Let’s be honest. When it comes to jam bands, there are a lot of unfortunate and unfair stereotypes out there ranging from appearance to hygiene to the actual music. For the sake of not accidentally offending anyone, let’s keep it above the belt, and just stick with the music aspect.
Jam bands have long lived with the stigma that while they often have great chops and can “jam,” hence the moniker, they do that and only that. The songwriting is much more like a collection of riffs that everyone can take turns endlessly soloing on for marathon sets that only the chemically altered can survive — and enjoy, for that matter.
While there may be some truth to that, the truly great jam bands, the ones that break out of their loyal-to-a-fault cult following, are those that can find balance between the musicianship and songwriting, and work in multiple genres. Granted, those are a rare breed. Obviously the Grateful Dead and Phish are the most famous examples, but locally the band that represents all that is great about jam bands is, undoubtedly, Shaky Feelin’.
Shaky Feelin’ is led by chief songwriter, lead singer and lead guitarist Mark Masson (who, interestingly enough, also works at Cordoba Guitars in Oxnard). Joined by Franklin Murphy on keys, Jeff Hiller on bass and the double drummer (yes, you read that right) combination of Cameron Probe and Paul Menchaca, Shaky Feelin’ is arguably the finest pound-for-pound collection of musicians of any band in the area right now.
It’s with the band’s latest full-length, Insider Mind, however, that they have proven they are more than just a one-trick pony and that the songwriting is just as strong as the playing. Much of that can be traced to Masson’s own diverse musical journey.
Growing up locally as an only child in a music-loving family, he first became obsessed with classic rock like Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles. After attending his first live show ever — local Nardcore legends The Missing 23rd — Masson became enthralled with punk, which led to bands like Operation Ivy and Sublime with their ska overtones. These in turn led to reggae like Bob Marley and then, ultimately, jam bands like The Dead and Phish.
It’s actually a fascinating progression and it explains in many ways why Shaky Feelin’s songs have so much depth and variety, because he and his cohorts are bringing a lifetime of different genres into the sound. “Jam bands implement everything that I’ve grown up listening to, and that’s the idea, you can put it all in one jam,” explains Masson. “I love rock, reggae, bluegrass, funk, and we really do use all those influences. That’s what we always say; if you don’t like one song, there’s a good chance you’ll like the next one.”
It’s that eclectic sound that has fans of the genre taking notice and not just locally. While the Ventura music scene right now is at best shaky (no pun intended), Shaky Feelin’ has found followers in more jam-friendly states like Colorado and Oregon and beyond. There’s a buzz on the band, from the Internet to jam-band-related radio, which really has them in position to be the next breakout band in their scene.
While Masson has been in this position before (his last band, The Situation, developed a small buzz in its day), he feels Shaky Feelin’ is the best music he’s written and has the best musicians he’s worked with. And while the majority of the band is moving toward their mid-30s, the newly married Masson is clearly excited to ride the great response the new record is getting no matter where it takes them.
As Masson laughingly admits, “I always wanted to be a rock star . . . still do.”
Lucky for Masson, he’s seemingly just a few more jams away.