Every now and then a band literally seems to come out of nowhere. Chris Batten & The Woods is that type of band. In less than a year, they've managed to land regular gigs at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, the Court Tavern in New Brunswick and be part of shows at Rutgers University. And these aren't just any shows – they're the ones bands would kill for. Shows like the recent Light of Day concert at the Stone Pony or the 2nd Annual Andy Diamond Christmas Show at the Court Tavern on December 23rd and with Gavin DeGraw at Rutgers University on December 10th. In other words, shows where a good crowd is to be expected.
The opening song of the band's debut album explodes out at you with the words, "You got the swagger!" It's that type of attitude that embodies Chris Batten & the Woods. They're using a blend of raw talent, shrewd marketing skills and a determination to succeed to get to the next level. And, they're opening to reach that level pretty soon.
"We played the Stone Pony on July 14th," recalled Chris Batten. "It was the night before my birthday and it was one of the Wednesday night showcases of local bands. I made a really big deal about it because me, a bunch of my friends and my family are huge Springsteen fans. I thought even if we don't do it again it'd be awesome. So I was there talking with Jimmy, the bartender, and he was telling us how the Wednesday thing works. He said, 'maybe you can come back for a couple more Wednesdays and we'll move you on to a cool weekend show or something.' But then two weeks later we got a call and were offered an opening spot on the Nils Lofgren show."
Things are definitely moving fast for the band. They literally got to know how to play together as a band during the recording of their first record. The band got together in January 2004 and had their first show on February 6th. It was only a few weeks later that they headed to the studio for the first time. The good thing about this approach is that the record clearly shows a particular rawness that may never happen again; the bad thing is that it's not entirely a good representation of the band. All bands change a bit as they start developing their sound and that's very true of Chris Batten & the Woods. While the first record was largely influenced by pure rock and roll, the band's newer songs delve into their R&B, Soul and Motown influences as well.
"We're really excited to go back to the studio," said Batten. "It'll probably be in the spring. We were so young as a band in the studio and we did everything live to tape – no digital anything. It was more like, 'let's set up, let's play, and let's get something out there.' I didn't want to waste time making t-shirts, I wanted to make the music first and I didn't want to waste any time."
The band is comprised of Chris Batten on vocals and guitar, Dustin Packard on guitar and vocals, Al Radice on Bass, and Rich Pearce on Drums. Three of the band members live in the Somerset County area (Dustin and Rich are in Hillsborough, Chris Batten lives in Bridgewater) and Al Radice lives in Brick. The band actually found Al from a post on Backstreets.com, the Bruce Springsteen fan website. "It was kind of nerdy, but I figured that if I met someone on the website he probably likes Garry Tallent, so he'll play bass like him as well," said Batten.
Although Bruce Springsteen is a big influence on this band, you really don't hear much of his influence in their music. The influence lies in growing up with the same experiences as Springsteen and the dream to one day follow his lead to an audience outside of New Jersey. Musically they are influenced more by artists like the Rolling Stones and Elvis Costello who are able to weave various styles into their repertoire.
"I think with the Stones it's more their music and with Bruce it's the whole package," explained Batten. "He grew up on the Shore and when I was a kid I spent all my summers down the Shore. It's something that makes him more identifiable. I'm hugely influenced by Bruce Springsteen – he's a big, driving force in me wanting to do this band and write music. My brother and I always joke around that when you get older you can't move out of New Jersey because then Bruce Springsteen wouldn't have the same effect on you."
One thing the Stones and Bruce Springsteen have in common is the ability to put on a great live show and that's something Chris Batten & the Woods takes this practice to heart as well. Their live shows features a non-stop explosion of energy with band members jumping around, sweating to the tilt, and giving their all on stage. It's an intense experience, which is one reason the band is quickly asked back at every venue they've played.
"I'd rather everybody in the audience was having a good time than us standing there and playing everything precisely well," added Batten. "You've got to give people a reason to come back."
The band plans on working on their new record in January and returning to the studio in March. They have nearly half an album of new material ready to go and look forward to showcasing the new tunes. With any luck, the next record will be recorded on somebody else's dime. After all, they've got the talent, they've got the will, and, most of all, and they've got the swagger...
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 email@example.com.