10 Standout 2018 New Bands
JamBase continues looking back at the year in music by revisiting 10 noteworthy new bands that made their debut in 2018. Some served as one-time side projects of already-established, high-profile artists. Others took on a life of their own, leading to the hope of new music and tours in 2019.
At the beginning of the year, guitarist Tom Hamilton and pianist Holly Bowling announced they would be focusing on a brand-new project in 2018 dubbed Ghost Light. Information about the sound of the new group was sparse ahead of the band’s inaugural tour, but in the months since, fans were treated to improvisation-heavy performances across the country, quickly earning the group critical acclaim and a growing number of dedicated fans.
After making their official live debut in late March with a California run, the group has unabashedly proven their chops in the live setting, unveiling creative originals and proving themselves as masters of improvisation with extended jams. While many may have been initially drawn to Ghost Light due to Hamilton and Bowling’s Grateful Dead connections, the band has been working hard to establish themselves as an independent musical project in their own right. Also featuring guitarist Raina Mullen, drummer Scotty Zwang and bassist Steve Lyons, Ghost Light first came together in the studio. Official recordings have yet to surface, but hopefully, something is in the works for 2019.
Bob Weir & Wolf Bros
In August, Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir announced a new side project featuring bassist and famed producer Don Was and drummer Jay Lane under the moniker Bob Weir and Wolf Bros. While the trio made their official debut in mid-October of this year, the group was conceived years prior as Bob Weir was beginning to assemble Dead & Company. As Weir noted in a statement earlier in the year:
Wolf Bros is something that really took its roots back in the spring of 2015 when Don Was came up to TRI and helped us piece together Dead & Company … For a while now I’ve been itchin’ to explore our songs in a trio setting. An upright bass, my acoustic or electric guitar and a drummer. We did some rehearsals this past spring and it was big fun — and that’s the whole idea.
Bob Weir & Wolf Bros set out on their inaugural 22-date tour in the fall, giving fans the opportunity to see the new trio at more intimate, historic theaters around the country. Each show saw the group pull heavily from the Grateful Dead catalog, in addition to drawing on Weir’s solo catalog as well as covers spanning the decades. The band’s inaugural run was also characterized by numerous sit-ins from other fan-favorite artists, with Mickey Hart, John Mayer, Margo Price, John Oates, Tom Hamilton, Warren Haynes, Steve Kimock, John Kadlecik and others joining in on the fun at various stops on the tour.
The Fearless Flyers
The Vulfpeck spin-off The Fearless Flyers features Vulfpeck bassist Joe Dart and guitarist Cory Wong, renowned jazz drummer Nate Smith and Snarky Puppy guitarist Mark Lettieri. The band first introduced themselves to the world in March, releasing a six-track, self-titled EP that featured new originals in addition to covers of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and The Little Mermaid’s “Under The Sea.” Falling in line with Vulfpeck’s tight-laced funk and highly curated brand, The Fearless Flyers EP also drew from the Vulfpeck catalog, with a new version of Vollmich’s 2012 track “Barbara,” as well as an evolution of Mr. Finish Line’s “Grandma” final groove with the song “Bicentennial.”
On September 2, The Fearless Flyers debuted in Chicago, performing an official North Coast Music Festival after-party. Though this marked the spin-off’s only performance to date, the show made waves due to its high-profile special guests. Two unannounced Vulfpeck contributors joined their friends at the show, namely Theo Katzman and Antwaun Stanley, but the big surprise sit-in came from Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay, who had headlined NCMF earlier in the day.
As The Crow Flies
As The Crow Flies was created by Chris Robinson with the intention of allowing the former The Black Crowes frontman to dive deep into his long-spanning catalog in a live setting. Robinson assembled a handful of his former Black Crowes band mates for the project, including guitarist Audley Freed, bassist Andy Hess and keyboardist Adam MacDougall, as well as guitarist Marcus King and Chris Robinson Brotherhood drummer Tony Leone.
As The Crow Flies embarked on a 17-show tour in spring of 2018, which saw the band hit 16 mid-size venues nationwide in addition to a stop at the fan-favorite Wanee Music Festival at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. Each show saw the all-star assembly perform classics from The Black Crowes’ catalog mixed with choice covers ranging from The Doors to Neil Young and others. Though Robinson previously noted it seemed unlikely As The Crow Flies would reassemble any time soon due to The CRB touring restraints, the project announced that a two-show New Year’s run at The Capitol Theatre on December 30 and 31.
