Editor’s note: This article has been changed to correct information about the structure of the Hard Rock Rising Battle of the Bands competition, and to give updates regarding the second round of that competition.
Five years after gathering to play a show at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds, the eclectic musicians of Troubadour North carried their sound beyond the Kenai Peninsula to a battle of the bands in Anchorage. After the final round of that battle on May 6, the band may travel further to Barcelona, Spain.
While planning a 2009-2010 New Year’s party at the Kenai Peninsula Fairground, organizer Lara McGinnis asked musician and music teacher Lee Gattenby to assemble a band for the occasion. Gattenby brought his duet partner Eric Doucet to sing lead and play acoustic rhythm guitar, while Gattenby sang harmony and played electric lead guitar. Rusty Singleton played bass and Scott Stahlecker played drums. After practicing for a few months, the band played the New Year’s show.
“We were actually amazed at the feedback we’d gotten,” Gattenby said. “I’ve thrown bands together at the last moment before. But this one was amazing. It was like ‘wow…’ (After the show) I approached Rusty and said I needed the set-book back, and he was like, ‘awwww.’ And I was like, you want to continue this? And he says ‘hell yeah.’”
The band’s lineup has remained the same except for a change of drummers. The current drummer is Curtis Bates.
Beginning as a group hastily gathered for one show, the members of Troubadour North brought a variety of sounds. Although they performed contemporary country music at their first show, Singleton said he and Gattenby come from a rock and metal background. When the band continued, this diversity of influence become a core element of their style.
Gattenby compared the band to a truck assembled from parts of other odd vehicles.
“It’s solid, it’s dependable, and when people look at it they’re like ‘holy cow, what is that?’” Gattenby said. “That’s what Troubadour North is.”
Both Troubadour North’s original music and their arrangements feature prominent guitar solos by Gattenby and countermelodic bass lines by Singleton on his six-string bass, which he said he was inspired to play by Dream Theater bassist John Myung. Paired with these metal influences are traditional country vocal harmonies between Gattenby and Doucet.
Doucet, a Louisiana native whom Singleton said had “a natural country voice,” performed in country bands before arriving in Alaska.
“I’ve never really sang in rock bands, but I kind of like it,” Doucet said. “One thing that we try to keep natural is the vocals and the harmonies that we do. They don’t really sound like what you would hear in traditional rock and roll.”
Gattenby said the group’s songs and arrangements are written “from the vocals down.” To emphasize this approach, he and Doucet sometimes perform as an acoustic duo without drums or bass. However, he said that the full band is the group’s true sound.
The name Troubadour North reflects the band’s ambition of creating a stylistically independent Alaskan sound. Gattenby said the name comes from Hollywood’s Troubadour nightclub, which hosted early shows by now-famous musicians such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Elton John, Tom Waits, and Joni Mitchell.
“Why can’t we have one up here?” Gattenby said. “And hence the name Troubadour North.”
Gattenby described the present Alaska music scene as a “microcosm” containing a lot of talent, yet with few outlets for that talent. He said that the group’s current participation in the 2015 Hard Rock Rising Battle of the Bands, a world-wide competition organized by Hard Rock Cafe and hosted locally at the Hard Rock Cafe in Anchorage, is a new opportunity for them.
“There were many (music competitions) that we could qualify for, but it required us to be able to fly extremely long distances, stuff that would be out of our range,” Gattenby said. “All of a sudden the opportunity became available for us to be able to do it here. Of course we jumped on it.”
The Anchorage Hard Rock Cafe opened in the summer of 2014. Although the Hard Rock Rising competition has been an annual event since 2012, this year is the first time it has held a local competition in Alaska.
Troubadour North beat three other bands in the first round of the competition on April 22. The second round of the competition was held on April 29, with the electronic-metal performer Zombie Unicorn winning. Troubadour North will compete against Zombie Unicorn in Anchorage on May 6. The winner of that battle may be one of six bands nominated by contest judges for a chance to compete in Barcelona, Spain for the opportunity to play at Barcelona’s Hard Rock Rising Global Music Festival.
Some time after the May 6 battle, Doucet plans to move to Portland, Oregon. He said he will continue to participate as the band’s vocalist, contributing remotely to their future recordings.
Bates said that the Alaskan sound that Troubadour hopes to create is based on independence.
“We’re not cookie cutters to just country, or just rock,” Curtis said. “We put our independent influence in it. We’re not saturated with all the music they have down there, even though we have access to it… We don’t have a Nashville producer going ‘you’ve got to do it this way.’ Yet!”