There’s an intangible quality talked about in sports called team chemistry. There’s a similar thing in music — band chemistry, if you will. It’s not always something you can quantify — a musician who’s considered a bad egg in one band might be just what another group is looking for to provide a spark to its lineup. While there are few predictors for musical chemistry, rock history suggests you can be born into it.
Indeed, family acts have a storied history in pop, rock, and R&B: From The Everly Brothers to The Avett Brothers, it seems whenever blood relatives play music together there’s a closeness, a sort of sonic shorthand, an ability to finish each other’s musical sentences.
Brothers Adam and Jordan Culver of the East Nashville band The Future have such chemistry, having “known each other for quite the long time now,” as Jordan puts it. Growing up in North Dakota, they had to learn early on how to amuse themselves because, to hear them tell it, there was little else to do.
“We lived in Bismarck, which is the capitol of North Dakota, which is a fucking amazing city,” Adam says. “That’s not entirely true. It is a city, though! There were times where there’s nothing musical that comes through town for a whole week, maybe a month. Eric [Sadowsky, guitarist for The Future] is from a place called Dickinson, which is even a smaller town than we were from. I remember Jordan and I — and we were terrible — and we would still fill whatever room we were in.
“I can see now that it was kind of a good place to come up, because I wasn’t a very good musician at all, and it took me a long time to reach any level of proficiency, and to have all that encouragement was nice,” the band’s lead vocalist and keyboardist continues. “If we’d started somewhere else, especially a place like Nashville, I probably wouldn’t still be doing this. I would have realized straight away that I sucked.”
Adam says finding his band’s place in the Nashville music scene was a slow, gradual, uphill climb, made worse by the fact neither the Culver brothers, nor their bandmates, guitarist Sadowsky and drummer Bryan Feece, really knew their way around town after moving here in 2007. The first order of business was seeing shows, scoping out venues, and generally just getting to know people, which meant spending most of their money on bar tabs. It was that last part that was the most Sisyphean task. “More than once we’d have people come up to us and say ‘Dude. Do you guys go out every night?’
“I think we were able to turn that initial outsider feeling into a positive for us,” Adam continues. “I think the competitiveness amongst bands in Nashville is (a) somewhat overstated, and (b) generally healthy. When we first got here, I would go out and see a show, and you’re hit with the obvious: Everyone is pretty damn good here, and if I want to have a chance, I have to get better. Which is what we set out to do, and what we still set out to do. Either you get better, or you quit. Or you do both. It’s that simple. I don’t know anybody that moves here and stays at the same level.”
“Initially, we would go to shows and it seemed super cliquey,” says bassist Jordan, the quieter of the two brothers.“You’d see a lot of groups of folks going to different shows, and breaking into that group was one of the goals. And we had no idea [how to become a part of the scene]. But really, it just takes time. You have to book your own shows, book your own support, do all the promotion, do the legwork, and eventually you get to a point where shows kind of book themselves, and you have a crowd there. It just takes eight years! You grow with these other bands, and the people who come to see you, and pretty soon you have your own group of people.”
Adam says they are still big supporters of the local scene, especially as regards East Nashville. “It’s nice to be able to see something great any night of the week for $5, or for free sometimes, because it’s just so inspiring. If you don’t want to go out and bump into 400 people from other bands, this is probably not the city for you.
“Bismarck, North Dakota, would probably take you, though,” he adds with a laugh.
For a band named The Future — so coined because Adam would “always have notes or lyrics that said ‘future ideas’ or ‘future plans,’ and because frankly, we didn’t have anything better at the time” — you’d expect the music to be all spongy synths, clattering percussion, and subsonic bass. But what they are more and more these days is a straightforward, guitar-driven, pop-rock band.
“I feel like we started off a lot more poppy, more lighthearted,” Adam says. “I think that we have a little bit of a darker edge now, more of a weighty undercurrent kind of thing you can’t see, but you sense, that maybe balances out the brightness of the music. I think people see us live for the first time and think, ‘What a happy and fun band!’ But hopefully if they listen to the lyrics, they see that there’s something there. Something that sticks beside just the hooks, or the melodies.”
“It’s just really important that we work on the songs together and explore all the different directions and pathways,” says the band’s newest member, second guitarist John Michael Ford, who “just” joined the band in February of 2013. “For example, on one of our songs, ‘Feel Something,’ we started off one day with the bridge — which is admittedly a weird place to start — and Jordan was playing this real odd-sounding reggae bit, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is never going to work.’ But then we let it breathe for a minute, and it worked great, and now it’s everyone’s favorite part of the song. We wouldn’t have had that happen if we didn’t make it a point not to control everything.
“The genesis of most of the songs comes from Adam, and he’s kind enough to kind of let us deconstruct them and build them back up,” Ford says. “We kind of take it out there and play with it and bend it, and then Adam kind of comes back in and cinches it on the back end to bring it all back together again. It just works for us, and that’s all we need to be worried about, you know?”
“At a certain point, we realized that the thing to chase after was not this business thing, but just the next song,” Adam says. “If somebody in the industry wants to get on board and be a part of it and really gets it, that’s great. But that’s not our endgame. Our endgame is making the best songs we can. The only thing we can control is our output. We’ve made three full-length records. I’m really not worried about what happens. I’m more worried about if this verse works, or this chorus.”
“Some groups might get together and write 10 good songs, and then they’re done,” Jordan adds. “They’re just people thrown together. They just don’t coalesce. We’re fortunate enough to have all grown into this together. Everything we do seems like the next best thing to us, and that’s all that matters. If we’re not excited about the songs, it stands to reason nobody else would be. If an album doesn’t take off for us, we can withstand it, and get to work on the next one. We’ve already done what we set out to do.”