During the first weekend of Electric Forest, The Disco Biscuits’ bassist Marc Brownstein unveiled a new side project Star Kitchen. Brownstein tapped Eric Krasno Band’s Danny Mayer, Addison Groove Project’s Rob Marscher and Lauryn Hill and John Legend’s Marlon Lewis to join him, offering up exploratory and extended jams by way of classic funk and R&B standards. After Star Kitchen’s successful live debut in the early-summer, Brownstein and company continued with the project, embarking on a four-date tour across the Northeast in November.
The group had special plans for the brief fall run, with Star Kitchen announcing a number of musical guests that would join them each night. These performers included The New Mastersounds’ guitarist Eddie Roberts, famed pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph, Trey Anastasio Band saxophonist James Casey, Snarky Puppy’s saxophonist Chris Bullock and trumpeter Mike “Maz” Maher and others.
On July 7, New York City’s Brooklyn Bowl celebrated its ninth anniversary with the inaugural performance by a new supergroup composed of guitarist Eric Krasno, drummer Joe Russo and bassist MonoNeon. Utilizing the participant’s names, the project was dubbed nO*sO*nO. For the highly anticipated debut, the three high-profile musicians came together with an emphasis on exploratory improvisation, treating the Brooklyn Bowl crowd to two high-energy sets. The show also featured a surprise guest appearance, with Gregg Allman Band’s hopping on the keys at points during the performance.
Krasno, Russo and MonoNeon were no strangers at the time of nO*sO*nO’s debut. All three had performed with each other in various groups or collaborations over the years. This specific trio had never come together in this format and spirits were high as the band worked through a wide range of covers including takes from Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, John Scofield and others.
WRD (Walter/Roberts/Deitch) draws on the surname initials of its members: 20th Congress/Greyboy Allstars/Mike Gordon keyboardist Robert Walter, The New Mastersounds guitarist Eddie Roberts and Lettuce drummer Adam Deitch. The supergroup informally came together for a few gigs in 2011, but this year came together for release four tracks on Roberts’ newly launched, Denver-based record label Color Red.
Rooted in funk and highlighting the immense musicality of each of the band’s critically acclaimed members, W.R.D. first released a 7-inch vinyl record in September (though the band released the first single digitally in late August), which featured originals “Happy Hour” and “Corner Pocket.” In early October, Color Red followed up its initial release with another track titled “Red Sunset,” a lengthier number composed by Deitch and characterized by its retro 1970s feel. Last week, the group unveiled “Bobby’s Boogaloo,” the final track from their Color Red sessions.
Much like his bandmate Marc Brownstein, the Disco Biscuits’ keyboardist Aron Magner debuted a new project in 2018. Developing over the course of two years and distinctly different from his more electronic-driven or jam-rooted work with the Disco Biscuits, SPAGA offers Magner the chance to reconnect with his roots as a classically trained jazz pianist. With this goal in mind, the Bisco keyboardist tapped local Philadelphia musicians, bassist Jason Fraticelli and drummer Matt Scarano, to join him in an acoustic jazz trio format.
SPAGA is a particularly interesting project, as thus far it has been marketed as a high-end music and dining experience. Magner saw connections between his experience developing his new acoustic side project and the farm-to-table movement given that, “It was all about roots. With an emphasis on the fresh and the organic.” Thus, when SPAGA debuted in early October in a barn on a farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, the performance was paired with a multi-course field-to-fork dinner executed by the award-winning chef Yehuda Sichel of the restaurant Abe Fisher.
Following an Umphrey’s McGee performance in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina on May 31, bassist Ryan Stasik debuted a brand-new side project Doom Flamingo. Inspired by retro synthwave of the 1980s, Doom Flamingo finds the Umphrey’s McGee’s bassist joined by local Charleston, South Carolina musicians, including saxophonist Mike Quinn, keyboardist Ross Bogan, drummer Stuart White, guitarist Thomas Kenney and vocalist Kanika Moore.
In the fall, Doom Flamingo embarked on a mini-tour across the Carolinas and released a handful of singles, including “F-16,” “Telepathy” and “Runaway.” The band also has plans to release a forthcoming EP and they’re working with a Canadian illustrator Jordan Noir, to create a graphic novel about the group. The band has plans to perform at the end of December (at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse on December 28) as well as in January and February 2019.
boygenius is an indie-rock trio composed of three famed singer-songwriters, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. With each member critically acclaimed and boasting a successful solo career in her own right, the project augments each member’s strengths, offering up hypnotic harmonies and empathetic and earnest lyrics while bridging the gap between each musician’s characteristic sound.
The supergroup recorded their first EP together this summer as a means to promote their joint fall tour this year. However, after a successful time in the studio, the trio realized the staying power of their newly formed supergroup. boygenius released their self-titled debut EP on November 9, quickly generating critical and popular success and earning the project high-profile television appearances and a dedicated fanbase. The band followed up the release with a highly successful tour across November of this year.