As it turns out, the Portland bluegrass/Americana band This Way has an extremely appropriate name. After all, lead singer and songwriter Jay Basiner has tried going that way, the other way and way back, before deciding to go This Way. And This Way clearly appears to be the right way for him, musically speaking. The band, a five-piece, will play with Kingsley Flood and Tricky Britches at Empire Dine & Dance in Portland on Saturday, Feb. 25.
A native of Massachusetts, Basiner, now 28, grew up in an extremely musical family.
“My dad is a full time musician, and grew up very much in the folk tradition,” he said. “And my grandfather was a railroad conductor, so I always remember him singing train songs and hobo songs when I was growing up. I was definitely raised in this rich tradition of American music.”
While in college at St. Michael’s in Winooski, VT, Basiner met bass player Dave Patterson, who shared Basiner’s love of roots music. But the pair didn’t exactly start playing that music out in coffeeshops and bars in Vermont, or after both moved to Portland. They’d opt for playing, say, acoustic covers of well-known songs, which while reliable, wasn’t exactly the path Basiner felt he should be going down — though he did develop a following after several years of playing solo at Bull Feeney’s in Portland’s Old Port, which allowed him to play music as a full time job.
Basiner and Patterson tried playing in a more garage rock type band, called Crossfire Inferno, which started out with a harder edge before morphing into something a little more pop. Still, Basiner didn’t feel right.
“I remember one of the songs for Crossfire Inferno that I wrote definitely had this much more country edge, and that was probably the first thing that set me down this path of finding my voice in music,” he said. “It was suddenly like, ‘Oh, OK, I get it.’ I think maybe subconsciously I’d been trying to rebel against the music my family loved. But it’s embedded in my DNA. I can’t help it.”
The pair began nudging Crossfire Inferno in the direction of playing some songs more rooted in the bluegrass and folk tradition — but not all the band members were into the shift in sound, and soon it was just Basiner and Patterson again. They began auditioning musicians, though Patterson’s wife, Anna, immediately joined up to play percussion and sing. Drummer Charlie Sichterman signed on after playing a handful of gigs with the trio, and mandolin and fiddle player Andrew Martelle, who moved back to Maine from Nashville in 2010 and almost immediately joined the band. This Way was the right way.
“Andrew was the essential ingredient that turned us into the alt-country, rootsy bluegrass band that we are today,” said Basiner. “Everything fell into place. Everything felt right.”
This Way released its debut album as a five piece band, “Goodbye Forever,” in May 2011, to acclaim in the Portland music scene, and went on to be named Best Roots Act 2011 by the Portland Phoenix. The careful but impassioned harmonies of songs like “Take It All (Or Leave It All Behind)” or “Feel Like Home” bring to mind groups like the Avett Brothers, as well as the Beatles, though the flashes of fiddle and accordion feel far more like Willie Nelson, or even Lyle Lovett.
The band tours frequently throughout the Northeast, including Friday night at Attitash Mountain Ski Resort in New Hampshire and Saturday night at Empire in Portland; they’re also set for a show on Friday, April 6 at Mezzenine at Zen in Bangor. In fact, Basiner says being on the road is the best part about being in a band — and it’s fueled his creative fire even further.
“I’m as charged up as I’ve ever been as a musician,” he said. “I think we have such great chemistry in the band and such a strong sense of focus that it makes it easy to go into a city you really don’t know and impress people. I’m constantly excited to be playing with these guys. It’s a joy.”