Jesse Talbott is a songwriter and the lead singer of Dr. Bacon, a band originally from Boone that relocated to Asheville in 2016. It’s difficult to pin down the musical style of Dr. Bacon; that challenge arises from the fact that the group’s journey has been punctuated by a number of genre shifts and personnel changes. The band — which describes its current style as funk-rock — plays the Isis Music Hall on Saturday, Feb. 18.
Dr. Bacon took some time to develop its sound. Talbott says that the original group knew what it liked: “It was kind of alt-rock,” he says. “But when we started busking on the streets in Boone, we quickly learned that if you play bluegrass, you get paid to do it.”
So the early lineup of Dr. Bacon developed what Talbott describes as a “punk bluegrass style,” with an emphasis on danceability. That acoustic trio featured two guitars and a mandolin, with one of the guitarists occasionally switching to djembe.
The group added members and continued in that direction for about a year, though even then, Dr. Bacon mixed in other styles. “We also played rap covers in a bluegrass setting,” Talbott says. “We did Lil Jon & the East Size Boyz’s ‘Get Low’ and ‘Colt 45′ by Afroman. People just ate it up.”
But shortly thereafter, the group’s original mandolin and banjo players left. “So we kind of steered away from bluegrass,” Talbott says. “We headed to a more rock ‘n’ roll, bluesier sound.”
And with the group’s recent move to Asheville, it changed course yet again. “We just started heading in the funk direction,” Talbott says. Dr. Bacon entered a recording studio early last year to cut an album. But not long after it was completed, the band faced yet another challenge. It had already been chosen to take part in the 2016 Last Band Standing competition when “our bass player, the drummer and the banjo player all quit,” Talbott says. Three weeks before the high-profile event, the remaining members found themselves in a make-or-break moment.
“We found a bass player and a drummer the next day,” Talbott says.
The new lineup practiced 30-40 hours a week. “It was insane,” Talbott recalls. “It was grueling. One of the guys lost a job over it.” But the experience galvanized Dr. Bacon, and the group won the competition.
“I think that energy that the new guys brought into it was what really won it for us,” Talbott says. “Because we wanted it; we were hungry.”
Those studio sessions remain unreleased. “We now have this product that we no longer even sound like,” Talbott admits. “We spent all the money and time for something we couldn’t even use.” Listeners who are curious about Dr. Bacon’s trajectory can search the band’s many live sets available at archive.org and YouTube.
Dr. Bacon has completed a more recent EP that almost features its current lineup. “Our drummer got nabbed by Caleb Johnson, the 2013 American Idol winner, so we just got a new drummer last week,” Talbott says. Meanwhile, the initial run of the new EP sold out quickly, so the band has pressed more for sale at shows.
The current Dr. Bacon lineup features seven musicians, including Myles Dunder (vocals, guitar, saxophone) who remains from the group’s early acoustic trio days in Boone. And the banjo is still part of Dr. Bacon’s sound, providing a thread of continuity — albeit a thin one — with the band’s start. “We’re doing more of what we want to do,” says Talbott, “instead of just what was getting us paid.”
WHO: Dr. Bacon with Come Back Alice
WHERE: Isis Music Hall, 743 Haywood Road, isisasheville.com
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 18, 9 p.m. $8 advance/$12 day of show