I've been known to get a little...weird on occasion. I think that's a given when it comes to my neo-beatnik/urban hippie interests/aesthetic. I'm not sure if I'll ever be as weird as Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers
. I was sent a couple performance videos starring the Michigan funk/soul/psychedelic act, and I was immediately entranced not just by their phenomenal music but also by their...distinct outfits. And I knew I had to chat with the band about their tunes and style.
I'm currently re-reading The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe which is a non-fiction book about Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters who were at the forefront of the psychedelic movement in America. The Pranksters used weird and colorful costumes as a way to force people to confront personal hang-ups and to shake up the status quo. Why do you all dress in such strange garb for a number of your performances?
Joe Hertler: There are number of reasons, but primarily, I'd have to say that I just love color. It's a wonderful word with many shades of meaning, and our stage garb is a manifestation of that. There are some wonderful personalities in this band, and I always want my bandmates to be able to express themselves however they choose on stage. There's an element of human connectivity there, most evident in the small army that tends to gather around Aaron's side of the stage (our saxophone player, who takes the costumes to another level). I can tell that they're connecting with him, and that's a powerful thing to have at a show...You know, the audience and performers sharing an experience together. Having multiple personalities expressed on stage allows more opportunities for those connections to foster.
Your music is rooted in this really interesting fusion of soul, funk, and psychedelia. Who were your influences as songwriters?
I absolutely love soul and neo-soul. D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Raphael Saadiq...I love Joe Cocker, Macy Gray, and Prince, too. They write and arrange incredible songs, but more importantly, they let those songs perform through them, as if they themselves are a sort of medium. I've always felt that songs are given to me, rather than that I wrote them. Because of this, I think that to be true to the song, you have to let it perform through you. You have to let it take you over.
One of the best examples of this live is when Future Islands performed "Waiting on You" on Letterman. It's an absolutely powerful performance that humbles me every time I watch it. The singer, Sam Herring, is completely taken over by the performance - that's a rare thing for late-night.
One of my favorite musical trends of the 2010s has been a resurgence of bands with dedicated string/brass players. What was the decision like to make a band with that sort of...full sound.
It was a no-brainer. Aaron was one of our best friends and we'd use him for studio work. That was until someone had the bright idea to invite him to play live. The same thing went for Josh, our string player. He might not tour with us, but we were all friends and we all love to play live music. It was mostly a question of "why the hell not?" Not to mention, you gain the access of all these different wonderful textures, and even more importantly, you gain another super creative musician. While Aaron and Josh (when he plays with us) bring the weirdness to this band, the rest of the guys, Kevin, Rick, Micah, and Ryan, bring a special kind of musical awareness, a peculiar hive-minded sensibility that really shapes the sound of this band. I often just sit back and listen to them make their arrangements. It's a humbling thing to witness.
One cool by-product of having a large band is that you learn the importance of not playing. It's easy to play all the time, but it takes a great deal of musical awareness to know when to not play. It forces you to truly listen to each other. It's an ongoing learning process for all of us.
You guys are Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers. What's this rainbow you're seeking? What's at the end of it?
If the Rainbow stands for anything, I believe it represents a celebration of color. Playing music live, to me, is a celebration of people coming together, people connecting, people sharing an experience together.