Baton Rouge-based soul and R&B band Alabaster Stag recently released its debut EP “Perfume” in December. ETV spoke with the group’s lead singer Chloe Johnson today about the formation of the band, the making of the new EP, and the overall message she wants her music to have on the world.
The roots of Alabaster Stag began in 2015 when the group’s lead singer Chloe Johnson was told about an upcoming gig by a promoter friend she had. Chloe said she knew had to perform at the gig, but without having a band at the time, she figured she’d ask her friends to play with her. The lineup included Eli Williams (Drums), James West (guitar/synth/vocals), and Chris Polk (bass/vocals) to backup Chloe. They had already known each other from various projects so the formation came together organically. They played cover songs for the first couple shows and every member brought their own unique style and experiences together to create a sound that was all their own.
“I think when you listen to our music you can definitely hear a little bit of everyone’s personal style and it really helps distinguish us from other groups,” Chloe said. “Since a lot of our songwriting is collaborative and very open, everyone kinda takes the opportunity to add bits and pieces of sounds they like which usually results in something that’s hard to categorize. When you’ve got a very jazz-influenced drummer, hip-hop/funk bassist, rock/pop guitarist, and a keyboardist who comes equipped with all kinds of synth sounds and electronic things, the result is just a playground of musical possibility. And I think we take advantage of that.”
After some time, the band realized playing covers songs was not what they wanted to do long term. James then switched from keys to guitar and the final member of the band, Bailey Wilder (keys/synth), joined Alabaster Stag to complete the five-piece. They started writing original songs and performing them live and after only a year together, they have already opened for Grammy award-winner Anna Wise (of Kendrick Lamar), Pell, Big Freedia, GIVERS, and Preservation Hall All-Stars.
After some time of performing and writing original material, Alabaster Stag decided it was time to record the songs into a proper collection, which resulted in “Perfume” released on Dec. 9, 2016. Check out to the track “Never Thot” from the EP here:
“The making of ‘Perfume’ felt like a long time coming honestly and we were so happy to finally release it,” Chloe said. “We’d been performing all but the first and last tracks for about a year and we were ready to make them available for people to listen to outside of a few rehearsal demos we had online.”
Chloe said the recording process was stress free and the band recorded most of the instrumentals in one session at their friend J.t. O’Neal’s home studio while vocals were recorded in a separate session at James’ place. The six track EP is a melting pot of R&B, soul, jazz and funk that mix upbeat catchy rhythms with slower, tender ballads. A freestyle piano voice demo by Chloe was split into the intro and outro to complete the package.
“I honestly couldn’t have asked for more as far as the amount of support we received when the EP was released,” Chloe said. “We had an incredibly successful release party at our band house, we were given a nod in The Advocate’s Best Regional Music of 2016 list, and you can hear us on the radio daily so I’m just thankful.”
Chloe’s songwriting inspirations include many artists that have all shaped the way she creates music, from Lauryn Hill’s album “Miseducation” to soul artists Erykah Badu, India Arie, Sade, and Goapele. She became drawn to 60s psychedelic rock including the likes of The Doors and Jimi Hendrix and she continues to incorporate ideas from that era into modern times. For “Perfume,” the songs are all about a type of love; whether its romantic, spiritual, or the feelings of desperation attached to love. Chloe said part of this was because she was not very emotionally expressive in her daily life and these songs were a way of working through that.
Despite forming and performing in Baton Rouge, a city known for being a cover band capitol, Chloe said she did not feel the need to win people over with the band’s original material. Alabaster Stag has not been negatively received by an audience for playing original songs to a crowd that wants to hear covers.
“I think the people in my hometown are largely creatures of habit and that extends to their entertainment consumption,” Chloe said. “People want to go out and have fun and sing along to songs that they know so the bars that hold live music try to cater to that. What they don’t realize is that people really love original music and will pay for it… when it’s good. You just have to do the work of finding those original bands that are making good shit. That’s what I’m trying to do with my band.”
Alabaster Stag have become local town favorites, but have also been making its mark to audiences around the world. Chloe said the biggest key to being heard in the growing digital age is to have business savvy and to utilize all resources to separate one’s music from the over-saturation in the market.
“The ease at which people can create and distribute music nowadays is unlike anything everyday folks were capable of in the past,” Chloe said. “You can make an entire album from an iPhone, post it to Soundcloud, and bam; you’re an artist with a new release… It’s key that we make ourselves standout in an enormous pond of people trying to do the same thing.”
The band has stood out from its contemporaries with the release of “Perfume,” which showcases just how much variety and substance can be created when people from different experiences come together and share one vision. Chloe said the band’s main message for the world is the importance of self-expression and that it must be expressed through whatever positive means it can.
“Never allow yourself to be silenced by oppressive forces or conditions, especially as an artist,” Chloe said. “Stay the course and use the voice you’ve been given.”