Joe Hertler doesn’t think he and his Rainbow Seekers particularly fit the Jam Band mold. But the embrace of that community, primarily through the festival circuit, has given the highly melodic Michigan band a great deal of confidence as it releases its fourth studio album, Paper Castle — out May 31 and premiering exclusively below.
“This has been a slow but steady growth,” the Lansing, Mich.-based Hertler, who formed the Rainbow Seekers in 2010, tells Billboard. “In the last year and a half we’ve really gotten the support of the jam scene. I think they’re well aware we are NOT a jam band, but it’s been really fun to go out and play at these festivals and see what we do resonate with that crowd. This record at the end of the day is still a pop record, but we recorded a lot of it live and really did our best to give it more of that kind of feeling.”
Paper Castle also marks the first time Hertler and company have worked with an outside producer — Rick Carson, a fellow Michigan native who recorded the 12-song set in Omaha, Neb. over the course of several sessions. “We’ve always self-produced everything to this point,” Hertler says. “We met (Carson) out of the blue; He heard a couple tracks from our record (2017’s Pluto) and he gave me a call. We became fast friends, and then fast forward and we were looking for a producer and considered him. We toured the studio and liked it, so we went for it.” But Hertler acknowledges that giving up control was challenging.
“Those first couple of sessions felt like we were recording blind,” Hertler recalls. “We didn’t know what the end product was going to be. We’d always record a couple of tracks and mix them and could see how things were developing as we went along. With this we’d be there for a week, record as much as we could but not mix until the end of the entire process. The whole time we were like, ‘Is this gonna be any good?’ But when we sat down to mix everything it started to come together into something that was really nice.”
Paper Castle has the same kind of loose-limbed but tightly played vibe that’s been the Rainbow Seekers stock in trade, with hints of vintage soul and world music flavors mixed into the arrangements. It’s more dynamically polished this time and also, Hertler acknowledges, “a happier record” than the group has produced before, owing to its growing success and to Hertler’s decision to dedicate himself full-time to music after working at nonprofits, including the American Cancer Society.
“I think when I was writing Pluto is was just a lonelier time, relatively more sad, and it reflects on that record,” he says. “Life’s been pretty good over the last year or two, and I think that comes across on (Paper Castle). It’s a little more playful while still being, I suppose, reflective. I don’t think we were trying to make something specific — just a reflection of where we are all at, which is pretty good these days and that comes across on the record.”
Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers are planning a “pretty relentless” schedule of touring for the rest of the year and into next, including shows at Electric Forest, Blissfest and the Peach Festival. A national headlining tour is slated to start during the late summer, where the group hopes to see some benefits from supporting Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, the Revivalists and others. “It’ll be a test,” Hertler says. “Every time you take a step up a level you just realize how much better everyone is. You constantly feel like you’re getting humbled. There hasn’t been any point in our career where we’re like, ‘Hey, we’re pretty good.’ It’s always like, ‘Whoa, those guys are pretty good.’ But that’s OK. That’s what makes us keep striving to get better ourselves.”