At Work: Durand Jones & The Indications

Justin Joffe on July 20, 2019
At Work: Durand Jones & The Indications

photo by Rosie Cohe

Land of the Free and Tender

American Love Call, the sophomore album from Durand Jones & The Indications, opens with a Daily Skimm-length look at the myriad stories plaguing the national headlines. In under four minutes, “Morning in America” references Florida’s opioid epidemic, Arizona’s former subhuman, tent-city prison and Michigan’s water crisis, just for starters.

Soul music has never shied away from channeling the zeitgeist. Much like Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield, Gil Scott Heron, Donnie Hathaway and many other greats before them, this group of college friends from Bloomington, Ind., understands that riffs on love and togetherness are only part of the deal—the truly soulful must also bear witness.

“When you become more politically active, it’s also important to remember what you’re fighting for, which is the freedom and the space to be tender,” says Aaron Frazer, the group’s drummer, singer and songwriter.

But The Indications—including frontman/songwriter Jones, Frazer, guitarist Blake Rhein, bassist Kyle Houpt and keyboardist Steve Okonski—manage to honor their influences while still making art firmly rooted in the now.

“‘Retro soul’ is almost taboo,” says Jones. “It’s almost impossible to be influenced by all that’s happening around you and be ‘retro.’”

Within the band, this understanding of how past and present work together runs deep, and traveling the country taught them how to hold a mirror up to their audience. “You go from town to town, meet these amazing people and see these exciting, vibrant communities with young, amazing leaders,” says Frazer. “Then you flip on the news and, on this macro level, things look pretty bleak. So there’s this trying to reconcile hope and anger—a lot of people feel anger, and that’s how I feel too, sometimes.”

On American Love Call, Jones, Frazer and Rhein learned to tighten their harmonies and sing as a true vocal group, creating a vibe of togetherness that transcends race, class and hipster prophecies.

“I really do think that this music brings people together,” says Jones. “You can look back to Stax or Minit Records. How unlikely was it then for blacks and whites to come together and create a genre that would change generations?”

This article originally appears in the June 2019 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.