Brian Just Band: We didn't lose time thinking up a cool band name

Brian Just Band: We didn't lose time thinking up a cool band name
Photo courtesy of the artist

The Brian Just Band is ready to transition from being that band that you've heard about to being the act that makes it onto your playlist. Led by Brian Just, the seven-piece outfit is set to release their newest album Enlightenment, a collection of songs that takes you back to '60s-laced era. The record is classic BJB, but has left to become an organic, coiling part of something larger.

Before their album release at the Ritz Theater on Saturday, the band sat down with Gimme Noise to talk about what went into the making of Enlightenment and how they update their sound to make it entirely unique.

Gimme Noise: A lot of people have heard of the band before, but may have not heard the music. How do you think this came about? How do you turn that person into a fan?

Brian Just: I know there is a lot of competition in this city to be heard. While we've had some great exposure on the Current with the song "Electric" making the Local Current Live album and hitting the top 20 of the chart show, performing on the kids television show The Choo Choo Bob show, playing outdoor festivals in and around the city, I realize the need to keep working at building an audience and getting heard is important.

Jim O'Neill: We've gigged a lot as a unit over the past few years. We've been trying to reach a wider audience, so our name has been in print around the scene. Any folks out there who haven't heard us yet, I'd encourage them to follow us on the website or connect with us on Facebook to catch wind of upcoming gigs. Once we get folks out to a show, the "fan" part usually takes care of itself.

Rick Widen: That's almost every band in my experience -- hearing "of" them before hearing them. If the phenomenon has any different flavor for us, I'd chalk it up to our using the proper name of the principle singer/songwriter, which carries with it some fortunate and unfortunate connotations. Fortunate in that we didn't lose any music-making time coming up with a cool band name, and unfortunate inasmuch as it conjures references to like, Zac Brown Band or Dave Matthews Band, in the brains of potential fan-persons. Nothing wrong with those bands or their music, but those are more like, bands you'd hear in the counselor's only cabin at summer camp. That's not us, we're more like the soundtrack to the capture-the-flag-games and nature walks, or remembrances of these things. It's a contrast between authority and wonder. Though you gotta have both, most bands are better about valuing musical authority or musical wonder. We're more in the wonder camp, so we're more likely to turn someone into a fan if that's where they're at too.

Jenny Hanson: We're a truly Minnesotan band. The Brian Just Band grows on you slowly. We're never in your face or pushy, but with repeated listenings you realize that we're something sweet and special. Then you realize that you love us. That takes time, kind of like forming a new relationship with a Minnesotan.

Josie Schmitt: I think that came about because of our last CD release. We were lucky enough to make a tiny splash in this big pool of the Minneapolis music scene. We got a substantial amount of airplay on the Current, and played around a lot after that. People would come up to us saying they thought we must be playing a cover of our own song because they had heard it on the radio so much.

Andrew Bartelson: Having us all together is the only way to create the Brian Just sound. We are a composition that comes about by no other means then the combination of its parts. A Chrysler Sebring is only a Chrysler Sebring if it has the right parts. Any other parts and it's something completely different. I can't imagine another group of musicians sounding the same. Oh, and it helps to have Josie there, too. There's something unique about that girl.

Gimme Noise: The band is pretty extensive and comes from a lot of different groups. How do you feel everyone comes together to create the sound of the Brian Just Band?

Brian Just: Styles ranging from jazz, classical, baroque, folk, bluegrass, jugband, bountry, are all part of our artillery when we come to the table to create the mood of a song. After I bring the initial chord patterns, structure and tempo to the group, I can hear all these styles making their way into the songs.

Jim O'Neill: It's a band that includes seven players with individual styles. More often than not, mixing that many players together can lead to musical cacophony. To quote my wife, "It's sort of like tater tot casserole; adding more ingredients doesn't necessarily mean it's going to taste better." I love applying that quote to music. There is a lot of intentional musical diplomacy that takes place within the Brian Just Band. I think it stems from the fact that we all respect one another individually and artistically. I also believe that it speaks to our musicianship and listening skills. Knowing where you aurally fit within an ensemble is crucial, no matter what the size of the band. That sensibility shows in the Brian Just Band.

Rick Widen: I think the most interesting dynamic concerning band personnel is that everyone, but Brian has post secondary musical training/degrees in music. Going back to the authority versus wonder thing, formal music training can really beat the wonder out of you if you're not careful. I've never felt: "Things should be this way cause that's what I was trained to do." from Brian, only: "Do it this way because I feel like this would be best." That's a dictatorship I'm willing to submit to, even if it means I don't get to wank off sometimes.

