From Tabby Thomas to Slim Harpo to Buddy Guy, Baton Rouge has a formidable lineage of swagger and creativity in music. A long list of bluesmen found their footing here, but the funk, folk, jazz and early rock ’n’ roll of nearby cities have made a home in the Capital City as well.
For Minos the Saint, it’s this collaborative culture that still defines the music scene and the band’s sound.
“The difference in being a musician here versus in New Orleans or Lafayette, is that we’re not branded,” singer/guitarist Peter Simon said. “Historically, there is a lot of important music from here, but right now, no one expects any one thing in particular.”
One thing listeners can expect is to hear music with a worldly feel on the band’s studio debut “Awake and Dream.”
The band will celebrate the release on Saturday with a show at Varsity Theatre in Baton Rouge. The Humble Kind open the show. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.
“Awake and Dream” is 12 tracks long, featuring fan favorites such as “4:00 A.M.” and new tunes such as “Small Town Drag Queen” and “New Interrogation.” The arrangements are led by violin, accordion and brass, showing off the group’s varied musical tastes.
“I think everything that works about Minos the Saint has origins in the fact that it grew out of an idea that didn’t have rigid expectations,” multi-instrumentalist Ben Herrington said. “Three years ago, we had no plan for where we would end up. We just set out to do what musically made sense, what was fulfilling to us, and what we found the people we were playing for were enjoying.”
The band intentionally created a project led by curiosity. Its music was steered by instinct.
“We pride ourselves on listening to one another well, and rather than try to attain a certain sound, we play what needs to be played next,” Herrington said. “We add one new element at a time, and build only what needs to be there.”
That formula wasn’t too difficult to attain, however. Each band member has studied his or her instrument at the university level, and developed in the Baton Rouge music scene as an individual before coming together to form Minos the Saint.
Simon got his start as a solo performer, playing living room shows with other guitarists and songwriters. Herrington often sat in on sets, offering his assemblage of keys, accordion and trombone to Simon’s music as well as others.
“It was just a bunch of people who genuinely cared about making something interesting together,” Simon said. “It was a blank canvas.”
As the band’s sound expanded, songs took on new life through collaboration.
Simon, Herrington, and violinist Joel Willson finalized the lineup with percussionist Micah Blouin. The quartet just recently added French horn player Arisia Gilmore and trombonist Jessica Ottaviano. Trumpeter David Melancon and trombonist Nick Garrison came into the studio to record, as well.
“The horns were the final touch to what we’d been working on,” Simon said. “We knew, ‘This is it.’ It was time to take it in there and record it.”
In the studio, the band wanted to capture its live performance with honesty, not over-production. Simon and the gang went to PreSonus Studios with producer Justin Spence, recording “Awake and Dream” over a four-month period.
“You have all these tools to create perfection,” Simon said of the studio recording process. “You can pull out all the guns and suddenly you’ve over-baked it, and you get away from what was good about the song.”
While the band had a mental blueprint of the album from years of sculpting songs, there was no expectation of what it would become by recording’s end.
“We knew 90 percent of what we wanted to accomplish when we arrived, but it’s an ongoing conversation.” Simon said. “Every step is put to the group. So it’s what sticks, what lingers through the refining process that becomes final.”