One of Jason Brewer’s fondest memories is performing an admittedly sloppy version of the Beach Boys’ “Fun, Fun, Fun” with members of Brian Wilson’s band at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Percussionist-vocalist Nelson Bragg and Darian Sahanaja, keyboardist and musical director for the Brian Wilson band, had come to check out Explorers Club — Brewer’s band that brings his original songs to life in the harmony-based tradition of the Beach Boys. Brian Wilson’s crew naturally struck up a conversation with Brewer and company, and they ended up becoming fast friends.
“When I asked how the tour was going, Jason proceeds to tell me that their van hit a large deer and how they had to spend most of their earnings getting the van repaired,” Sahanaja tells us. “They weren’t sure where they’d be spending the night while in L.A., so I invited them to all crash at my place. Air mattresses and sleeping bags strewn about the house, listening to music and nerding out over the vinyl record collection, my gal and I serving them breakfast in the morning … we all had a great time.”
That was about seven years ago when Brewer’s Explorers Club was relatively new, having just released their debut album Freedom Wind. Since then, the band has experienced various halts and lineup changes and even called it quits two years ago in what Brewer now describes as a period of shutting down. “I needed to recharge. I needed a change of scenery,” he explains. “I have nothing but good memories of all the guys that have been in the band and still am working on repairing normal band member strain associated with change. The band has always been based on an original vision that existed before the band did, and sometimes that can be hard to work with for everyone involved.”
Things started to look up again for the Explorers Club last year. “In January 2014, my Nashville friend Wyatt Funderburk really encouraged me and basically completely renewed my love for the band and the music I had created,” Brewer says.
Now Brewer continues to bring his dream sound alive with his latest lineup, which includes himself along with Funderburk, Mike Williamson, Kyle Polk, and Paul Runyon. The band is currently readying a new, 11-song collection, Together, which is slated for an early 2016 release.
This time around, Brewer has also enlisted the help of a few old friends in high places. Sahanaja, who was also supervising music consultant for the Wilson biopic Love & Mercy, has co-written a few songs with Brewer for Together, while former Wilson collaborator Andy Paley co-wrote the record’s “Don’t Waste Her Time,” on which Sahanaja plays moog synthesizer.
Other members of Wilson’s band — Probyn Gregory, who collaborated on EC’s previous release, Grand Hotel, plus Bragg and Scott Bennett — got involved, too. Gregory, a multi-instrumentalist who has also recorded with everyone from Paul McCartney to Eric Clapton, contributed horns and melodica on three songs, including the title track, while Bennett recorded percussionist Bragg for two Together songs. “And I hope to add a few bells and whistles myself,” he says.
Bennett, who wants to write with Brewer sometime soon, has worked on a slew of other recognizable projects, like Liz Phair, the Flaming Lips, and the Afghan Whigs’ new album. His own bands include the Falling Wallendas and the soon-to-be debuted art-rock supergroup Shiny, featuring members of the Smashing Pumpkins, Morrisey, and Fiona Apple.
With a group of heavyweights like that by their side, we had to ask: what is it about the Explorers Club that has gotten such strong support from guys like Bennett and Sahanaja?
“Their song ‘Forever’ [off Freedom Wind] really swept me up when I first heard it,” Sahanaja recalls. “I’ve obviously heard many Beach Boys-influenced artists in my lifetime, and though most do well at recreating the aesthetic, few truly capture the soul of the music as well as the Explorers Club do.
“It fills me with joy whenever I hear younger current generation artists carry on the torch of classic, melodic songwriting and arranging,” he continues. “I always worry in this age of technology-assisted music, that these elements might become a lost art. But a band like the Explorers Club gives me so much hope.”