Blues Traveler is one of those bands that doesn’t need any introduction. The band had its greatest success in the 90s with songs like “Runaround” and “Hook.” Since its inception, the band has been known not only for its extensive touring, but also for its lively albums. Last year, the band released a blues album called Traveler’s Blues. This summer, the band is celebrating its 35th anniversary with a tour you’ll want to catch.
By phone, Blues Traveler guitarist Chan Kinchla discussed the 35-year milestone, the loyal audiences, and the origins of Traveler’s Blues.
Americana Highways: What does it mean to you that Blues Traveler is celebrating 35 years?
Chan Kinchla: It’s crazy. It’s been very much different epochs in the band. Five or 10 years can go by really fast depending on whether you’re doing a record and you’re pushing that record. When we started, coming out of New York, that was like five years. Then we got signed. I break it down into epochs. And then you add COVID in there, which makes two years seem like 10 years, but also three months. Thirty-five years just kind of snuck up on us. The longer we get to do this, and the longer we keep it together, have these great crowds and get to play live, the more grateful we are about it. When people ask me if I still like it, I say, “The more I do it, the more I like it.”
AH: It beats an office job.
CK: So I hear. I’ve never done an office job. Actually, I did. I had an office job. When I moved to New York in 1987, we were living in a hellhole in Fort Green, Brooklyn. I needed a job. I wasn’t going to college, and we didn’t have any gigs. I worked at Time-Life Books, selling books over the phone. We were in an office in midtown Manhattan in cubicles. You’d sell a subscription, and they’d ring a bell. Not only was I in an office job, but it was sales. It was like Glengarry Glen Ross, but Time-Life Books. It was horrible. A gig’s a gig. I graduated from that. I was really bad at it. I kept improvising and getting off the pitch. You’re supposed to stick to the pitch. I improvised the pitch. They kept calling me in. Eventually, I realized it just wasn’t for me. So I did something I could get my teeth into. I delivered furniture all around Brooklyn. It was a little more my speed.
We grew up together, so it’s a little more family where you can have disagreements and friction, and you know you’re always going to bring it back around. That does play a part. Also, the most important thing is what we always wanted to do was just be a kick-ass live band with a great audience. That was the primary motivation. Recording, getting on the radio, and doing all the rest of the fun stuff that goes around a band was important to us. Cool live shows was our first love and first passion in the band. It was originally three of us, then four of us in Brendan’s basement just creating a moment in time. Those were the things that drew us to chase this. With all the ups and downs of a career, that’s what we could always lean back on. It’s kept us happy and onward and upward throughout the years.
AH: How have your audiences changed over time?
CK: The age range has grown. Now it’s 18-year-olds up front to 60-year-olds. We’ve always had a pretty eclectic crowd. Now it’s diversified. Over the years, you hit different markets. We’ve had some stuff on the radio, MTV, we’ve been in the jam world. We’ve been in the blues world. We kind of straddle a lot of worlds. I think we’ve created a cool, eclectic crowd. I don’t think there’s any real type. It’s all different types of people, which really suits our style. We’re an eclectic musical blend anyway. It’s a little bit of everything.
AH: I’ve heard that from other bands, where it starts with one age group and now those people are bringing their kids to shows.
CK: 100 percent. We have some bring grandkids. It’s awesome. People you haven’t seen in years are like, “I saw you in 1993.” It blows your mind to be a part of peoples’ lives. That’s part of the idea of “The more I do it, the more I like it.” It’s always a privilege to play a positive part in someone’s life. It’s one of the joys of doing what we do.
AH If you had to choose one album to introduce someone to the band, which would you choose and why?
CK: To introduce someone, it would probably be Four. That’s the most accessible and super tight. We were hitting on all cylinders for that record. The more cool rock album of the band is Save His Soul. They all have their joys. Save His Soul is probably my favorite because it’s a little more hard rock, more a picture of the band when we were hell-bent for leather touring the country. I like that vibe. Our first record is great because it’s all the bar songs we were playing in New York City in the late 80s. Those songs have a kind of youthful vigor to them. So, I really can’t say.
AH: What was the impetus for Traveler’s Blues and how did you go about choosing the songs for it?
CK: It’s something we’ve been talking about in different formulations for a long time, 15 years. Mainly because the name of the band is Blues Traveler. We, in fact, started out in high school as much more of a blues band. The name of the band was Blues Band. As we smoked more pot, got a little older, and we had varied musical interests, it obviously evolved. It was our first love, but a bunch of 16- and 17-year-olds from the suburbs playing the blues was definitely a stretch. In any case, we always wanted to get back to that because it’s in our name, and deep down, we felt like we were a blues band. You can’t shake your youthful ambitions. That was just sitting around, and then COVID hit and we partnered up with Round Hill Records. They have a massive blues catalog. We were looking for anything to do. We weren’t really prepared to do another full album of originals. We partnered with Round Hill, and it just kind of fell together. Finally, the ambition and the wherewithal came together. We were so excited to have a project that we were into. The process of picking songs was a massive amount of group emails, generally culling from Round Hill’s licensing. In the end, we sent songs we were into and kind of made a master list and pared that down. In the end, our fearless producer Matt Rollins is the guy who finally culled it down to a manageable bunch of songs to tackle when we got into the studio in Nashville in the fall of 2020. See? We can play the blues. Goddammit! We surprised ourselves.
AH: What was it like for you guys to be unable to tour for a couple years?
CK: Luckily, it was just one year. We’ve been on tour since 1989. I think we’ve toured consistently every year. There’s only been a few years where it was that little. Playing live is how we make our living, and it’s what we love to do. In the end, having a forced year off probably made us appreciate what we get to do even more. It makes you realize what’s really important. We did a full tour last summer between COVID waves because we had to get out there. It was so nice to get in front of people and rock out. It was good for us to get out of taking that for granted. It was good to get off the road. Everyone got healthy, tried out some different things, got their heads clear. We’re ready to rock and roll for another 35 years.
AH: What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
CK: I don’t know. Delivering furniture. I always loved to write. That’s something I was fairly good at in high school. For my brief stint at NYU, it’s something I was going to follow. Maybe I’d be some kind of writer or interviewing a musician. I love writing, books, literature, all that. It’s always been a hobby of mine. Or I’d be running D&D campaigns.
AH: Would you write fiction or non-fiction?
CK: I’m a big fiction and prose kind of guy. The classics. I read all of them: Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. It’s endless. I loved all that fiction.
Find more information here: https://bluestraveler.com
Upcoming Tour Dates:
May 7 The Capitol Theatre Port Chester, NY
May 10 College Street New Haven, CT
May 12 Dr. Pepper Park at the Bridges Roanoke, VA
May 13 Harrah’s Cherokee Event Center Cherokee, NC
May 14 Southern Skies Music Festival Knoxville, TN
May 18 Charleston Music Hall Charleston, SC
May 20 The Amp at Dant Crossing New Haven, KY
May 22 The Carolina Opry Theater Myrtle Beach, SC