Every band starts by actually playing together somewhere–whether it be a garage or basement or a loosely-planned jam session that morphs into something solid. Regardless of where the “stage” might be, musicians start out with an idea and work hard to bring music to the ears of the public.
One band which has noticeably grown in popularity throughout the northeast is Neighbor. Fans within the jam scene are well aware of the tribute band Pink Talking Fish. What many fans may not know, however, is that PTF keyboardist Richard James has a side project called Neighbor which holds a residency every Tuesday at Thunder Road in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Fans of this group not only show up every Tuesday to support the band but they also bring snacks for the crowd to enjoy, take a weekly set break photo outside of the crowd in attendance, make stickers, and even run fan pages. That’s all in addition to the recruitment of new fans each week to come and check out the original music that’s jammed out on stage. To have that much involvement from the fans says a lot about the music that’s coming out of this group. In addition to all of that, guests frequently sit-in to the performances, so one never knows who may show up on stage to join in on the fun.
Live For Live Music caught up with James the night of one of the band’s recent weekly performances to find out more about this project.
L4LM: Tell us more about Neighbor. How did this come about? Who’s involved? Where did this idea come from?
Richard James: Neighbor is myself, Lyle Brewer [guitar], Dean Johnston [drums] and [The New Motif ‘s] Dan Kelly [bass]. We formed Neighbor at the beginning of this year. Lyle and I were neighbors growing up and we hadn’t played music together in quite some time and we both decided, rather I decided, that I needed to play more music with him. He very nicely obliged so we grabbed Dean and Dan and we’ve been writing a lot of original music. It’s been quite the wild ride between the music, the guys in the group, the fans, the camaraderie of everything. It’s a circus and it’s awesome.
L4LM: Talk more about the band’s residency every week at Thunder Road.
RJ: We have a residency every Tuesday. How that came about is that I went to New Orleans, and I took some lessons with a piano player named Jon Cleary while I was down there. He’s one of my all-time favorites and I saw that he has a residency a couple of times a week. He was playing solo stuff and vetting his original music and just keeping his chops up. It was awesome.
I came back here and was playing with Pink Talking Fish a lot on the road. I need that original music, that outlet, and that creativity, so I decided to find a room. Luckily we were able to land Thunder Road and it’s been awesome. It’s been growing and building and it’s definitely something I’ve never seen before as far as from a fan base. It’s wild. It’s great.
L4LM: The community seems to be a large part of this band. Did you ever expect to see this kind of a response?
RJ: I was hoping for it. The music gives people a getaway midweek to lose themselves a little bit and to have fun with each other and the band. The band keeps writing new music. We keep pumping it out so it keeps the fans interactive on social media. They keep inviting people, they keep telling other people about it and then they’re excited to tell people about Neighbor. Its fresh and new every week. There’s new music and people and faces. It’s growing and they know that it’s not just growing because of us. They have a sense of community and are growing it from the inside. It’s insane and awesome.
Dean Johnston: It’s the first fanbase I’ve ever been a part of that has this vibe that wants us to succeed. It’s not just that they support and love going to the shows, it’s another thing that they want us to do more. They will do what they can to help us succeed.
Dan Kelly: They like the original stuff too which is awesome. I’ve been in bands who cover a lot of music and if you look at the fan pages you’ll find stuff like, “It’d be really cool if you played this or that.” This community, or fanbase, is saying, “I can’t wait to hear their next original.” They aren’t pushing covers on us and it’s nice because once you start covering a song, then all of a sudden everyone wants to hear it. When you have original music, and they’re psyched for it, that’s when it’s awesome.
RJ: The hardest part is getting the people to enjoy the original stuff. If you can get them there, then you can keep pumping new original music. We’ve done a Phish and Jimi Hendrix tunes, and we’ve done a New Motif tune. I mean New Motif fans come for Dan and PTF fans come as well but it’s a big family affair.
Lyle Brewer: We started doing this thing when a lot of us would suggest a cover to play. We would say, “well, why don’t we write a song that kind of sounds like that.” Why don’t you just get off your ass and write a song. We’ve put the pressure on each other to write instead.
RJ: That’s the reason we’ve been cranking out so much stuff.
L4LM: Do you think you will be playing elsewhere outside of Thunder Road in the near future?
RJ: We have a few dates actually booked. Another big super community-based spot that we are going to a few times this winter will be Sugarloaf Mountain [in Maine]. We’re going to do a couple of shows up there and hopefully gain some Maine neighbors. There’s also a chance that we might be playing down in New York City after Phish on December 30th, if we can all do it. We have an opportunity to go down there. We’re just waiting to put everything together and see if it goes through.
L4LM: Any potential for an album in Neighbor’s future?
RJ: Lyle and I got together maybe three months back in my barn and came up with a concept album that’s eleven songs. We split it up into six chapters and it’s called “Silver.” It’s about Lyle and I being sick of being here on earth.
We wanted to find a better place that is more peaceful and with better unity. We come across this guy named Milwaukee Talkie. The way that we found that is that in my barn, the guy who I bought the house from had old beer bottles all around the corners of the barn. They’re all from like the 1960s and ’70s. We found one that says Milwaukee and one that says Talkie. He takes us to a bunch of different planets and promises that he will take us to a better place.
We go to this first planet which is basically a crazy sex, drugs, no holds barred or authority planet and people can do whatever the hell they want. Me and Lyle get there and they give us a little something before we get off this spaceship, which messes up our brains a little bit. We check out this place, have a bad trip, it’s too scary. That first planet was called ‘Magna Zero.’
The second planet is called ‘Alsa’ and is super hot, fast-paced, nuts, and everybody works to the bone. We get there and they try to leave us on this planet and get a bounty for both of us. We didn’t want to stay there so we steal a ship and head to the third planet.
The third planet is called ‘Silver,’ which is the name of the whole concept. We fly off and don’t really know what we’re doing in this spaceship. We get hit by a comet and the spaceship goes flying out of control and lands on Silver. We emerge from the ship and we are like “this is it.” Everything about it is perfect and beautiful. This woman then emerges and says “you can’t stay here. You have to take what you see here on the planet, go back to your planet and make your planet a better place.” So we go back to planet Earth.
Each planet, basically each segment with the traveling, the planet, etc, everything has a song to it. It’s a whole concept and are thinking of making it our first record. It’s a little ambitious but why not?
So that’s Silver and we actually played it once the whole way through for the fans and people flipped out. We may play it a couple more times and then record it. So that’s it.
L4LM: Anything you’d like to say to the music lovers out there who don’t yet know about Neighbor?
RJ: You should come down and meet everybody, not just us but the people who come and join us every Tuesday. Join the Neighbors’ page and see what the community is all about. It’s all about the music, the people, and sharing the love. We try to treat everybody with respect and on top of that give everybody just a smoking rock show every week with new music keeping it different. It’s all about having fun and we’re going to try our damndest to keep it that way.