Asheville's Jahman Brahman are a "jam band," whatever that means. Ever since the quintet's formation in 2005, in their original home base of Columbus, Ohio, they've been faced with that love-it-or-loathe-it genre label—with all of its Phish references and jokes about bongs and frat-boys.
"I personally don't mind it," says lead guitarist Casey Chanatry. "Some of the other guys try to stray away from calling us that. But the reason I seriously got into playing music was through other jam bands, so I've never been ashamed of it or anything."
That fact seems clear, even based on the band name: "Brahman" is a Hindu concept (meaning "all is one"), while "Jahman" is an in-joke used to describe their own "jahm" sessions—when all five members are firing on all cylinders, particularly during lengthy onstage improvisations, they enter a zone known as "shred 'n' flow." Those hippie-isms give a good indication of what the band sounds like; on its debut album, 2010's Newfields, and the recent EP ...And the Storms that Swarm, Jahman Brahman does indeed fit the jam-band profile, with lengthy songs, sweaty, muscular grooves, and self-empowering lyrics. But these guys are way more eclectic than your typical jam band; in a single song, they often jump seamlessly from blues rock to funk to moody psychedelia, all anchored by strong technical performances.
"Jam bands are just eclectic music with improv," Chanatry says. "That's how I've always seen it. Otherwise you're going around saying, we're a little rock, a little blues, a little jazz, a little metal, or whatever, and that seems to turn people off just as much, and they don't know if they want to come and see it. If you say ‘jam band,' there's a certain crowd that's going to come, no matter what. I personally like the crowd and the scene, for the most part. We do consider ourselves a rock band because we do focus on the songs, but I also love the parts in the live show where we're playing together with improv, and that's why people call us a ‘jam band.'"
And even though Jahman Brahman are still flying mostly under the radar nationally, their fan base is steadily growing, particularly in the Asheville area, where they relocated a few years ago. But their recent momentum hit a massive speed-bump in April 2011, when original keyboardist Josh Loffer left the band.
"It's actually been kind of a rough ride," Chanatry says. "We didn't know if [Loffer] was going to come back, so we had to kind of—not start over but move on without a keyboardist, one less member. And we kept touring around, and it took awhile to get that product up to shape, I thought."
After an adjustment period—one that saw the band move in a more guitar-heavy direction—Loffer suddenly returned, which left the band scrambling to adjust once more.
"We had to reacquaint with him," Chanatry says. "The first jam coming back with him felt pretty much back to normal, but as far as the live set and the songs, it was more getting used to sound and volume levels and making all that mesh well, and also just him remembering and relearning some of the songs. We do a lot of improv on stage, too, and he had a year less stage experience than us, and we were all new in the first place, so it's definitely taking him a little bit to get his confidence back and get our improv gelling better.
"But I think it's finally happening now and we're ready to hit it hard again. Now I feel like it's finally back to normal, like before he left, but even better since we've had another year of experience. So right now I do feel like it's starting to gain momentum. We're working with a booking guy and a manager, and I think that's whipped us into shape. They're really excited about 2013 and some of the offers we've been getting for next year. Thats what I think it's all about—once you get people coming out to the shows, you just have to keep the ball rolling. You can't slack on coming back to those markets, those same cities, every couple months, where we've not done very well before. Going back to those same markets, finding the ones that are really working for us, and not going to all new cities every time."
And they're excited to hit the studio in 2013, to record an album "back to the original Jahman Brahman," as Chanatry describes it. "We actually met someone down in North Carolina. He's an old retired musician, and basically his mission is to help younger musicians and he doesn't charge people to work in his studio."
With all their relocations and line-up fluctuations, it's been a challenge figuring out what kind of band Jahman Brahman really is. But that answer seems to be forming, slowly but surely, onstage, during moments of eclectic telepathy.