Jenny Hanson: We all use our ears and only play what makes sense to the music. We're all very aware of not treading on anyone's musical toes, and if we get a bit out of line Brian gently guides us in the right direction. This has a lot to do with playing together for many years and getting along as friends. This band is filled with good, sensitive people and of course relationships are everything when it comes to making music.

Josie Schmitt: We all have an appreciation for music in the same way. Brian creates the songs which already have developed a certain style on their own, and then we all add our own personal touches to the songs that completes them into what they are in the end. But I would say the "sound" of the Brian Just Band comes from Brian and his passion for collecting records and exploring older styles of music. It's hard not to fall into that appreciation yourself.

Andrew Bartelson: I believe that music is evolutionary. Everything is a product of what has come before, and in our case it's mostly folk, rock, and blues music from the '50s and '60s. What we do that makes it sound fresh is add in new elements, such as classical instruments, symphonic orchestration, and non-American styles such as Afro-Cuban and European.

Gimme Noise:How do you update the '60s folk sound when writing?

Brian Just: We do touch on a lot of themes and instruments of the '60s and I grew up on a lot of that decades music in my house growing up. That said, the '60s sound you are hearing is not something I consider in my songwriting process, it is just something that comes out from the albums I listen to. I do attempt to emulate my heroes from all decades in modern pop music and their techniques to some degree, but updating them is not something I consider really. I just try to find a spark of the music I find interesting or make clearer the ideas and melodies coming from my head.

Rick Widen: By being born in the '80s. That may be a snarky answer, but seriously, no one i know "updates" music from the past, at least not consciously -- and if they do try to do it that way then it's most likely to fail. If it's true our main influences are '60s folk bands, that's an aspect that can only become infiltrated, colored, or tectonically shifted by our other musical influences and experiences, but never updated by them, not like your Apple software or something.

Josie Schmitt: We're all children of the '80s, and have grown up with the pop music of the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. I think we try to emulate the '60s folk sound as best as we can, and our experiences make it sound updated.

Gimme Noise: How do you feel the band has evolved since forming?

Brian Just: This is our third album as a band. The first album Brian Just Open Air 2008 (only Josie and I recorded on it, but we formed the band to play the live sets), then there was the second album If you Like to Be alone or If You Need to be With Someone in 2011. We've been playing together for six years now. Over the past six years this 7-piece group has developed a sound and with more focus each year the ideas and sound gets bigger and more clear.

Jim O'Neill: I feel like we've become a much better live performance band over the years.

Rick Widen: I'd like to think we keep getting better at craftsmanship. In music school, they always told me that carefully chosen unplayed notes can be twice as powerful as played notes. BJB is the best place I've ever had to put that concept into action, mainly due to Brian's requests and the style of Brian's songwriting itself.

Jenny Hanson: Brian is an excellent quiet bandleader. Over the years we have gotten better at understanding what sound he's after -- at least that's been my experience. It sounds strange, but I've got to the point where I just have to think, "Ok, channel the Brian Just sound for this lick," and it comes out exactly right. It's hard to describe in words.

Josie Schmitt: The band has evolved into a more distinct style with this record. The last record we were trying new things and figuring out which direction we wanted to go. I think we're still discovering where we want to go musically, but it's more tuned in this time around.

Andrew Bartelson: Our methods have become more precise and refined, especially in regards to recording.
Gimme Noise: What's the story behind the name Enlightenment?

Brian Just: I was looking for a simple one-word description of what I was searching for in all the songs I had for this album. I didn't intend to sound new-agey, and I didn't add sitar or anything like that. It started with the song "Enlightenment" I had written which was about opening your mind, releasing all worries, finding peace and being present in life. All things I am continually searching for, it seemed to jump out at me as an over all theme to the album. I realized that my songs tend to be about a search for peace or about places that allows me to enter a peaceful mind. These are the moments that songs come to me and I believe the fully enlightened person I want to be has a long way to go and these songs are more about the journey or the bumps and bruises along the way.

Rick Widen: Enlightenment is a simple, round, smooth word, and I think it's most of the time a conscious choice of Brian's to select the beach stones that skip the water surface well. Jagged lyrics and titles are not Brian's thing.

Jenny Hanson: I think it's a bit ironic and a bit sincere. Brian is one of the most spiritual non-spiritual people I know.

Gimme Noise: Any favorite tracks off the album?

Brian Just: The track "Omphale" was the trickiest song to get down and the longest track we've ever recorded. It travels through multiple styles of music ranging from flamenco to prog-rock to orchestral sounds to detective music -- is that a style? It has a lot of parts and layers and they all came together in one epic six minute song.

