Cheddar-flavored goldfish and beer—that is what the members of Travis Gray and the Frontiers were full of after playing their fifth show—an opening gig for Third Eye Blind at the sold-out Roseland Ballroom in New York City.
Bassist Matt Dobbs borrowed his father’s old SUV and stocked up on a carton of cheddar-flavored Goldfish, one of his favorite treats. The band—lead singer and guitarist Travis Gray, guitarist Shane Gilman, Dobbs and a now-former drummer—had submitted some songs to a contest run by Third Eye Blind and were chosen out of 500 bands to open the show.
It’s not that Third Eye Blind were their favorite band; it was just a little taste of what they had been working toward for years. All the members have been playing their instruments since childhood and have been in and out of one band or another since high school. The gig was a glimpse into a future for the four-piece now known as Wild Adriatic—a desired future where thousands of people watch them play music.
Gilman remembers getting the call. “It was a Sunday and Travis asked me, ‘What are you doing Tuesday?’ I told him I was working. He asked if I could take off. I said, ‘I don’t know, man. What for?’”
When Gray told him the band would be opening at a sold-out theater in New York City, the answer was obvious: “Yeah, I think I can do that.”
Gilman recalls rolling through the streets of Manhattan in a 1989 RV, stopping to ask for directions to the ballroom. “We were asking people where to go and they are looking at us like, ‘What are you doing here?’ I think we were in the only RV in New York that night.”
This being their fifth show, they were a bit overwhelmed. They gobbled down the Goldfish as they waited backstage, did jumping jacks to use up their nervous energy. They were too nervous to eat anything of real substance.
Gilman was a bit peeved when some guy on a bicycle came flying by backstage and nearly knocked him over. Gray told him to calm down. “That’s Steven Jenkins,” Gray pointed out. Gilman had heard of Third Eye Blind before but didn’t know who their lead singer was. Finally, around eight, they took the stage.
On stage, Dobbs and Gilman had separate but similar realizations. “I knew I wanted to play shows like that everyday,” says Dobbs.
“It was the one time in my life where I was like, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do with my life,’” says Gilman.
After the show, a few record-label reps took them out and filled them up with beer. It was an odd sort of rock-and-roll dream. It wasn’t until early the next morning on the trip back to Saratoga, back to reality, that Dobbs pulled his father’s RV over at a rest stop “to sop up all the Goldfish and beer” with some Roy Rogers fare.
The Third Eye Blind show may have been an informative moment for the band, but the outfit may have experienced its most transformational moment earlier this year when their drummer quit and Gray recruited old friend, Mateo Vosganian, to take over the kit. The pair both played in Horse in a Box from 2000 to 2005.
Travis Gray and the Frontiers changed their name to Wild Adriatic, adopted a rockier sound and recorded The Lion EP. The five tunes showcased on the disc evoke a number of different acts, from Queen to Queens of the Stoneage, and are tightly produced.
So why should you care about Wild Adriatic?
If you just walked into a bar one day and Wild Adriatic were playing, you might notice the tight song structure and Gray’s impressive vocal range. But what would probably really knock your socks off is the guitar interplay between Gray and Gilman. It’s a thick, Allman Brothers influence that spews forth in the middle of their grooves, Gray and Gilman bending harmonies out of their Gibsons—Gray on an SG and Gilman on a Les Paul. It pops up unexpectedly out of the tight, pop song-writing—a pure expression of their musical abilities, but also a joyous celebration of music for music’s sake. Under it, Dobbs lays out bass lines that snap with his old-school soul influence while Vosganian drops a thick thump.
It is their live show that has earned the band so much attention. They play tight. They are almost always on. “We know our songs,” says Gray. “We do practice a lot. There’s no bells and whistles, no throwing guitars in the air or back flips off of bass drums. We are musicians and we want to be good at being musicians.”
Vosganian chuckles, “We don’t have a click track or a superfluous backing track, or an extra keyboard to set up to make one song work. We have two guitars, drum, bass and vocals. If you can’t make that work and you’re in a band you should probably look at another avenue.”
Vosganian says that after shows the band gets a unique kind of attention from other bands. “Normally other bands are just like, ‘Good set, good set,’ but we get musicians in other bands that sort of break down a little bit and they are like, ‘Oh, my god! Your guitars! You’re tight!’”
And the band should be tight. They’ve all been playing for years and have made music their lives. Day jobs are the enemy. Gray runs a studio out of his home in Queensbury; he relocated it from Saratoga recently. He records other local artists. During 2008 Gray functioned as a solo artist, but in 2009 he started jamming with Dobbs in a foreclosed house. “People would just stop by and jam and write,” he recalls.
Since then, the band has transitioned from Gray’s solo vision to a grittier rock band, and they have been playing shows like there is no tomorrow. Despite being able to turn out a crowd from Glens Falls to Albany (thanks to their long connection to the local music scene) their unofficial home has become the Putnam Den in Saratoga. And for a lot of reasons it makes sense: The club draws a wide swath of people from different ages and scenes. “It’s got that mixture of Skidmore kids, old rock and rollers and Saratoga money,” says Dobbs. “We always get a real good turnout.”
Gray has his studio and Vosganian stays active in the local music scene by booking shows and helping upstart bands get gigs in Queensbury, Glens Falls and Saratoga. Gilman describes Vosganian as “a cool dude . . . the overdrive the transmission needed.” Vosganian, besides dropping p-h-a-t beats and looking like something out of Where The Wild Things Are, seems to be the man with the plan—the promoter, the big-picture kind of guy. But he is, so far, the only member of the band who does not ride a motorcycle. Gilman, a Harley mechanic, is working on getting Vosganian on a bike. He is more than happy to list off the rest of the band’s rides: Dobbs has a Suzuki, Gray a BMW and, of course, Gilman rides a Harley, one he recently restored.
On a Friday night at Valentines, Wild Adriatic come off as a burly, rough-and-tumble bar band. The girls swoon and the guys bang their heads. Gray calls for more beer and points out that the band is selling shot glasses (Vogsanian’s idea). The solos go longer than they do on the record. The band seems happy, in their element. Gray says it looks that way because it is simply true. “We all get along. We are all a family. If something doesn’t work out in the studio I let it die. If it doesn’t happen naturally we might not touch it again, ever.”
Vosganian agrees, “We really have a groove, we work well together. If we are playing and something doesn’t feel right, we will stop after the song and look at each other and realize we need a different groove. And we reset, we find a better place. We do this because we enjoy doing it.”
When they finish their set they invite the fans over to the merch booth to talk, have a beer or two. On one hand this doesn’t appear to be work for the band. They are at ease on stage, at the merch booth, in the studio. They don’t sit behind their table with their laptops up, avoiding people when their set is finished. It seems as if they are constantly in their element. And so it should, because this has become more than a job for the group. This has been and will be—if they have anything to say about it—their life.
“Travis has really made music his full-time gig,” says Vosganian.
“This is what I do and this is what I’ve always wanted,” Gray agrees.