The Shady Recruits, the brainchild of Marcus King Band members Jack Ryan (drums) and Justin Johnson (trumpet), just released their eclectic, self-titled debut EP to the world for mass consumption.

Jack and Justin recently rose from the depths of their respective quarantine bunkers in Greenville, South Carolina to chat with Live For Live Music about the origins of The Shady Recruits, the diverse sonics of the band’s debut EP, and even their thoughts as to whether they believe music can still bring us all together despite the fact that most of us still remain so far apart.

The Shady Recruits – The Shady Recruits [Full EP]

Live For Live Music: The Shady Recruits’ birth wasn’t orchestrated as much as it was a by-product of you and Justin sitting in on jam sessions in your hometown when you weren’t on the road with the Marcus King Band. Can you talk a little bit about how those nights playing at Smiley’s in Greenville, South Carolina eventually led to the formation of the Shady Recruits?

Jack Ryan: Our guitar player, Charles [Hedgepath], has had this Tuesday night residency at Smiley’s in Greenville for over ten years. As part of it, Charles brings in a different band every week to jam with and to kind of serve as the house band.

Initially, he’d have the Marcus King Band come in for those Tuesday night jam sessions, but eventually, MKB simply became too big to just show up and sit in. At that point, it started to become a question of “What could we do in terms of bringing people into the venue on Tuesday nights but not call it the Marcus King Band?”

I believe the first iteration of the band was me, Charles, David [Katilius], Justin and Marcus King. As things moved forward and we began to function more as an actual band, we decided to bring in Marcus White on keys to round things out.

It was Charles who then came up with the suggestion that we name the band after me or a play on my name, something along the lines of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, like the TV show. Eventually, that morphed into naming the band the Shady Recruits.

Justin Johnson: We travel so much with the Marcus King Band that we’re often only home for a maybe a week every three to four months. So at first, all we’d be able to do is just really set up one of those Tuesday night jam sessions in Greenville. I believe all that started to come about somewhere around 2016.

Jack Ryan: At least for the first year and half the Shady Recruits were just about those jam sessions. We didn’t really have any original material beyond the reggae tune that appears on the EP, “Save Your Pride”, which is one of Charles’ tunes that he’s had for a really long time.

So initially the music was only “Save Your Pride” and we’d also do a bunch of covers live. By the time the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam rolled around the following year in 2017, we had worked out more original music. We had also started to really come together as a band. However, it would still be another two years before we’d actually get into the studio and record the music that you hear on the EP.

shady recruits

[Photo via Robert Forte]

Live For Live Music: With the Marcus King Band’s success, you could have easily enlisted the services of some well-known musicians to be a part of the Shady Recruits. Instead, you chose to bring aboard local musicians to whom you have ties that go back before even the formation of MKB. Can you talk about what Charles, David and Marcus bring to the table and why you felt as though they’d be the right players to fill out the Shady Recruits roster? 

Jack Ryan: A big reason I chose those three guys to be a part of the Shady Recruits was that I found it appalling that musicians of their caliber didn’t have bigger gigs beyond some of things they were tied to locally and regionally. David should be, and could be, in a much larger band. He’s far and away one of the most talented players I’ve come across in my entire life and I could absolutely say the same thing about both Marcus and Charles. Charles is also this absolute sweetheart who brings an immense amount of talent as a songwriter to the Shady Recruits. In fact, it was Charles who wrote most of the material that appears on our EP.

Live For Live Music: The sonics of the Shady Recruits skew more towards jazz, improvisation, and funk, which is quite divergent from the musical palette MKB has made a name for itself with. How important is it for you to continue to explore, play, and record music within other genres outside of MKB’s sweet spot?

Justin Johnson: The Shady Recruits is ultimately just an extension of all of the music we listen to as individuals. We never started the band with the intent of sounding like anything specific or, for that matter, not trying to sound like the Marcus King Band. Instead, our goal was really to just get together as musicians and to play music with one another that we all thought was cool.

Jack Ryan: Our music in some ways actually does lean a bit towards the early days of the Marcus King Band where there’s a bit more underlying jazz improvisation, but we also get really funky. What we found over time though is that our music has turned out to be much more keyboard-centric and less guitar-centric, but again, things kind of just evolved that way. There has never really been a plan behind any of this.

Live For Live Music: The Shady Recruits will often play after-parties following Marcus King Band performances. How would you categorize MKB’s fan base’s response to the Shady Recruits at these shows?

Jack Ryan: The music we play is lighthearted and it’s something that we think most people can connect with and even dance to. That alone creates this built-in environment for the Shady Recruits to tap into when we play those after shows. By the time fans head over to another venue to see us play a late-night set, most of them are relaxed and already in this mindset of having a really good time which, in turn, makes it easy for us as a band to not only get up and play but to have a lot of fun doing it. The response by the fan base at the MKB after-show performances, as well as at all the shows we’ve played thus far, has been nothing but positive.

