Band formerly known as The Blue Sky Traffic returns to Hub City

December 24, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Ironically, debut album "Blue Sky Traffic" - by the group formerly known as The Blue Sky Traffic - is what happens when a band discovers its true identity.

"We're more of a band than we've ever been," elaborated Justin Kalk, a 25-year-old Smithsburg native and the frontman of The Justin Kalk Orchestra - the latest iteration of The Blue Sky Traffic.

Based in Nashville, Tenn., The Justin Kalk Orchestra is made up of three former Washington County residents: Kalk, Steve Britton, and Brent Burgee, who comprised what was once the four-man Smithsburg-based group known as The Blue Sky Traffic.

"I would say what makes this album different is that it all sounds like us," Kalk said. "The last album, there'd be a few songs where we'd sound like The Beatles, we'd sound like Jimi Hendrix or wannabe hip-hop artists, but this album we've really honed in on what the musical statement we want to make is."


The Justin Kalk Orchestra will perform a few shows in Maryland to promote of its debut album ahead of its official CD-release party in New York City in January.

The band will perform at the Broad Axe in downtown Hagerstown on New Year's Eve.

The Blue Sky Traffic got some national exposure after competing an Web-based reality show coordinated by NBC. In 2008, the band relocated to Nashville, Tenn. But has since been reinvented, under the name of the Justin Kalk Orchestra.

The album is an homage to the band that once was, Kalk said. The band has replaced two BST drummers. Kalk said the name change came right around the move, about the same time the band lost the rights to use "Blue Sky Traffic" as its domain name - which it just happened to regain just before the debut album dropped.

But why Nashville if they guys don't play country music?

"We couldn't afford to go to New York or California and mostly, I guess, we always really loved to record. That was one of our favorite things, and Nashville has probably some of the best recording studios in the country, if not the best."

Kalk said Nashville proved to be an interesting choice for the guys, since they don't do straight-up country or bluegrass. The band's music draws influence from the bass lines and rhythmic grooves of hip hop - something Kalk said he developed a deeper appreciation for while studying music at Berklee College of Music in Boston. And by hip hop, Kalk said the influence is more Beck-like than Kid Rock.

"It's definitely helped us stand out," Kalk said. "There are too many bands who do that - hip-hop live bands. The bluegrass and stuff has been really influential on us, but we've really gotten to create our own scene because of that."

Since being in Nashville, JKO has been recording and trying to sell themselves as Nashville's next indie up-and-comers. The band recorded its debut album at Blackbird Studios, where a friend and Berklee chum of Kalk's did the mixing honors.

They've been making friends but are still learning their way around Nashville's musical hierarchy. They tapped artist Ralph Steadman to create the art for JKO's album cover.

Still, Kalk says there's still a lot of dues paying to be done.

"We've been going in there and mixing in the middle of the night - in between the Jonas Brothers and Jack White," Kalk said. "But we're the low end of the food chain, obviously. It's turned out really well."

If you go ...

WHAT: The Justin Kalk Orchestra

WHEN:Event begins at 10 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 31

WHERE: The Broad Axe. 28 W. Franklin St., downtown Hagerstown

COST: $3 cover charge; free champagne toast at midnight

CONTACT: Call the Broad Axe, 301-733-8454.

MORE: For more about the band, visit www.justinkalk .com

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