For more than 20 years, Blues Traveler has built its reputation on its free-flowing live shows on tour and on the festival circuit. It’s only fitting then that the foundation of their latest album, North Hollywood Shootout, is based heavily on spontaneous live jams in the recording studio.
“We went in and wrote songs on the fly,” bassist Tad Kinchla says. “We would start ideas with riffs, then start to build a song. Then John would get some ideas for lyrics and by the next day we’d have a full working song and it was already recorded.”
The resulting 11 tracks represent the latest effort in the Blues Travelers’ prolonged recording career, continuing their development from the harp-heavy group that broke out with hits like, “But Anyway,” “Run Around” and “Hook” On Shootout, Blues Traveler blends all sorts of sounds, occasionally reminiscent of bands ranging from Barenaked Ladies on second track “You, Me and Everything,” to a hard-hitting roadhouse rock outfit on “The Beacon.” The album is capped by a fun final track comprised of the musical stylings of one Detective John McClane – the running thoughts of Bruce Willis delivered over some dirty and distorted grooves in “Free Willis, Ruminations From Behind Uncle Bob’s Machine Shop.”
“He always said he wanted to do something with us, so we laid down a jam and … I hate to drop the reference, but he’s got this Shatneresque stream of thought that he says over the music,” Kinchla says. “It’s pretty cool. It was super fun and he was very cool to work with.”
Kinchilla’s creative contributions are evident from the outset of this highly collaborative effort, with a flirtatious bass groove intro to “Forever Owed.” It’s quite apt, given Kinchla’s introduction to the band when the stepped in for Bobby Sheehan after the former bassist passed away from a drug overdose in 1999.
“From day one, these guys were like, ‘we’ve played for 10 years, give us input,'” says Kinchla, whose brother Chan was one of the band’s founding members along with drummer Brendan Hill and frontman John Popper. “I had a bunch of ideas because I hadn’t played with them. So I gave them my ideas, we played five gigs and then went to record an album. All of the sudden, I had three of the songs end up on that album [Bridge]. We had an MTV video for a song I’d written a few months earlier while I was sitting on my couch.”
• Blues Traveler plays The State Theatre on Monday, Oct. 27. Tickets are $35 and doors open at 6 p.m. For more on Blues Traveler, visit www.bluestraveler.com.