One of the neat things about this job is the chance to discover new exciting bands. It’s even better when that band is from our own state. Such is the case with a trio of young musicians based in Augusta — The Band Apollo. The group is made up of Jonathan Johnston (lead vocals, electric and acoustic guitars), Benjamin Packard (electric guitar, backing vocals), and Jonathan Truman (drums, percussion, keyboard, synth, backing vocals). They just released an EP of six original songs that could easily be heard on any national station and chart very high, as well. The band will perform New Year’s Eve at Hoxter’s in Hallowell. To that end, Johnston called to give a bit of history of TBA and talk about their upcoming gig.
Q: Where are you calling from?
Johnston: I’m in Augusta at my parent’s farm on a lunch break.
Q: When we set this interview up the other day you mentioned classes, are you a student?
Johnston: I’m a senior at UMA and a mental health and human services major. I’ve always been hard core about wanting to become a songwriter and a musician and all that but I never got rid of a backup plan.
Q: A very wise idea in this day and age.
Johnston: It’s been pretty hard doing music and school at the same time because they are really very contradictory lifestyles; but I’m almost done with at least a bachelor’s at the moment, so that’s good.
Q: How long have you been making music?
Johnston: Well, let’s see — I’ve been singing since I was a little kid and I used to do a lot of musicals before I learned how to play guitar. I stopped doing musicals when I was a junior in high school and I started learning guitar when I was about 16. That was when I started taking it a little more seriously.
Q: Who are these other two guys in the group? Are they fellow classmates?
Johnston: Well, Truman and I have known each other since we were little kids. Jon Truman, he’s the drummer. He’s been playing music just forever but he’s not a student anymore. But then our guitarist, Ben, is a pre-med student at UNE so he lives an hour and 20 minutes from us now.
Q: One of the things I like in the music I listen to is intricacies — you know, like time changes and rhythmic shifts. The Band Apollo seems to also buy into that philosophy if your music is any indication.
Johnston: Yeah, I’m a huge fan of meter changes and stuff like that. I suppose the thing that I get really careful about is not being complicated musically just for the sake of being complicated, to me that’s just insanely unappealing. So I try to find ways of using time signatures and meter changes and stuff like that that just enhance the music and don’t try to show off at all.
Q: Another aspect of your EP was that none of the six tracks sound like each other. That variety makes it a very exciting listening experience, stylistically speaking. Could you comment on that?
Johnston: Absolutely! I’ve never been a fan of any one specific style, like ever! I’ve just listened to all types of music … when I was growing up my mother made sure I was listening to every kind of music imaginable. When I run into bands that sound the same on every song it seems really outdated to me because we live in this age where we have the Internet so we have access to every style of music available, and it seems like a lot of them are starting to come together.
Q: How long have the three of you been playing together?
Johnston: Well, since 2008 or 2009 — we used to be the Jonathan Johnston Band and that was me and my drummer, Jon Truman and we had a bassist named Tim. Ben had joined our band right about the same time that Tim was leaving to go teach English in Palestine. So Ben joined the band and when we got offered the Nashville sessions we decided to take on a different shape and we changed our name to The Band Apollo. The funny thing is that all the songs on this record were songs we played as the JJB but we hadn’t recorded yet. We decided to make those song less about me and a whole more about us writing together because that sounded way more appealing to all of us.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Johnston: Just to show up and have fun with us. It’ll be a really good time! Oh, and have them check us out on Facebook, too — that’s really important for them to know!
Lucky Clark has spent over four decades writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.