For the Love of Music: Astro Motel
Article by Vanelis Rivera, Photography by RJ Ojeda
A bass player howls an echoey cue of “One, two, three, four.” An instant medley of bass, guitar, drums and harmonica emblazons the room. Harmonic twangs dominate from the lead singer’s staunch vocals. As the introductory medley fades with the last breath of the harmonica, the beat begins. A guitarist leads, whipping high-pitched chords among the torrent of drums, cymbals and bass. Arresting guttural sounds flow from the singer’s mouth, thick as molasses, breathy and preternatural. Finally, barely distinct lyrics crystalize — “I preach the blues to ya, I preach the blues to ya, I preach the blues to ya…” What follows is a revivalist whirlwind of rock and roll. Ladies and gentlemen, Astro Motel. The band’s beginnings emanated from a need to write songs with a “Southern Gothic slant,” relays lead singer of Astro Motel, the eclectic Joel Jordan. During a 2014 stint in Delhi, Louisiana, he and former roommate and band mate, “virtuosic guitar player,” Blake Goodwin, enthralled by horror movies, assembled a full band that rolled the spacey with the ethereal “like a landscape and a movie soundtrack.” The illustrious band name was fashioned in that favor. Jordan explains that “it was something to reflect the kind of duality of music that we were playing — dirty, Gothic, Southern, seedy underbelly of the culture, but with a real spacy atmospheric sheen.” By happenstance, Jordan passed an actual Astro Motel as he drove through Meridian, Mississippi on his way to Alabama, adopting the “Americana” sounding appellation, fitting for the band’s “spacedilly” genre.
Thanks to a chance encounter, Astro Motel landed another band mate with bass player and Chris Stapleton doppelgänger, Jacob Lofton. A year after Astro Motel formed, Lofton spotted Jordan jamming and clapping to a live performance of Cedric O. Burnside during a night out at Live Oaks Bar & Ballroom. “Man, this guy is really into this playing,” thought Lofton, humored. On a break, the musicians bonded over a smoke, and Lofton was invited to jam with the band during their practice sessions. Impressing the band with his bass lines, Lofton was on stage with them after a month.
Astro Motel recorded their first EP (Extended Play Record) in 2016, welcoming guitarist Tyler Sean Martin, “Sweet Lips Ricky,” into the studio, who later stayed as an official band member. When the drummer of the band left last year, Brad McCormick, bandmate and long time friend of Martin, joined, completing the Astro Motel that rocks venues from northeast Louisiana to Texas. Whether “divinely orchestrated or out of necessity,” Jordan makes no distinction. Regardless, the varied musical upbringing of these Southern talents contributes to their chemistry and “kick-ass rhythm,” bonding the unit as their different musical influences crash into each other, forming a living organism of sound.
The local guys of the band are drummer McCormick and guitarist Martin who attended West Ouachita High School and are also part of “alien rock” band, Jig the Alien. A much different sound than Astro Motel, these Monroe players manage the shift between the non-stop tempo of Jig the Alien and Astro Motel’s “bluesy” intervals with ease. McCormick is probably the most casual of the group — a jeans and Converse guy whom Lofton has dubbed “the Viking of the group.” McCormick doesn’t claim this nickname, but his drum set may make a case for the fun moniker.
“I bought new cymbals in March and by June they were broken. I average one broken stick per practice,” McCormick states. Influenced by drummers like Dave Grohl and Chad Smith, McCormick prides himself in breaking a lot and playing hard. From his first drum set at 13 years old to the bearded percussionist that bonds the sounds of two bands, McCormick’s approach is all about the playing. “I’m the drummer. I just show up.”
After being introduced by beloved local musician Thomas Bradley “Tito” as “team heart throb, Sweet Lips Ricky,” the nickname stuck and Martin went with it. Though he claims that he likes to be kept a mystery, founder of Jig the Alien, Martin doesn’t look like a wallflower. Rocking long wavy brown locks and, just like Lofton and McCormick, fully bearded and ‘stached,’ Martin looks like he stepped out of a 1970’s rock album cover. Heavily influenced by the band Dinosaur Jr., Martin is all about rock and roll, but also claims that Astro Motel is by far his favorite band. “Their style of music is what I grew up on,” says Martin, which allows him to naturally add flare to whatever they do.
