I don’t know how much bands are thought of as small businesses, but they truly are. Thousands musical shops touring the country, performing live music, and selling CD’s and T-shirts to fans at insta-boutiques. It takes a business-savvy mind to slide your way onto different stages, in front of more people, all the while trying to manage the budget sinkhole that is a tour. In a lot of ways, musicians are simply hard-working, blue-collar types with entrepreneurial aspirations, packing lunch pails and punching their time cards looking to live their lives the only way they know how.
One band that certainly knows what it means to put in a good day’s work is Reno’s Jelly Bread. The boisterous funk and soul group has been a local stalwart for years now and recently has begun to work its way into regional star territory. Night in and night out, singer/drummer Cliff Porter, singer/guitarist Dave Berry, six-string bassist Errick Lewis, guitarist Sean Lehe and keyboardists Eric Matlock and Charlie Brown knock out crowds with their powerful rhythm and and sticky-sweet grooves. Hopefully, their hard work in 2016 is only going to pave the way for more success in 2017.
Some of the hardest work is to find that sweet spot of touring that allows a band to simultaneously cultivate and expand its fan base. As Berry explained over the phone at home, with his too young sons rolling around somewhere in the background, Jelly Bread touched that spot last year after reconsidering its touring schedule.
“We had an awesome summer. We were as busy as we wanted to be traveling around, played a whole bunch of festivals. One of those summers where it was like, damn, let’s build upon that into next year and we’ll be alright. It was great to make great impressions and tons of new fans. This year was a little different, too. We focused on staying Colorado and west. A couple years ago we were traveling all over the country and on the East Coast multiple times, but in 2016 we tried to stay a little closer to home and it paid off,” Berry said.
Musicians need to cultivate their fans like flowers, constantly checking in on them and giving them the essentials of life. Traveling out East impaired the band’s ability to tend their fragile gardens 3,000 miles away, only being able to get out there about once a year. Fan bases need more attention than that, so the band decided to concentrate its efforts on the West Coast and the payoff was significant.
“We’ve played a lot more festivals in Oregon, Washington, California and I think it’s better to build a fan base that you can get back to afterwards within two or three months and people remember your set and who you are. We played 4 Peaks (Music Festival) in Bend, Oregon, and then went back to play and we had so many people say they saw us at 4 Peaks. It’s capitalizing on those shows and festivals where people are really going there for the music and turning them into your own fans,” Berry said.
The closer proximity to home also certainly helped on the personal side of things, as the musicians got to spend more time with families and loved ones. But increased home time can still come with its own problems. As many small-business owners can attest, home can double as the office, but the nuts-and-bolts work of keeping a group of working musicians on the road can become consuming.
“Honestly, the hardest part is getting home and detaching and focusing on the family. Beause, you know, this is my business so it’s 24 hours a day answering emails, and getting gigs and taking care of that. So it’s hard to come home, turn off the phone and be with the family,” Berry said.
The secret to keeping it all going? “I’ve found the key ingredient is having a good woman at home who is willing to put up with it,” said Berry with a chuckle.
The business certainly expanded in 2017, as Jelly Bread introduced bassist Errick Lewis and added the jazzy Charlie Brown to complement core member Eric Matlock on keyboards. The two-headed keys monster is a beast not usually seen, as it has the tendency to get tangled up in itself, but Berry noted the two keyboardists have helped the band simplify its sound.
“One is the organ and talk-box and one is the more jazzy approach with the piano and the Rhodes piano. It adds more life and it affords us the opportunity to simplify what we do individually to make more room, which is also good. A lot of times you just do so much there’s not room to hear everything and enjoy it. Having multiple players you really got to be cognitive to create space and give people room to do what they do,” Berry said.
The band is now firing at a whole new intensity and Berry is eager to capture the heat. The group’s creative energy has experienced a surge with the current political climate. Inspired by musically rich and socially aware albums by Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and D’Angelo, Berry wants the new Jelly Bread material to have something to say, tentatively calling it “Tahoe Revolution.”
“We want them to see what we are doing and music and lyrically it’s time to, for lack of a better term, stop biting the tongue. Say what needs to be said regardless of who the fuck thinks what. It’s time to make a statement and stick up for what’s right and that’s what we all feel every time,” Berry said.
Serious words for a seriously funky bad. Jelly Bread means business.