Also, "Nokomis Park Bench 15-Minute Lunch Break" sets a scene of a girl walking up to a crowd of people. She walks through the trees and hears birds singing and closes in on the crowd near a lake who are watching a band. As this girl leaves the woods, the music from the band and the crowd chatter get louder and louder and eventually the song envelops the entirety of the space. This was an idea I had that I never thought would come together, but I can see the scene in my head when I listen and I'm curious as to what others see in the aerial scene we created.

Jim O'Neill: "To Be Young" is definitely a favorite. I love Andrew's drum fills. Brian's guitar sounds fab. The singing and harmonies are great. It is a nice representation of our vibe as a band.

Rick Widen: "Omphale," and the few other songs that walk that tightrope in between playing them so straight they devolve into Spinal Tap-esque parody, or playing them so loose they spin out of control and break apart. Live, we don't get to the other side without wobbles every time, but when we do, it's effing great, for me anyway, hopefully for the audience as well.

Jenny Hanson: I love "Sailboat." It's so simple and beautiful.

Josie Shmitt: "Omphale."

Andrew Bartelson: "Everyday." It's got such a good Fleetwood Mac vibe. I love playing drums on that song.

Gimme Noise: What's the goal with this album?

Brian Just: The goal as always for me is that I get to share it with people I know and love. Also, that more people will hear it and know us, support us, and come to our shows.

Jim O'Neill: My goal recording/mixing the record was to create an album that captures the spirit and sound of our live performances. I want the listener to feel like he/she is listening to one of our live sets.

Rick Widen: Again, what's the goal when you skip a stone out onto the water? Anything but a straight up no-skip plunk would be nice. I mean no one's gonna skip one clear across the lake, so our goal is the most skips.

Jenny Hanson: Sonic adventures in American song forms. This is BJB's trippiest album yet.

Andrew Bartelson: Same as any album, record great tunes as well as we can with the goal of providing our fans an amazing musical experience.

Gimme Noise: Do you want to tour?

Brian Just: I'd love to tour. We plan on putting some traveling plans together for this fall outside of the city.

Jim O'Neill: Sure, but it needs to make sense financially. We've all played long enough to know what "touring" means in the current era of music. We'd love to reach a wider audience and hope that the opportunities continue to present themselves, especially the small town concert venues and the summer festival circuit!

Rick Widen: We want to make music and have fun. Sometimes that means touring. If we're ever blessed with enough exposure or support to warrant a tour, small or big, we'll make it happen. But we're definitely past the point of "vacay touring" if you know what I mean.

Jenny Hanson: I want the band to tour to San Francisco because I live there now! SF is a great town for live music, people are good listeners and highly sensitive and responsive. I think SF would love us.

Gimme Noise: What can we expect to see at the album release show?

Brian Just: We will have two guests along with our band. Dave Hoenack from Hymie's Record Store will be spinning some Brian Just Band Favorites during the moments in between the live music, and Meg Ashling will be singing her soft country ballads and hauntingly beautiful original songs about the country side, honey and bees and living a peaceful life. A like-minded songwriter that I've loved hearing since the first time I saw her five years ago. She is not to be missed especially in this intimate theater space and she lives three hours away these days, so it might be the only chance to see her for awhile. Brian Just Band's set will take on the full album as well as favorites from our past two albums. The set will be filled with aerial sound effects and a mob of friends on hand to help fill in the parts doubled on the album and to dance and sing along.

Jim O'Neill: A fun celebration. We are really excited to share the new record with folks. It's going to be a great way to celebrate the completion of a really nice sounding record.

Rick Widen: Us in snappy attire, a DJ from Hymies Records, and Meg Ashling. Meg's gotta be my favorite female vocalist/songwriter/campfire conversationalist to come out of this town. She's more than recently moved out to the country and doesn't come back so often to mingle with us rat racers. You're not likely to see her in a theater setting like this very often, and while I'm not sure what she'll look like, I'm sure I expect to hear something special from her.

Jenny Hanson: The album in its entirety. Beautiful tunes performed beautifully.

Andrew Bartelson: A great rock and roll show, pure and simple. Everyone loves going out on a Saturday night to a concert that will entertain and transform their lives into something worth living and remembering. At least that's why we do it.

The Brian Just Band will release Enlightenment at the Ritz Theater on Saturday, June 29, 2013 with Meg Ashling.
AA, $12 adv, $15 door, 7 pm
Purchase tickets here.

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