Maybe they call it the Motor City, but Detroit, Mich. has a musical tradition as rich as its automotive one. From Motown to Mitch Ryder to Parliament-Funkadelic and the MC5, Detroit’s legacy proffers a diverse yet distinctive mix of heartland rock and heavy metal, low-down funk and silken soul.
Captain Ivory are definitely of a piece with that tradition. The three-year-old four-piece, led by standout vocalist Jayson Traver, play straight-up rock that’s tinged with hints of trad blues and soul, an earthy kind of stomp that seems to pay homage to all of the plainspoken blue-collar values that characterize the city they call home.
“Our focus when we started was to take a blues feel and match to a Detroit kind of sound,” says Ivory bassist Brett Smith. “There’s always been an underdog spirit here, kind of a sense of Detroit vs. the world. There’s definitely a cool music scene going on.”
Captain Ivory’s was an unlikely genesis, however, sparked when guitarist Robbie Bolog found himself in the company of keyboardist/citymate Steve Zwilling on an overseas backpacking trip. The two decided to start a band upon returning home, and recruited Traver, drummer Justin Leiter, and Smith in quick succession.
Traver’s muscular vocals are a defining element of Ivory’s sound, a powerful melding of Bon Scott’s blues-rock wailing and Bob Seger’s heartfelt songwriter schtick, overlaid with a patina of blue-eyed soul. “He’s probably closer than all of us to that Detroit ethic; he grew up listening to Seger,” Smith says of his singer. “Probably his biggest vocal influence, though, was Robert Plant. That’s what gives him that stand-out-of-a-crowd delivery.”
But the unsung member of Captain Ivory, Smith says, is drummer Justin Leiter, a Neil Peart/jazz-fusion enthusiast whose deftness and versatility serve as a fulcrum for the rest of the band. “He has a vast knowledge of his craft, and we kind of feed off that,” Smith says. “He’s able to take all kinds of different ideas, absorb them, and then do exactly what a particular song needs.”
To date, Captain Ivory have released two consistently impressive studio albums — 2014’s self-titled effort, and last year’s “No Vacancy” — showcasing their mighty Midwestern rock chops. But to truly appreciate what the band is all about, Smith says you have to hear Ivory live, where the sturdy-yet-tuneful songs the band laid down on record morph into something else entirely, something wilder and more dangerously potent.
“What we do translates really well into the live experience,” Smith says. “We go over with crowds in a really cool way. The songs have more room to breathe, and they seem to pick up more energy.
“I think our latest record, ‘No Vacancy,’ has a little more of that live energy on it than the first one did. The record was really influenced by being on tour. The name, ‘No Vacancy,’ is about being out there and being afraid, not having any idea where you’re going to stay the night, and having to be somewhere else the next day. So those songs come from a little different place, a whole different set of experiences.”
Captain Ivory will play Preservation Pub Saturday, May 20 at 10 p.m.