After more than 25 years of making music and selling millions of records, Blues Traveler took a different approach for its latest offering “Blow Up The Moon.”
“The band’s been together 27 years and had done 11 studio albums,” said keyboardist Ben Wilson. “We were beginning to think there was only one way to make a record. So, for this last one, we decided to shake it up and make ourselves a little uncomfortable.”
What Blues Traveler ended up doing was collaborating with the likes of 3OH!3, JC Chasez (of NSYNC fame), Hanson, the Plain White T’s and Jewel for 14 new songs. Other collaborators included: The Dirty Heads, Rome Ramirez, Thompson Square, Secondhand Serenade, New Hollow, Bowling for Soup and actor Thomas Ian Nicholas.
The band’s 12th studio album was released on April 7. Now, the group famous for its improvisational live shows is back on the road, making a stop at Mohegan Sun Pocono on Saturday.
“(The album) was a ton of fun to make,” Wilson said. “We were constantly stepping into a new situation and we didn’t know how it would turn out. It was cool to see how the other artists would approach things and how the band would react.
“As John (harmonica virtuoso and lead singer John Popper) said, it was great to be in that situation to see through someone else’s eyes what we do well as a band.”
Blues Traveler was formed in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1987 and found mainstream success with its fourth album “four” in 1994. The song “Run-Around” went to No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won a Grammy for Rock Vocal Group performance, and its follow-up, “Hook,” gave the group a second Top 40 hit. The album went on to sell more than 6 million copies.
“Live from the Fall” in 1996 produced a third Top 40 hit with a version of “But Anyway,” which was originally recorded for the band’s self-titled debut in 1991. “Straight On till Morning,” the group’s fifth studio album from 1997, sold over a million copies and reached No. 11 on the Billboard 200.
The original group – Popper, guitarist Chan Kinchla, drummer Brendan Hill and bassist Bobby Sheehan – was always seen as one of the key proponents of the re-emerging jam band scene of the ‘90s, founding the H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) touring festival in 1992.
Wilson, who joined the group in 1999 along with bassist Tad Kinchla (Chan’s younger brother) following Sheehan’s death, said the band’s jamming days are mostly in the past as they have preferred to write tighter songs over the past five or six years.
“These days we’re not as ambitious to turn things into jams,” he said. “Back in the day, those songs were written with that in mind, and the guys like to say they only knew five or six songs and had to stretch them out.
“We still like to showcase our instruments – John is such a monster, but it’s not comparable to the Grateful Dead taking it someplace else.”
Wilson said well over half of the new album should do well in a live setting, although the band has been a little learning challenged lately.
“Since this wasn’t the usual process, we have had to go back and learn the songs to play them live,” he said. “We should have a good five or six of them down by the time we get to you.”