The Likes Of Us: Making New Music from Another Time
It's hard to imagine a more appropriate title than "Time Traveler" for the newest CD from the singer/songwriter duo known as The Likes of Us.
Benj Heard and Katrina Stone call Los Angeles home, but their hearts' home is a different place entirely: retro tributes inspired by the jazz and pop standards of the 1940s. Or as one reviewer calls "Time Traveler": "An ambitious project that is both unique and feels like an old vinyl that your grandparents wore out 50 years ago."
The Likes of Us will be performing at the 20th anniversary Beartrap Summer Festival on August 2 and 3.
“'Time Traveler' was an obvious choice as the title track of this record because it sums up what we want to do as musicians,” says Katrina. “We want to take people back to another time and let them escape, even if just for a moment. We let the listener be the 'Time Traveler' and decide where they want to go; it may be down south in a heat-wave in the 1960s, a smoky jazz club from the 1920s, or even a present day trip to the beach.
"The title track is a jazz-inspired tune about meeting someone who seemingly goes back in time and fixes all your broken hearts with his love. And while that may have been a specific story we came up with, you are the Time Traveler and you choose your own adventure when you listen to this album.”
Another of the album's highlights, the a cappella "Northern Star," is representative of the music's feel: "My Northern Star / My constant in the dark / Point me toward your endless skies / When I run aground / You'll keep me safe and sound / Navigate me through the night / And lead me to your heart / My Northern Star..."
The deceptive simplicity of the lyrics is Harold Arlen-esque, and it's not hard to imagine the seamlessly close harmonies being sung by the Andrews Sisters (with a brother), but the style is distinctively the young duo's own.
“I feel like ‘Northern Star’ is one of the most authentic 1940s-styled songs we’ve ever written,” says Benj. “Even though it’s brand new, it’s so nostalgic to us. As independent artists, we love having the freedom to release material like this and not have to worry about the marketability or commercial appeal. Songs like this will affect people no matter what kind of music they usually listen to."
And though they're conjuring the audio of a bygone era, they have one foot firmly planted in the Internet Age. A recent partnership with The Music Bed makes possible the licensing of their retro magic in advertisements ranging from vodka, jewelry, and restaurants "to a few select non-profits." That's not counting a quarter-million YouTube views of their songs, and a skyrocketing social media presence.
Another standout track from "Time Traveler" reveals a more darkly atavistic side of the nostalgia coin: "Train's Comin'" begins, "Train's comin' / Gotta start runnin' / Can't be stuck here / Fallin' in love with you..." and churns onward to "Little bit of heaven / Little bit of hell / Little bit of lovin' / Gettin' my fill..."
Another dark-edged romantic souvenir is the piano ballad "Hurricane," of which Benj says, "I had the concept for ‘Hurricane’ rattling around in my brain for a few years. I knew the lyrics had to be written in such a way to perfectly portray a girl who could love so sweet and kiss like the rain, but still sweep a man away with the power of a force of nature.”
“Being a part of a project like this isn’t all sunshine and rainbows,” he adds. “It’s hard for a lot of people to understand what we do and why we do it. It’s a lot of work and a huge time commitment. That doesn’t always make us the most popular people when we commit to this over other musical opportunities."
But in the end, the price they pay for that authenticity is a fair bargain, says Katrina: “This album was such a beautiful struggle. We make music to take people on the crazy adventures we dream up when we’re sitting in front of a piano, drinking whisky and talking about life. Parts of it are muddy and dirty, parts of it are sunny and bright. And the rest of it is whatever you want it to be.”