The Accidental Jam Band:
The Umbrella of a Rock n’ Roll Band with Jesse Gallagher

Words by Audra TracyNew Jersey

If you Google ‘Apollo Sunshine jam band’ right now, you’ll find over 8,000 links, from tags on to basement blogger rants to even a shout-out in SPIN. Yet when you see them in concert, you won’t find fancy light shows or flying glow sticks, and you’ll be hard pressed to hear them noodle along endlessly, lost in ambient exploration. Back in 2006 when they were asked to play Summer Camp, a music festival hosted by seminal jam band moe., Apollo Sunshine had never even heard of its headliner.

So the real question is, who decided that this Boston based trio was jammy friendly? The band’s multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and songwriter Jesse Gallagher checked in from the road about being shoved into this strange new scene of dreadlocks and drum circles.

“We;ve always toured with punk bands”, he asserts. “I think we are associated with jam bands because some of those bands started asking us to play their festivals”, he presumes. “And we did a couple because it’s nice playing to different audiences.” So bearing guilt by association, Apollo Sunshine became the accidental jam band.

While their style can be poppy, folky, trippy, and funky as well, it’s clear from their sharp tongued ‘tude that they dawned from punk rock roots. Often compared to the likes of Yo La Tengo and The Flaming Lips, their high energy live shows are like a rainbow colored slap to your pretty little face. Apollo Sunshine is so punk rock that they’ve opened for the Wu Tang Clan, and their Facebook profile lists “Satan” as their sole musical influence. “We just don’t give ourselves any limitations”, he says. “We try to make sense of all the different influences and ideas we might have and put it all under the umbrella of a rock and roll band.”

However you want to describe their evolving sound, Apollo Sunshine is fiercely protective of their artistic integrity. Although they licensed their bar ballad ‘Magnolia’ to a Dewar’s commercial (who doesn’t love free whiskey?), they recently turned down a generous offer from Jeep to make ‘Today is the Day’ the new all-American joyride anthem. “We were all totally broke”, he relates, “but we really didn’t want our song to be a jingle for a car commercial. If you just sell your song straight up to somebody and don’t really give it too much thought, I think you are kind of poisoning yourself, or diluting yourself at least.”

As you might expect from any rock-star radical, Gallagher openly bashes the band’s breeding ground, Boston’s own Berklee College of Music. “I went there for songwriting, and they were trying to teach us to write commercial hits for Mariah Carey”, he scoffs. “They created music as a business, and being an artist, that is kind of sickening.” He dropped out after one semester, but band-mates Sam Cohen and Jeremy Black stuck around to study music production. He admits the Berklee experience gave the band ‘a grasp on gear and how to records’, but the adulations start and cease there. “We don’t really like to refer to Berklee as having anything to do with why we are a creative band”, he maintains. “When you are reading your favorite author, you don’t really give a shit which college they went to.”

This past August the aural authors released their third studio album, Shall Noise Upon (word nerd alert: it’s an anagram for the group’s godly moniker). Recorded at a registered haunted house in the Catskills, Gallagher claims, “you could definitely feel a strong presence”. They must have been in good company though, because the band certainly let their freak flag flow freely during production. “We were burning sage and all sorts of shit, and I’m really into meditation, so the spirits were probably just as weirded out by us”, he jokes.

Looking back at their seven year career, Apollo Sunshine’s catalog has always boasted a certain hazy echoic charm, but they bring the beautiful Noise to a whole new hallucinogenic level. Shall Noise Upon is like their Sgt. Pepper – it has this constructed chaos about it where each fuzz-toned guitar lick, reverberating refrain, and subtle sound byte seems precisely in place. And while most tracks stand strong on their own, the album is best appreciated as one epic thirty-eight minute love-in.

A tribute to the return of natural beauty, the record plays out like a hopeful love letter to a society in descent. Songs like ‘Singing to the Earth’, ‘We Are Born When We Die’, and ‘Money’ touch on the frighteningly relevant theme of renewal, and our potential for change as a people. “We are kind of arriving at a point where it’s almost like we are going to hit the reset button”, Gallagher envisions.

The band is also looking forward musically, as they already have plans to write a ‘dance vibe’ record this winter. “We were talking about even approaching it in the way old Motown albums used to be made”, he explains, “where they would have really good dancers come into the studio, and you play to keep them dancing.” So with any luck, maybe next year Apollo Sunshine will go from accidental jamband to accidental soul shakers. But Gallagher ain’t sweatin’ it. “I think a lot of bands like to cross around to different genres”, he points out. “If you want to call us a jamband, whatever, I don’t really care. Someone else might call us something else.” | Shall Noise Upon