|Jason Spooner Trio, with THE UPBEAT|
Just don't call him a folk singer.
"I usually try to stay away from the 'F' word, which is folk. That can be a blessing and a curse, depending on you who say it to. I think of it as just, I'm a songwriter. I'm a contemporary songwriter," says Spooner. "I usually put the word 'roots' or 'blues' in there somewhere, because my influences are in songwriter music, roots music, definitely some blues in there. Stuff that's a little more scratchy, rough around the edges, those are my big influences."
Spooner, a 35-year-old from Portland, Maine, gathered a couple musicians who would push his music in an unobvious direction. Adam Frederick is a classically trained bassist with a heavy roots, folk and blues background, and drummer Reed Chambers rocks steady in funk, soul and reggae.
Combine those two with the thoughtful lyrics and smooth vocals of Spooner — his voice can sometimes conjure Paul Simon — and what emerges is a rich sound, music that avoids the pitfall of overt sappiness that plagues so many singer-songwriters banished to the folk section of iTunes.
Spooner can sing with a funky edge sometimes — see his cover of the Talking Heads' "Slippery People" on the his new album "The Flame You Follow" — but his mainstay is tight music, played by accomplished musicians.
In his writing, Spooner can work as a storyteller, but he's not afraid to step off the literal path into the obscure, emotion-driven dreamscape writing style of, say, Radiohead. "I try to find some kind of happy medium," says Spooner. "I definitely write some story songs, but I also enjoy the shrouded stuff . . . It's kind of like the detail painting versus the wide brush strokes of the abstract painting. There's power in each side of that."
Spooner's gained some notoriety in his native New England, winning some awards, including a first-place finish in the 2007 Mountain Stage New Song Contest, and getting some love on the radio. Now he's hoping to bring his sound to the other half of the continent, where he's already broken in to some radio markets and logged a successful tour last year.
In other ways, Spooner is already here. It's possible you've already heard Spooner while sipping on a latte at Starbucks. A runner-up finish in a music contest, in which someone from Hear Music, Starbucks' music wing, liked what he heard, landed him on one of the coffee chain's playlists. With that break, Spooner has been exercising some business savvy, trying to get his music into people's ears anyway he can.
"I've got people calling every other day saying, 'I just heard you at Outback Steakhouse,' and Burlington Coat Factory or, you know, Kentucky Fried Chicken. It's so funny," says Spooner, still an independent artist. "At this timeframe in popular culture things have changed drastically . . . Bands are no longer shackled by having to wait around for the spaceship to land and go with a major label and have to answer to them, and whether you get placed at the pile is up to them. You have a lot more control over your career these days."
But clearly Spooner doesn't want to be defined as nice background music for coffee drinkers at Starbucks. Live performance is still where his music really comes out.
"We've always had kind of a Jekyll and Hyde thing live . . . We have sort of like this fun, casual jam-y side to us, where we'll get a room of college kids dancing and bouncing up and down. We'll dig into some old '80s covers or some funk tunes, or some blues tunes. We have that side of us, which is nice," says Spooner. "We can really kind of flip the switch and turn into a party band, where people can get up and boogey a little bit."