A few years ago, Aaron Frazer and his comrades in the band then known simply as The Indications never expected their weekly, homegrown “Sunday Soul” jams to lead to big-league professional gigs.
“In the year leading up to our first show, we spent every Sunday writing and recording soul music together in my basement in Bloomington [Ind.],” says Frazer, a drummer and graduate of Krieger Schechter Day School and Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School. “It was really just a fun hobby. At the end of that year, we had enough music to put out a record. … The reception to that concert was crazy so we played another show a few months later, and it kept growing from there.”
Now, the five-member Durand Jones & the Indications performs at such high-profile music festivals as Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and the Mad Cool Festival in Spain. The band also has produced a pair of albums that have received international attention.
An Owings Mills native who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., Frazer, 27, has been playing drums since he was 9.
“I remember listening to music in my mother’s green Honda minivan,” he says. “I would be drumming along to the song in my lap while simultaneously tapping my right foot. I remember my mother looking back one day and saying I should get drum lessons.”
Frazer studied drumming with Mount Washington resident Larry Levy and joined his first rock band while in high school.
After graduating from Beth Tfiloh in 2009, Frazer attended Indiana University Bloomington, where he studied audio engineering at the Jacobs School of Music. There, he met guitarist Blake Rhein, bassist Kyle Houpt, keyboardist Steve Okonski and vocalist Durand Jones.
“We come from the Bloomington basement show circuit, which is intense and raw,” says Frazer. “We would book our own gigs at dive bars and sometimes we would be playing for 10 people, sometimes no one. But we put everything into those performances, no matter how many people we were playing in front of. Whether we are playing in front of thousands of people or in a small room, the audience will see the same show.”
The band’s self-titled debut record, produced in 2016 for $452.11 and a case of beer, received a good deal of positive media buzz. When Colemine Records owner Terry Cole heard one of their singles, he offered to release a limited edition vinyl CD and some 45s, which led to more rave reviews.
Last March, the independent label Dead Oceans/Colemine Records released a deluxe version of the debut record, and American and European tours followed its release. The band recently signed with a booking agent and management company, and has been featured in Rolling Stone and on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”
Currently, the band — which recently released a live album — is working on the CD “American Love Call,” which is slated to come out in March.
In addition to his work with Durand Jones & the Indications, Frazer is a member of another band known as the Flying Stars of Brooklyn, N.Y. They put out a gospel record titled “My God Has a Telephone” that has received more than 5 million streams on Spotify.
“This whole experience is pretty surreal,” Frazer says. “[Durand Jones & the Indications has] played in front of thousands of people all over the world, and to see how strongly the audience feels about this music that was made in our basement for no one but ourselves is a really special feeling.
“In an industry that is so saturated, you have to make the music that is authentic to you, put out your truest self and trust people will connect with it,” he says. “Not every kind of music will put you on a path to playing in big stadiums, but if you put out this message in a bottle and send it out there, people will find it — even if it’s just a couple of people.”
Frazer says he cherishes old-school soul music because of its celebration of authenticity and warts-and-all honesty.
“In this day and age where there is hyper-curation with social media and the images we present always have filters on them, it’s nice to engage with a music where the parts that aren’t perfect are the parts that are beautiful,” he says.
While the band plans to perform at Baltimore’s Ottobar in April, Frazer admits that performing for a hometown audience makes him nervous.
“Playing in Baltimore is intense,” says Frazer. “It’s a funny feeling to get up onstage and feel like it’s my bar mitzvah, since there are 50 people in the audience who have known me my entire life, including my bubbie. … It is a little goofy that a kid from a Jewish day school is now playing on these huge stages.”
Durand Jones & The Indications play Ottobar April 22 at 8 p.m.
Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.