I will be forever thankful that I showed up to hear Lake Street Dive early. I walked in to hear this crazy bearded dude wail with a soulful sound I haven’t heard since I last jammed to my old soul records. Don’t get me wrong, many, many current artists try to get that raw sound but none come close. This guy was on fire. I felt the hairs stand straight up on my back- this is the kind of talent that you pray to run into. This is the kind of Donny Hathaway meets Ray Charles meets a mellow AC/DC sound. I didn’t even say hello to the friends I was meeting, I could only stand there with my jaw dropped and watch this Colorado roots-based band they call The Congress. After their set, they joined Lake Street Dive again and did a few collaborations, but with every song lead singer Jonathan Meadows belted out, I knew my poor, broke self was helpless against buying every LP or album they had in the lobby. I know that this is the sort of sound the squares had in mind years ago when they said America’s music was going to hell.
Photo credit: The Congress
After exciting the stage, I knew I was going to hang out all damn night in the cramped lobby just to meet The Congress and beg them for an interview. Turns out, a warm smile was all I needed. These down to earth guys were so kind to me and appreciated my endless gushing over them and kindly agreed to be interviewed. I hoped they’d come back around town soon to jam again for our photographer, Benjamin Perkins to work his magic with musicians on stage to really do them justice for our interview.
I asked how they got their start, since it seemed like they’d been playing this unique rock and roll sound all their lives. “Jonathan and Scott grew up together in Richmond, VA,” said Chris, keyboardist. “They played bars out there and hosted an open jam together for some time. They decided to start a band together and chose Colorado as home because of its thriving music scene and centralized location. Scott moved out here and Jonathan followed closely behind. I met the boys when they were hosting their weekly open jam at Ziggies (in Colorado). The first official Congress gig in Denver was nearly 5 years ago. However, Jonathan and Scott had been playing and writing together in Virginia for a few years before that. Mark joined the band 3 years ago and I joined officially just under a year ago.”
On their latest album, “Whatever You Want,” the song “Walls” put me in the kind of trance where all you can do is sit on the floor in the dark and press play again. In fact, that’s the first song I heard them perform. It’s the kind of tune you imagine the world falling away to. I had to know what it was about. “Scott wrote ‘Walls’ a couple years ago,” says Chris. “He claims that the lyrics were meant to describe an observation he had about people and their ability to put on disguises to hide their actual emotions, character, flaws, etc. I interpret it differently. I interpret it as one attempting to maintain emotional composure during a time of stress and anguish. I guess that’s the beauty of music – it can speak to everyone differently.”
I knew that they spent a lot of time on the road (like most bands) trying to make a name for themselves, which can be a brutal experience. All you want to do is jam and get your name out there. I know from personal experience it can be hard to keep morale up. I wondered if they had ever gone through rough times and what kept them going. “The support of our friends and families,” says Chris. “Looking out from stage this past weekend to 400 of our friends, family, (and strangers) dancing and enjoying themselves makes us feel good. It makes us confident that we are doing the right thing. Listening and seeing our favorite bands motivates us as well. It makes us want to keep getting better. That being said, I don’t think we necessarily need motivation. We don’t write and play music because we are itching to fulfill our dreams as musicians, we do it because we thoroughly enjoy it. Call it cliché, but if you’re doing what you love, success should be a byproduct. I live by this motto.”
In addition to their own sound with originals on their albums, The Congress recently released a 7-track soul LP titled: “The Loft Tapes”, showcasing covers like: “People Get Ready,” “Killing Me Softly,” and “You’ve Got A Friend.” I wondered what inspired them to take it on home to the retro soul sound. “It all kinda came together when we were asked to play a weekly gig at one of our favorite spots in Denver, Lola Coastal. Before I joined the band, Scott approached me with the idea to start a side project that played primarily old soul covers. We got together once a week at my old house and worked through some of our favorite soul tunes including the ones on The Loft Tapes. At the time, the four of us were obsessively listening to Donny Hathaway’s Live record which also had a huge influence on the record. We even put two of Donny’s covers from his live record on our album – “You’ve Got a Friend” & “What’s Going On.” Scott and Jon had just purchased the Tascam 388 so we decided to put it to use,” says Chris.
Since every song they play sounds like the last one they ever will (they really put that much into each track) I had to know which one was their favorite to play. Many musicians, especially serious ones have filler songs that they can rest to. The Congress does not have filler songs! “I think this varies with every member and changes all the time, but I have really been enjoying our new and improved version of “Impatiently,” says Chris. “Again, I think this varies with every member and changes all the time, but I have really been enjoying our new and improved version of “Impatiently.” It was the first song Jon and Scott ever wrote and was initially a waltzy ballad. During our soundcheck of our Ogden show with Trombone Shorty, Jon had the idea to play it funky and in common time. I think I like it cause its somewhat new. I will probably get sick of it and want to play it as a waltz again at some point. That’s kinda how it goes.”
I asked Chris what inspired him and what he did to pump himself up for shows. “Old records and tequila,” he told me. Exactly.