With the volume down, the video for “Make a Change” by Durand Jones & The Indications seems to check off the boxes of the indie music scene. There’s the obligatory musician-with-brick-wall shot, a telephone pole stapled with show posters and even a bar with Christmas lights over the deck. Turn the sound on, however, and things catapult from the present back to the 1960s. A crisp horn section, whirling organ and powerhouse vocals place the tune firmly in the vintage soul tradition of legends such as Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye.
Youthful energy and old-school reverence combine throughout the Bloomington, Ind.-based band’s self-titled debut album, released in 2016 through Ohio soul label Colemine Records. Over the past year, that unique sound has led Durand Jones & The Indications to tour the country and perform gigs at festivals including South by Southwest and Voodoo Music + Arts Experience. The group now brings its funky grooves to The Mothlight on Wednesday, Aug. 23.
Frontman Durand Jones says that the band has led him down an unexpected path. Primarily a saxophone player, Jones moved to Bloomington to attend grad school at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music and work as a horn coach for the IU Soul Revue. He found himself singing, instead, when the Soul Revue wound up short on performers, attracting the attention of guitarist Blake Rhein. Rhein invited Jones to sing the Otis Redding classic “Dock of the Bay” at one of his band’s basement shows, and the collaboration that resulted soon transformed into The Indications.
The group soon started crafting its own songs, inspired by a shared love of soul greats, and band members recorded the results themselves on a four-track system in drummer Aaron Frazer’s basement. “I’ll never forget writing ‘Make a Change’ — we stayed up until 4 in the morning on Sunday night just jamming on that tune,” says Jones. “We couldn’t stop; I had to wake up at 9 o’clock to go to class, and I just could not get that song out of my head.”
The band’s late-night excitement shines through most clearly on “Groovy Babe,” which has become the album’s de facto single after being featured in an advertisement for Google Assistant with over 31 million views on YouTube. Fuzzy bass and booming drums sound heavy with reverb as they bounce off the basement walls, and Jones’s voice threatens to blow out the microphone with barely controlled passion. There’s a gritty edge to the recording that sets the music apart from a simple re-creation of the past.
Jones’ personal background may also influence his band’s DIY approach. He grew up in Hillaryville, La., a rural town of roughly 750 people about an hour west of New Orleans. “A lot of people there don’t see the point in going to college,” Jones says. “When I told my dad that I wanted to go to college for music, he told me good luck, but he wasn’t going to help me in any way.”
Instead, Jones earned a scholarship to Southeastern Louisiana University for music education and classical saxophone, which he then leveraged into his grad school assistantship. He laughingly recalls how his dad eventually took notice of his success: “Folks at church started asking him about me and the band, which prompted him to give me a call and ask, ‘What are you doing?’”
In the wider world, Jones says that he’s been pleasantly surprised by the breadth of audiences for The Indications’ music. “I think it’s pretty cool that we get a mix of ages at our shows,” he says. “There’s definitely a younger, more hip crowd, but there’s also the alternative adults, and it’s really nice to see how our music has that crossover appeal.” Like his songs themselves, Jones’s shows bridge the old and the new, crossing generations to create a space for unbridled groove.
WHAT: Durand Jones & The Indications with Sister Ivy
WHERE: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road, themothlight.com
WHEN: Wednesday, Aug. 23, 9:30 p.m. $10 advance/$12 day of show