Ever since the start of the Explorers Club about a decade ago, the band's music has centered around a very mid-to-late '60s, early '70s aesthetic, complete with classic rock 'n' roll arrangements influenced by guys like Phil Spector and the kind of vocal harmonies that could even knock out someone like the Beach Boys bandleader Brian Wilson. No really, they did get his attention, prompting Wilson to give the Explorers Club founder Jason Brewer a ring one day to let him know. Though Brewer missed the call, he still got a message. "He left me a voicemail telling me how much he really loved a song off of our first album [Freedom Wind], 'Don't Forget the Sun,'" Brewer remembers. "I think what he said was, 'Oh, I can hear definitely hear some Beach Boys harmonies in there. Thanks for the song; I really like it.'"
The Explorers Club has continued to entwine, in one way or another, with the Beach Boys for years. Brewer has met Wilson in person on several occasions, and last year the Explorers Club bandleader interviewed his musical hero for the City Paper. But the band — now reformed after a roughly two-year split and comprised of Nashville-based Brewer, Wyatt Funderburk, and Paul Runyon, Atlanta's Mike Williamson, and Charleston's Kyle Polk — has never been so close to its muse than now with the release of Together, the first Explorers Club record in four years.
Various members of Wilson's current band were involved with the album — his band leader Darian Sahanaja contributed synthesizers to tracks like "Don't Waste Her Time," a song reminiscent of early-'70s Beach Boys. Nelson Bragg provided percussion, which was engineered by keyboardist/vocalist Scott Bennett, and any horns you hear are thanks to multi-instrumentalist Probyn Gregory.
But the 11-song collection is also of the same sunny disposition as you'll find in the Beach Boys' catalog and is similar in spirit to the Explorers Club's first album, Freedom Wind. On Together, for example, intricate vocal harmonies build and rise, reaching exhilarating heights, and fans of "Good Vibrations" will notice the familiar sound of a theremin on Together's title track.
- Brent Funderburk, father of bassist Wyatt Funderburk, hand-sketched his own photo of the band and painted it with watercolors to create the LP cover
All vocals on the record were performed with the five-piece gathered around two mics to get that thick, rich harmony sound that really shines on numbers like "California's Callin' Ya" and "Before I'm Gone," the latter of which was co-written by Brewer, Williamson, and Funderburk. But Brewer credits Williamson, who as a teen played the part of Paul McCartney in a Beatles tribute band, for taking the track's vocal arrangement to "next-level ridiculous."
"He really knows what to do," Brewer says. "It's like I'm able to write songs and come up with ideas and do what I do as an arranger, a writer, producer, and a person with a vision. And Mike and Wyatt and Paul can take that vision and help bring it to life."
Along with much of the rest of the album, Together's first single, "California's Callin' Ya," was co-written by Emeen Zarookian, who's a Los Angeles-based musician, fellow Brian Wilson fanatic, and another trusted lyricist. "My whole strength is melody and music and chords and harmony," Brewer says. "I have a hard time writing lyrics. I can come up with some very good ones, but I also get frustrated and get a lot of writer's block when it comes to lyrical ideas. I can always come up with the themes I want and the things I want to say, but sometimes somebody else has a better way of saying it, and I'm very fine with recognizing that."
Brewer's vision for "California's Callin' Ya" was a six-eight time, doo-wop-style, Wrecking Crew kind of song ... about California. "I've been there numerous times and obviously the music I love is definitely from that place," Brewer says. "Other than Charleston, Southern California is my favorite. Those are my two favorite places, and if you look at them on a map, they're almost parallel."
Together is also an apt title for a band that called it quits only three years ago. Some members left, while Brewer says he needed to step away, spend time with his new daughter, and get inspired again. "I respect all those guys," Brewer says of his former bandmates. "They've all done other musical things that they wanted to do, and that's probably best, you know? And now, I just feel like this time is the best time for this band.
"We work really well together," he continues. "The singing is the best it's ever been, in terms of singing together. We've always had individual great singers in the band, every single one of them. But right now, it's like it's much more condensed ... it's more focused. It is the most focused and the most driven the band has ever been."
Together is out on translucent sky-blue vinyl on June 24. The album's first single "California's Callin' Ya" has a vinyl release on May 13, but early copies will be up for grabs at this weekend's show.