GOLDMINE: Thank you for all this wonderful music on your two new albums The Explorers Club and To Sing and Be Born Again. I knew nine out of ten songs on your covers album, growing up on half of them, and then your other album certainly reminded me of the music of the 1960s. Let’s start with the album of covers, To Sing and Be Born Again, which begins with your exciting version of Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart’s “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight.” The week that I turned ten years old, that single debuted in the Top 40 and I walked to the Giant Tiger discount store and bought the 45 for 69 cents. At home, I also flipped the single over and listened to “The Ambushers” and saw that it was from a film by that same name. At the time, I had no idea what the film was about, but thought the song certainly sounded fun.
JASON BREWER: I think “The Ambushers” is pretty cool. To me, obviously it sounds like a Boyce & Hart record, and I am a big fan of Boyce & Hart’s work, the songs that they wrote for The Monkees and their own songs, like “L.U.V. (Let Us Vote).” This song also reminded me of songs from beach movies. With the A side, “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight,” that is probably the first Boyce & Hart single that I heard. I grew up with a real good oldies station in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1980s, called Oldies 102.5, and it played that single pretty regularly. Later on, I got into “Alice Long” and more of their music. On my new version of “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight” I played all the guitars with overdubs to keep its original driving performance sound.
Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart
Flip side: The Ambushers
A side: I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight?
Top 100 debut: December 23, 1967
Peak position: 8
GM: The album includes three songs that I didn’t know when they came out, and, like you, learned on oldies shows. The first one is “Can’t Find the Time,” originally by Orpheus, part of Boston’s “Bosstown Sound” from the 1960s, and you have Steven Page on it as well, who I interviewed in 2018, talking about his latest album at the time and a flip side from his years with Barenaked Ladies. It is good to hear him on this song.
JB: Steven is a great singer, writer and a super, one of a kind, talent. I learned about this Orpheus song from my friend Chris. When I started The Explorers Club as a project in 2005, early on Chris was our bass player. My really good friend, who is also my manager, Mark, had been a huge fan of that song for years, from being a kid in the 1960s. He had been pushing me to record that song and had been working with Steven for a long time. He just got us together to do it, including a string section and a horn section and I am so pleased on how it turned out. I got the arrangements from Bruce Arnold from Orpheus.
GM: Oh, Bruce is a great guy, who provided a wonderful quote earlier this year for my Goldmine In Memoriam series, regarding “Walk Away Renee” which Orpheus also recorded in 1968. The following year, Three Dog Night debuted in the Top 40 with four singles on Dunhill, so MGM tried to jump on that success by releasing an album called Pre-Dog Night by Danny Hutton, but I didn’t buy that album of his early songs. Later on, when we were living in Chicago in the early 1990s, briefly an oldies station popped up playing rarities, and that is where I was introduced to Danny Hutton’s “Roses and Rainbows.” The arrangement that you did is spot on.
JB: On the original recording, he had kind of a folk and English-type sound, not very L.A. sounding, which is where it was recorded. My friend Darian, who is a big Brian Wilson fan and a huge fan of that song, introduced me to “Roses and Rainbows” a long time ago and he played it with Danny at the Amoeba Records store about ten years ago, along with members of Brian Wilson’s band and Andrew Sandoval, who backed him up. Then I got a copy of the 45 not too long ago. Some people are sports nerds and some are sci-fi nerds. I am a record nerd. I worked out the recording of “Roses and Rainbows” but put a Beatles’ “A Hard Days Night”-like chord sound at the very end of the song. I think that the Danny Hutton version had a bit of a Beatles sound to it and I tried to bring that out with the electric twelve-string as opposed to the classical guitar.
GM: I know what you mean about that chord. We saw The Boston Pops playing the songs of The Beatles and “A Hard Day’s Night” began the night with that opening chord. It was an incredible moment, making it my favorite song of the show. Now let’s talk about another British Invasion band, The Zombies. In 1969, I heard “Time of the Season” so much on the radio, that I never felt the need to buy the single or their Odessey and Oracle album, so until your new album, I had not heard “Maybe After He’s Gone” from The Zombies’ album.
JB: When The Explorers Club first started, we didn’t have enough songs to play a whole show, like a lot of young bands. We had four originals and would play about that many covers, doing thirty minute opening spots in our hometown. “Maybe After He’s Gone” is a song that I loved playing on guitar. I learned it when I was in college. I remember sitting around with the guys and suggesting that we play it, but we never recorded it. I tried to keep my arrangement close to what The Zombies did.
GM: My cousin David is a big Zombies fan, so he knows “Maybe After He’s Gone.” He is also a fan of The Explorers Club’s Together album with its Beach Boys influence. He wonders if you have a favorite Beach Boys era.
JB: For The Beach Boys, probably 1967 through 1973. I really love their Friends album, 20/20, and Sunflower.
