The Likes Of Us
Between their mutual affinity for retro-tinted duets and the fact that its members have logged countless miles on the road to recognition, it’s only fitting to find The Likes Of Us applying the metaphoric moniker Time Traveler to its immensely anticipated sophomore collection. Since we last heard from the Los Angeles duo comprised of singer/songwriters Benj Heard and Katrina Stone, they’ve perfected their blend of 1940s-inspired jazz pop from the festival circuit to their very own Burbank compound, now complete with their very own venue and record/video making studio combo. Add in a partnership with The Music Bed for licensing in a slew of commercials spanning vodka spirits, jewelry tastemakers, restaurants galore and even select non-profit companies, and the pair’s amassed a loyal following, tangibly tracked by over a quarter of a million YouTube views and a feverishly growing social networking presence.
But Time Traveler is much more than a simple snapshot of the entire ride, but rather a fully immersive listening experience that’s likely to initially capture the senses thanks to the pair’s perfectly blended harmonies. And for those who take the time to dig deeper than the musical enchantments that could come across as the love child of Etta James and John Mayer one minute, to a contemporary combination of Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat the next, or even a pop/folk version of Lady Antebellum, there’s a myriad of emotions that span the landscape of heartache to hope to self-exploration and empowerment, all while marking many firsts for The Likes Of Us.
"Unlike the last album, most of the songs for Time Traveler were penned from the ground up with both of us actively involved in each one,” explains Benj, also a dozen year production, songwriting, scoring and performance veteran whose credits and collaborations include Colbie Caillat, Dia Frampton, Blake Lewis, Eamon, members of The Offspring and Lifehouse, plus placements in hit shows like “Girls Next Door,” “16 and Pregnant” and the animated Sony/BMG film “Zambezia.” “It is always tough to try to find inspiration right then and there when you are sitting in a room with the person you are writing with. It made us great communicators, much stronger writers, and better friends. This album shows more of a balanced and complete picture of life and what we are capable of as musicians and writers. All of the songs have a common thread that connect them to who we are as a band, but we definitely branched out into many different eras and genres with this album.”
“Our first album was an experiment where we wanted to see if people would dig our sound, and when we received such a positive reaction to the album, Time Traveler became a chance to tell our fans that we are ready to take this to the next level,” continues Katrina, also a Van’s Warped Tour alum, a two time We Are Listening Songwriting Competition Grand Prize Winner, a CMT/NSAI Songwriting Competition Finalist and a Music In The Rockies Songwriting Finalist (amongst others), who’s also shared the stage with Graffiti6, Everclear, All American Rejects and Hey Monday (Cassadee Pope). “Our fans will love the sweet love songs that we are known for creating, but I think they will fall in love with a new side of us as well. It’s like a relationship. They have seen our sweet side, now we are going to show them a bit more grit…We really focused on crafting a story and an experience with this album. We are both very opinionated and passionate people. Every word and melody line that made it onto this record was fought for and struggled with.”
Like someone leaving their native country, traveling abroad and coming home with an entirely expanded perspective, Time Traveler does indeed find the friends adapting a wealth of communal and collaborative experiences to the selections contained therein, starting with the evolution of their musical repertoire. Never afraid to wear the influence of songwriting’s golden age on their passports, the project hearkens back with wistful nostalgia, while still managing to stay connected to contemporary soundscapes that have the capability to be the soundtrack to a variety of situations.
“Time Traveler was an obvious choice as the title track of this record because it sums up what we want to do as musicians,” suggests Katrina. “We want to take people back to another time and let them escape, even if just for a moment. We let the listener be the Time Traveler and decide where they want to go; it may be down south in a heatwave in the 1960s, a smoky jazz club from the 1920s, or even a present day trip to the beach. The title track is a beautiful, jazz-inspired tune about meeting someone who seemingly goes back in time and fixes all your broken hearts with his love, and while that may have been a specific story we came up with, you are the Time Traveler and you choose your own adventure when you listen to this album.”
As “Northern Star” pops up in a playlist, it’s impossible not to dream of a gazing awestruck at a perfect summer night’s sky, laying all your dreams on the line and reflecting on the many different paths a life can take. And given its pristine acapella arrangement that could’ve easily been a hit for The Andrew Sisters (well, maybe if they added a brother), it possesses such an ageless appeal that true music aficionados of any generation are sure to fall head over heels.
“I feel like ‘Northern Star’ is one of the most authentic 1940s-styled songs we’ve ever written,” concurs Benj. “Even though it’s brand new, it’s so nostalgic to us. As independent artists, we love having the freedom to release songs like this and not have to worry about the marketability or commercial appeal. Songs like this will affect people no matter what kind of music they usually listen to. They are timeless.”
The transportation theme continues on “Train’s Comin’,” a folksy barnburner that stomps with instrumental attitude and yet another round of seamless vocal interplay. It also marks the more mystical side of The Likes Of Us, forsaking the sweetness of more mild-mannered selections for an increasingly noticeable gritty side that’s sure to strike the fancy of any Adele or even O Brother Where Art Thou fans.
“‘Train’s Comin’ was one of the first songs we wrote for this album,” recalls Katrina. “We knew immediately that we had touched on a sound and an emotion of wild desperation that we had never really written about before. It was a huge turning point for us because we knew at that moment that we had to take some risks and write more tracks like this one.”
The Likes Of Us also conjure up plenty more provocative sentiments on the sweeping piano ballad “Hurricane,” a striking analogy between the yin and yang of a romantic relationship that’s rarely sounded so spectacular. “I had the concept for ‘Hurricane’ rattling around in my brain for a few years. I knew the lyrics had to be written in a such a way to perfectly portray a girl who could love so sweet and kiss like the rain, but still sweep a man away with the power of a force of nature,” reveals Benj before Katrina interjects. “Anytime we get to really flex our muscles as lyricists, we create something magical. This song was the kind of songwriting session that writers dream about. We had tons of ideas and everything came together so fluidly. I think it was a rare moment in our band history!”
But like any extensive journey worth investing in, the Time Traveler sessions were sometimes just as bitter as they were sweet. In fact the tension at times proved so palpable that it simply begged to be addressed, and rather than battling it out with the rage of an emotional firestorm, was redirected ever so poignantly into the heart-wrenching lyrics of “The Fallout.”
“Being a part of a project like this isn’t all sunshine and rainbows,” admits Benj. “It’s hard for a lot of people to understand what we do and why we do it. It’s a lot of work and a huge time commitment. That doesn’t always make us the most popular people when we commit to this over other musical opportunities. ‘The Fallout’ is about losing relationships because of a decision you make.”
Adds Katrina: “‘The Fallout’ was a tough song to actually put into words. We wanted to convey what every person experiences when they make a decision that creates tension, and eventually causes people to walk out. Most everyone will experience it at some point in their life. We sat down and had written one of our favorite songs to date in about 20 minutes, and we knew it would touch people.”
The connectivity throughout the project is evident time and time again, serving up a wide-ranging palette of passion, plenty of relatable soul-searching and staunch authenticity at every turn to aptly accompany an expedition of any nature. “Around every corner and ever bend of Time Traveler, there’s something new and inspiring and surprising- don’t take a breath or you’ll miss it,” suggests Benj, while Katrina provides additional summation. “This album was such a beautiful struggle. We make music to take people on the crazy adventures we dream up when we’re sitting in front of a piano, drinking whisky and talking about life. Parts of it are muddy and dirty, parts of it are sunny and bright, the rest of it is whatever you want it to be.”