Bittersweet but infused with a determined optimism, Stellar Jays bring a shine to their jangly Alt-country American rock and roll with sweet vocal harmonies and shimmering reverb. Crunchy blues leads dance with sparkling acoustic chords, while an in-the-pocket rhythm section keeps things trundling along as we head off on our melodic journey into the great unknown.
Brian Siems (vocals & guitars), Brian Besand (guitar & vocals), Bob Congleton (bass), Alison Perkins (keyboard & vocals) and Tim Schuringa (drums) came together as the world was emerging from pandemic-induced stasis. Originally hailing from Virginia, Texas, Washington and California and holding down quintessentially Seattle day-jobs across global philanthropy, software, water quality, library sciences and consulting, the quintet was born from the perpetually simmering Seattle country-Americana scene.
While Stellar Jays are a relatively new endeavor, its members have all been music obsessives since an early age. Primary songwriter and lyricist Siems grew up playing music in DC, from grade-school band to college rock and roll with deep 90s alternative and classic rock roots at the intersection of Neil Young and Gram Parsons. Besand learned to play at summer camp and found his musical calling in red dirt country music after moving to Austin, TX. Congleton is a familiar face in Pacific Northwest scene, handling bass duties for a roundtable of Seattle indie bands, dabbling in rock, soul, jazz and blues. Seemingly born for the limelight, Perkins grew up in chorale groups and musical theater and has a soft spot in her heart for Motown. Drummer Schuringa, a California native, has been playing drums since the 5th grade upon discovering Led Zeppelin and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and has held down the rhythm for bands from coast to coast.
The music on Early Winters was written throughout 2022 in sessions in Seattle and Winthrop, WA. With the bones of the song charted out and the lyrics in hand, the band would rehearse in the historic Old Rainier Brewery in Seattle to work on arrangements and bring the music to full bloom. Early Winters was recorded and mixed at Earwig Studio in Seattle in just under a week, at the dawn of 2023. Don Farwell (Foo Fighters, Ginger Baker Trio) engineered and mixed the record. It was mastered at Resonant Mastering by Rachel Field (Pearl Jam, Brandi Carlile).
Thematically, Early Winters is a meditation and rumination on perception and misperception, both micro and macro. “It’s fascinating to me how two people can look at the same situation and have totally different feelings or experiences, whether that’s in a relationship or when looking at the country and our shared history” says Siems. Themes of personal relationships - love, marriage, divorce, and dynamics between parents and children - run through the record. A number of songs also wrestle with America’s complicated past and politically-charged present, reflecting on how divided peoples’ perceptions can be. “There’s just such a huge gulf between what I thought America was and stood for and what it turns out we are.” Siems explains. “Or it’s more like we’ve always been this complicated tangle of history, factions and cultures that today seems to be pulling more apart than together, and I wonder whether things will have to get darker still before some distant dawn.”
Yet, for the emotional and philosophical gravity within, Early Winters offers hope of an early spring. Stellar Jays are firmly rooted in a shared, profound love of energetic live rock and roll. There is joy to be found in the creation of music, and that joy is palpable in the ringing chords and catchy hooks of the record. “We collectively spent enough time depressed and crying in our beers during the pandemic” says Siems. “We’re hoping this album just delivers a bit of the happiness we had creating it to anybody listening.”