"The beauty of the band is that we were all friends before we got together to play," says singer and rhythm guitarist Stanfield Gray of his pop-rock band The BBQ Bros. "The classic incestuous nature of the Charleston music scene has brought us all back together."
Previously serving as the main songwriter for roots-rock band Grayman, Gray oversaw the formation of the new group last year. Lead guitarist and singer Bradley MacLean, bassist/singer Yates Dew, and drummer Mike Watson piled into Gray's ornate garage rehearsal space with a stack of vintage gear and more than a few melodic song ideas. After an acoustic-based debut at Awendaw Green last fall, the band started gigging around the local clubs, sometimes as a duo with Gray and McLean on acoustic guitars, sometimes as a full four-piece.
The lineup is practically an all-star cast of Charleston players. MacLean strummed with ska-rockers SKWZBXX, Americana-rockers The Dellortos, and bluesy rockabilly band Skye Paige & The Original Recipe. When he wasn't helping run local spots like the Music Farm and the late West Ashley Bait & Tackle, Dew wrote his own music and collaborated with many local and visiting acts — on stage and in the studio. Watson kept time for years in Grayman.
"Bradley and I have played in another band before," says Gray, whose current day job is as the director of strategic communications for the College of Charleston. (He also contributes a monthly music column to Charleston magazine). "Although we've never played together, I've seen Yates in multiple bands over the years, and we've shared stages. Mike and I played together for years, too, so there's some great chemistry there as well."
So far this year, The BBQ Bros. have stayed busy building up a diverse set of original material and choice covers. Currently, the guy in the band who writes the song sings the song, although all three guitarists add their own harmonies to the lead vocal parts.
"One really nice thing about this band is that Bradley, Yates, and I all write original material," says Gray. "Now that we've gotten a feel for what sound this band is, we've been able to swap off, trade off, and give the audience a little something different, depending on whose perspective it is. Because we have a lot of similar influences — and because we're all about the same age — it doesn't sound too disjointed to have three players introduce different songs into the mix. Every song has a different singer."
MacLean and Gray have already developed their own unique balance between acoustic rhythm guitar and electric lead guitar parts. Gray mostly strums the main chord progressions and occasionally arpeggiates a bit, while MacLean bends, twists, and reverberates licks and spare solos over the top, often with a bit of slide.
"Bradley brings slide guitar into my songs, which makes them lean a little more into that Southern rock/Americana side of things," says Gray. "With some of the melodic elements that I add to his music, I'm overlaying a kind of Peter Buck thing, which is really fun. He's overlaying a Duane Allman slide thing on my songs, and it seems to work.
"Bradley and I can play riffs, but we don't really think of ourselves as riff-oriented guitar players," he adds. "We're are more into adding some texture, some emotion, and some sort of depth to the songs. He can break out all the classic hot licks, but to his credit, he rarely does."
Supporting all the intertwining guitar sounds is a solid, locked-in rhythm section, which is an essential component to any serious power-pop band.
"Yates is also a drummer, so that's been very beneficial in that he knows what the drummer is looking for from the bassist," says Gray. "He knows how to play in that pocket, plus he's a great arranger, which enhances what Bradley and I are doing."
The band has already recorded some demos in the home studio, but they're unsure whether to record some of their current original tunes as The BBQ Bros. or as separate solo efforts. This summer and fall, they're mainly concerned with fine-tuning their live show and developing a cohesive sound.
While the full-band gigs feature the strongest material from each songwriter, they like to include a few gems from such Americana artists as John Hiatt, Whiskeytown, and Steve Earle, plus some nuggets by the likes of R.E.M., Joe Jackson, Tom Waits, and other classic college radio acts.
"We try to feel things out, not only with the song selection, but with the pace and rhythm of things. If we notice the energy is getting a little low, we'll try to throw something quicker-paced or with a more danceable song in there. We try to keep the audience in mind and have moments where we're communicating something to them that they enjoy. It's not simply ego-driven, you know?"