When looking at the band 4 Way Street, the sum really does add up to more than the individual parts. The band, from Philadelphia, is comprised of four successful singer-songwriters who have each put aside their solo careers to see where this group may lead them.
It all started about two years ago at an open mic night at the Grape Street Pub recalls Ben Arnold. "There was an open slot and basically somebody said why don't you guys sing a song? So, we got up and we played two or three tunes. And we found that our combined voices - not only was it an interesting combination, but it also allowed each of our voices to have a singular sound as well."
Ben was asked by Bruce Warren, of the radio station WXPN, to come up with a revue of Philadelphia singer-songwriters. Although that show is generally thought of as the beginning of 4 Way Street, the band said they really were not on the stage together for very long. The next winter, however, the guys decided to book a show at The Point.
"We didn't really know how we'd feel about the show before it, but when we got done I think we all just kind of looked at each other and said wow, this is pretty special," said Joseph Parsons.
"It went really, really well and the response was killer, so we booked another show," added Arnold. "Right after that second show, we were approached by a small label in Philly. We started putting a record together and then over the course of two years, it grew and workshopped into something a little bit bigger. We ended up doing a residency at the Bitter End and Sanctuary started coming out. They really just dropped a deal in our laps essentially."
The band's debut record, Pretzel Park, was released on Sanctuary in September. They held a record release party at the Theatre of Living Arts in Philadelphia on September 28th. The show was originally scheduled for the 18th, but the threat of Hurricane Isabel postponed the show. A similar release party took place a few weeks earlier at the Bitter End in New York City.
"The first gig in every city we played and led to us getting signed had what we consider a record release," explained Scott Bricklin. "But Philly is obviously very important to us. It's our hometown."
Even though comparisons are often made to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (who had a live album entitled 4 Way Street), the members of 4 Way Street think that their sound goes in many more directions than that. The harmonies may remind you of CSN&Y, but there are distinct influences from folk, rock, and Motown.
"I appreciate the fact that people are trying to encompass a lot of genres when they talk about our music because we definitely are open to playing anything," said Bricklin. "If it's a good song and we all get off on it, we don't really care what kind of music it is. We'll play it."
It may seem difficult to have four different solo artists playing together in one band, but the guys swear that it really isn't a problem. In fact, they see it only as an advantage since they are all fans of each others' music and get to choose from everyone's best songs.
"Keeping egos in check isn't really the biggest thing," explained Jim Boggia. "Keeping schedules in check is the hardest thing. Probably the hardest thing about 4 Way Street is that it's really five careers and try working that on the calendar."
"I don't think any of our songs sound the same in the 4 Way Context as they do in our own individual performances of them or recordings of them. To a certain degree, we create our own sound, but the stuff never fully melts in the pot. So, you always hear, ‘that's like Joseph's influence or that's Scott's influence or that's Ben's influence. This other additional thing kind of happens when we all start playing together, " Boggia said.
The newest member of the band is drummer Matt Muir who had been playing in Ben Arnold's band for about two years before asked to join 4 Way Street. Matt can't say enough good things about his bandmates. "I completely love their music and had been listening to them before I was even involved with any of them. I get to play everybody's best songs. As a drummer, it's like I'm in the catbird's seat!"
As the band starts touring in support of their new record, the guys seem well in check of how difficult it is to make it in the business. It helps that all of them have released solo records in the past and have dealt with record deals before. Ben Arnold released a CD on Columbia Records; Scott Bricklin put out several on A&M with his group Bricklin and also on Hybrid/Sire with Martin's Dam; and Joseph Parsons has had three albums released on the European label Blue Rose Records. Jim Boggia has worked as a sideman for a variety of artists including Jill Sobule and Julianna Hatfield and released his first independent album in 2001.
Even though things really started taking off for the band after they began playing shows regularly in New York City, they feel bands can get noticed and signed no matter where they play.
"Certainly in Philadelphia since you're in the Northeast there's no reason not to go up to New York or down to DC and play all of these places," said Boggia. "It's one of the great things about living here that you can hit five or six major markets within a driving radius."
According to Bricklin, it doesn't matter where bands play as long as they have an audience. "Bands should just go everywhere and play and find an audience. If you have an audience out there, that's what is going to get you a deal. The labels are in business to sell records. They don't care where you're from. They almost don't care anything about you except if you have an audience and they're going to be able to sell records."
Sanctuary, the band's label is set up more like an independent than a major. "We know everybody from the top down," the band is quick to point out.
All things considered, 4 Way Street would rather call themselves a live band and it's no wonder. Their harmonies and acoustic-based melodies seem to come alive on stage in a way that recording studios just can't catch.
"Music by nature originally wasn't really meant to be recorded," said Arnold. "It was this thing that was on stage or a street corner or whatever. As record production evolved, some records are not meant to be on a stage, they're meant to be their own little pieces of art. I think where the magic is and what you hope for is to be able to get the best of both worlds. And I think our record is a very good representation of what we do live, but I hope we're better live than on record honestly."
Parsons says it's pretty simple. "Playing live and making records are completely different art forms using a similar medium. We all love to play live, we love to make records. How cool is that?"
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.