At Work: Neighbor

Hana Gustafson on May 5, 2022
At Work: Neighbor

Photo credit: Brady Cooling


“I had been wanting to start an original project to play some songs that I had been writing while I was on the road with my other band, Pink Talking Fish,” says Richard James, while calling from his New England home. He is discussing Neighbor’s recent surge in popularity on the jamband circuit, three short years after he formed the project with his real-life childhood neighbor, Lyle Brewer. “It’s great to be playing, to be just sharing the stage with somebody that’s like a brother— somebody that I’ve known my whole life. We’ve known each other for 30-plus years. So it’s just a comfortable feeling. When I look over, I know this guy’s got my back when we’re performing. It’s a really cool dynamic. It’s exciting.”

In addition to James on keyboards and Brewer on guitar, the quartet’s lineup boasts Dan Kelly on the bass and Dean Johnston on drums. The ensemble got their start performing weekly sets at a local brewery just outside of Boston, before their following swelled to the point where they had to find a larger location, Thunder Road. “Before we knew it, the place was packed every Tuesday night in Boston,” the keyboardist says. “It was a couple 100 people coming out to see the band.”

Neighbor attributes their ascent to their devoted followers—lovingly known as “neighbors”—who have gone to great lengths to assist in the band’s success. “The fans don’t mess around,” James says, while relaying a story about the 2021 Peach Music Festival. “Our fans decided that, in order to get the band more exposure, they would fly a plane with a banner around.” Those fans have also joined forces to repurpose old CDs to distribute live recordings of Neighbor’s music. “So, really, the outreach happened from within the Neighbor community,” James says. “The neighbors were just making it happen and introducing new people to our music. And, it kept growing and growing.”

Neighbor’s development as a unit can also be attributed to their tight jams, lengthy improvisations and an excellent selection of cover songs. The combo mixes in everything from The Allman Brothers Band to Jimi Hendrix while throwing in one-of-a-kind material like the 80-minute rock odyssey “Silver.” The band also nods to James’ time covering Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Phish with his other act, pulling inspiration from the fusion cover band’s expansive catalog.

As James observes, “We continued to just kind of push ourselves and keep writing original music—the four of us—and we just kept being creative with our setlists, our cover selections and some other random fun stuff that helps keep the crowd engaged.”