Acorn Project: Shifting Sounds Through Time and Space

It all began in a basement on High Street. A few college-aged friends got together for a brew-fueled jam session. They played a few tunes, wrote a few songs, and maybe even played a few shows. For many would-be bands, the cycle may have ended there.
Fast forward nearly a decade later though, and that basement jam session has taken on a life of its own. The members of Acorn Project, the go-to band for Bellingham funk and jazz, have graduated from dim basement song writing sessions to completing full-length studio albums. For their newest album Shine, released last month, the band has lined up a 36-city tour, with plans to hit every city “west of the Rockies,” says bandmember Sam Lax. With hundreds of shows already under their belt and three previous studio albums, the band that “started from nothing” as Lax says is ready to present their music to a wider audience.
“We’re called Acorn Project because it was started from nothing. The original four of us who came had never really played,” Lax says. “We started in a basement and were having fun. Obviously now, nine years later, some of us have been playing for years. Lot of things have grown up out of it.”

A new sound
Not to be pigeon-holed in a particular genre, Lax says the band tried several new things on Shift, which was recorded by Paul Turpin of Bayside Studios. Lax says work began on the album in November 2012 with several new changes to the line-up. The band picked up Sam Eisen-Meyers on guitar, and within the last few years had added Kevin ‘Kreestoe’ Chryst and Scott ‘T-Bone’ Vaillancourt on drums and base. The record is their first with the new lineup, and the group took a new approach to recording. Lax says about 80 percent of the album was written in the studio, and Turpin took on an engineer/producer role to help the band further define their sound.
“In the past, we’d write songs, develop them live, and then once we had enough material we’d go record. This time, did the exact opposite,” Lax says.
The result overall is an album that sounds more cohesive, he says. He admits that while the band’s sound is tough to categorize into any one genre, Shift feels more congruent than their previous albums.
“The record is meant to be a start to finish listen,” Lax says. “It takes you on a bit of a journey. “
In keeping with the instrument of choice for many artists these days – the laptop – Lax worked closely with Turpin to bring a bit of electronica to the band’s traditionally bluesy-Americana sound. While Acorn Project’s sound falls under many umbrellas, they’ve carved out a niche for themselves in the funk and jam band genre.
“Stylistically, we held true to our funk and rock and roll roots, but we definitely sought to take our jam appeal and harness that into a more live electronic feel,” Lax says.
Lax says that with the new album, the band made a concerted effort to work closely with Turpin to add a electronic dance grooves to their already funk beats.
“When they came into the studio last December they brought in some laptop material that they wanted me to use as a starting point,” Turpin says. “But then we took things much further.”
While the band is known for their engaging stage presence and captivating live shows, and Lax says they purposefully strayed away from trying to capture the feel of a live show on record.
“We thought about it, and we thought if we’re in the studio, we might as well fully utilize what the studio has to offer,” Lax explains. “We enjoy making people dance, and with electronica and rock, we had the perfect opportunity to take those elements and refine them,” Lax says. “The studio is a perfect environment for that, and that will hopefully translate into the live show.”
Fans of Acorn Project’s previous albums may be surprised, but Turpin says it should be a very pleasant surprise.
“The band wanted to transcend the ‘jam band’ trap and just make music that didn’t fit into any pre-conceptions. That was their initial goal, and nearly their only instruction to me,” he says. “I think they succeeded in that goal with most of the songs.”

For the love of the tour
To promote their new album, Lax says the band plans to hit the ground running. He says they want to play more than 100 shows this year, and that at this point, the band has become a full time gig for nearly all of its members.  For Lax, the band has even spawned a side project, Acorn Productions, which functions in part as the band’s management and promotions company.
But even after ten years, hundreds of shows and the various side projects and endeavours that have been spawned from the band, the focus continues to be – and will always be – about the music, Lax says.
“We all just fell in love with it at the beginning We started to tour and we enjoyed that, and we played shows on the road and it started organically and we just haven’t stopped,” Lax says. “It’s been a lot of hard work and effort and patience and understanding. But we love our music first. We still maintain that. The overall objective is to love playing music together.”
The official CD release party will be held at the Wild Buffalo on Halloween. Lax says the band wanted to end the tour on their home turf, and says the holiday is one of their favorite dates of the year to play.  The theme of the show, “Daft Funk,” is ha tribute to Daft Punk’s brand of dancey electronica, and the band will be joined by Medium Troy, a Eugene, Oregon based band that describes their sound as “bohemien dub hop.”
“We really wanted to finish the tour in our hometown in the northwest.,” Lax says. “We wanted to go out and play and then come back super dialed and have our show perfected. We feel like it’s a final celebration for our homecoming as well.”
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