Beyond Jamming with Richard James of Neighbor

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    An Extra Chill Original: Beyond Jamming with Richard James of Neighbor
    Published: October 12, 2023

    Neighbor: Dean Johnston (Drums) Richard James (Keys), Dan Kelly (Bass), Lyle Brewer (Guitar). Photo by Brady Cooling.

    Prior to recording their self-titled debut album, the Boston-based rock band Neighbor had already amassed a catalogue of over 120 songs.

    The group formed out of a longstanding friendship between keyboardist Richard James and guitarist Lyle Brewer, who were next door neighbors growing up, alongside drummer Dean Johnston and bassist Dan Kelly.

    Together, Neighbor discovered a prolific songwriting partnership and fan relationship that has led them onto stages nationwide.

    I caught up with Neighbor’s Richard James to discuss the group’s inception and recent buzz, their debut album released this past May, and what fans can expect from the upcoming live shows. Including one this Saturday, October 14th at Charleston Pour House, with support from our friends in Omiwimo.

    “Lyle and I would get together in my barn,” Richard explains. “We just started writing, and then we realized that when we wrote together, it was very seamless and we were writing a lot of music.”

    Blowing Up at Thunder Road

    Neighbor cut their teeth playing a weekly Tuesday night residency at Somerville, MA venue Thunder Road (which was sunk by the pandemic). The momentum snowballed fast.

    “Folks were getting new music every single week, and they were like, ‘What? This band just started and they have 30 songs?’” Richard explains. “We wrote, I think, 55 or 60 songs the first year of the residency. We just continued that way until COVID, and then that was a whole other ball game.”

    If what Richard says is true, Neighbor was writing more than one song per week. They played these alongside a wide variety of covers (see the setlists), and the local audience came back every week for more. Plus, they brought their friends and neighbors.

    “It built up from being like 10 or 20 people the first couple of weeks, to being sold out,” Richard says. “250 people every Tuesday night with a line down the block. It was pretty amazing.”

    These 250+ people at Thunder Road formed a community around Neighbor. They formed a bond that continues to strengthen to this day.

    Neighbor Live in 2021. Photo by Vince Brazen.

    Fans in the Neighborhood

    “We saw how people treated the band, and each other, making sure people had rides to the gig. We were helping each other. Everybody was helping each other out. The fans were helping us with merchandise and we were writing songs about them.”

    Fast forward to 2021, and Neighbor’s fans flew a banner over Montage Mountain during Peach Music Festival to direct 4000 people to their late night set on the festival’s smallest stage, the Grove Stage. Based on my experience seeing The Psycodelics in that time slot in 2023, I can tell you that show was probably wild.

    Now, in late 2023, with a twelve track album and a full back catalogue of originals and covers, Neighbor has become a creative, improvisational force that never plays the same show twice.

    “When we perform live, we realize that not everybody is having the same day that’s coming to see us. Some people, they’ve recently got fired. Or somebody might have just got married, or had a baby. Somebody might have lost somebody or, they’re seeking out music to search and see if they find something. We try to make our shows a roller coaster of emotions, so people can feel. I think a big part of that is the lyrical content too.”

    Neighbor live in 2021. Photo by Capacity Images.

    Is Neighbor a Jam Band?

    While Neighbor are a jam band by the definition of playing two sets and improvising throughout the set, also known as the Grateful Dead model, they seek to transcend the jam band label. Instead, they focus more heavily on the songwriting itself.

    “I don’t know if there’s some way that you can achieve this without making it sound too douchey on our end. We’ve been pigeonholed as a jam band, and I get it. Improvisation is a huge part of our music. I just want people to know that the core of our group is based around songwriting and fleshing out tunes. The jamming is secondary, if not tertiary to the music and the lyrics.”

    It’s true that nearly anybody who plays improvisational music will get lumped into a “trying to be Phish” category on the internet, as Richard says. And nobody wants to see a band that tries to be Phish, unless they’re specifically a Phish tribute.

    This is a topic that could have an entire article dedicated to it, and has already been discussed on Reddit and Phantasy Tour ad nauseum.

    Instead, I will close this piece with some live videos from Neighbor. Starting with their jammed-out return to Peach in 2022, this time with a daytime set on the larger Mushroom Stage. You can make your own decisions.

    Neighbor – Live at Peach 2022 (Full Set)

    Another that I particularly enjoy is the recording of their song “Don’t You Cry” from their album release show on May 19th, 2023 in Boston. It isn’t on YouTube but if you have a Nugs subscription, you have the Extra Chill recommendation to check out that whole show.

    I told Richard that I was feeling an Eagles vibe on that version of “Don’t You Cry”, and he recommended the unreleased Neighbor song, “Sleep When You’re Dead”. Here is the debut performance from November 2021.

    Neighbor – “Sleep When You’re Dead” (11/27/21)

    Charleston folks, I’ll see you at the Pour House this Saturday night (tickets here). Everybody else can see Neighbor’s upcoming tour dates at neighbortunes.com.

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