“Sometimes good things happen and they happen big,” said Jordan Davis, lead vocalist and guitarist of the Milwaukee-based band Space Raft. It's a statement that rings true for him and his three fellow performers. The energetic rockers caught on quickly in Milwaukee after they released their self-titled album via Dusty Medical Records in 2014, and their much anticipated sophomore effort Rubicon, released April 15, seems to have them on track for similar success and accolades.
Davis and his bandmates Tjay Christenson (keyboard), Tyler Chicorel (drums) and Job Heibler (bass) got a bit of a head start, having previously been part of local acts such as Temper Temper, Mystery Girls and Call Me Lightning. But that credibility alone didn't prepare them for the rapturous response to Space Raft or its lead single "We Are Not Alone," Davis says.
But with such a positive response comes the pressure to live up to the hype. Although Davis says the band's debut record was more of a solo project, Rubicon is a solidified group effort, expressing their broad palette of musical strengths and ideas.
Space Raft will be performing at Mad Planet on May 7 to celebrate the release of Rubicon. Before the show, WiG caught up with Davis to talk about the album, the upcoming show, and their recent brush with politics when they performed at Bernie Sanders’ campaign rallies in Madison and Milwaukee.
What’s the inspiration behind the new album? How does it differ from Space Raft?
The first album was my personal pet project and I shepherded it through writing the material and finding people and producing it and making sure all the pieces were where I had all imagined. A lot of the first record is stuff that I had sat down previously by myself and recorded.
This new record, Rubicon, instead of demoing it, essentially what I did was bring my rough song ideas to the band and we all worked them out together. It definitely felt like more of a communal effort all around. I really feel like everybody’s influences are a lot clearer on this record.
Everybody in the band had brought something to the table and specializes in certain types of music. John, our newest bass player, was into late-1950s, early-1960s bubblegum music. Our drummer Tyler is pretty much into rock music. Tjay is more into experimental stuff. I’m more into pop and blues as well. We all rolled that up and I think it’s well represented on the new record.
So, essentially, the album is like a potpourri of different sounds?
To me, it sounds more like a melting pot. When I hear other people’s input into a project, it really makes it feel like more than my own, so I’m really proud that on this record I feel like everybody’s personalities had the chance to shine.
What was putting the album together like?
It was actually a lot simpler in a lot of ways. The first record had a lot of layers on it. We did a lot of overdubs and a lot of extra guitar stuff and keyboard parts. This new record is essentially what we sound like live. It’s just the parts we play live and we’ve doctored those to make them sound bigger. For the most part, this album is much more indicative to a band playing in a room rather than being assembled later on in a studio.
What have you learned from your self-titled debut that you were able to apply or avoid when you guys worked on Rubicon?
Our first record was very well received critically and among fans. It seemed to gather a lot of steam without us having to do very much promotion on it. And that was a very humbling thing for people to latch onto the band right out of the gate, you know? I think I’ve built myself up with a fair amount of anxiety thinking about the follow-up record Rubicon just because if people like this without us asking them to, I feel like there’s much more responsibility that goes into following it up.
We tried to spread ourselves around on this record evenly enough where we’re trying to honor some of what people liked about the first record, but we’re also sort of trying to move it ahead from where we started. I feel like we tried to maintain some of the elements from the first record that people really latched onto. Overall, just the whole process and situation of banding together made for a heavier record.
What has been the response been like from those who have heard your new music from the album?
We've played it for five or six different people and everybody seems to think that it’s a step forward for us, which is really great. The reaction to our first record was overwhelmingly positive and to hear that this record is a step forward for us is pretty encouraging. We put a lot of work into Rubicon and I hope people can appreciate that.
You guys recently opened for Bernie Sanders at his rallies in both Madison and Milwaukee. How did that come about?
It actually came about through people that our label were talking (with) to drum up some press for the record release and it just turned out that one of the people they had contacted started working on the Sanders campaign. This contact basically put us in contact with the Sanders campaign and we basically cleared our schedule to do that. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us and it was a great honor to be included in that.
What was your interaction with Sanders like?
We got to meet Bernie after the speeches both nights. There were a few opportunities to take pictures with him. We were basically being shepherded around by Secret Service the whole time so it wasn’t really like we really had opportunities to hang out with him. He’s a busy guy. There was an honest appreciation and gratitude to us for coming to do it. It’s hard to really describe, but the Sanders campaign was very supportive of us and just gracious that we were able to make the time to participate, which felt really great.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen very little politics that’s gone very far to support the arts in our country. To be a part of a campaign that does was an honor. It’s hard to quantify how big of an effect it can have on a band like us, but to have the arts included in the conversation is a big deal to me. So many of my friends are artists, musicians, painters, and creative people in general and I feel that no matter what creative endeavor you chosen for your life, it’s always a struggle in this country and to see it embraced on a presidential campaign is just mind-boggling to me.
Are you guys planning on sending Sanders a copy of Rubicon?
Now that you’ve mentioned it, we probably should (laughs).
What are you most looking forward to about your upcoming show at Mad Planet?
I’m just excited to get this thing out in the open. We’ve been working on it for about a year and a half. Some of these songs I started writing as soon as the last record came out. You just work on something for so long and hard and then all of a sudden here it is and it’s out in the world — I mean, that feeling is indescribable. We’ve got a bunch of friends’ bands playing; all bands that are on our record label who are supporting us. We’ll have a bunch of friends and family there. It’s going to be a really good time.