Blues Traveler will hit the Mahawie Theater in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on March 3.
Few acts in rock history have regularly featured the harmonica as prominently as Blues Traveler, whose vocalist John Popper is a virtuoso on the instrument. Staples of 1990s pop radio thanks to their sunny, ubiquitous breakthrough smash "Run-Around"—the longest-charting in Billboard history—the Princeton, New Jersey-born band went on to find a devoted audience in the jam-band scene after they'd had their mainstream moment. To date, the group, which hits the Mahawie Theater on March 3, has released something in the neighborhood of 16 albums, several showcasing them in their full-flight live glory; additionally, Popper penned a 2016 biography, Suck and Blow: And Other Stories I'm Not Supposed to Tell (Da Capo Press). Tad Kinchla, who took over for Bobby Sheehan after the founding bassist died in 1999, answered a few questions for Chronogram via e-mail. Blues Traveler will perform at the Mahawie Theater in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, on March 3 at 8pm. Tickets are $49-$89. (413) 528-0100.
Blues Traveler's most recent studio album, 2015's Blow Up the Moon, was one of the band's most eclectic, thanks in part to the many guest artists who appear on it, such as Hanson, Jewel, and Bowling for Soup. What was it like to work with so many outside collaborators? Are there instances you can recall from the making of the album that have influenced the music you guys have made since then? Is the concept one you think you might try again, or are you focused on keeping it insular for the next album?
Blow Up the Moon was a really great experience in many ways. There were definite high and low parts in the collaborations, but they were all great learning experiences. I'd say the that the process of working with [electronic duo] 3OH!3 has stuck with us. They were really efficient and creative in getting parts down as we worked. Instead of crafting all the parts of the song and tracking after all the edits, we just threw down sections and parts as we wrote, recording along the way. In the end, we had finished songs with most of the basic tracks done. We've applied that in the way we recorded the newest album as well. The same work-as-you-go process occurred with [reggae band] the Dirty Heads as well. Very fluid and creative. I'm sure time restraints helped force the issue, but it was a new way for us to look at writing. As far as collaborating, I think we're pretty set on working as a band for the next couple of albums. If something organic comes our way, I think we're open to it, of course.
It's been almost 20 years since you took over for original bassist Bobby Sheehan . Sheehan's shoes are certainly big shoes to fill, but fans agree you've filled them more than well—along with bringing your own flavor to Blues Traveler's music. What was it about the band's music that made you a fan before you joined, and what is it that makes the group unique compared to other acts in the (so-called) jam band sphere?
I guess I was pretty much a fan since the bands inception. Blues Band (the name at the time) was one of the only bands playing at our high school, so we were all fans. They just happened to be really good and played like a lot of bands most of us loved. Obviously, having a brother in the band, I was a little biased [Tad's brother Chan is Blues Traveler's guitarist]. Filling Bobby's shoes was really tough. He was a good friend of mine, aside from my really digging his bass playing. The process of joining the band was pretty emotional for everyone. We were all grieving over his loss while trying to go forward as almost a new band. I think in many ways it helped that I was "in family." We were all able to bond over our time with Bob and all that made him and the band what it was. I'm a very different player than Bobby. I basically told the guys that when I joined. I said, "I have my voice in playing that is quite different than Bobby's." They all agreed that that was cool and wanted to see where things would go with a new sound. Ever since then, they've all been more than supportive in letting me play the way I do, and it's been very encouraging and, more than anything, fun. I think what gives Blues Traveler its own voice is clearly the harmonica. Not that we're the only band with a harp player, but we're the only one with John Popper. Armed with that, and our ability to play with each other, gives us a very unique sound. We kind of slide in and out of genres and ranges, but you can always say it's Blues Traveler. It's pretty cool to be part of that, to be honest.
You and your wife had twin boys in 2013—that must be a handful! How has becoming a father influenced you as a musician? (And are the boys playing any instruments yet?)
Twins are the bomb. They truly test your limits, but you certainly are rewarded. I think, more than anything, having kids has put taking time away into perspective. You really want to maximize your use of time away from the family, whether it be touring or recording. It kind of boils over into your playing. It makes me want to work harder when I'm away, so that I can really enjoy my time at home. I also find I'm enjoying practicing again, too; kind of a bonus I didn't expect. I think it's now a mental break from parenting that lets me get into a different head space. I'm sure most parents can attest to that feeling. Currently, one of my sons is way into music. I got him an electronic drum kit that lets him knock the crap out of it with headphones on. Genius.
It's been three years since Blow Up the Moon. How soon can fans expect a new album?
We're dropping a new album this winter. We wrote and recorded it last spring in Nashville. It's something we're all really happy about. Its sound brings us back to the band's roots in many ways.
What do you most hope the people feel or experience when they hear Blues Traveler's records or come to see you guys play? Anything about this tour you want to let the fans who haven't caught you in a while know about?
I hope they get a sense of the band's history. Over 30 years ,there have been a lot of style changes and songs. I hope we do a good job conveying all those periods over the course of a show. We do our best to mix up sets and touch on songs off all our albums, as well as the more familiar tunes. On this tour, we've been hitting some new material, too, which has been a lot of fun.
Discover more music events in the Hudson Valley area.