Entrain is back — not that the high-voltage global rhythm percussion band (you really can’t pin it down to one genre) actually disappeared. Just that, having veered away from producing new albums, Entrain is back with an album of all new songs, a new lead singer, new take on old philosophies, and new phase of what band founder Tom Major calls “prolific creativity.” Released in March by Dolphin Safe Records, Just A Matter of Time is the first album of new songs Entrain has put out in seven years. (They released two albums, in 2002 and 2006, of recordings from live performances.)
Mr. Major says the current creative surge has a lot to do with the band’s new lead vocalist, Jeff Clark, who crossed paths with Entrain when the band was performing in Key West a year ago. “It was just one of those chance meetings that wasn’t really a chance,” Mr. Major says. “I heard this guy singing, went into the club — it was an Al Green tune, Let’s Stay Together, and I thought, wow, this guy’s got some soul, you know, he sings great.” After Mr. Major introduced himself, Mr. Clark said he’d been encouraged by half a dozen people that day to go check out “this band called Entrain” playing at The Green Parrot. You should, Mr. Majors told him, because I’m looking for a singer. Mr. Clark showed up that night, sat in on a song and, as Mr. Major recalls, “just killed it, he was perfect.”
Two weeks later Mr. Clark was on a plane bound for Boston, and not only has he been Entrain’s lead vocalist for a year now but he has been, well, instrumental in fueling the current level of creativity. “Jeff’s got three songs of his own on the new album. And he sings all of the songs,” Mr. Major says. “He’s a singer, songwriter, guitarist, keyboardist . . . and we’re turning him into a percussionist, as we do with all the guys in the band.”
Mr. Major says it’s all about chemistry: “That’s generally when we get that creative spark going, when we find more music coming out, and that’s what’s happening right now. Jeff’s a pretty prolific writer, as were some of the guys in the older versions of the band — I mean Judd Fuller, John Cruz, those guys were such great songwriters the music just kept coming out.”
As a matter of fact, Judd Fuller as well as ex-Entrainer Mike Benjamin collaborated with Mr. Major in co-writing some of the lyrics on Just A Matter of Time. “Two of my favorite songwriters right there,” he says. “I was stuck on some lyrics so I talked to those guys and within half an hour we had it finished.”
Along with Mr. Major and Mr. Clark, the current composition of the band includes Sam Holmstock (who has been with Entrain since its inception 15 years ago) on trombone and percussion; Lenny Bradford on bass; Phillip Young on sax, keyboard and percussion; and Johnny Trama on guitar. Road manager Brian LeGacy is also on the new album in the context of his other identity as rapper Krutch –with a K.
Island musician Rick Bausman also is an occasional Entrainer. “Rick’s been our Island percussionist for the last few years, you know, he’s always got his foot in the door,” Mr. Major says. “He’ll be playing at the show [at Outerland] on Sunday.”
The new album indicates the band’s inspiration comes from a lot of different sources. Even Mr. Major’s eight-year-old son, Valentino, is credited for co-writing with his dad the song Bottom Half, “a fun, folky New Orleans kind of a thing.” Valentino also sings background with Mr. Major’s almost-11-year-old daughter, Carmen, on the song Drums for Peace, a collaborative effort by Mr. Major and Krutch. “It’s just a chant, basically, and a rap about no more war, you know, peace: drums won’t cease ‘til we have peace,” the drummer explains.
On that note, Mr. Major says Entrain — which comes from the word entrainment, meaning to entrain one’s brainwaves to a desired frequency – has fine-tuned its philosophy over the years. The band’s always presented a we’re-all-one global perspective (reflected in titles of earlier albums such as All One, Can U Get It, and No Matter What, with accompanying art work reminiscent of the tie-dye globe and peace motifs of The Grateful Dead). But now, Mr. Major says, “we’re becoming more clear about the message and about how the law of attraction works, and that’s becoming increasingly more apparent.” And what is the message?
“The message is, either let’s have a good time and enjoy life or let’s think about something that’s going to help change the world in a positive way, whether it’s environmental, or political, or spiritual,” Mr. Major says, adding that it’s the band’s infectious energy, core rhythms and all-around good vibe that keeps people coming back. “That’s an important thing and a valuable commodity in this world today,” he says.
Originally an Island band, with all or most of the musicians living on Martha’s Vineyard, Entrain has morphed its membership (and fan base) to Boston, where most of the members live. “I’m the only one living on the Vineyard,” Mr. Major says. So home base, now, is basically the northeast. In fact, Mr. Major says, “it might be surprising, but we’re probably half as well known on the Vineyard now compared to the mainland, and I’d say half the population here has never heard of Entrain.
“That’s partly because so many of our fans are getting old,” he adds. “And now their kids are tuning into Entrain.” Indeed part of the band’s resurgence is due to the new young fan base, and how the band is adapting to that by offering more all-ages shows, outdoor performances and festivals that allow parents to bring their kids (or kids to bring their parents).
Mr. Major believes the band’s modus operandi as live performers is what gives them staying power. The shift of record sales to online downloading, he says, ultimately “separates the men from the boys. All the people who really can perform, can play their instruments, and can sing live, they’re the ones who are making a living as musicians. . . . The living room artists who make a great sounding record with auto tune and auto correct and auto timing but can’t really perform, they’re done. There’s nowhere for them to go.”
That’s decidedly not the case for Entrain, who will be touring extensively this summer with more than 30 shows on the Cape, the Boston area, New Hampshire, New York, Long Island, and as far as Philadelphia and Kansas City.
While Entrain will be presenting many of the new tunes from Just A Matter of Time during their summer tour, not to worry, Mr. Major assures fans: “We’re all about giving the people what they want.” At least half the show will feature the popular songs fans expect: “If they’re screaming for Mother Street, you know, and they walk away and they didn’t get it, they’re not going to have had as good an experience as they could get — we play for the people.”
Now that they’re plugged into the creative flow, Mr. Major says, Entrain will not be slowing down any time soon. In fact, he said, fans shouldn’t be too surprised to find another album out this year, perhaps even later this summer. “Jeff and I started writing and making demos for the summer, and we’ve already got another album and a half worth of music ready to go,” Mr. Major says. “I’m itching to get another record out, and everyone’s saying no, no, let this one sit for a minute, but we’ve got some great new tunes, and we just want to keep on going.”
Entrain plays Sunday, May 25 , at Outerland at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 at the door for ages 21 and above.