After a couple of years traversing the country from here to Alaska with only an acoustic guitar, PVD-bred singer/songwriter Reverend Bastien is rolling solo no more since recruiting a pair of longtime friends and dubbing them the Congregation of the Traveling Empire. The trio's new official debut, Roadside Attractions, builds upon the Rev's solo outing, 2009's Campfire Stories, and both discs are worth seeking out (available at revbastien.com).
TRULY MINIMALIST DeSilva, LaVallee, and Bastien
Off the top, I had to inquire as to what sets Bastien's Empire apart from the bulging list of indie-folk/roots/Americana bands around these parts.
"Our choice of instruments and style of play is definitely a little different," Bastien said. "Our sound has been referred to as a 'folk science project,' and I'd say that's pretty accurate."
Life alone on the road ultimately inspired Bastien's desire to create "a truly minimalist rock band, one that would interpret well around a campfire or on stage.
"I liked the portability and ease of being an acoustic musician, but was really looking to put more backbone in my music," Bastien noted.
"So, drawing on the ideas of old bluegrass train bands, I created the half bass/snare as sort of a 'minimalist rock kit.' "
Bastien calls his hybrid a Bare Drum, which combines the tonal range in one compact package, accompanied simply by a splash cymbal and mounted shaker.
Frenchy LaVallee mans the Bare Drum and bolsters the band's stylistic outlook.
"I think we have a unique sound and approach — we bring a sort of down-to-earth punk rock simplicity to it all, with no grand epics or overly-wrought sounds and ideas," he said.
"We stick to straight-forward, catchy, and quick tunes that all tell an interesting story."
Campfire Stories boasts a handful of acoustic keepers and spoken-word journals reflecting Bastien's travels, saluting dusty railcars and saloon-fueled heartache on standout cuts like "D.C.," "Tallahassee Moonlight," and "On the Island" (a riff that immediately brought to mind the Screaming Trees classic "Dollar Bill"). And fans of local favorites such as Tallahassee and the Skinny Millionaires will cozt up to Roadside Attractions, where Bastien and his pals kick up some serious dust right from the start on "Heartbreak On the Highway" and "District of Confusion" (the Reverend's vox land somewhere between Built to Spill's Doug Martsch and the Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano).
"We all got a feeling that this road has got to end/Maybe I'll pull over, we can just pretend/Well, if this road goes on forever, we will meet again," Bastien croons on "Heartbreak," before the Bare Drum gallop and bassist and Bristol native Frenchy DeSilva, who joined the band late last year, fire up the pace. "Tallahassee Moonlight" from Campfire Stories is resurrected with full band on the renamed "Denver Sunrise," followed by two of the Reverend's finest offerings in "Scores to Settle In Vegas" and "Sleepless Days."
Bastien reports that the band has a few new tunes in the works that they may debut at their upcoming gigs, and are preparing to record their next album. Taking into account his extensive DIY cross-country travels, I asked where and when lyrical inspiration usually strikes.
"All the time and everywhere," he said. "It's like a strange chemical reaction — my brain grabs an idea and runs with it. Traveling and a constant change of scenery have helped fuel my fire."
REVEREND BASTIEN & THE CONGREGATION OF THE TRAVELING EMPIRE | Saturday, May 14 @ 10 pm | The Penalty Box, 1119 North Main St, Providence | 401.331.8545 + Tuesday, May 17 @ 7 pm | Brooklyn Coffee & Tea House, 209 Douglas Ave, Providence | 401.575.2284 + Thursday, May 19 @ 8 pm | The Mediator Stage, 50 Rounds Ave, Providence | Revbastien.com