A cluster of rats scurrying along the gutters and an elderly man’s Arabic profanities masking the pitter-patter of his own urine against a brick wall may not encompass the romance of a European getaway. But for musician Scott Jeffers of the world-rock band Traveler, these unpleasant scenarios have become the basis for his songwriting career.
“I was a bit of a wanderer just seeking inspiration,” he says. “An ethnic sound came into the picture and I became completely obsessed. It gave the rock a unique overtone.”
Jeffers plays 10 different instruments and prefers purchasing those that are unique to specific cultures. For instance, the oud, which was discovered in an Egyptian tomb more than 5,000 years ago, is an Arabic stringed instrument similar to a lute, and one of the most storied instruments Jeffers has encountered along his travels. He’s also played the bouzouki, a popular Greek instrument, and a cümbüs, which is a banjo-like instrument from Turkey.
A native of Boulder, Colo., who now lives in Arizona, Jeffers grew up surrounded by international culture. His mother, a belly dancer, is of Lebanese descent and had a taste for Arabian inspired music. His father plays violin and learned his skills from a great uncle who quit playing violin after immigrating to the United States from Switzerland in order to work as a farmer. Jeffers, who specializes in violin and grew up listening to the likes of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, says he utilized his family’s cultural and musical history to help engineer the edgy, ethnically driven beats that have become the foundation for Traveler.
“We felt like we had to carry on the legacy,” Jeffers says.
Emanating both Celtic and Egyptian sounds with high energy, Jeffers’ lyrics spin stories of his travels and address cultural struggles he’s witnessed along the way. As someone who prefers to immerse himself in each country’s customs, that can often lead to a different perspective than the typical visitor.
“I don’t want to be a tourist. It’s all about the culture—meeting real people, seeing real problems,” Jeffers says. “It’s important to taste the food and smell things.”
A drawback of Jeffers unfettered exploration is seeing both the good and bad of the countries he visits. For instance, he feels that Israel’s residents convey a weariness that several neighboring countries have yet to experience.
“You can only absorb so much,” Jeffers says. “And the influence can be dramatic.”
While conflict and turmoil are both muses for Jeffers’ songs, he also finds a sense of hope among the more damaged countries. Despite Lebanon’s reputation and tumultuous past, he found happiness and pride among its residents. Unlike Greece and other European hotspots he’s frequented, Lebanon ranks among Jeffers’ more appreciated sites.
“The buildings are scarred with remnants of war,” Jeffers says, “but the people are proud. For them, it’s a time for peace.”
It’s fitting that Traveler feels most comfortable on the road. Despite the band’s versatile talent, Jeffers admits that their hometown Arizona crowds are less than inspiring.
“We’ve probably had the worst reaction in Phoenix,” Jeffers says. “But it’s nice, in a way. It keeps you humble not having people think you’re the greatest…Then we go to Austin and they treat us like we’re gods. It’s great.”
Jeffers won’t be abandoning his overseas adventures any time soon, and for his current tour he says that he’s thrilled to be experiencing different, more moderate climates. Although the band has played Aurora Fest in Polebridge, this will be their first time actually playing—as opposed to just stopping at Rockin Rudy’s on their way through town—in Missoula.
“I’m excited to get out of the desert. It’ll be nice to have to wear a jacket,” Jeffers says. “And we’re anxious to perform [in Missoula]. Certain regions react differently to our music. Hopefully, people will be intrigued.”
Traveler plays the Badlander Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 9 PM. $5.