Baytown boogie - Band produces eclectic sound

Tara Bradbury
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It’s always interesting to ask musicians to describe their own style of music. Wanting to be unique, never interested in being pigeon-holed, they often come up with their own genres.

“Groovin’ island pop” is how the guys of Baytown categorize their sound, adding it’s always been difficult for them to describe the band, given they like to include many different styles and have a dozen influences.

The “groovin’” comes from their blend of jazz, funk, reggae, ska and perhaps a touch of rockabilly; the “island” comes from their outlook on life.

“We’re pretty laid back. We like to hang out, have a good time, and that’s island culture. More laid back than everywhere else,” explains sax player Greg Bruce.

The guys are just home from last week’s East Coast Music Awards and conference, where they brought their island mentality — and snazzy outfits, including suspenders, bowties and fedoras — to Halifax, performing on the Breakout Stage and a MusicNL showcase, to crowds that may not have been islanders, but clearly understood what they were putting out.

Bruce is the newest member of the band, having joined in the past year to add saxophone sounds. The other three members — guitarist/vocalist Matt Cooke, James Lee Wright on bass and Mike Dinn on drums — met at a skate park as kids and have been friends ever since, performing music together from age 13 onwards.

“We never stopped playing, and that’s why we communicate so well,” Wright says. “Our first show (as Baytown) was at Roxxy’s for fun, and it was like, well, we might as well keep doing this.  That was probably five years ago.

Since that first show, Baytown has released a couple of EPs, earning a 2009 MusicNL Award nomination for Best Pop/Rock Artist.

Their first full-length record, “Two Places,” was released at the end of 2012, and earned them another five MusicNL nominations, as well as radio airplay.

A year ago, the band released its first video, for a song called “Death of Us,” which has been in national rotation on CMT, followed up by a Heavyweather video for “Island.” They are preparing to release a third video, “Waited On,” next month.

Filmed at Quidi Vidi Brewery and in Toronto, the concept is simple, Bruce says.

“It’s a guy and a girl in a bar, and there’s kind of like a 1950s vibe,” he says. “It’s a smoky bar and the band is playing in the background, and there’s tension between the guy and the girl. That’s what the song is about — they’re waiting on each other, and not in a good way.”

Baytown’s been focusing on videos, Wright says, as a way to extend the life of a song.

“I just think people get bored really easily now,” he says. “No one wants to just listen to a song. They want to see stuff. It’s a great way to perform your music and to get people noticing. Obviously, you have to play shows and that’s the most important, but it’s another great avenue.”

Baytown shows are few and far between for the time being, given that Cooke has temporarily moved to Toronto. He flies in from time to time to perform and record, and will be home again this summer, Wright says.

In the meantime, thanks to grants from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, MusicNL and the City of St. John’s, the band has begun working on its as-yet-untitled second full-length record via email and phone.

Cooke will write a scratch song with lyrics and a basic song form, and send it to the other three, who flesh it out.

Wright comes up with the bassline, Bruce pens the sax and vocal harmonies, and Dinn puts down the groove.

“When I work with (Cooke) over email, mostly I’m just learning my part and learning what’s going on and I don’t get any inspiration until we jam as a band, and the song changes completely,” says Wright.

“It’s funny,” adds Bruce. “We still have the scratch tracks for the two new tunes we’ve put together and they’re in a different key, they’re slower and they don’t necessarily sound like a Baytown song. When we do it, it’s a Baytown song, whatever that means.”

The musicians have most of the songs for the upcoming album completed, and have ideas for the rest.

While their sound is eclectic, they’re hoping the songs on this record will be less diverse and more unified than they were on “Two Places,” giving listeners a better picture of who they are and what they do.

They’re focusing on a sound, and they’re also focusing on business, an aspect of their musical career they had put on the back burner until recently.

At the ECMA conference, they took in as many of the different panels and seminars as possible, Wright said, learning as much as they could about things like publicity and promotions, management and labels.

They learned from industry professionals that it’s entirely possible to have a career in music without a record label or manager, but only if you’re dedicated and impeccably organized — which they are. They’ve got a business plan in the works and, thanks to grants, the means to introduce it.

“I guess our ultimate goal is just to stick with our sound and get it out there,” Bruce says. “I think that this new, more focused approach to the business side of things will help us do that.”

“I really do think we’re sounding better than ever,” adds Wright. “We’re more devoted and professional, and that, combined with our business side and a budget, I think, is going to make this a great album. Everything about it is going to be good.”

Visit The Telegram’s You Tube channel, StJohnsTelegram, to see a video of Baytown performing at the MusicNL showcase during last week’s ECMAs in Halifax.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Cooke, Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council

Geographic location: Toronto

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