The first thing that strikes you about Portland’s Junebugs is that the name fits. Not that bugs are generally whimsical, but a junebug is, honestly, one of your less threatening insects. It comes with more of a “Hey, watch them go toward the light” vibe than any sort of panic like the type induced by, say, your killer bees.
The Junebugs can’t really be considered threatening, either, unless a reinterpretation of Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” would be an affront. They don’t so much flit toward the light as go all over the board.
Catch the trio in a local set and you’ll hear a mix of original work and covers, with a liberal doses of banjo in addition to the usual guitar/bass/drums configuration (Find their current schedule here). The aforementioned “Pumped Up Kicks” features an acapella beginning that, predictably but quite pleasantly, is the prelude to some Flatt and Scruggs style turbo-banjo work that carries the day. While doing covers can be musically thankless work, the Junebugs don’t see it that way.
“The American songbook is alive and well, and it didn’t end in the 1950s,” says group leader and founder Moses Barrett.
Although the band is technically four years old, the current lineup of Barrett, with drummer Kyle Owen, just welcomed new member (and former PSU classmate) Sean Vinson in the fall of this year. Vinson assumed bassist duties to replace departed Hugh Findlay, who left to run his own AV company. Vinson said there’s a lot to learn.
Their original work bears out that Junebug attitude. Their press kit describes them as a “fusion of old-timey music and the ‘90s. Imagine if you put R. Kelly through a banjo.” You can hear 70s influences as well, and they come by it organically.
“I grew up playing guitar around a campfire with my Dad. I actually didn’t know artists; I just knew songs.” says Barrett. “Like I said, the great American songbook, y’know?”
Though he counts Neil Young and Blues Traveler among his influences, songs like “Sleep” still feel new. Picture a lilting banjo that’s maybe the soundtrack of a road movie, the one where you come to that four-point junction, and the character has to decide which way to turn.
And if that’s not your speed, just give it a minute — a cover of “No Diggity” is probably on the set list, too.
The Junebugs Interview and Live Performance
Listen to Chris Taylor’s live in-studio interview with the Junebugs: