Knoxville’s Vagabond Philosophy exist in a rarefied place where folk, classic rock, neo-psychededlia, and jam-band aesthetics operate under the same rubric. “We like jam-bands, but we try not to be a jam bad,” says Vagabond guitarist (and Preservation Pub server) Brad Poyner. “We do like the idea of going with the energy of the crowd, and going from one song to another.
“But I think we have a sound that doesn’t necessarily fall into one genre, or one category. So there’s something for everybody.”
True enough, you can here the likes of Crazy Horse, Pink Floyd (all eras), Buffalo Springfield, My Morning Jacket—to name just a few—swirling around in Vagabond Philosophy’s music. It’s an eclectic mix, but a surprisingly seamless one, and it makes for an enveloping, body-buzzing, mesmerizing live performance.
Vagabond Philosophy was born out of the friendship of guitarists Poyner and William Adams, childhood friends who learned guitar together back in their hometown Memphis. Poyner notes that Adams’ father was their first teacher, steeping them in scales, music theory, and much of the classic rock that figures heavily in the sound of VP today—the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix…
When Poyner and Adams eventually moved to Knoxville, come their late teens—the latter for college, and the former “just to play music”—Poyner started writing songs. They played together in at least one prior outfit before coming together in VP with bassist David Cervetti and drummer Dalton Read in spring of 2012. Pub doorman Preston Laserbeam was also in the band, for a time.
Poyner says the founding of the band, and its subsequent growth, were spurred largely by the maturation of his songwriting. “I used to write songs just for the sake of making music,” he says. “Writing lyrics was more of a backburner idea. Then in college I started listening to a lot of Iron and Wine. That’s when I started paying attention to my lyrics, to songwriting as a craft, and not just as an excuse for a jam.”
One thing that separates VP from other southern rock/post-jam outfits is the interplay of Adams and Poyner, as the latter plays strictly acoustic guitar throughout Vagabond performances. But unlike most acoustic players in electric rock bands, Poyner is no passive strum-along Sally. He laces VP songs with shred-worthy solos and fills, engaging in unabashed front-of-the-stage guitar heroics.
“I got into bluegrass for a little while, and I still love the it,” Poyner says of his acoustic style. “And I always loved the way they played the guitar. I wanted to play the guitar without blending into the space of the electric tonally, without having two competing guitars occupying a the same space in the sound.”
Though this isn’t Poyner’s first band, it’s the first band he’s had that’s made a go of getting out of town. VP has hit Nashville, Memphis, Jackson, Johnson City, Maryville, Asheville, Chattanooga, Atlanta, Athens (Ga.), among other places around the southeast, and Poyner says the band hope to go further, more often, as time goes on.
“It’s been good everywhere we go; people seem to like our music,” he says. “It’s sometimes hard to break into a new city, but we’re slowly gaining steam. One thing, though, playing a new city is a good way to get an honest answer about how you’re doing.
“We’d like to be on the road enough to sustain ourselves, but that’s a very long term goal—two to three years, if not more. A more immediate goal is recording an album. And we’re about halfway done. Right now, that’s our next goal. To get back in the studio.”
Vagabond Philosophy will play the Preservation Pub Smokeasy Feb. 14 at 10 p.m.