About one quarter of the way through Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers’ set, my friend turned to me and remarked, “Imagine having this as your teacher.” She didn’t mean it derisively, but it made me laugh anyway. We had both just seen firsthand the stark difference between Joe Hertler as a teacher and Joe Hertler as the charismatic, energetic frontman of a soulful roots-rock band. One dressed in a gingham button-up and spoke with soft measured statements; the other danced wildly onstage, adorned in floral shirt and hat, and said things like “music is about human f*cking beings!” to a teeming crowd of young adults. The first one is the Joe Hertler I interviewed. He had parent-teacher conferences for part of the night. Then he came back to The Loft, cut loose – and gave what I believed to be the best performance of his career.
So you’ve mentioned in other interviews and on your Twitter account that you’re a fan of electronic music. To what extent, if any, does that influence your music?
I’m not, well – it makes me always sort of convince my band to play dance music, but they generally reject those offers. So the dancier songs we have, it means I’m really happy during those ones. But, you know, sometimes I feel like it doesn’t influence it. If I had full control over all the music, there would probably be longer songs with more instrumental sections.
Right, a little more ‘jam band.’
For the floor-type beats. But yeah, I have a band to keep me from doing that stuff. (laughs)
What made you decide to transition from just doing acoustic stuff, like how you did before “On Being,” to then adding an actual band?
You know, it just sort of fell into place. I met and started hanging out with a lot of this Lansing crew; we actually met while making hip hop beats, these analog beats. We met surrounding then, honestly, in a small local Lansing label that had formed a couple years ago. I was invited to kind of be a part of this collective, and that’s where I met my band. I had always wanted a band. I liked doing the solo thing, but you know, music’s better – an adventure’s way better – when you have some people to hang with and share with. I was very much seeking out a band without actually seeking it out, so I was really lucky. It was a stroke of luck, and I got some musicians that are much better than me. It helps.
What’s the dynamic like in the band? What kind of roles do different people take on?
Well, Kevin’s the master, Kevin’s the band leader and generally keeps things organized. But we also have Irving and Evan, our managers, so they also have a role in that. But really everyone musically has their own place. We don’t tread on each other so much; I mean, we’ll certainly call each other out if something sounds bad or shitty, but like, in this band, everyone sort of has their say. And I think everyone’s at a point now where we know how to craft what we play to the songs. Everyone’s focused – it’s a very song-focused band. Despite having people who can freakin’ shred, everyone just respects the structure, respects the song, and we trust each other a lot. I write a song, I don’t tell them what to do. I trust them, they trust me.
How’s it been touring outside of Michigan? What are the shows like compared to the shows here?
It’s always humbling. In your home state, you have your home crowd, your friends come out, and you get to play for packed audiences. Those are great. But you know, going on the road – it’s a humbling experience. You’re going to places where no one knows who you are. Occasionally you’ll play to a – I don’t want to say an empty room, but it’s a room where there’s not a lot of people there. You’ll have like ten people there. But then you have the shows where still no one knows you but there are people, and everyone likes you and that’s awesome. In general, it’s just a humbling experience. It’s quick stops in big places.
Now what about opening for Phoenix? I believe that happened just this year. What was that like, being around a foreign band that’s also very popular here?
Oh, that was great. Obviously it’s a huge honor to get to play with Phoenix. I’m a huge fan of them. The promoters were very accommodating, you’re treated well, you get food and whatnot – I don’t know, they treat you like a rock star! [laughs] Not that that’s exactly a good thing, but it was just one of those surreal experiences. It’s not like we’re one of those super huge bands or anything, but we got a taste for that a little bit. Like “wow, this is how it works!” And you get to meet a lot of really, really professional people. You feel like everyone at that level is at the top of their game. There aren’t mistakes that happen. You don’t have the technical glitches that seem to come up. And the Phoenix guys were super cool. They seemed really interested in our music, just all around nice guys, very engaging to talk to.
Can you tell us anything about your next album?
We finished it about a month ago. It’s entirely done. We don’t have any physical CDs yet, but, you know. Pretty much the next step is to look at this as a career. We have a record, it’s completed. It’s kind of the full package at this moment, with the radio singles and the rest of the meat that sort of falls around those. And we’re just crossing our fingers. We’re shopping at the moment, and things are looking very, very good. So tonight and a few other shows will definitely determine whether or not we’ll be able to do this professionally.
Lyrically and sonically, and just all around, where do you see the band going in the next few years?
You mean sonically as in our sound?
Your sound, right.
I get bored really quick, so I tend to jump around a lot. I think all three of our records are, including this one, different from each other in a lot of different ways. You know, honestly, I have no idea where my life could lead, where my tastes will lead… it’s so random. I can say that I’m always pushing to make things a little bit dancier, but at the same time I’m always pushing to make things as honest as they can be, too. I certainly don’t want to sacrifice the integrity of our music.
I think you strike a good balance with that. Like with “Feel,” definitely.
That was a great song, you know, especially at Bledfest, where there are obviously so many bands that are emo or punk, and then getting out and hearing you guys doing a dance song like that – it was really fun.
Yeah, I want to keep it fun. I think my music is a reflection of myself – and not just myself, but the culture that surrounds me. Wherever that culture leads and the way it conditions my own experiences… that’s what’s gonna influence the music. If I get really sad, I’ll probably write a sad record. But I certainly like to keep things with at least a jovial outer layer. I try to keep it happy without sacrificing the overall integrity of the album.
You were studying education at Central Michigan, right? What have you been doing with that, or are you just too busy with the band?
No, I actually work full time. Evan was yelling at me earlier because I have to go to parent-teacher conferences tonight. I’m not a teacher right now – well, I sort of am – I’m in teaching administration. I organize educational programs in inner city schools. So I’m still involved in education. I love teaching; it’s something I’m very passionate about. This isn’t quite teaching, but ultimately I want to play rock’n’roll for a little while and then I want to be a teacher.
Settle down, maybe incorporate some lessons into song form for the kids…
I promised a bunch of middle schoolers today that if they had perfect attendance, they would get a song. So it’s a stretch – they’ve got a lot of work to do.
Interviewer: Abby Harrington
Photo Credit: http://joehertler.tumblr.com/