The sixth annual Next Big Thing contest proved once again that small-town Eugene is home to an incredibly talented and prolific music scene — so prolific that the competition has been divided into three categories for the first time: single/duo, band/group and youth (18 and under).
After a raging competition of 16 finalists, the best band category was conquered by the funk machine that is Soul Vibrator. In the youth section, Bailee Jordyn won by engaging her audience with a stripped-down vocals and guitar arrangement. Acoustic guitar virtuoso Will Brown nabbed the top single/duo spot.
Eugene, meet your town’s rising music stars.
Bailee Jordyn is the kind of teen that will make you forget she is one. At 15, this witty young woman already has the confidence and maturity, as well as an impressive professionalism on stage that teenagers often lack during those awkward high school years.
At 8, Jordyn was performing the national anthem at local hockey games, and since then she has honed a clear, powerful voice that seamlessly switches genres from jazz to pop and disco to country. From singing to playing the piano, guitar and mandolin, Jordyn is a self-taught music prodigy.
Influenced by singer-songwriters like Sara Bareilles and Jason Mraz, but also “people who really paved the way of music” like Elton John and Ella Fitzgerald, Jordyn shines most as a singer-songwriter, where simple instrumental arrangements leave room for heartfelt lyrics and a warm voice that gets under your skin.
“It doesn’t have to be crazy solos,” she says. “For me, music is all about the message and the way it makes you feel.” Also inspired by worship music, she puts a great emphasis on powerful words that engage the audience. “I want to show a message and inspire other people to follow their dreams,” she continues.
Jordyn dreams big but keeps herself grounded. For someone who is still attending high school and decided to make music her career only a year and a half ago, she is surprisingly pragmatic about the reality of a business that can be as shallow as it is greedy.
“I just want to do music,” she says. “I don’t want to be famous, I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want to be anybody else; I just want to be me.”
In her debut song, “Less,” Jordyn sings about knowing your self-worth and staying clear of abusive relationships: “Don’t you know you’re beautiful/ Deserve nothing but the best/ Don’t you ever settle for anything less.”
Inspired by her high school friends, Jordyn would like to see more positive role models for girls who often lack self-esteem. “I see a lot of my friends getting into stupid relationships because they feel lonely, which is understandable, but then they end up selling themselves short of what they’re really worth,” she says. “They end up getting hurt, and that’s not OK, because they don’t deserve that at all.”
In a media-driven society where the pressure on women’s appearance is so persuasive, Jordyn belongs to a new generation of anti-Miley Cyrus singers that are young, brainy and independent performers like New Zealand’s breakthrough pop-poet Lorde.
“Self-esteem is essential and I’m really big about promoting that, especially girl self-esteem. That’s something that needs to be taught early,” she says. “I feel very strongly about that. I can talk about that for hours. That’s basically why I wanted to write the song ‘Less,’ because I wanted people to realize that.”
Bailee Jordyn performs 7 pm Saturday, Sept. 13, at The Granary, and 6 pm Friday, Sept. 19 at Domaine Meriwether. Follow her at baileejordynmusic.com
Until recently, Soul Vibrator was just a bunch of friends playing Red Hot Chili Peppers covers every week at Cozmic’s open mic. What they didn’t predict was that the Next Big Thing contest would trigger an unexpected creative wake-up call. “The two months of the competition were the largest growth of the band,” Sam Hayward (drums) says. “We just threw everything on the table,” adds Miles Alberts (bass guitar and vocals).
The band — composed of Zev “Wolf” Kamrat (lead vocals, guitar), Miles “Mr. Fingers” Alberts (bass guitar, vocals), Sam “Foxy” Hayward (drums), Braden “B-Ray” Smith (guitar, vocals), Chris Egli “The Eggman” (keyboard) and Ben “The Sexy Sax Man” Latimer (saxophone) — is recording their debut album Electric Stardust expected out this fall.
Founded during the summer of 2011, Soul Vibrator settled on its six members only a few months before the beginning of the contest, thus explaining a relative fuzziness around its core identity.
“Since we added all those new people in the last six months, we don’t have a lot of products that have everyone on it yet,” Hayward says.
Since they were named finalists in NBT, the band members started rehearsing with a lot more discipline, and they polished the past demos they have. “We provide this energy on stage where we’re having a lot fun and kind of joking around, but there’s definitely an element of focusing and having a lot of discipline,” Alberts says. “We became very methodical about practicing.”
