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On their way
James and the Drifters
By EA Poorman
Fort Wayne Reader
Huntington, IN isn't known for its music scene. In fact, I'm not too sure what Huntington is known for at all. It's sorta out of the way. Not an easy way to get to it, sorta like East Lafayette, or Heaven. But there's a group of dusty raconteurs that call Huntington their home, trying to put Huntington on the map for something other than being the hometown to Dusty Fahrnow, Dan Quayle, and Mick Mars.
James and the Drifters play music that's loose, easy going, and a little rough around the edges. Equal parts My Morning Jacket, Avett Brothers, and Neil Young. They write songs filled with a spirit of getting back to the essentials. No muss, no fuss. There's a down home vibe to these guys. They're the type of band that when asked where they're from, they'll tell you without missing a beat that they're from Huntington, IN. They're proud of their small town heritage, and there is something admirable about that.
I got a chance to talk to Brent Chamberlain, one of the said Drifters from a little town called Huntington. Let's get some band history, shall we? "Well, James and the Drifters is a folk rock band based in Huntington, IN. It started as a collaboration project between myself, Tyler Gault, Kyle Jackson and Amos Caley. Through changing schedules and priorities we have added members and some have left, but we have been blessed to fill in the gaps with other friends and continue to progress in our sound. I would say we've got a nice blend between folk and rock music. We appreciate and are influenced by a variety of styles so I would say that the songs we write and the way we play them kind of take on the feel of our favored influence in that moment. In the past, artists that we have regarded in high esteem are: Pink Floyd, The Band, My Morning Jacket, The Avett Brothers, M. Ward, and Neil Young just to name a few. We like to write and create music that challenges people to think and enter in. We're all very dedicated to playing music that promotes hope while acknowledging that troubles still come and are very real."
Before The Dawn: Otter Lake Sessions is the new long player from James and the Drifters. Recorded live in a cabin on a lake near, well, I'll let Brent tell you about it. "We recorded Before The Dawn in a lake cottage on Otter Lake in Angola, IN. We stayed there for a full week recording other music for another album we are working on and we also set aside one day to record live versions of several B-side songs. We felt like a lot of our studio recordings lacked the excitement of a live show and wanted to experiment with some live recording. We ended up liking the recordings so much that we released them as their own full-length album. Three of the songs on the Before The Dawn we had never really played before, but one thing led to another and we ended up just laying them down. With the kind of relaxed environment we were in there it's not too surprising that it happened that way."
Given that the recording process became so much more enjoyable, and ultimately rewarding, due to recording 'live' as a band in one room, I can only imagine a James and the Drifters live show is something to behold. "Our live show generally has a lot of energy. We love to dance and let the music flow through us. Of course, we do improvise and venture off the script during shows pretty often. We like to feed off the crowd and get a lot of our insight on where to take a song based on their reactions." Where do the Drifters play? Are they beholden to the local watering hole? Or do they venture outside the county line? "We are pretty grass-roots in that we started from a central location (Huntington) and continue to branch out to other areas within the state and hopefully soon we can tap more into the greater mid-west. At the moment, we play mostly in north east Indiana but are starting to get exposure and play some shows in Muncie and Indy. Our favorite show was at a prison in Muskegon, MI. That was a beautiful experience."
Is there a current James and the Drifters tour going on right now? "We aren't currently touring but we play most weekends throughout the year and touring is definitely something we would be open to if the right circumstances came along. We've got several shows coming up in December throughout the state that we would love to promote: December 14th we will be playing at the Dash-IN in Fort Wayne which is one of our favorite places to play. December 29th we will be playing at Barley Island in Noblesville area."
These guys seem like the type of musicians that always have something cooking back at the practice space, so of course I had to ask Brent if there's anything going on in regards to a follow-up to Before The Dawn. "Work on a follow-up album has already begun and we are really excited to share these new songs with everyone! These are the songs we originally focused on while we recorded at Otter Lake and we have made great head-way since that week. We loved viewing the recording process as an adventure and a get-a-way. It really allowed us to focus and find inspiration for deeper creativity while relaxing at the lake house. We will probably record this next album live because it just seems to work for us and the raw/energetic sound we desire to produce."
So there you have it. Here's a group of musicians that seem to 'get it'. They play not from a place of "let's do what people want us to do", but a place very honest and from the heart. They let the songs go where they may, both in the process of creating and in front of an audience of hungry ears. They're from a small town in the Midwest, and wear that small town pride on their sleeve. I'll leave you with these parting words from Brent Chamberlain: "James and the Drifters could be classified as a collective in some respects. We are very much tied to place and community. We sing about being restless, and describe the feelings of wandering or drifting because we've all been there; but for us we wander together, we understand restlessness together, and our Huntington home allows us creative space to do so. I think you have to approach our songs from that perspective or else you will be left feeling like we are the most inconsistent little buggers around."
You can find out more info regarding James and the Drifters at www.jamesandthedrifters.com. Or just pick up a copy of Before The Dawn: The Otter Lake Sessions at jamesandthedrifters.bandcamp.com.