Up in the air 

Seeking country’s soul with the Clouds

Jeremy Lindsay, aka J.T. from J.T. & the Clouds, is sitting in a café in Chicago with Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” blaring in the background. In the wide array of influences that play into the Clouds’ sound, Lauper, ironically, may be one of the few that doesn’t fit.

“Oh, I don’t know if I can hold up that one,” says Lindsay, laughing. “All those ’80s videos are burned into my brain, but that’s not exactly our sound.”

Defining the character of J.T. & the Clouds can be difficult. There’s a strong connection to traditional folk with an undercurrent of Memphis swing and Chicago funk, all tied together by Lindsay’s discerning songwriting. One glance at the members’ individual backgrounds—Lindsay is friendly with indie-folk artists Jolie Holland and Be Good Tanyas, and brother/keyboardist Drew and guitarist Dan Abu-Absi started in a “country hip-hop group”—gives the sense of something different.

“It’s a good problem to have,” says Lindsay. “When people have trouble defining your music that means you’re making your own stamp. If I had to call it something, though, it’d be country soul.”

The Clouds have been embraced by musical colleagues and critics alike. Holland, one of the original members of Be Good Tanyas before going solo, met Lindsay in a weekly singer-songwriter forum in San Francisco (he’s since relocated to Chicago). She, in turn, introduced Lindsay to the Tanyas, who later covered the Clouds’ “Scattered Leaves” on National Public Radio.

“Since [the Tanyas] reached a certain level of popularity, they’ve been real good about spreading the word on smaller bands like ours,” says Lindsay. “It’s nice to have that connection and know that we have fans like them.”

In fact, after his band’s maiden travels through Montana next week, the Clouds are playing a gig with the Tanyas in Victoria, British Columbia.

As the interview wraps up, Lindsay stops mid-sentence and abandons his thought about how the band is maturing on the road.

“They’re playing A-Ha now, I think,” he says over the café’s soundtrack. “Didn’t they do the video with the colored pencils? Wait, forget I said that. You’ll get the wrong idea. We don’t really sound like them, either.”

J.T. & the Clouds play The Other Side Saturday, May 28, at 9 PM. David Boone and the Rye Catchers open. $5.

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