Brother Sun members shine through individualityWritten by Jason Mack | | firstname.lastname@example.org
After crossing paths for years during their solo careers and recording on each other’s 19 solo albums, Greg Greenway, Joe Jencks and Pat Wictor decided to combine their efforts with the folk trio Brother Sun.
“The circuit we play on is like a small neighborhood,” Wictor said. “You get to know all the other touring musicians by crossing paths at concerts and festivals. Joe and I met at a music conference and we’ve made music together off and on for a decade. We’ve all recorded on each other’s albums. By the time we decided to form a band, we didn’t have to do a lot of getting to know each other from scratch.”
Along with each member of the band playing guitar, Wictor plays slide guitar, Green- way plays piano and Jencks plays the bouzouki, a Greek instrument that sounds like a lower-pitched mandolin. They decided to form a trio after performing together at the Southeast Unitarian Universalist Summer Institute in the summer of 2009.
“There was this magical moment,” Jencks said. “It’s like dropping a stone in a pond and watching the ripples move outward. When we hit certain chords and certain notes, we could feel this sort of disturbance in the force, if you will. It rippled out throughout this entire auditorium. We all looked at each other. It was kind of a goose bump moment where we went, ‘Yeah, more of that.’ That was pretty cool.”
Due to the conflicting schedules of their solo careers, the band wasn’t able to form until the spring of 2010 and started its first tour that December.
“We’ve all had so much fun that we’ve in essence hit the pause button on a lot of our solo work in order to make room for Brother Sun,” Jencks said. “It’s some of the most compelling, dynamic and engaged music that any of us have ever had the privilege to make.”
Another challenge for the band is working out a rehearsal schedule, with its members’ hometowns in New York, Boston and Chicago.
“When we have a tour starting up, we have a limited number of hours to get done what needs to get done,” Jencks said. “It forces us into a place of focus and productivity. I think some really beautiful, creative things come out of that time constraint.”
Their spread-out hometowns means the band mates travel separately to shows, which Jencks said is good for the sanity of them all.
“We have so many things we have to negotiate from day to day, there’s no need for us to negotiate which radio station is on or how to set the air conditioning,” he said. “The thing that allows us to all show up and give 100 percent is that we have time to ourselves in our vehicles to call who we need to call, check in with our wives, set the temperature where we want and listen to what we want.”
Some of the band’s negotiating occurs during songwriting as each member adjusts to writing as a group after extensive solo careers.
“As a songwriter, you write for your own best element,” Greenway said. “Now we’re writing for all of our best elements. We’ve expanded our vocabulary and our emotional capabilities. This is the end result of a lot of work, but when we’re singing together beautifully, it’s almost like we’re not doing anything. It’s a great deal of effort to get to that effortless moment, and when it happens, that synchronicity is indescribable. I think audiences feel that. It’s not resident in any one of us. It happens between the three of us.”
A majority of the band’s songs were written individually and arranged as a group.
“We bring each other into a state of conscious intentionality about the choices we made as writers,” Jencks said. “It’s in the arranging of songs that we step into our truest place of collaboration. It’s a lot of trial and error and experimentation. There’s a need for letting go of preconceived notions of how a thing is going to sound and just exploring it in the moment.”
The result of their collaborative arrangements is a cross between folk, blues and gospel.
“Suffering and transcendence are what the blues and gospel both have,” Wictor said. “That speaks to all three of us and what we want to project with our music.”
Another thing they want to project with their music is simply having fun.
“We have a lot of fun in our rehearsals,” Wictor said. “We laugh a lot. It’s very spontaneous. We’re inventing stuff on the spot. It’s fun and creative, and we enjoy doing it.”
“We have fun, which makes digging deep and exploring music much easier to do,” Jencks said. “There’s something about getting into a practice room that has a sort of heaviness and weight to it. I look forward to our rehearsals weeks in advance. I think people respond to that energy as much as they do the music.”
Brother Sun is stopping in Toledo during the first stretch of its 2012 tour on Feb. 16 for a 7 p.m. show. Tickets are $15 for adults and $7 for children and are available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/220996. Visit BrotherSunMusic.com for more information. The show is at Augsburg Lutheran Church, located at 1342 W. Sylvania Ave.
“It’s not a religious performance that we give,” Jencks said. “It’s a secular, folkloric and contemporary acoustic kind of performance. What we need is a place where we can connect earnestly with the people that come to listen. We can’t do that at a bar. We can’t compete with our environment to make a connection with an audience.”
“It’s a really entertaining night,” Greenway said. “One of the things that have made us appealing to festivals is that we have a broad appeal. We cross so many genres. I’m amazed at how many different audiences have loved what we have done.”