Mellow Endeavor is an unconventional trio, with Howe on vocals and cajon (a unique box-shaped percussion instrument), Brad Hutchinson on vocals and acoustic guitar and Jim Zabierek on hollow-body electric. No bass, no drums. Unusual, yes, but Mellow Endeavor's sound wouldn't be the same if they had strictly adhered to rock tradition. With the guitars spread left and right and Jason in the middle, the group has a very open sound that allows the songs to breathe.
Howe says their simplified approach to playing music has actually contributed to their intense gig schedule. 'We've been kind of lucky as just a three-piece,' he told me. 'Space is an issue in some places, and fortunately we don't take up much room. Since we don't use an enormous PA, we're very versatile in terms of which venues we can fit into. It's easy to keep things chilled down and mellow at the same time.'
Although Howe's bandmates elected him to be the spokesman for Mellow Endeavor, he prefers to turn the spotlight on them. 'Brad is really kind of our front-man,' Howe says. 'I think of him as the driving force. He's responsible for all of our original songs. We write together, but most of our material is based on some his earlier songs that we brought back with new arrangements to fit our style.'
Mellow Endeavor's roots go back to Howe and Hutchinson's Little League days and continued when they performed side by side in All Aroostook Chorus and Band with Howe on trumpet, an instrument he started playing at age 7.
Howe and Hutchinson tend to work on new material in a setting where some of rock's greatest songs have been created. 'We call them Porch Sessions,'' Jason said. 'Brad comes here and we'll set up on the porch totally unplugged. He'll come up with a riff and I'm more of a lyric guy. We'll just bounce ideas back and forth.
Between shows, the band has been laying down tracks for their first full length album, 'All Paths Lead Home,' due out later this year. Howe says the band's biggest challenge at the moment is selecting material. 'We're trying to whittle down about 25 original tunes for the album,' he said. 'Obviously we can't put them all on there, so we'll narrow it down to just the songs that best represent us.'
A sold out show at Houlton's American Legion hall was an early confidence booster. The concert turned out to be their first with guitarist Jim Zabierek. 'Before the show, he asked for the songs and chords and we said, No, you'll figure them out as we go,'' Howe laughed. 'Let's keep it rough and edgy just show up, we trust your talent. It was as if he had been playing the songs for years.' Zabierek is a fourth-year student at the University of Maine at Orono, where he studies guitar.
Over the last year, Mellow Endeavor has become established in Maine, and they're ready for the next step. 'We'd like to branch out and become more of a regional force,' Howe said. 'We do a lot of gigs in the Bangor area. We've done ski resorts. We play north of Houlton in Presque-Isle and Caribou. We'll be in Hallowell soon, and we've just cracked southern Maine.'
Family and music are intertwined at the Howe household, and Jason looks forward to the day when he can form a side project: The Howe Family Band. 'With three kids, I have a bass player, a guitar player and a drummer,' he said laughing. My 5-year-old already wants to play drums. He jumps on my cajon and beats on it every chance he gets. Danielle came to see us play when she was 34 weeks pregnant, and the twins were flip-flopping and dancing all around. To this day, I would say that the twins are our biggest fans. If they're crying and I turn the radio on, they keep crying. If I put on a Mellow Endeavor CD, they immediately stop and just smile.'
Upcoming Mellow Endeavor shows in the Bangor area include a March 23 show at Ipanema, April 7 at Paddy Murphy's, April 27 at Nocturnem and May 11 at Sea Dog Brewing Company. For more on Mellow Endeavor, including a full gig schedule, visit www.MellowEndeavor.com and follow them on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/MellowEndeavor.