When asked to chart The Get Right Band’s key events that have led to the group’s expansive new concept album, iTopia, Jesse Gentry doesn’t hesitate to identify the trio’s official launch over a decade ago.
“Dec. 9,” he says, intentionally pronouncing the month abbreviation as “deck,” one of the bassist’s many humorous interjections throughout our interview. “I don’t even remember the year — I just remember the date.”
Silas Durocher, the band’s singer and guitarist, quickly fills in the missing piece: 2011. “That’s the night that I felt we became an actual band,” he says. “It was like, ‘Oh, we have a style and some cool originals.’”
For several months before that fateful December night, the Asheville-based psychedelic indie rockers considered The Get Right Band a side project. The initial lineup featured Chris Pyle on drums; all three members were part of a larger collective, Soulgrass Rebellion. But when that group fizzled out in the winter of 2011, the three members refocused their attention, turning their side gig into their main creative outlet.
“It was when the snowball formed into an avalanche, as it were,” Gentry says.
Two years later, in 2013, JC Mears contributed to that proverbial arctic blast when he took over on drums. Pyle’s departure marks the group’s only lineup change in its 12-year history. Such consistency has led to an undeniable onstage chemistry as well as a library of original recorded material that’s grown more ambitious and sonically rich with each new release.
But it wasn’t until 2020’s Itchy Soul, say the musicians, that they took a sizable step forward in their creative aspirations. Without this initial achievement, they stress, iTopia would not have been possible.
“That feels like the first time we made a great record,” Durocher says.
Gentry concurs, adding that on the previous albums — two studio LPs, a live album and one EP — the group ascribed to “this old narrative of what you need to do to make a great record.” Central to that ethos was turning the recording process over to producers and studio technicians, not doing most of the work themselves.
“Once Itchy Soul came around, we did some of the work in the studio, but we did the majority of it at home on our own,” Gentry says. “By the end of that process, we could really clearly see that that was the right choice and that it was markedly different from the previous albums in that way — just the production and even the style of the band a little bit.”
As pandemic restrictions were lifted in spring 2021 and shows with audiences became possible again, the addition of Asheville stalwart (and occasional collaborator) Chuck Lichtenberger on keys brought a new sonic layer to the group’s live sound. But by then, The Get Right Band was already hard at work on what would become its greatest accomplishment to date.
‘Don’t Feed the Trolls’
Over the course of 17 tracks, iTopia chronicles the adventures of a protagonist who tumbles into a bottomless online rabbit hole, experiencing the good and bad elements of technology and social media. After a moment of clarity, the album’s hero starts to climb out of the darkness and achieves a tenuous sense of optimism.
“Jesse, JC and I had been, as many people were, discussing these ideas of technology and social media and how it’s affecting us,” Durocher says. “We’d all seen different bits of media about it, like listening to ‘Rabbit Hole,’ The New York Times podcast, and watching [the Netflix documentary] The Social Dilemma. That’s kind of when I started thinking about it as something bigger than just a song.”
He’d also unwittingly given himself a head start on the project. Before the pandemic, Durocher wrote album highlight “Am I Just a Battery?” and what would eventually become “Black Holes of Negativity Part 3 (Saying No),” both of which fit with the concepts he and his bandmates were chewing on.
A voracious reader and podcast listener, Durocher began jotting down enlightening phrases that might inspire or be repurposed in a song. While reading Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation by Andrew Marantz, he reached a chapter called “Don’t Feed the Trolls.”
“I thought, ‘That’s too good not to use. I’m going to lift that,’” Durocher says. “I messaged him and told him I was stealing it, and he said it was OK.”
Off the road for an extended period — a first for the hard-touring trio — they had time to flesh out the concepts for the album-in-progress. Durocher began by bringing his bandmates what he calls “a lot of half ideas and song fragments” that the three of them would then work through via jamming. The more time they spent on the tunes, the more topics they were able to address, ranging from not just addiction to technology but also to the dangers of an unregulated media source (e.g., the internet).
“And then also the way those things play out on a very small, human level in terms of the way they affect our personalities and our habits and our ability to be happy,” Durocher says. “And the mental health epidemic that we’re having that seems to be so clearly tied to technology and social media.”
He adds that iTopia isn’t about how technology is bad for humanity, but rather that it’s extremely complicated and we’re just now starting to understand it. The album doesn’t try to provide answers but instead asks a plethora of questions to help listeners grapple with issues that are likely already on their minds.
“Maybe it’ll inspire some people to have some thoughts about their own life and their own relationship with technology and social media,” Durocher says. “Or maybe it’ll just make people feel that kind of classic thing music does of, like, ‘Hey, that’s how I feel. I’m worried about that, too. I’m not alone in thinking this s**t’s weird.’ And that’s a powerful, useful tool.”
If iTopia sounds like the kind of grand conceptual work that Pink Floyd would make if that band were still around, that’s intentional. The Get Right Band are huge fans of the iconic British band’s catalog, and its influence is felt across the album’s lyrics and instrumentation — including from a somewhat direct source.
The group initially wanted to recruit Pink Floyd saxophonist Dick Parry for a guest spot but discovered that the 80-year-old player wasn’t accepting gigs. Their second choice was Bo Koster, keyboardist for Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters’ band as well as My Morning Jacket, whom they envisioned playing a lead synth solo on the album’s title track. They messaged Koster via social media and, to the band’s surprise, he not only said “yes” but offered to play on a second song.
“He just crushed it. He’s a great player. He found the right tones and really brought a lot of life to both those songs,” Durocher says. “And then he invited us to see My Morning Jacket [at Rabbit Rabbit last September], and we got to meet him and hang with him in person. He’s a super nice guy but also really professional. He really put in the time.”
No slouches themselves, The Get Right Band needed all six months between the announcement of the April 7 record release show at Salvage Station and the concert itself to play iTopia live in its entirety. While they won’t perform the new album all the way through every night on their subsequent East Coast tour, working the songs up with help from Lichtenberger’s keys and the triggering samples from Mears’ drum pad has proved a rewarding challenge.
“We’re not trying to replicate the studio when we’re playing live, and we’re not trying to replicate live when we’re playing in the studio. We like them to be different,” Durocher says. “And there are some songs where it has to be different because it’s, you know, 10 layers of synths or something. So, some of it has been reworking and rearranging songs for how they work live, and some of it has been the addition of Chuck and the drum pad.”
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