If today's youngsters are infected with irony, an evening with the Explorers Club might just be the antidote. With a sound lifted straight from pop radio hits of the '60s and '70s, the Charleston band crafts its songs as if punk never broke.
"We're so un-punk, we're punk," says Jason Brewer, guitarist and mastermind of the six-piece revivalist act. Indeed, it can take a Henry Rollins-size endowment of musical bravado to create something as emphatically un-edgy and un-hip as the Explorers Club catalog. When the band's debut album, Freedom Wind, hit stores in 2008, critics were quick to call Brewer an analog of Brian Wilson, chief songwriter for the Beach Boys. And who could blame them after listening to so many vocal harmonies, hand-clapping verses, and syrupy professions of love?
Brewer doesn't seem to mind the Wilson comparisons. He still remembers the time four years ago when Alan Boyd, a longtime documentarian and archivist for the Beach Boys, invited him into Boyd's California home and let Brewer hold the original tapes from Wilson's overdue album SMiLE. Originally conceived in 1966, the lavishly produced album finally saw a release in 2004.
The Explorers Club's forthcoming album, Grand Hotel, sees the band engaging in broader retro-pop explorations, at times channeling Burt Bacharach, Roy Orbison, the Carpenters, and Herb Alpert — "stuff that you find in the dollar bin at the record store," Brewer says. Still, the mark of the Beach Boys is undeniable; the group has even enlisted SMiLE engineer Mark Linett.
Grand Hotel won't be released until February, but in the meantime, the band plans to offer appetizers in the form of three EP-style "suites," each featuring two originals and a classic cover song. The first two, The Californian Suite and The Carolinian Suite, are available as free downloads. The New Yorker Suite is on its way.
Brewer insists the slickly polished baby-boomer sound is no gimmick. It's not a parody, and it's not a hipster affectation of any sort. "We wouldn't do what we do at the level that we try to do it if we were just trying to do it ironically," he says.