For months, friends had been telling me to check out Captain Ivory, and, when I finally caught up with the band, it more than lived up to the hype. Formed in August 2012 from a series of Basement Tape-inspired jam sessions, Captain Ivory is comprised of Jayson Traver on guitar and lead vocals, Robbie Bolog on lead guitar, Steve Zwilling on keyboards, Alex Patten on ukulele bass (yes, it’s a very small bass), and Justin Leiter on drums. Despite an eclectic mishmash of musical tastes, Bolog says, the band jelled quickly, and songs were written on the spot. “That’s how we knew it would work,” he says. They still begin every practice with a free-flowing jam session.
The band crams onto the stage at PJ’s Lager House in Detroit, the rhythm section tucked behind Traver and Bolog, with Zwilling squeezed in the corner, sitting sideways at his keyboards. Patten is particularly well concealed by his all-black attire, sunglasses, and the shadows cast by Bolog’s towering frame.
The hidden rhythm section provides a perfect backbone. Along with Zwilling’s piano (he learned to play by listening to Elton John, though here his sound is much closer to that of Rod Argent of the Zombies), it allows the guitars and vocals to soar and add depth. Most of the songs are a bluesy brand of hard-driving rock, with Traver attacking the microphone with throaty, Robert Plant-influenced vocals. Dressed in a vest and newsboy cap, he’s a compelling front man.
Bolog and Patten chime in periodically with harmony, but Traver’s singing is so richly textured, it almost sounds double-tracked. The songs are intricate, but catchy: “Sister Sadness” is reggae inspired, while “Tennessee Approximately” is country tinged. For their final song, “Six Minutes to Midnight,” Bolog pulls a steel guitar into his lap, and Zwilling trades his keyboards for a stand-up bass drum, which he beats with a stick while slapping the side of it with a tambourine.
Captain Ivory has released a seven-song EP that was recorded live at Groove Box Studios in Detroit, and the band has since recorded studio versions of two of those songs, “False Remedy” and “Six Minutes to Midnight.” Bolog says the goal is slowly to record more of their newer material with the hope of eventually pulling together a studio album. The band also has touring ambitions, so catch them while they’re still in our backyard. They’re a hard-playing band with a big sound; one thing’s for certain, Captain Ivory doesn’t cheat you out of your music.
Captain Ivory shares a bill with Anna Lee’s Company and Hero, Jr., at Woodruff’s on Friday, December 6.