Self-described “lifelong retrofile” Jason Brewer says The Explorers Club has always been based around the songs he’d write with various collaborators.
And while the first three Explorers Club studio albums each featured a fully committed group of musicians behind him, that way of working had its drawbacks, contributing to long stretches between every new full-length release, Brewer says (four years every time, to be exact).
“Trying to get people’s schedules worked out, trying to line things up always took a lot of extra time and a lot of extra planning,” he explains.
Eventually, Brewer adds, “I think I just got to the place where I felt, ‘When I’m inspired and I have new songs and new things I want to record, then I need the flexibility to be able to do it based on what works best for me.’ ”
That’s pretty much how it went with the making of The Explorers Club’s self-titled originals album and the covers collection To Sing and Be Born Again, both released June 12 on Goldstar Recordings. Around late summer 2019, Brewer, producer-drummer Matt Goldman, some friends and session musicians cut the basic tracks for the 12 originals at Columbia Studio A in Nashville, Tennessee. About a week later, Brewer and Goldman worked with many of the same musicians to cut the basics for the 10 covers, then Brewer handled overdubs for both albums at other studios in Tennessee.
“As far as vocals go, myself and my friend Shane [Tutmarc] and my friend Jeff [Celentano]: The three of us did the majority of the harmony parts and a good share of lead vocals,” Brewer says.
“The cool thing I loved about making these records is I still got to apply the logic I did on the Together album [from 2016]. A lot of the stuff on the Together album was all played at the same time, and there wasn’t a ton of overdubbing. On this record, I still got that playing-in-the-room-with-guys feel for basic tracks, but then I applied piecing things together on top of it. It was a good combination.”
Like the previous original Explorers Club albums, the new self-titled effort has plenty of bright vocal harmonies and purposeful horn parts, similar in style to what The Grass Roots, The Beach Boys, Herb Alpert and others featured on their polished hits in the 1960s. “Ruby,” which opens the self-titled album, tips its cap to The Turtles’ “Elenore” in more ways than one, while the drum fill and punchy horns at the start of “One Drop of Rain” borrow from The Buckinghams’ “Don’t You Care.”
For To Sing and Be Born Again, Brewer chose material “related to the stuff on the original record,” as well as “a couple of songs that I just wanted to do” and some that his band had performed in concert to fill out a set, such as “Maybe After He’s Gone” by The Zombies. The death of Scott Walker in March 2019 played a big part in Brewer wanting to do a Walker Brothers-styled version of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.”
In the future, Brewer intends to expand his retrofile reputation.
“I want to make a crazy, classic country-sounding record one of these days,” he says. “And I want to maybe do a folkier record and a basic rock ’n’ roll record, and I think that’s the other beauty of not having to worry about a consistent lineup of players. I’ve got an audience for what I’m doing, and I can bring the audience along on a musical journey.”
— By Chris M. Junior