WRITTEN BY MORGAN PILE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOSHUA SIMPSON
Not long ago, Nantucket was a frequent stop of touring headliners like Jimmy Buffett and Dave Matthews. Today’s acts, by contrast, typically wash ashore with little music of their own, earning their bread and butter by performing famous covers. This is not to say that Nantucket itself isn’t producing its own original music. On the contrary, local talents like The Shingles and the Gypsy Band draw crowds performing songs written and arranged by them. For those looking to go local with their summer listening, here’s an earful of the current lineup.
The newest original act on the scene, BeachHead possesses the refreshing energy of a group of friends bent on having a great time. The band’s five members met years ago at Nantucket’s underground beach venue, known in local circles as “The Shack.” Scattered jam sessions built the boys’ musical camaraderie, leading them to fuse progressive rock with elements of funk and pop. Tracks showcase individual talents,such as singer Marco Sanseverino’s strong, Bradley Nowell-esque vocals. Though the group recoils when asked to define their music, one word they often return to is “positivity.” “When I think of BeachHead, I think of all my friends hanging out, listening to good music and feeling positive about everything,” Sanseverino says. “It’s a communal spirit. We’re all just trying to have fun while playing music.”
THE BROTHERHOOD OF THIEVES
As their name suggests, The Brotherhood of Thieves owes much of their success to Nantucket. The summer home for this five-piece rock outfit from Hartford, CT, “Nantucket allows for us to work, save money, surf, rehearse, and play shows,” says Thieves’ frontman, Jacob Wardwell. “We really could not ask for a better situation.”
The Brotherhood updates the 90s indie-rock tradition with a captivating nuanced sound. Key to its appeal is the band’s ability to blur genre lines without losing its substance and edge. At times, tracks from both their 2009 EP, “Have At…” and the more recent, “On Love and Self Loathing,” demonstrate jazz, reggae, techno and even hardcore influences.
Consistent throughout, however, is an indie-rock vibe gained by singer Jacob Wardwell’s masculine, ever 90s-style vocal performance. Guitarist, Nick Cole, credits the band’s dexterity to its members’ diverse musical tastes. “Each person has his own heroes,” he says. “Those different points of view flow beautifully together to drive our sound.”
The four original Thieves met while studying Jazz at the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut. The enterprise began as the brainchild of singer/guitarist, Jacob Wardwell, and drummer, Tim Jangl, as they made the rounds as a campus party band. With the felicitous addition of guitarist Nick Cole and bassist Jack Reynolds, the group rounded out its sound and set its trajectory. Since 2008, the foursome has been striving hard to broaden and enhance their sound, exhibited especially in their decision to bring in Mike Antoinetti on the keys for their latest album, “In Between Seasons,” which will be available for purchase this summer.
What’s it like to play music at a packed venue in your hometown? Just ask Burnt Tuna, the Nantucket music scene’s resident hometown heroes. This trio of island-raised musicians spends summers captivating audiences with their unique brand of bluesy, reggae rock. If the concept intimidates them, you would never know it based on their confident performances, which meld well-crafted originals with impromptu jam sessions, often so adroitly executed they don’t feel like jams at all. As leader singer Colin Leske puts it, “we always find our way back.” The seamlessness of these transitions, Leske says, is due to “the deep connection” the three group members have earned over years of collaboration. Lifelong friends, the musicians spent much of their collective adolescence bent over instruments in their parents’ basements, building up the symbiotic skills that would eventually give way to their own unified sound.
Classics on heavy rotation during these formative years include artists like Sublime, Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, String Cheese, Slightly Stoopid and Phish. The influences clearly provide the bedrock for Tuna’s songwriting, with tracks like “Frontline” and “Turn Me Around” invoking a classic combination of reggae and vibey blues. They offer their own spin, however, with the addition of synthetic elements. The resulting effort, the band has dubbed “trippy reggae,” a term that seems tailor-made for the live-music-loving summer crowd.
