Back in July of 2019 I introduced you to a young band from Fryeburg called Junco. They were coming to perform at the Johnson Hall Waterfront Concert Series on Aug. 9 of that year, and there is a central Maine connection in the band itself with drummer Alex Ouellette. It is that connection that I’m going to highlight with this update on the talented quintet (made up of Clifford Cameron, organ; Jeremy Holden, lead guitar; Bobby Sheehan, lead vocals, guitar, piano; Dan Stackhouse, oboe, saxophone; and Alex Ouellette, drums, percussion, vocals).

They have a new album out called “Red Run Wild” (their third CD) and with the pandemic still wreaking havoc, Junco has no real chance to let people know about their latest collection of songs. Alex’s dad, Mike Ouellette, is a former student of mine from my days as an art teacher in Pittsfield’s Warsaw Middle School, who now lives and works at Fryeburg Academy. He brought a copy of that CD to me so I could prepare for an interview with his son, whom I called at his home in Biddeford (“I’ve left the nest,” Alex explained with a laugh when the phone interview began on Aug. 12). I wanted him to fill me in on what’s been happening since my interview with Bobby Sheehan over a year ago.

Q: Having listened to “Red Run Wild,” I think what impresses me the most is how each subsequent album you guys have released in the five years that you’ve been together shows such musical growth and maturity. Also, there’s a tightness in your playing that belies the youthfulness of Junco. It is amazing and, quite frankly, refreshing.
Ouellette: Yeah, I think there’s been a very clear progression with every album. I mean, you can just hear what phase we were in at every time. We’ve always been pretty comfortable, as a group, playing together but this last one just seemed to be like we were experimenting more and getting into heavier songs. I think it’s a really cool direction we went in.

Q: One of the yardsticks I use to measure a group is are they willing to push the edges of their own envelope — to do that experimenting that you were talking about.
Ouellette: Yes, absolutely. We’re lucky enough to have a group of people that have a lot of diverse musical backgrounds but there’s this connecting point where we all come from jazz-influenced programs in school, as well as some classical background with our horn and woodwind player. But he also got a chance to be involved in a lot of improvisation in high school so there’s that unique element, as well. We all bring all those elements to the table and it seems to come together very nicely with Bobby’s original idea, then we take it and do what we want to it and he tends to like it (laughter).

Q: And that was what was encouraging looking at the listed credits inside the gatefold packaging — songs written by Junco, lyrics written by Bobby Sheehan.
Ouellette: Yeah, he doesn’t take as much credit as he often should, but without everybody else’s input and influence it just wouldn’t really be the same song, you know? He brings the bones and it’s always very strong bones — absolutely.

Q: When your dad dropped off the CD, he told me that, in his opinion, every song was strong — and he was 100% correct.
Ouellette: There are always albums with at least a skippable song or two, but personally, I’m a pretty modest guy. I don’t like to brag often, but I think that every song on there is definitely a winner. And there’s a lot of uniqueness separating them, too. Every song has something new to offer, a lot of that is due to Bobby because of his unique songwriting. Yeah, we’re super proud of it.

Q: Seeing this has been an underlining theme to my columns since mid-March, how has the pandemic impacted Junco?
Ouellette: We’ve just started playing again actually, which is awesome. Junco, the full band, just had our first gig since February. We don’t play a lot during the school year, though we do have several gigs from time to time. Once we started seeing cancelations and the venues close we were worried. Without any venues we just can’t share our music live, which is what we do mostly, obviously. It was kind of soul-crushing just staying at home, but it gave us some time to practice (laughter), and it gave Bobby some time to come up with more song ideas, which has been good. There’s always some benefit to everything, but it wasn’t really worth not being able to play — and that goes, obviously, for every one of my other projects and freelance stuff.

Q: Freelance stuff?
Ouellette: Yeah, Portland is where I do a lot of it and all those venues have shut down, so it was a real bummer. But that’s what everybody’s feeling.

Q: Could you talk a little more about the other playing you do?
Ouellette: Yeah, I do a lot, that’s most of what I do. I would say Junco is like my main project, as far as a consistent project goes, but most of my gigs have been freelance stuff. Whether it be just getting together with friends and playing a jazz gig, or doing some recording for people that sometimes I’ve never met. I’m just one of the people in Portland that’s on-call for doing that sort of thing. That’s most of what I do, for sure, is doing that stuff.

Q: One of the things I noticed on this album was that you are credited with the horn arrangements.
Ouellette: Yes, I don’t really remember when that started happening. There were horn arrangements as well that I did on the last album (“The Night The Lake Stood Still”) … either 2017 or the year before, me and Bobby were talking about how cool it would be and how it would add so much to have horns — even just two horns: trumpet and saxophone is what we normally do. And I really enjoy writing, I haven’t written a lot of my own music fully fleshed out, but I do have a certain set of skills of writing and certain genre influences that I think add a lot.

On this last album we were thinking about adding some string arrangements, like violins and cellos. It never happened but that’s something I’m definitely interested in doing in the future, as well. It’s really exciting. I’m the one who has the most knowledge of writing sheet music and that sort of thing — and that’s another point to bring up: Bobby, and he’ll admit this, doesn’t know a lot about actually reading music or the theory behind it, but he so convincingly comes up with these guitar parts that are just so unique that he doesn’t need any knowledge like that.

Q: So with him it’s more instinctive?
Ouellette: It’s more aurally-based because he’s done it for a while now and just kind of knows what works and he can figure out really cool things. He listened to so much music growing up and he’s very inspired by Dave Matthews.

Q: Yes, definitely — you can hear it.
Ouellette: He has a similar theory of guitar parts — they’re all unique and they are pretty much the main force of the songs … but, yeah, he’s pretty incredible.

Q: Another aspect of Junco’s music I put directly in your lap: The music has such a unique rhythmic quality to it, you can really hear the jazz influences plus some decidedly progressive riffs, as well.
Ouellette: Thank you … and seeing you brought that up, those qualities happen a lot more live — we do it selectively so people aren’t bombarded by jazz and just like very self-indulgent stuff. But sometimes we’ll pick the right moments where we kind of just break down and do, not necessarily free stuff, but we’ll take it in directions that are always different every night, for sure.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Ouellette: Yeah, I would say, “Don’t let this virus discourage you … because it’ll all get better,”— that sounds so cliché …

Q: But it’s true. Oh, and one last thing: Where can folks get the new album, on your website?
Ouellette: Yeah, there are links on the website and I think you can buy physical copies on there, as well. And if you have Spotify you can stream it there, Apple Music, and I believe BandCamp, as well. Or come to a show and get a physical copy and say “Hi” to us (laughter). Our shows are on the website (juncoband.com) — obviously, there are not many now—and stay tuned!

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years 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.

filed under:

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.