In the midst of serving his “baby girl” chocolate milk, family man and dad of the band Jake Lofton told BayouLife, “You caught me on my job.” This self-proclaimed “wild child” was born and raised in Urania, Louisiana, and identified as “that weird Pentecostal kid.” With a dodgy past, writing and performing music has helped him battle depression. As a child, Lofton had always been attracted to the performance of music. He fondly remembers dancing to Vanilla Ice with his babysitter. But his true calling began at church. “In church, there were these old time boogie songs, upbeat, uptempo, gospel music. A melting pot of musicians would come every summer and go to church camp, and there would be music every night. Pentecostal kids worshiping, jumping up in the air, baptising people up ‘til midnight,” Lofton says. Out of the furor that was his experience, it was the people on stage that attracted him. He asked a preacher to learn how to play bass, and although fumbling at first, his development began. In high school, he was introduced to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and tried to mimic their sound, having to keep his CDs away from his mom, who deemed them “the Devil’s music.” When Creed came out, he remembers being fixated with the band’s performance and look, thinking, “These dudes are so badass. The bass player doesn’t even have a shirt on. I want to do that.” Lofton’s one shirtless moment occurred last Halloween at Live Oaks, where he got on stage, “danced, moshed, and brought chaos during the last song.”
Often resembling a hodgepodge of Hank Williams’ southern dapper, Tom Petty’s funky garb, and Nick Cave’s haunting mystique, Joel Jordan is the music scholar of the group. He’s the type of guy that quotes William Faulkner, has picked cotton for a living and has a thirst for music history. From Mobile, Alabama, Jordan moved around until he settled in Delhi, Louisiana, where he founded Astro Motel. A “band nerd” in middle school, he played the trombone in jazz band and over the years developed a keen ear for all things blues. “The visceral feel and simplicity, it’s the same raw emotion, human experience. It’s a common thread between the blues,” Jordan explains. Imbued with the romantic, particularly regarding artists that were unaffected by the establishments of music, he loves Bob Dylan, crediting Dylan as the reason he picked up the harmonica. Unconventional in the best way, Jordan seeks to get in touch with Cosmic American music, distilled with the desire and need to “play music for the rest of [his] life.”
With the common thread of being musically swayed at early ages and college dropouts, all four band members prove that the pursuit of talent and love of the art does not go unrewarded. This year Astro Motel will be releasing their second EP with the help of Dan Sumner, a guitar teacher and jazz-trained musician, who has a studio in the Garden District. The bulk of the new tracks were recorded on analog, as in the likes of vinyl records and cassette tapes, allowing for more authentic sounds. Jordan says to expect more of his invigorating harmonics, trombone and organ complements of Tony Cortellini, along with guest features.
Each song is its own theatrical piece commanding an energy all its own from each of the players. Jordan’s “fascination with old-fashioned guitar that sounds like it almost might be broken” constructs the “dirty sound” that’s “gonna have ya’ holy rollin’ before it’s all over with,” says Lofton. The artists describe their sound and fury in a similar way, a form of letting go or being “zoned out” and in a world where their “fingers are doing exactly what they have to do,” says Martin. Jordan who identifies as an introvert, credits his sonic transformation on stage to Sumner who taught him to never “leave anyone wanting more,” because it may be the only thing anyone ever experiences from him. Lofton seconds the sentiment of no feeling left behind, describing performing as an “engine running right,” where, he adds, “Nothing else in this world matters except for us being on stage locked in. I’m addicted to it.”
Astro Motel has crafted an electrifying body of work. “It’s new dirty and fun,” says Lofton, who prides himself in being part of a group of “four dudes” who are just doing the most rock and roll thing by focusing on the “pure art that comes from it.”