GM: Right at the tail end of that era, their double album In Concert was released.
JB: That is one of my Top 5 Beach Boys albums. It was the best they ever sounded live, more like a rock band than a teenage garage band on the oldest songs.
GM: My wife Donna and I saw them in Cleveland four years later with that same lineup and they still sounded like the In Concert album.
JB: I wish I was of the age to have seen them back then.
GM: You have released two albums simultaneously. In our September 2020 issue of Goldmine, in his Indie Spotlight series, Lee Zimmerman reviewed the albums and wrote about your new self-titled album of original songs, “It makes for a seamless transition, given that the new songs provide the same feel and flavor conveyed through the covers collection.” The song that I feel is the most Beach Boys-like is “Look to the Horizon.”
JB: It definitely has the Phil Spector and Brian Wilson vocal harmony style but it also is influenced by some of the lesser known tunes by The Turtles, “Lady-O” and “Is It Any Wonder.” We mixed a variety of twelve-string guitar, vocal harmonies, and Phil Spector style drums, just trying to pull a little snapshot of a particular era. I tried to give everyone a positive, and now what seems to be a timely, song.
GM: You mentioned The Turtles, well there is “Ruby.”
JB: Oh that is definitely a Turtles homage. Around 2006 and 2007, the guys in The Explorers Club were in Nashville visiting, and now I live here. A friend of mine owns a recording studio and they were doing a project of indie rock bands creating covers of classic songs for a blog. I said, “I want to do ‘You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain’ by The Turtles.” They said, “The Turtles! We know Mark Volman. He teaches here at the Belmont School of Music, as ‘Professor Flo’.” So we had Mark come down to the studio while we were recording the cover. I have always been a Turtles fan and I got to hang out with Mark! I think they are highly underrated and are just as good as any other band from that era. Mark and Howard (Flo and Eddie) were amazing singers and I felt that “Ruby” had to be the third song in the trifecta of “Happy Together” and “Elenore.”
GM: Donna and I go to the Happy Together Tour whenever they are in town here in Daytona Beach.
JB: Me too in Nashville. I love it when Mark Lindsay is on the tour because I backed him up a little bit on guitar. He is one of my favorite people to work with and I love his records. He has also recorded lesser known songs written by Jimmy Webb that I enjoy.
GM: He still sounds great and has so much energy.
JB: Oh man, he is almost eighty years old and still sounds incredible.
GM: Also on that tour we have seen The Buckinghams, who our daughter Brianna and I met in person after I did a telephone interview article with Carl Giammarese.
JB: I wanted “One Drop of Rain” to be the kind of song that Dusty Springfield would have sung in her early career. Without us having a female singer in the band, I thought that the horn arrangements were kind of a Buckinghams thing. The Buckinghams did a wonderful cover of a Burt Bacharach composition called “Are You There” with a great string section, which is an album cut definitely worth checking out. Their singles are some of my favorite 45s of the 1960s.
GM: In 1967, The Buckinghams’ hits just kept on coming throughout that year and The Association had back to back gold singles with “Windy” and “Never My Love.” If you put those two bands together, that is what I hear on “It’s Me.”
JB: There is definitely some influence from The Association on the vocals, but also some of the A&M records by Chris Montez and The Sandpipers.
GM: The Sandpipers always sounded to me like A&M’s version of The Lettermen, and that sound is what a hear a bit of on “Don’t Cry.”
JB: Definitely there is that and Chad and Jeremy. The co-writer of that song, my friend Emeen Zarookian, actually plays guitar for Jeremy when he does small, intimate shows. Emeen also played “Don’t Cry” for Jeremy and it went over very well.
GM: I saw Chad and Jeremy in a small Albany theater with my friends Mark and MaryLou, and it was so relaxing. With “Mystery,” in addition to The Righteous Brothers, I also hear a bit of The Pozo-Seco Singers who had a hit with “I Can Make It With You.”
JB: Gosh, you got me. I don’t know that one. I’ll have to check it out. “Mystery,” is somewhat inspired by Nino Tempo and April Stevens’ All Strung Out album on White Whale. So a bit of that, The Walker Brothers and The Righteous Brothers, with the Phil Spector sound, which is as important to me as The Beatles.
GM: I have the All Strung Out album, too, and love it. Now, with a bit of a different sound, I have seen The Moody Blues live and “Somewhere Else” reminds me of a couple of their more up-tempo songs.
JB: I was really trying to do a psychedelic song. I was really influenced by The Byrds’ Fifth Dimension album, which featured “Eight Miles High.” So there is a lot of twelve-string on that plus jazz influences, which would be fun to play live. The Explorers Club is mainly a studio project but when things open up, I do want to grab a few musicians and do some shows, and hopefully get down to Florida to see you, probably next year, when most people are thinking that we can safely get back on the road. In the meantime, I continue to spend time in the studio. Thank you so much for taking time to talk about all this music.