By Brian Tucker
Expect to be caught off guard by Raleigh trio The Indigo Drops. They perform at Satellite Bar & Lounge and if you’re in attendance you’ll be treated to music that is delightfully all over the place.
The band – Gavin Farmer (vocals, guitar, drums), Travis Huckaba (bass), and Sawyer Lewis (vocals, keyboard, drums, guitar) formed in early 2018, began playing shows that summer, and their studio material reflects a multitude of interests. There’s well-known material they interpret at shows, bouncing from Prince and plenty of Vanessa Carlton to Van Halen’s “Jump” where they add “Green Hill Theme” from the videogame Sonic the Hedgehog.
“In terms of translating to a three-piece live format, “Jump” has been a very rewarding challenge,” Huckaba said. “Sawyer absolutely slams the solos. We don’t try very hard to be faithful to original material, except when we do anything by Vanessa Carlton.”
Original work is met with constant twists and turns because musically it’s all over the place, so much so you’d think its different bands. Adding to it is both Farmer and Lewis sing – Farmer with a high falsetto and Lewis much deeper. Plus, they share drumming duties.
Songs mix up prog rock, 80s rock, jam band, soul, pop, and more. It’s schizophrenia that works – eclectic results for those who enjoy variety (notably on “Something”). Self-described as “70s funk and progressive rock meet 90s alternative and guitar pop in this versatile rock band,” all that remains in that description is adding a polite “have fun with us.”
“Our influences are all over the map. We cut our teeth on typical rock stuff like Zeppelin and Hendrix so that is kind of the bedrock of our sound,” Farmer said. “Sawyer and I originally bonded over a love of 70s prog like Yes and Genesis so there’s a bit of that in there as well. I’ve always admired bands like Ween, Phish, Queen, and The Beatles because they are unafraid to explore many different genres.”
Farmer added he’d grown tired of bands with one singular style (he was in a Phish tribute collective) and decided to create one whose intention was to play “good music regardless of genre.”
“One of the things we’ve agreed on is we don’t want to box ourselves in musically,” Lewis said. “If we want to play rock, jazz or even polka, it’s all fair game. Each song has its own identity and its own thing to say.”
Recorded material certainly says as much. Songs on their EP are sometimes worlds apart. “Dauntless” is a moody mini-epic. The early 80s rock largesse of “On Location” found them collaborating more than usual, with Huckaba bringing in a song about dumb sex swagger and lyrics like “I wanna make a movie about your body and shoot on location.” But range is cemented with “Pillow” (and its colorful coda), a song that takes take you somewhere mentally, and the fun, hard-driving instrumental “Kraken Attackin” that could be soundtrack to invading a small town.
“These two songs are great examples of the variety we want to display. We made a choice to not limit ourselves to a certain sound and it’s allowed us to come up with things as wildly different as (them),” Huckaba said. “We treat shows like a conversation. Sometimes we play what we think people will like, sometimes we change the pace entirely, but it’s never randomly rambling through a pre-defined set list.”
The germination of a band – did you know what you wanted going in?
Gavin: I met Sawyer several years ago on Craigslist. We jammed a few times and became friends but we never got a band together because he lives in Fayetteville and I moved out to Asheville. I moved to Raleigh last year and put an ad on Craigslist looking for band members and Travis responded. We decided to join forces after jamming once, and out of the blue Sawyer messaged me and asked me if I had a band up in Raleigh.
Was forming a trio a concrete decision?
Gavin: We originally were a four piece band with a drummer. We ended up having to let him go and the first few months we were in a sort of holding period while searching for a replacement. We eventually decided to become self sufficient as a three-piece and have Sawyer and I trade off on drums so we could play live. We’d like to add a full-time drummer when and if the right person comes along.
How new is the band?
Sawyer: We’ve been playing since March of this year. We got together in a studio in Raleigh and jammed a bit. The three of us gelled together somewhat instantaneously. Although we’ve only been playing shows since late July, I’d say the scene has been pretty good to us as we’ve found support at every venue we’ve played at.
Travis: Raleigh’s music scene is very eclectic, and we’ve been able to network with some very different bands that have been helpful in growing and booking shows. I wouldn’t say we’re really integrated in the scene, but the people we have worked and played with have been fantastic.
I like that “Kraken Attackin” is far removed from “Pillow.” Is there a happily bipolar aspect to the band?
Travis: These two songs are great examples of the variety that we want The Indigo Drops to display. We made a choice when we were forming to not limit ourselves to a certain sound, and it’s allowed us to come up with things as wildly different as “Kraken Attackin” and “Pillow.” Kraken was written by Sawyer and features him on guitar with Gavin on drums, while Pillow was written by Gavin, and has him on guitar with Sawyer on drums. In a live setting, it’s great to be able to go in a lot of different directions based on feedback from the crowd.
Sawyer: One of the things we’ve agreed on as a band is that we don’t want to box ourselves in musically and I love that aspect of this band. If we want to play rock, jazz or even polka, it’s all fair game. Each song has its own identity and its own thing to say. I don’t think we’ve ever thought about what kind of songs we are making, when someone writes a song and brings it to the rest of the band we play it and that’s about it. It also helps to have multiple songwriters in the band as it gives us different kinds of writing, naturally.
“On Location” is all over the map too. It reminds me of 80s rock largesse, then echoes Nile Rogers guitar work.
Gavin: That one is an oddity in how it was written. Travis came to us with the music and a few lyrics. “I wanna make a movie about your body and shoot on location” absolutely cracked me and Sawyer up so we ran with the dumb sex swagger theme and filled out the rest of the lyrics. Typically we aren’t that collaborative in the songwriting process.
You have covers in the arsenal. Which one was hard to dissect and bring to life?
Sawyer: During the band’s formation we learned plenty of covers so that we could come into practice with something to work on. Songs like “All the Girls Love Alice” by Elton John or “Boogie on Reggae Woman” by Stevie Wonder, just whatever songs we liked. It was a good way for us to develop some teamwork and get some focused playing done as a group before we were really comfortable with each other.
Our list of covers expanded even further after we had decided to throw a 90s/00s themed Halloween show. While we haven’t had any problems dissecting any covers musically yet, we have had trouble with some of the songs we had wanted to play not working as a three piece like “Hey Ya!” by Outkast and “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers.
How do crowds interpret what you’re doing, do their heads spin at the variety of music?
Travis: We treat our shows like a conversation. Sometimes we play what we think people will like, sometimes we change the pace entirely, but it’s never randomly rambling through a pre-defined set list. We have a big catalog to pull from, so we have the ability to lead the crowd through the broad spectrum, and not necessarily rock the boat unless it makes sense to.
Sawyer: I do think people appreciate the blend of music we have to offer, we do our best to keep it interesting. We also try to be mindful of the crowd when we’re playing a show, for example, if they’re rowdy and full of energy we’ll adjust the set by playing more hard rocking songs so they can jam out and have a good time.