Related: Marcus King Talks ‘El Dorado’, Nashville Life, & The Paradox Of Age & Experience [Interview/Stream]

Live For Live Music: Your self-titled debut EP was just recently released. Where was the record recorded, how long did it take to record, and did you self produce the EP or did you bring in outside help to assist with the project?

Jack Ryan: We self-produced the EP, but before we went into the studio, one of our friends was able to provide us with a place where we ended up doing a lot of the record’s pre-production. We set up and recorded it in a way where we could all hear each other but we still had the amps set up in different rooms so that we could still get some sort of isolation. One of the tracks that appears on the EP, “Junie Harper”, was actually written during those pre-productions sessions.

A few months after we finished the pre-production for the EP, MKB’s European tour ended up getting canceled at the last minute. So all of a sudden, we had this unexpected week or two at home that we normally wouldn’t have had. All the guys in the band ended up being available so I got in contact with Josh Blake up at Echo Mountain Recording Studios in Asheville, NC to see if the studio happened to be available and, as luck would have it, it was. So we packed up our gear, headed to Asheville and recorded everything in just two days. I guess you could say it was very serendipitous the way everything ended up coming together.

Live For Live Music: Despite the record not being a full-length LP, it still offers listeners an eclectic selection of music they can easily get lost in. For example, “Save Your Pride” is built off of this reggae foundation while a song such as “Night Bird” initially starts out as this jazz-inspired sojourn before segueing into more of an extended galactic funk kind of joy ride. Would it be fair to say then that the blueprint for the Shady Recruits’ music is that, well, there is no blueprint?

Jack Ryan: I’ll say this: there have never been any expectations in this band about what we’re trying to be, but that might just be tied to the sheer fact that not all that many people even know who we are [laughs]. Ironically, we still end up talking all the time about what it is we’re actually going for.

What’s also kind of weird is that a lot of the stuff that I have going on in my head, that I think I would like the Shady Recruits to play, isn’t at all what ended up on the EP. So that right there tells me the next record we make will probably end up sounding completely different from this one.

Live For Live Music: With the Shady Recruits leaning heavily on improvisation, is your recorded music more of a starting point for what those songs will evolve into when you play them in a live setting?

Jack Ryan: Sometimes the songs evolve and go to different places they’ve never been to before when we play them live. However, if I’m being totally honest here, sometimes it’s been so long since we’ve been able to practice together we just play the songs straight up [laughs].

Live For Live Music: Side projects can often create discord within a successful touring and recording band, so much so that in some cases, they’ve lead to band members being dismissed and some bands even breaking up. Does MKB encouraging a creative workspace outside of the confines of the group in some ways make your bonds both personally and musically that much stronger?

Jack Ryan: Playing different kinds of music outside of MKB absolutely helps me express myself in new ways. Your brain is a whole lot more powerful than some people give it credit for. The more music you learn, the more music you write, the better off you’ll be as a musician. I think doing those things helps keep my brain healthy and strong and that’s extremely important to me. Those outside experiences also have such a positive impact on me that when I come back into the Marcus King Band, I’m able to approach our music with even that much more creative energy and drive, and I think that’s a good thing.

Live For Live Music: When the music industry returns to a more normalized state, what are your short-term and maybe even your longer-term plans for the Shady Recruits?

Jack Ryan: It’s kind of tough to say with everything being so upside down in the world of music presently. If MKB goes back to our traditional scheduled programming of always being on the road, it’s probably going to be fairly difficult for us to schedule too many Shady Recruits shows. I will say, though, that in terms of our recorded music, Charles and some of other great folks we know are trying to get some really cool stuff going for us, so we’re all pretty excited about those opportunities.

Live For Live Music: Do you think music, whether playing it or just being a fan, can be one of the few things that can bring people together and help them heal despite the chaos surrounding all of us right now?

Justin Johnson: Absolutely, and you can really feel the extent of music’s impact right now. Just look at all of the streaming events so many musicians and bands are doing and all the positive responses those events are getting. Music plays such a big role in so many people’s lives, whether they’re a professional musician or just a fan.

Jack Ryan: One positive thing that may end up coming from all of this is perhaps some people who felt isolated and reclusive are maybe realizing they aren’t alone as they once thought. I think music may have something to do with that.

A fair number of people on this planet also go to live shows. Whether it’s one band they follow around all summer, local music, or just the bigger festivals, people end up organically forming this huge group of friends and what’s binding all of them: music. Now that group of friends, most of which you can’t go and hang out with right now, are apart. But all of them can still share and experience music with another, albeit in different ways. So I definitely believe music can go a long way towards helping people get through this weird time in our history.

The self-titled debut from The Shady Recruits is available everywhere to stream, with CDs available for purchase through the band’s website.