It’s summertime and the livin’s busy for Herd of Watts. The bluesy Jacksonville-based quartet has a full plate this month with a supporting performance in Swamp Radio under their belt and shows June 20 at the Community First Seawalk Music Fest and June 26 at 1904 Music Club.
Brothers Matthew and Ben Strok talked with EU Jacksonville about playing music together, new directions, the buzz downtown and how the progress will continue. Ben knew what it was to be a member of a band, playing for the better part of a decade before brother Matthew joined on keyboard.
Herd of Watts originally formed in February, 2013 as a five-piece but later transitioned to a quartet with the current lineup Matthew Strok on keyboard, Ben on guitar and vocals, bassist Sean Thomas and drummer Jamal “Music City” Wright, in August, 2014. ‘The decision to become a four-piece opened the doors for everyone just to be themselves within the group, no stress,” says Ben. “It’s a great way to showcase everybody’s skills without getting over-crowded. It really opened the whole band up.”
Influenced by band like Tedeschi-Trucks, Soul Live, Bill Withers and the experimental elements of The Dead and younger bands like The New Master Sounds helped Herd of Watts curate a sophisticated “junk” (jam and funk) sound that’s earned the attention of festival promoters, club owners and playwrights. Herd of Watts performed with Mama Blue and The Willow Wacks for the summer installment of Swamp Radio: How’s Your Summer? at The Florida Theatre.
“We’ve been involved with a number of other musicians who have participated with episodes of Swamp Radio. We’ve also gotten to know Ian Mairs just from what an active presence he is in the arts community and helping to really create a vital, thriving arts movement. He had a chance to catch us at a couple of shows and the more we spoke, the more it just seemed like a natural fit,” says Matthew. “June is a great month for us. We’ve got a couple of big shows this month that we are really excited about and then we are going to go to the wood shed for a while and work on some new material.”
Herd of Watts will launch a small summer tour while fine tune new material and get ready for the Fall festival schedule. As they go hard into preparation mode, the Stroks are looking forward to getting back into the studio and create some fresh, new music.”We’ve got some exciting announcements and some new things we’re going to release,” Matthew says. “We’re also going to be touring regionally a little bit over the summer while we’re working on our new stuff.”
As brothers, band mates and creative co-conspirators, Matthew and Ben appreciate the opportunity to make music together. Despite growing up together, the two had never played music together until Matthew joined him and Sean in 2012.
Says Matthew, “I had to play a little bit of catch-up because Ben has been playing music with Sean for over a decade now. It’s been really interesting to actually see the unspoken communication between the guitar and the bass and I think where Ben and my relationship benefits us is that we are both collaborative and creative but we think in very complimentary ways. It’s a good balance.”
Echoes Ben, “We’re definitely not Oasis. I think its probably a little more of an Allman Brothers texture which is another musical influence that means a lot to us.”
Herd of Watts is also grateful to be part of the creative community and is committed to doing whatever it takes to keep momentum moving forward downtown. “Beyond the rising tides lifting all boats metaphor, in the little time that we’ve been active in the Jacksonville scene the last five years it’s been visibly apparent how much quick growth has come at the hands of people like Ian [Mairs] and Grant Nielsen and Jason Honeycutt at 1904 and Cameron Beard at Underbelly. What is being built is a community. It’s not one show or one band or one venue and that’s generated a lot of opportunities for a lot of people to not only participate from an experience perspective but from a creator perspective.”
The Stroks look to the successes of One Spark and the continued revitalization of downtown with work at The Elbow and Hemming Park under Mayor Brown’s administration. “To say it’s been exciting sells it short. It’s been a privilege to be a part of it,” Matthew says, noting that despite the whispers of stalling progress with the incoming mayor, the party is far from over. “There’s only so much the administration can do to hinder. I think there was a lot done to help. The momentum is certainly rolling and I’ve got faith in the city that we will keep pushing forward with the energy we’ve seen so far.”
Echoes Ben, “A lot of people have put a lot of work into downtown, and the people that are supporting it are fed by this exciting artist community. Everybody has seen what can happen and everybody is hungry for more. I think it’s like a four-alarm fire. I don’t think anything can slow it down now.”