PLAYING ATLANTA: Bird Dog Jubilee and the Resurrection of the Southern Jam Band

COLUMNS|Playing Atlanta

I think I was about 22 minutes into the Allman Brothers Band’s infamous “Mountain Jam” one day when I realized something: I love jam bands. I love the seemingly effortless movement, the way the players anticipate every chord change, every shifting rhythm, every intricate melody and harmony, and make it seem like it just happens. I love how seemingly incongruous parts weave themselves into a musical tapestry, creating a sound that’s full, lush, and textured. I love how you can lose yourself in the music.

Jam bands were abundant in the area surrounding my hometown, but in recent years, I’ve seen fewer and fewer of them. It wasn’t until I discovered Atlanta quartet Bird Dog Jubilee and their Southern-infused, psychedelic sound that I felt a slight return to the music that surrounded me growing up. I had the chance to sit down with lead guitarist RJ Fyfe to discuss their creative process, frozen Jack ‘n Cokes, and what happens when you combine the influences of Kurt Cobain and Phish.

AF: How did you guys get into music, and what made you decide that it was time to form a band?

RF: Kurt Cobain is what did it for me as the sole influence of getting me to play the guitar. I started playing at a very young age (3rd grade), but didn’t take it seriously until high school. I played a lot of acoustic guitar for church and with friends, but was honestly afraid to solo until my uncle bought me a Les Paul Studio for learning how to play Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla.”  At that point, I didn’t have any excuses and knew it was time to learn how to solo.  

Around 2012, I started jamming with two friends in a group called Red Wood Trio. We played small parties for our friends and were the background music for poker parties and things like that. Unfortunately, those friends didn’t want to gig, and that’s the direction that I wanted to take the band. I was fortunate enough to link up with some great musicians from high school, and in 2014, Bird Dog Jubilee was born.    

AF: How did the sound evolve? Did you come into it thinking, “We’re going to start a jam band,” or was it the result of playing together and allowing your collective influences to blend and create something organic?

RF: First and foremost, we love to jam, and improvisation has always been the backbone of the band. We didn’t care about fitting into a specific genre but knew that we loved to improvise and see what happens on stage. It was purely organic and with all of our influences — Phish, Grateful Dead, Wilco, The Band, etc. — those creative juices started flowing.  

AF: Speaking of influences, who do you consider to be your greatest inspirations when it comes to music?

RF: Great question and I know for me personally, I have three major influences: Kurt Cobain inspired me to pick up and learn the guitar at a very young age; my love for the blues and psychedelic rock put ]Eric] Clapton at the top of my list as he was always the one driving me to be a better player when I was younger; and Trey Anastasio — full credit to this man as BDJ probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for him. Trey pulled me out of my shell and really got me to explore and improvise with my playing, tone, and overall appreciation for music.  

AF: You’ve recently released a new single, “Take Your Breath.” What was the recording process like?

RF: This was an interesting one. We put out our first EP, Album Art, in April of 2018 and wanted to put out live recordings that we really liked. “Take Your Breath” debuted at the Sweetwater 420 Fest in 2018, and it went through a number of changes until we released the live version from an August 2018 show at Aisle 5. Releasing live tracks is something that we will be [doing] periodically throughout 2019.  

AF: Can you walk us through your creative process? Is it fairly collaborative, or do you tend to have someone come in with a complete idea?

RF: This process has evolved over time, which is so cool to see. When we first started writing songs, we would do it separately, bring them to practice, and basically go with the original idea with some changes. After some time, we would schedule practices around a particular idea and then we would write the whole song together. Collaborating on writing the music together has allowed us to explore our individual strengths and offer different ideas. 95% of BDJ songs are written collaboratively now, with lyrics worked out on the backend. It’s always great when we can write a song in one sitting like “Never Coming Back,” but most of the time is a more lengthy process like with “Young,” “Choices,” and “Take Your Breath.” We’ve got two new ones that we are anxiously awaiting their debut this summer, so stay tuned! 

AF: We’ve seen so much growth in the music and entertainment industry here in Atlanta. What’s it like to be part of the music scene as it hits its stride?

RF: It’s truly an honor to be part of this, especially in this city. There are so many great bands, fans, venues, and promoters in this city, not to mention the festivals. Atlanta is the best place to be in our opinion, and we are so excited to see how everything evolves and grows! 

AF: Two questions in one: best place for a late night meal in Atlanta, and best place for a good drink and an even better show?

RF: After shows, you can find great beers at The Porter in L5P, or frozen Jack ’n Cokes at Victory Sandwich Bar. Woody’s is the go-to spot for late night cheesesteaks and PBRs!

AF: What’s next for Bird Dog Jubilee?

RF: To infinity and beyond! In all seriousness, we want to continue to build the Atlanta market and make this the go-to city for jam bands. ATL has the talent to compete with the northeast, and that is the mindset we all need to solidify ATL as a “jam city.” In addition to focusing on our hometown, we will be hitting the road a fair amount in 2019, and will get back into the studio.

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