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Kings of Crownsville are performing at 49 West on Saturday, Feb. 15. The band consists of David Vermette on bass, Michael McCormack on keyboards, Jim Tavener on trombone and congas, Ed Justice on trumpet, John Shepard on drums and Steve Johnson on guitar and lead vocals.
Kings of Crownsville are performing at 49 West on Saturday, Feb. 15. The band consists of David Vermette on bass, Michael McCormack on keyboards, Jim Tavener on trombone and congas, Ed Justice on trumpet, John Shepard on drums and Steve Johnson on guitar and lead vocals. (Courtesy Photo)

Anne Arundel-based band Kings of Crownsville have been jamming around the state for over 12 years. Their unique sound is hard to pinpoint, but fans have described the band’s New Orleans style jazz as Louis Armstrong meets Steely Dan. Kings of Crownsville have two studio albums and one live album that was recorded at Quiet Waters Park. The band’s most recent studio album is called “A Person Like You.”

Guitar player and lead vocalist Steve Johnson talk to The Capital about the band’s new album, its eclectic sound and their upcoming show at 49 West on Saturday, Feb. 15.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How would you describe King of Crownsville’s sound?

The way we think about it is we have instrumentation that’s similar to something you might hear in New Orleans. That’s kind of our musical mecca in a way. I lived there as a kid. Other guys in the band travel there all the time. If you go to New Orleans, you know that there’s just a very eclectic music scene down there. And they all sort of throw it together into a gumbo, all kinds of different spices and everything. And that’s kind of the way we look at our music. We are not out to make a living from it. Although we play quite a bit. At this point in our lives, we just want to play stuff we like. We can do anything from Caribbean type stuff to Americana stuff to traditional jazz.

How did you come up with that name?

It was the most reasonable-sounding name that we came up with. We had names like ‘Goats on Fire’ and ridiculous stuff. I thought Kings of Crownsville was good because we got a guy who lives in Crownsville, I live near Crownsville. We’re older guys. There’s a tradition in New Orleans, bands are called the Dukes of this, the Kings of that, we went with it.

What point would in life would you say you’re at as a band?

As a band, we’ve been together for 12 years, maybe even more at this point. We just got a new drummer. We’ve been together for basically a good long while. I guess we’re pretty seasoned at this point. We’ve played all kinds of different places. We carry this wherever we go. We carry this sound wherever we go.

Where do you play in Annapolis?

We play at places like 49 West. We play at the dock in the summertime. We play at the museum down there, the Maritime Museum. We play all over Annapolis. We also play a lot in Baltimore. There’s a place in Baltimore called Germano’s Piattini, it’s a cabaret. We’re kind of like the house band there. We play there pretty much every month or so. And we play the jazz festival in Baltimore. Look at our schedule, you see we’re all over the place.

Who are your inspirations?

I think probably the guy from New Orleans who we listen to the most now is Trombone Shorty. I lived in New Orleans three or four years. I was born in Mississippi, lived in New Orleans, then moved up to New York state. My mom’s from the Memphis area, so they brought all that music up there with them. I kind of grew up with it really.

What’s your songwriting process like?

I’m the singer, songwriter. The bass player has written a couple of songs. I write the most. Most of the material we play is original material. We like doing that. It’s not easy all the time to go and sell yourself on just original material. But when we go and play we have a really good response from it. Basically, the process is I’ll come in with a song, I’ll sort of play the song solo, and then try to sell the song. If the band likes the song, then everybody jumps on board and starts grabbing a piece of territory. It becomes a pretty creative process, which I really like.

It used to be, I sat down at a guitar and tried to find melodies and chord progressions. Now, a lot of it takes place in my head. I find some way to sit down and play it out. I start out with the music and then I sort of feel the mood of the music. Then I try to put some words to it.

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Do you have a common theme in your lyrics?

Well, you know, I’ve been doing this my whole life. So, it’s changed over the span of my life. I’m an old man now. It used to be man meets woman, woman meets man, all that stuff. Eventually, it started to move into more universal themes, things that maybe we take for granted. I wrote a song about the color blue. I wrote a song about some amazing person called A Person Like You. Not so much about love and remorse and romance and all that stuff. At this age, kind of moving out of that, so, you know, when you listen to it, you’ll find out, that’s the hard thing. The hard thing is to come up with something that is different.

Any long term goals moving forward?

I think our goal is always to...we could play the same old places, but we like to keep finding new places to play, better venues. New audiences for us. We like doing that. Every year we try to put something extra into our itinerary for the band, new stuff.

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