Irwin’s Farm straddles the border of East Greenwich and Salem, just south of Cossayuna Lake. A State Police patrol station sits to the west and the Cargill plant sits to the east. Otherwise, there’s not much out there except for a few farms, a handful of small ponds, and a bunch of unruly woodlands. It’s Eastbound Jesus country. The boys from Greenwich use the 400-acre farm for the Eastbound Throwdown, the band’s two-day music and camping blowout, and they practice down the road in an old woodshop. That’s where I meet up with them to talk about the festival, their next album, and their songwriting process.
I’m familiar with the area, but I still miss the turn. As I backtrack, I find the dirt drive that leads to the woodshop and make my way in. I park my car in the grass. My sedan looks out of place next to the line of pickup trucks. The guys are standing outside, under a basketball hoop, drinking beer and preparing for rehearsal. Carl and Luke Anderson greet me and offer introductions. In addition to Carl (drums, vocals) and Luke (banjo), the band is comprised of Adam Brockway (vocals, guitar), Dylan Robinson (electric guitar), Zack Infante (lap steel and electric guitar), and Dave Wright (bass). They are friendly, approachable, easy-going. Robinson tosses me a beer before I get around to anything resembling an interview.
Eastbound Jesus or EBJ for short is no stranger to the Capital Region music scene, but I think it’s safe to say that they widened their audience base after winning SPAC’s Battle of the Bands in 2011. The Hollow, Putnam Den, Brown’s – you name it, they’ve played it. In fact, they have an upcoming gig on June 29 at Brown’s Summer Sessions. Over the years, I’ve seen them at the pre-renovated Caffe Lena, where their raucous energy rattled the old rafters, and jamming inside a hay wagon pulled by a John Deere at Greenwich’s infamous Tractor Parade. The point is that they have a strong following, especially up north in their greater hometown area.
How would you describe your music? That’s the first question I ask. They joke about the label “northern rock,” which they kicked around for a bit. As a play on the southern rock subgenre, it works, but EBJ is more Skynyrd than Allman Brothers. “Nothing fits,” the Andersons note. The rest of guys agree. “We’re part bluegrass, part rock, part blues, part outlaw country.”
“And part heavy metal,” Robinson adds. “We want people to have a good time. We play music you want to hear and don’t care about the rest. The music represents where we’re from. We’re not trying to be fake.” Heads nod in agreement.
And there it is – the key to their style. Even seven years in, they’re having fun, experimenting with their sound, and trying to make each concert a party. The audience responds to this philosophy (or personality, really), as well as their unrelenting dedication to their roots. It’s not money or image or a chance to breakout that drives them like some other bands. They laugh at the notion. Robinson even jokes, “I’d play a set for a lawn mower. Fuck, why not?”
Somehow talking about the lawn mower brings us back to the Eastbound Throwdown. It’s on the band’s mind, given that it’s only a few short months away. Last year, the inaugural festival attracted more than 600 people. In advance of the event, the band built a massive wooden stage at the bottom of a slight hill – a hill that offered a natural amphitheater of sorts for the audience. They used reclaimed wood and barnboard to finish the stage, and the result is a beautiful semi-permanent performance shell. It’s handcrafted, completely unique. Like the band, it feels organic, genuine, and it fits with the scenery. Spend a few minutes talking about the stage and the festival, and it’s easy to see that the band takes great pride in their work, whether it’s carpentry or songwriting or performing.
On June 1, EBJ announced the Throwdown’s lineup, which will ratchet up sales, visibility, and word of mouth yet another notch. Fans of The Mallett Brothers Band and Driftwood will be thrilled to know that they’re returning for a second year. Also joining in on the fun is Formula 5, Black Mountain Symphony, Swamp Candy, The Old Main, Green, Cobblestone, and Wreckloose. According to Carl Anderson, a few artists will be added at a later date. In total, 14 bands will play. Given the success of that first year, the second annual Eastbound Throwdown is expected to bring in 1,000 or so people. All signs and signals suggest that they’ll hit the mark. “We want people to come and chill all day, all weekend on the hill,” they add.
What’s next for EBJ? In addition to the Eastbound Throwdown, I learn that they’ve been in the studio, working on their fifth outing. Their last album, Hollerin’, came out in 2015. (For those keeping score, Northern Rock was released in 2013 and Holy Smokes in 2012.) They have four songs tracked, and they’re thinking about doing the rest of the songs in a raw space like the woodshop we’re standing in. “Someplace more organic than in the studio with a click track,” Anderson (Carl) says. I get the sense that the physical space is meaningful to them – it’s partly about the sound and partly about recreating the experience of the live show.
“Just really raw. That’s what we’re after,” Robinson say. “Keep it real. No bullshit. But we’re all about the harmony too.” This statement leads me to ask about the songwriting process. EBJ tends to write together; every member brings something to the shop. “We show up to practice with ideas, riffs, or whatever, and we like to improvise a lot,” Robinson says. They seem to embrace the thought that no song is the same twice. Again, it’s about authenticity, on the surface and in the creative process. “The music has to move forward,” Anderson (Carl) explains. “We’re taking more time, but the songs are better.” He notes the desire to move away from the confessional, personal style that fueled some of the early work into new terrain. “We’re doing some crazy shit,” Robinson says. “You’ll see.” No doubt that some of these new songs will make their way into the set list at the Throwdown.
For more information on the Eastbound Throwdown, the lineup, and how to get tickets, visit www.eastboundthrowdown.com