Road Prophets

Highway Poets hit the gas on new album

After 11 years of musical successes that include winning numerous NorBay awards for best indie band, extensive tours and appearances at some of the biggest festivals on the West Coast, Petaluma’s Highway Poets are checking another box on their rock ‘n’ roll bucket list when they play their first headline set at the Mystic Theatre & Music Hall in their hometown on Saturday, Sept. 16.

Led by guitarist and vocalist Sebastian Saint James and featuring guitarist Travis James, bassist Taylor James and drummer Rhyne Erde, the tight-knit powerhouse group will unveil their long-awaited sophomore album,

Chasing Youth, with a concert featuring rock and roll comrades Kingsborough, the John Courage Trio and a surprise guest.

The band’s name reflects the members’ passion for playing on the road, though the Highway Poets have spent the last two years largely retooling their sound after the departure of their original drummer. “We basically had a big shock to our system, and slowed down,” Saint James says.

When Erde joined the group, they incorporated his classic rock style to their existing sound. “We’ve all become brothers-in-arms,” Saint James says. “We kind of created a new band.”

Chasing Youth marks a sophisticated leap in performance and production for the fiercely DIY group. Last year, the Highway Poets gathered over $11,000 from fans through an online campaign and used the funds wisely, recording at Frogville Studios in Santa Fe, N.M. Songwriter Frankie Boots introduced Saint James to the space three years ago. “It’s like a studio out of the ’60s,” Saint James says. “We just fell in love.”

Utilizing the studio’s vintage gear, the band took an old-school approach to recording the album, which boasts gritty soul-rock infused with horns and keys amid the howling vocals and red-hot guitar hooks. The band is a live wire of electricity on the record, a departure from the folk influences of their previous releases. “Writing the songs, we wanted to make an R&B record in our minds,” Saint James says.

Chasing Youth will be available when the Highway Poets headline the Mystic, a longtime dream of the band, who have opened several shows there.

“We’ve always cherished the sound in that room,” Saint James says. “As a performer, you can kind of lay into the Mystic—there’s something about the reverb in that room. I feel like I always have a good night there.”