Meet The Strangers. Even if you’ve seen them before, chances are it was a different lineup. Despite the revolving door of bass players, The Strangers built a reputation as one of the best new bands to emerge around town. The lineup – drummer Char Smith, singer/guitarist Eric Kegley, bassist John Haven and keyboardist Isaac Grubb – finally gelled, and the local indie-jazz rock quartet is independently releasing its first full-length recording on Saturday. In this interview, Smith and Kegley talk about their origins, their emotive performances and the challenges of being a musician in Spokane.
IJ: How did The Strangers come together?
EK: I had all these songs I had written. The band had a different name at first, I don’t remember it now. But every show we had a different lineup, and there were several different bass players, so I started calling it The Strangers. I started and stopped the band at least seven times.
IJ: What’s everyone’s musical background like?
CS: We all did jazz band through District 81 or in college. I did jazz and marching band and had a lot of help from Spokane Symphony guys like Rick Westrick and of course Marty Zyskowski.
EK: I had mentors on guitar. Isaac is classically trained.
IJ: Talk about your live performance.
EK: I try to be really concise with everything. I like to have everything conveyed to the audience in a really articulate and precise manner. It has to be engaging, and that happens through the expression of what you’re playing. You have to swoon them in like a lady.
CS: This music is not a suit-and-tie affair. It doesn’t have to look professional. We love it, and that love and joy is evident in how we interact with each other, musically and non-musically. I make all sorts of goofy faces because I’m enjoying the music so much. You’re not going to be able to convey emotion without opening yourself up and being vulnerable.
IJ: What is it like being a musician in Spokane?
EK: As someone who is underage, because I’m not 21, it is hard for people who aren’t 21.
CS: As someone who is 23, it is still hard. I have been seeing bands in all genres since I was 14. All these bands I love age out or get out of Spokane as soon as they can. … And there’s a hemorrhaging of venues. You interviewed Quinn Tanzer after what happened to the A Club. Now he has to work twice as hard to get people to come to (The Center). And he’s one of the people doing it right and treating artists right. It’s hard to keep that going in Spokane, for venue owners, promoters and musicians.
IJ: What’s next for The Strangers?
CS: We’re moving to the West Side in late October. There’s a reason bands do it.
EK: Seattle has the ability to contain an art scene that is sustainable. The odds are better over there for our kind of music.
CS: There are parts of Spokane all of us will miss – like Zip’s – but we’re so ready to be out of here.