we would take three or four weeks and we’d go to a city, sit down, and bring out ideas we’ve had over the break or anything that was building up since the last album.
The last two albums we did we’re sort of collaborative with a bunch of different writers. Our last record we did, Blow Up the Moon, was with seven or eight other artists and that was a really fun project to collaborate with other groups and find out how they write and incorporate their styles into ours and make different music together.
Blow Up the Moon was released in 2015. Is there anything on the horizon?
Oh yes. We’ve just been in the studio. We just finished up the basic tracks and I think John is doing some vocal tracks right now. Keep an ear out, because that’s a new record which will be coming out probably last quarter or the first quarter of 2018.
Who were some of your influences and inspirations when you first picked up the sticks?
My dad was a music lover, and he had all these old blues records. We had this old LP player collection of records and he had everything Howlin’ Wolf to Weather Report and Dire Straits. He didn’t have any Black Sabbath, but I found that on my own.
You know those drummers were influential because they showed that the drummer doesn’t have to just play the tune and sit in the background. My favorite drummer growing up was John Bonham, because he was the quintessential element of the band. He really was the engine of Led Zeppelin, driving the band to these incredible heights along with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant; it was just magic hearing those guys live.
For me, drumming is all about knowing what the song is: knowing the song inside out.
You’ll be headlining the Pleasantville music Festival July 8th, what can we expect for this show? Will be hearing some new stuff from Blow up the Moon or maybe something from your past catalogue?
This our 30th anniversary so we’re going to try and do something from each album. You’ll definitely hear some songs from Blow Up the Moon and singles from the new album. We have two hours to play so you have to choose which sounds people really want to hear, especially if it’s a festival where there may be people that aren’t necessarily there just to see you. You want to play the songs that they might now like Run Around and Hook. But, each band member has a different favorite song that they like to play different ways and it makes it a lot of fun because it’s never the same set twice.
What was the first album eight track/record/tape you ever bought?
I think it was Outlandos d’Amour by The Police.
What was your first car?
The first car I ever bought was a 1976 Chevy Chevel 396 SF and I still have it.
What was you first R-rated movie?
I saw a double feature. First was Mad Max and then Blade Runner.
What was your first concert?
My dad took me to see Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden in 1980.
Favorite road snack/munchie?
I like Thai food.
Do you have a favorite book or author?
Bernard Cornwell. Read anything of his and it’ll be good.
Favorite band growing up? Today?
The Police was one of my favorite bands growing up. I took my 13th birthday party to Shea Stadium to see the Synchronicity tour. Favorite band now: I love Tool and I’m still a huge fan of the Rolling Stones and The Who and getting to see those guys rocking out like they do.
Cats or dogs?
Checkers or chess?
Coffee or tea?
Batman or Superman?
Uhhh … that’s a good one. Superman. I think Batman’s a little to contrived, especially in the movies. At least, Superman’s not afraid to wear a cape.
Biggie or Tupac?
Sativa or Indica?
Oh, I’m a sativa guy.
Finally, Oreo’s: do you dunk dip or twist?
I dunk them.