“We don’t want to be classified,” says Joseph Salvatore, bassist and vocalist for the Propheteers, voicing a genre-bending sentiment shared by nearly every self-respecting band member. But the Propheteers put their music where their mouths are, staging a live show that’s the equivalent of an iPod set to shuffle.
“We go through genres very rapidly during a set,” says Salvatore, whose band traffics in jazz, swing, funk, hip-hop, reggae, electronic dance and bluegrass. So is their set list disconcerting to an audience which might be content bobbing to jam band grooves one minute, but not necessarily ready to swing the next?
Apparently not. Although Salvatore admits a few people have told them they should streamline their sound, they claim to hear more praise for their variety.
“There are more people who say things like, ‘Wow, you just went from funk to bluegrass to R&B. You took us on this journey. What an awesome experience,'” recalls Salvatore.
“We’re listening to the fans,” explains drummer Mikel Allen. “They come back and say ‘Hey, that one song, can you play it again?'”
With regular gigs throughout Asheville, the Propheteers are finding that fans are, indeed, coming back, and in growing numbers.
The Propheteers were born after Salvatore moved his family from Asheville to Flagstaff, Ariz. The move was a kind of vision quest, based on advice from a psychic who told Salvatore that something sacred — an awakening — awaited him in the mountains of Arizona.
Salvatore soon starting looking for music gigs. On the circuit, he met Luke Yanz, who plays piano, mandolin, guitar and banjo. The two joined the same band, but decided to break away to write their own music. Salvatore soon realized that the awakening foretold by his psychic was a reawakening of the joy that music can bring.
Salvatore encouraged Sean Halas, who plays guitar and piano, to move from Asheville to Flagstaff and find similar enlightenment in joining the band.
“I was feeling frustrated and tired of playing other people’s stuff,” says Halas. “So it wasn’t a big sacrifice to leave Asheville. I got out there and met Luke for the first time on Dec. 5, 2005, and we were gigging five days later.”
The move back to Asheville was a choice for business reasons. “Asheville is a great town culturally and very centrally located in the Southeast,” says Salvatore.
Here, they combined their musical interests with Mikel Allen, who plays drum kit and percussion.
Each of the Propheteers writes material, either alone or collaboratively. “There is a huge hodgepodge of influences in our music,” says Yanz.
“White From Gray” is inspired by reggae beats; “The Day Kojak Died” is classic Steely Dan-esque rock; “Khoel’s Waltz” is jazzy swing; and “Melody Mae,” is reminiscent of old-fashioned Celtic folk.
Halas’ song, “Unit Love” (about a robot in love with its owner) mixes R&B grooves with Jamiroquai-like dance rhythms and is laced with lyrics like, “Flesh will tire and expire/ Men will lie and lose desire/ I will never fail you girl/ You are my entire world.”
The band members are consistently at work, inventing and reworking their songs. “We’ve basically tried to push to learn new music,” says Halas, “to bring in more originals of our stuff, and also take our old songs and make them a lot better.”
As the band’s name implies, Salvatore hopes listeners will be mystically inspired.
“I looked up what a prophet is,” says Salvatore. “It is one who speaks through divine intervention. Everyone has prophetic tendencies when we are inspired by our art, our love, our passion for our world.”
[Kimberly Rogers is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
The Propheteers perform at Westville Pub on Saturday, Jan. 6. $4. 225-9782.