The Highway Poets will take a short break from their busy touring schedule to headline an album release party at their hometown Mystic Theatre on Sept. 16.
“Chasing Youth” is the second CD by the Petaluma-based band, and it will be available for the first time at the show. Also on the bill will be Kingsborough and the John Courage Trio.
Sebastian Saint James, the group’s vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, promises “special guests” and looks forward to seeing a lot of friends in the audience.
“It’s going to be a room full of love,” he said.
Saint James, guitarist-vocalist Travis James and bassist-vocalist Taylor James have been writing and playing music together for 11 years, the last five of them as the Highway Poets. The group was voted best indie band in the Bohemian’s NorBay Awards again this year, and has been named best band in the Argus-Courier’s Petaluma People’s Choice Awards four times.
“One of our goals has always been to headline at the Mystic Theatre,” said Saint James, a native Petaluman.
The Poets spend a lot of time on the road, traveling in a converted yellow school bus to bring their music to audiences up and down the West Coast. They cut back their touring schedule a bit over the last year to integrate new drummer Rhyne Erde into the group, and to record their new CD.
But lately they’ve been logging heavy miles again in their bus.
According to Saint James, “Chasing Youth” is more of a rhythm-and-blues-influenced record than their previous CD.
“We were going for more of a classic style with horns and keyboards,” he said. The CD was recorded mostly live in the studio, with all of the musicians playing at once instead of overdubbing. “We overdubbed a few horn harmonies, but 90 percent of the songs are live.”
Whereas their previous CD was more folk-influenced, the new recording is more rock, R&B and Americana, Saint James explained.
“We went with what we were feeling at the time,” he said.
Spontaneity is also a hallmark of the band in its live shows. Depending on whether you see the Poets in the winter or the summer, in a small venue or a big theater, you’ll always hear something different.
“We’re not afraid to play a country song or rock out,” Saint James said. “We’ll play whatever we feel like at the time. We’re kind of a seasonal band. Whether you catch us in a café in the middle of week or at a music festival, we’ll try and do an impactful show.”
The Poets have played at the Petaluma Music Festival, Rivertown Revival, the Kate Wolf Music Festival and the prestigious South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Saint James is the group’s main songwriter.
“I write the tunes, the progressions and the lyrics, then the guys and I piece them together and make it whole,” he said. “I come up with a piece of meat and then we turn it into a full meal.”
Touring is important for bands who want to build an audience and become known beyond their hometown, but it can become a grind. The Poets, however, genuinely enjoy being on the road.
“We thrive out there,” said Taylor James, who doubles as the band’s booking agent. “Once we get out there, we feel more inspired. We love going out to new towns and places, between Seattle and San Diego.”
“Our main focus for a long time has been to get out on the road,” added Travis James. “It’s how bands make their bread and butter.”
Saint James said that being on the road with a band has been a dream since he started playing music. It’s also where he writes most of his songs.
“I’m lucky enough to have an understanding wife and an incredible support system around me,” he said. “It’s a big part of who I am.” There is more to touring than just booking the dates and playing the show, of course. Promoting the band through social media is important, too. Says Saint James, “We found that you have to work real hard to do Internet promotion, talk shows and podcasts.”
Although the four members have brought different musical styles to the band, they have found common ground and mutual respect for each other.
“Taylor played in reggae and rock jam bands, Travis was into Norwegian death metal and I was more the bluesy, mellow guy,” Saint James notes, adding that Erde has brought a background of jazz, classic rock and funk to the group. A common denominator is that all four are big fans of the Rolling Stones and Nirvana.
When Erde joined the Poets, he recognized that the band already had its songs and he didn’t want to take anything away from their style.
“It was really cool that they let me in with my influence and background,” he said. “We have all really poured our heart and soul into (our music).”
“We’re all feeling good about what we’re doing right now,” said Taylor James. “Our mission has always been to be a successful band. And it’s all coming together right now.”
In regards to playing the Mystic, “We’re really excited,” he said. “We’re all really proud of our new album and we think it will be a special night playing in front of our hometown fans.”
(Chris Samson is the former editor of the Argus-Courier. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)