A band of wildcards who travel across state lines and around the Internet for their music.
Lineup changes, long hours on the road and balancing music with a family are obstacles that have killed an inordinate number of up-and-coming bands. But for Jumbling Towers, who headlined at Off Broadway on January 21, all of these things would be too cliché to bring down this band. Made up of lead vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Josiah “Joe” DeBoer, drummer Louis Wall, bassist Nate Drexler and keyboardist Michael Kendall, Jumbling Towers is a refreshing band that defies all the expected conventions.
Take their history: Since the band’s creation in 2005, there have been several member changes and currently the guys don’t even live in the same time zone. While DeBoer and Wall live in St. Louis, Kendall and Drexler live in Chattanooga. Adapting to the distance, the band goes through much of their creative process in cyberspace.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do this ten or fifteen years ago without the Internet,” says Wall before taking the stage at Off Broadway.
Here in St. Louis, DeBoer writes the songs, Wall produces them and then they send them down to Chattanooga for final polishing. The band also distributes the majority of their songs and reaches their fan base, which now spans the globe, through media and networking websites.
“When we did the EP [“Ramifications of an Exciting Spouse”] release, we told everyone on Facebook and Myspace that we were giving it away for free. And that’s how we found out where our fans are,” says Drexler. “We started getting feedback from places like Germany, Spain and England. We never pursued [listeners in Europe], but it was interesting to see all the people that we never knew listened to us.”
Still, every so often, Jumbling Towers needs to be in the same city to rehearse and perform and while they joke about trying to practice via Skype, being in the band means a lot of time on the road. Since September 2009, the guys estimate they have collectively logged about 10,000 miles behind the wheel traveling for the band.
For a bunch of unattached 18 year olds with a VW van, that kind of mileage wouldn’t be anything, but the men of Jumbling Towers are also husbands and fathers. Kendal is married, Wall is a self-declared full-time dad and DeBoer is married with two children.
“Joe has no vices but working out and loving his wife and children,” jokes Drexler. “Is parenting a vice?”
“If so, Joe’s an addict,” adds Kendall.
The guys, still in their 20s, sacrifice a lot for their craft. They believe wholeheartedly in the music they create and the unique qualities DeBoer writes into every song.
“We believe in Joe. Bottom line,” says Drexler. Typically laidback and quick with witty quips, Drexler is uncharacteristically serious when talking about DeBoer’s writing talents. “I think it’s safe to say I wouldn’t get behind anybody else with this much. With driving across country, making sacrifices and putting things on hold. It’s all worth it because we know [Joe’s] potential.”
As the band’s newest member, Kendall agrees. “I didn’t know Louis or Joe beforehand, but I [joined] because the music was so good. When Nate proposed it to me, I didn’t even think twice about it.”
And their sound, though hard to define, is something to boast about. While Wall says the best way to start describing their style is pop, Jumbling Towers’ music has the complicated ebbs and flows more common in European bands. Most of this dimension comes from Wall’s production style and the songs driving keyboard rifts, which range from traditional piano sounds to synthesized tones. When you add DeBoer’s haunting voice and lyrics, their songs have the power to linger in the body.
In person, DeBoer looks and sounds like any other dark-haired, unassuming guy that formed a band in high school. But on stage he sheds any remnants of mildness and performs with an impressively harnessed intensity. Whether audience members know their songs or not, Jumbling Towers gets them dancing and brings them into their songs, which often have an expressive, narrative quality.
“Joe likes to write with a lot of characters,” says Wall. ‘Kanetown’ [an album about fictitious orphaned street kids] is very much about characters and their world. The ‘Ramifications of an Exciting Spouse’ has a little less of a storyline.”
“But is still very much driven by the people in [the] songs,” adds Drexler.
Audiences relate to these songs and their worlds. Much as John (Cougar?) Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen reached out to the young blue collars of the ’80s and ’90s, Jumbling Towers’ music has an undeniable appeal to this latest crop of Americans coming of age in a recession. Except this generation’s Jack and Diane have a different kind of energy drawn from the speed of tweets and texts. And Jumbling Towers is able to tap into this. On stage they exhibit the kind of cool confidence that can only be found in a band of 20-something boys that, as Drexler says, “stopped playing sports because we thought it would be cooler to be in a band.” They command the small stages they currently play and will easily translate their performances to larger venues as they continue to grow.
And the band does plan on moving up and up. After discovering a mutual respect of each other’s work, Jumbling Towers was recently name the official house band of TrueHoops, ESPN’s basketball blog, and will be playing at the after parties of some ESPN events in Boston in March.
As far as a new album, the band warns listeners to be prepared. They’ve already recorded about 45 new songs and our excited about putting out a full album as soon as this fall.
“[Our new tracks have] exactly the evolution that you should expect us to take,” says Drexler.
“It’s underneath the umbrella of the general sound that we’ve created, but it’s just gonna kill,” adds Kendall.
Until then, Jumbling Towers is prepared to keep working hard as a band confident in their own sound. They take commendable risks that make their music fresh and creatively outside the box. In fact, the only way to truly describe Jumbling Towers is in their own words: as a band of wildcards.
Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Jumbling Towers