Jam bands can’t live in a vacuum. The genre is based on improvisation that can only really be appreciated in a live setting. It’s why the Grateful Dead and Phish never sold any records — back when people bought records — but always drew more fans to their concerts than just about any other act.
So in a world where concerts are an impossibility, what’s a jam band to do?
For Miami quintet Qjam it was time to release its debut record, Starlight Traffic.
Qjam is made up of five former University of Miami students who kept bumping into each other at the same shows.
“The jam-band music scene in Miami is tight-knit,” guitarist Nik Banerjee explains. “We’d see each other at every Electric Kif, Magic City Hippies and Roosevelt Collier show. We realized we all played different instruments. We started playing together. Friends starting coming to our practices and then our shows which fueled our interest. In 2019, we became a band.”
Still, life can sometimes get in the way of music. Last summer, Banerjee was moving back to his native Colorado, but he didn’t want to head home empty-handed. Before the move, he got all of Qjam into North Miami’s the Bull Productions Recording Studio for one last hurrah. Out of an intense ten-hour recording session came the five songs that comprise Starlight Traffic.
Drummer Bennett Blachar says Qjam didn’t exhaust all its creative energy with Starlight Traffic; the band still has a lot more original compositions in its reservoir.
“We have seven or eight more original songs,” Blachar admits. “We also work a lot of covers into our shows we make our own. Everything from our big influences like Phish or Bob Marley to the song ‘Scotty Doesn’t Know’ from the movie Eurotrip. In six shows, we’d play more than 30 different songs.”
The album is a low-key affair, not nearly as hippy-dippy as jam band music’s reputation can be. Despite its over nine-minute runtime, the title track, a standout, leans more classic rock like Steely Dan than any traditional jam band music.
“We played a handful of shows leading up to recording,” Banerjee says. “These were the five originals that were the fan favorites. We tried to pick songs that showcase our eclectic styles. There’s rock, reggae, and a ballad.
“Recording jam style music is a challenge any time,” Banerjee adds, especially in the tight timeframe Qjam gave itself to record.
“All the songs we played, we only had one or two shots at the most. We were up until at least four in the morning to get the final vocals,” Banerjee says.
Banerjee, who had no real experience in mixing, took the music with him out West and spent the last year mastering the tracks. He taught himself how to finish a record as he went along.
“I played around with it and produced it to the best of my abilities,” he says. “All the vocals, drums, and piano were done in the studio. I was able to fix a couple of other parts in there.”
Last month, Qjam finally revealed the results: Starlight Traffic. Just in time for them to finally be whole as Banerjee has moved back to South Florida.
“The rest of us have been here the whole time sharpening our skills. We’re as good as we’ve ever been,” Blachar says.
Unfortunately, like every other band amid this pandemic, concerts are currently a no-go. While Qjam is considering using the downtown to go back into the studio, the quintet still dreams of being back on the road.
“Magic City Hippies is a band we look up to,” Blachar admits. “They’re a rock band that went to UM like us. I remember seeing them at Sunset Tavern with just a few people. Now they play thirty cities in thirty nights.”