Soul Vibrator is the type of band that refuses to fit in a box. The members’ love for blending genres and mixing old and new influences creates their modern funk sound. “We play a lot of different genres, but the one we identify the most with is funk. And I think that after the saxophone element just came into the band, it made everything glue and things got a lot more funky,” Kamrat says.
Soul Vibrator’s sound is a deeply grooving funk with a touch of country, blues, indie-rock and electronic.
“Funk is more than a genre; we feel funky,” Hayward says.
Smith continues, “Vibrating souls is something we aim to do. We aim to bring the vibes, and when people come to our shows, we want them to feel harmonized and vibrating with the music.”
For the debut album, the band imagined an electro-funk concept record revolving around a sci-fi story, where unheard electronic sounds as well as ambient interludes are to be expected. “We thought of this idea of a space-alien child who crash-lands on Planet Earth for some mysterious reasons, and he discovers all of this old ’70s funk music, record players and cassettes,” Alberts says.
Among the new songs, “Cassette Kid” is meant to be the cornerstone of the record. “When we played it live, we basically started the song with Chris [Egli] creating a spaceship sound,” Hayward says.
“It’s like pop and funk and rap … very progressive,” Alberts concludes.
The birth of a somewhat new band is always a make-or-break situation. Considering their fresh energy and their insatiable creativity, who knows what these six guys can produce?
“We’re always hungry. It’s always like ‘When is the next rehearsal? What are we doing on this track?’” Alberts says. “There’s never a point where we are satisfied with what we’ve done. We’re always happy but we’re always evolving.”
Soul Vibrator plays The Granary 7 pm Saturday, Sept. 6, and 8 pm Wednesday, Sept. 10. For more information about the band and their upcoming shows, visit facebook.com/SoulViberator.
Hearing Will Brown play live is like watching a magic trick. Your ear tells you that there must be more than one musician playing; there must be a drummer and at least two guitars to make such sophisticated harmonies. Yet, on stage, Will Brown sits on a stool alone with his acoustic guitar.
From hitting the body of the guitar to get a drum sound to slightly bending its head to make a note “wave,” Brown continuously pushes the boundaries of the instrument itself, looking for unique techniques to create new sounds and effects.
“You can turn the guitar into an orchestra. You can get drum sounds out of the body of the guitar, you can play harmonies and melodies, by tapping the strings you can create different sounds and textures,” Brown says. “The guitar can be used in a way that’s not just the normal way that people think of — ‘Oh this is an acoustic guitar, I sit around the fire and pick some chords.’”
Like many before him, Brown started jamming in his college dorm room and fell in love with the acoustic guitar’s infinite possibilities: an instrument that is simple and portable, but can also reveal sophistication and richness. In the 20 years since, and with little formal instruction, Brown kept exploring and learning from YouTube videos of some of his favorite soloists, Michael Hedges and Andy McKee.
At 38, Brown has already recorded two albums of solo acoustic guitar, Down The Highway (2013) and Guitar Sketchbook (2012), and hopes to release a new record by the end of the year.
“Music can tell stories just by sound alone. It can have narratives, it can produce imagery, bring pictures into your mind,” Brown says. “It can make you feel like you’re in a certain place. It can make you remember things.”
Among these memories, Brown wrote the song “The Road Home” after returning to his childhood digs in northern Michigan. “That was a very powerful experience; I was finding all kinds of old things in my room, a lot of memories,” he says. “When I play it, it still brings back a lot of those things. I see it. I play it and I kind of see the house, the things I was thinking about then. And that’s beautiful, and I try to convey that to other people.”
If the story Brown tells is personal, the audience reaction is always different, precisely because the absence of lyrics leaves room for interpretation.
“It’s a great challenge for me as an artist to try to get somebody else to have a feeling like they’re being told a story just by listening to me playing guitar,” he says. “It always feels good when people come up to you at the end of the show and say ‘You know that song? I pictured myself on a river or something and then that happened,’” Brown says with an infectious laugh. “Those are the coolest comments I get.”
Will Brown performs 6 pm Friday, Sept. 5, at Domaine Meriwether and 1:30 pm Sunday, Sept. 14, at Iris Vineyards. Follow him at willbrownmusic.com.