For three years, Moe’s BBQ has gathered some of Alabama’s greatest breweries for a grand showcase of their small-batch products. To complement the beer, Moe’s also gathers a lineup of musical entertainment to accent this great event. This year’s Firkin Fest will feature The Mulligan Brothers and Winston Ramble. Locals are familiar with these two groups, but another band will be using the event to introduce themselves to the Azalea City.
While the state is home to a multitude of jam rock fans, Alabama has very that play original music, which makes Festival Expressions so refreshing. This band mixes a variety of styles, which they strengthen through beautiful vocal harmonies. So far they have collected many (but not all) of their original tunes on a self-titled debut and a sophomore effort called “Conversations.”
Guitarist Mike Sinopole and drummer Josh Wiseman sat down with Lagniappe to discuss Festival Expressions and the state of Alabama’s jam scene. Stephen Centanni: You guys are pretty new to Mobile, so I have to know how you came together.
Mike Sinopole: Basically, I’m from Huntsville. I moved to Birmingham to go to school, and I met our drummer here. I play guitar, and we started jamming. I had already been playing with our bass player in high school, and Josh (Wiseman) was already playing with our other guitar player in high school. We just all came together. Then we found a keyboard player, and that was it.
SC: Festival Expressions is a pretty original band name. Where did it come from?
Josh Wiseman: It was Ran (Ransom Pewitt), who is the other guitar player who sings a lot of the stuff. I was actually at Southern Union about seven years ago, and he was in school. I texted him a name in class that I thought was a good band name, even though we hadn’t played in a little while. It was “The Family of Friends.” He texted me back and said that he was thinking about “Festival Expressions.” That comes from the DVD of the Grateful Dead/Janis Joplin tour called “Festival Express.” He put a few letters on the end, and that’s our name.
Centanni: Alabama has a ton of jam bands. You would assume that we would have a bigger statewide jam scene with bands playing original music, but it’s mostly made up of cover bands. Why do you think there aren’t more original jam bands in Alabama?
Wiseman: My two cents is that I just think it’s easier to play covers, obviously. We all started playing covers. We learned the 40 covers, and that was our first show. Ran is a good music writer. We all write. I think it depends on the person, really. I think people find that it’s easier to play other people’s stuff, for sure
Sinopole: I think they feel like the public wants them to do covers. For us, we felt that if you’re gonna go out and be a band and do something, then you don’t want to be a cover band. Cover bands are fine, but if you really want do it, then you have to play originals. It’s part of being an artist. We want to have original stuff out there. I don’t really know why other bands don’t do it.
Centanni: In a time where jam is going in all kinds of directions, you guys have a solid jam rock sound that is completely your own. What influenced that sound?
Wiseman: It’s five completely different styles and backgrounds.
Sinopole: It’s all about letting everybody do their own thing, really.
Wiseman: It blooms well, or it can be chaos at times. We can all adapt pretty well.
Sinopole: A lot of us write, too. In fact, all of us write. In a way, we try to be as open as we can to everybody’s ideas … there is a lot of variety. Somebody has an influx of ideas, and you run with it. Once you’re done with it, it makes a whole collage of sound. It’s kind of strange to put your music in a genre when you like all music.
Centanni: Your latest album is “Conversations.” Where did you lay down tracks for that one?
Wiseman: We did that in Ran’s basement, and we call it Moon Studios. He’s got an awesome house, and it’s three-quarters underground. It’s just a basement, and we set it up the best we can. We use what he’s spent his life savings on to come up with. That’s where we did the first two CDs. We’ll probably do the next CD there too. We’ll have better equipment and better sources to record with, like drumming each mic. So, hopefully, we’ll record the next one there, too.
Centanni: Before we start talking about the next album, I have to ask who Amanda is and why she inspired a song on “Conversations.”
Wiseman: Amanda is Ran’s girlfriend. We tend to write love songs, and I can’t help but write love songs for some reason. Yeah, that’s his girlfriend, and they like each other a lot and spend a lot of time together. So he just started writing a song about her. Is that your favorite song?
Centanni: I dig it. Whenever a song leans toward a person, like when it’s somebody’s name or addressing somebody specific with the lyrics, I love to know the story.
Wisemn: Yeah, for sure! That’s his girlfriend, so he wrote a song about bondage for Amanda.
Centanni: Let’s talk about this new album. What are you working on?
Wiseman: It’s going to be a lot of different stuff. It’s like early in the process, but we’re basically just figuring out if we have time to go to Ran’s house. We might try and switch it over to the house we’re living in downtown. We have a lot of material that we haven’t put on the album. It’s just like the other ones. We still have some new stuff that we’d like to put on it, too. We’re not trying to rush, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to get something that we’re happy with, like the first two albums, and do that again with the third.
Sinopole: We’re trying to decide what to put on it. We’ve been writing for five years now, and we’ve got close to 40 originals. The first two albums have 20 songs total, so we have a lot to choose from. Plus, we’re still writing stuff, and we don’t know if we want to put the newest stuff on it. We’re just going to one day go in the studio and press “record.”
Wiseman: Yeah, we’re getting close. We actually want to do a test-run/jump-start this weekend. So, that’s the first day of the new album. It’s definitely in its infancy.
Centanni: What can people expect from your live set?
Wiseman: It’s very much what you get from the CDs, but times 10.
Sinopole: It’ll be dynamic. We like to sing a lot, so you’ll hear harmony and everything like that. You’ll also get a lot of guitar solos. It’ll be heavy at times and relaxed at others.
Wiseman: The albums are fairly diverse, but we also have a lot stuff that aren’t on those albums that you can only hear when you see us live. We like to play a lot of the different stuff. We love to play the stuff from the album, because it wouldn’t be on the album if we didn’t enjoy it. I guess what you should expect is a good, upbeat, feel-good kind of show. We can play covers, and nothing against covers, but we like those originals as much as we like covers. People can buy it, and it can be in their heads, too.