Vermont-born singer-songwriter Jess Clemons is a quiet, but powerful talent. Her unique, smoky, sometimes raspy vocals and artful lyricism cut to the heart with unabashed, emotional honesty. Take the much loved “Toronto Song,” a gutsy ballad of desperation and intermittent gratefulness, set in an airport terminal. Its story stretches in many directions but centers around the loneliness of life on the road. Like many of her lyrics, these seem to have been mined from personal experience. If there is one thing to know about Clemons, it’s that she doesn’t sit still. She’s spent much of her adult life running stripes across North America, slowly exposing her music to one room at a time.
Clemons first caught the “gigging bug” while a student at Acadia Uni- versity in Nova Scotia, where the folk band Barefoot invited her on tour. She says the experience “opened [her] eyes to the thought of traveling and playing music for a living.” Soon she was heading up her own band, with which she recorded her first CDs and opened for some major Canadian acts. When the band split, an undeterred Clemons took off on her own, touring solo alongside other bands throughout the US and Canada.It is an experience she has relished. “I love to travel,” she says. “I love the outdoors, and I love meeting people. If I can make a decent living traveling with my music for a while, and connect with people through it in beautiful places, I’ll be a happy girl.” Luckily, Clemons has a spot for Nantucket high on her list of beautiful places. A member of the summer community for the past three years, she performs regularly at venues like Jetties, the Starlight, and Millie’s.
YOU SCREAM I SCREAM
“You Scream I Scream is a philosophy as much as it is a band name,” explains frontman, Floyd Kellogg. The name represents the “two parts of the music: fun and whimsical— but also dark.” This Yin-Yang, oil-and-water vibe, while at times perplexing, proves integral to the trio’s startling charisma. The tension emerges in a dark grunge-infused sound with irreverent, often sarcastic lyrics. Perhaps it takes seeing them live to truly understand: You Scream I Scream doesn’t laugh at its own jokes.
But to focus strictly on the band’s humor is to do it a serious disservice; their real strength lies in their diversity and depth of sound. The album “Bug in a Light” features twelve tracks that range from the quiet ballad of “Keep ‘em Laughing,” to the paired down pop song, “Dog,” to the aptly named, “Rock’n Out.” The common link is a dark and gritty vibe that Kellogg describes as “electro grunge garage pop,” fortified by his baritone and base- heavy arrangements. Think Talking Heads meets The National.
The prominent bass highlights one of the most differentiating elements of You Scream’s talent, what Kellogg calls the “fingerprint of the band”: The absence of guitar. This omission forces Kellogg and band members Audrey Sterk (drums) and Jake Vohs (keys) to find creative ways to infiltrate guitar sounds like playing chords through building melody from the base. “It’s a challenge,” explains Kellogg, “but we’re pulling it off.” He is right about that — You Scream’s next album is case in point. Laying ironic lyricism over truly complex, often surprising rock arrangements, the group manages to hang on to their yin-yang philosophy while exhibiting a new level of maturity.
In their two and a half years of performing, Potential Hammock has earned the title of the island’s hardest working band. This fact is rather ironic when considering their easy-going, surf-rock sound. With a quirky and comedic sensibility and expansive guitar riffs, the trio achieves summertime in a sound wave, their ballads enjoyed best in sandals and trunks, maybe a Corona in hand. Frontman Sunny Wood calls listeners to cede daily concerns and ponder the more important things in life, such as waves and weather. True to beach-boy form, surfing is king for these islanders. Potential Hammock is part Zen, part rock and roll. Wood sources bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd as influences, but is quick to point out they probably sound more like the Cramps or Agent Orange. Not to be overlooked, however,is the influence of blues on much of their first
album, “Home Honey I’m Hi,” which tones down their punk-ska edge. Pigeon-holing Potential Hammock into a specific genre is impossible; their sound is original and ever evolving, which is good news for this ambitious group, who hopes their fun music will carry to shores afar
and surf communities around the globe.