Before a single note or soul-informed groove is produced from Driftwood Gyspy, you hear voices. Lots of them. As the Lexington band begins a Sunday afternoon rehearsal in its studio off of Blue Sky Parkway, five of its six members create a chorus around the century-old roots music staple “Li’l Liza Jane.” The song serves as part warm-up exercise and part séance before the percussive drive, wah-wah colors and R&B vocal charge ignite the band’s full ensemble sound.
The music has characteristics of Sly and the Family Stone-style spirit in the singing, a rhythmic give-and-take between bass and guitar that recalls early Santana and orchestration that brings to mind the psychedelic keyboard colors and earthy drum foundation of Pink Floyd.
In short, Driftwood Gypsy doesn’t sound so much like a band of today, but rather one at that could have been nailing down a soul-style jam in 1973.
“That’s the whole thing with us,” said guitarist and vocalist Dereck O’Neil Oldham. “We all have so many different influences. With me, it’s Sly Stone and (Frank) Zappa and even over to bluegrass — Jerry Douglas, Flatt & Scruggs, artists like that. But everyone has their individual influences. So before we put something together, we like to try to tie everything that each one of us individually likes into the song. So you might have a song that sounds like 1973, but it was written yesterday. That’s because the influences come through in the music.”
Keyboardist and vocalist Severn Edmondson added, “The kind of music that we like, has more of a timeless quality. A lot of contemporary stuff sounds manufactured, kind of like fast food. So many of these acts release an album that winds up on the charts one day and is gone the next. Will we be listening to the records that come out today in 40 years? Time will tell. But the kind of stuff we like has carried over because we’re still listening to it today. For a lot of people, their entry level music is (Jimi) Hendrix, Beatles, (Led) Zeppelin. Even for a lot of kids today between 7 and 13, that’s still the music that hits first.”
While the sounds that inspire Driftwood Gypsy may seem retro in nature, its own music is anything but. That becomes evident as you dig into the 10 original songs that make up the band’s self-titled debut album. The release will be celebrated on Saturday with a performance at Cosmic Charlie’s.
You hear a potent soul wail rising over a patiently developing band groove on “Gypsy Trippin’,” a solid funk grind erupting within the percussive assertion of “Get Down” and a lighter, summery soul sway fueling “Easy Ride.”
That it is a confident and cordial sounding record isn’t an accident. The music is the result of the band’s third stab at cutting an album.
“It’s finally the way we wanted it, after five years,” said lead guitarist and vocalist Jason Adams. “We started in 2013 (a year after Driftwood Gypsy formed) and re-recorded it two more times because we weren’t happy with it.”
Drummer Conrad Dillinger added, “It took a couple of tries to get everything to go in the direction we wanted.”
What made the third try a keeper was the freedom of making the album on its own. The band — completed by guitarist and vocalist David “Chill” Napier and bassist Creek Sayles — recorded and produced the album in same the homemade studio (the aptly named Driftwood Studio) serving as its rehearsal space this afternoon. Mixing and mastering assistance was provided John Price. Driftwood Gypsy has opened the space to other artists, as well. The Louisville-based Mama Said String Band also recorded its newest album there.
“The space is basically a garage, but it has so much good juju and so much good energy,” said Oldham. “You feel like you’re at home, and this is home for us. Luckily, all the musicians who have come out here to do stuff feel like they’re at home, too. That’s kind of what we offer, a way to get back to the soul part of the music.”
Really, though, all parts of Driftwood Gypsy’s music revolve around soul, from the obvious stylistic bent of its music to the band’s on-and-offstage chemistry to the atmosphere it strives for onstage.
“I can kind of speak as an outsider because me and Chill were both in another band back in the day,” Edmondson said. “He left to pursue this project, so I watched him and kept up with his progress. I would go see these guys before I was ever in the band.
“I think typically anyone who comes to our shows knows what they’re getting into and knows they’re going to have a good time. The music is almost a bonus, but they know it’s all going to be fun.”