Hometown favorite, The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, is putting a unique touch on music.
Matt Doss, Alex Brown, Travis Williams & Joseph “Sparky” Schmitt, or as they’re collectively known “The League of Ordinary Gentlemen,” are so much more than Danville’s hometown cover band. Primarily rooted in putting a dynamic spin on hits from the 70s, 80s, 90s and today while producing original works, these four have a passion for bringing music to Danville and the surrounding areas, and it shines through in their performances.
It all started with a front porch and a dream (as most bands do). Travis’s front porch, to be precise. Having known each other for years, Matt, Alex & Travis were able to bring their unique talents together to form something they felt was very special. Upon meeting Joseph Schmitt, a.k.a “Sparky,” during a random, chance encounter, they discovered they were on to something more. Attending open mic at different venues around Danville, they found that people enjoyed their unique sound while being able to sing along to some favorites from “back in the day.” With Sparky on Harmonica, Travis on bass, Alex on guitar, and Matt on vocals, they became “The League of Ordinary Gentlemen,” even though this band is anything but ordinary.
Showcase sat down with this year’s RAVE favorite local band, The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, to talk influences, aspirations, and the future.
Showcase Magazine: Tell us a about yourselves. What or who are your individual influences each of you bring to the group?
Matt Doss: I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember, even before I could speak. My mother would sing to my sister and myself, whether it was at home, in the car, or in the church choir. She would always sing the harmony to everything and it helped my sister and I develop an ear for that. However, the running joke in the family is that my dad gave me his singing voice because he can’t carry a tune in a bucket. I love him so much, but it’s bad. Also, I’m lucky to have friends who can play instruments because, if not, I’d be some weird guy singing along to the same four chords on the guitar over and over again.
Alex Brown: I began an appreciation for music when I found out my father, Ethan Brown, was a bass player in an 80s cover band called “The Keep.” I thought it was the coolest thing to play and be in a band. It inspired me to join the band in the middle school and carry on through high school and even my freshman year at the University of Memphis where I performed in the school marching band. As far as guitar players that have influenced me, I have always admired blues guitar players like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Lang, Joe Bonamassa, and of course B.B. King. Their music inspired me to go beyond learning four chords and have a deeper appreciation for music theory in order to play like they do.
Travis Williams: Music has always been a part of my life. Whether it was listening to records with my mom or singing in the car. My stepdad was a big influence when it came to my exposure to music. I would sit and listen to box sets of music. When I was around 14, I got my first guitar. Nirvana’s “Come as You Are” was the first song I learned how to play. I played songs by Metallica, Skynyrd, and STP. As I started getting into more acoustic guitar, Dave Matthews inspired me with his unique playing style. I play bass now and guitar when needed. Bass is just a fun instrument to play.
Sparky Schmitt: I’m a husband, father, artist, blues singer/harp player. My influences are basically everything… Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Joe Strummer, David Lee Roth, John Lee Hooker… Anything to do with singing and performing. I’ve probably used some of it to build my style… show tunes, jazz, punk, classic rock… I’ve been fronting bands since I was 19, so it has been very cool, very interesting, to be part of a band like this in a different role.
SM: What got you interested in music?
MD: I was able to hone my craft and learn a great deal when I was a Theatre major at Averett University. I’ve encountered so many people throughout my life who are not only great musicians but have a passion for it as well. And that’s definitely the most important part. That’s what’s so inspiring. You’re not going to grow in anything if you don’t have the passion and the want to succeed. I’ve been very fortunate to watch and hear folks like Matt Crowder, Cameron Owen, and Jason Springs for the past couple years. Not only have they been supportive of us as a band, but seeing what they’ve accomplished individually, and together, has a been a great metric to go by as far as what hard work and practice can accomplish.
AB: As mentioned before, my father played music when he was younger, and I thought it would be cool to follow in his footsteps. I joined the middle school band playing trumpet then eventually, over the course of a couple years, transitioning to the tuba. I also played all four years in the high school marching band and three years in the percussion ensemble. I got to take a break from the tuba in the percussion ensemble and picked up the bass guitar. I always wanted to challenge myself musically to either learn a new instrument or more difficult chord progressions, so I picked up the guitar. From then on, I knew I wanted to continue to play music even if it wasn’t for a career. Music gives us the ability to escape whatever is going on in life, but also helps us reflect upon the world and everyone living in it.
SS: My folks had a great record collection, so I grew up on Chuck Berry, the Beatles, Louis Armstrong, everything Motown… In high school, I found friends who gave me a whole pile of new stuff to listen to, but soul and classic rock were always a constant which led me to being primarily a blues singer. My wife has turned me on to music I either hadn’t heard or just hadn’t gotten into before. The learning and growing process is still going on.
SM: How did the band form?
MD: Travis, Alex, and I would get together and hang out at 2 Witches Winery & Brewing Co. and it would always turn into a jam session at some point. We met our harmonica player, Sparky, through a random encounter at the Danville library. We were attending open mic night last spring at Ballad when they held the “Ballad of the Bands.” Because of the enormous support from our friends, family, and the community, we won and realized that maybe we were on to something. Since then, we’ve been putting a huge amount of work and focus into getting to the level we desire to be at.
AB: Travis and Matt had played together before at open mic but the “Ballad of the Bands” open mic was when I joined them. After that first show we played at Ballad, I knew we had something unique and something I hope to be a part of for a long time.
TW: Honestly as a joke. Alex and I would sit and jam around a campfire. Matt would sing as our friends threw request at us. Matt and I did a few open mics at Ballad, and then we had Alex join us.
SS: They were already a group when I met Matt at the library; when he found out I played harmonica and sang, he invited me to a rehearsal… the “click” was pretty immediate.
SM: Do you define with a certain genre or is the band more genre-crossing?
MD: We pride ourselves on being an extremely genre-crossing band. We play everything from Steve Miller Band, The Beatles, and Rod Stewart to Maroon 5 and Eminem to Whitney Houston and Britney Spears. We sprinkle in a bit of everything. We try to have a diverse set list to give everyone who comes out to our shows something to sing along to.
AB: The beautiful thing about the band is we don’t have a specific genre or label that can be attached to us. We play music from different decades and genres that people can relate to. We pick songs that we think we can put our own spin on and that shows off all of our strengths as musicians.
TW: Definitely genre-crossing we are like a buffet when it comes to the songs we play. There is something for everyone. We have even played “Let It Go” from Frozen at a show before.
SS: The band goes anywhere it wants to, genre-wise. That’s the whole vibe right there; once we filter a song through the four of us, it’s a new version… We ARE a genre!
SM: Have you recorded any original music? If yes, where can people pick it up?
MD: We have a couple of originals on our Facebook page at the moment titled “Work in Progress” and “To All the Girls I’ve Loved.” We’re actually in the process of writing more right now. Alex will come up with some really nice chords and I’ll set the lyrics to whatever he provides. Then, Travis and Sparky will add the bass and the harmonica, respectively, and before we know it, we’ve got ourselves a new song.
AB: Both songs are currently Matt on vocals and me on acoustic guitar. We have plans to re-record the tracks with the full band including hopefully a drum track from a drummer we are currently working with. We invite people to check it out and hopefully share it with the world!
SS: I will contribute whatever I can, because I love the creation process. Finishing a new song is an amazing feeling.
SM: If you could name a playlist after your favorite music, what would it be?
MD: “Random!” Just like the music we perform; I love every type of music. I can’t think of a genre that I don’t like a least one song from it.
AB: Mine would have to be called “Songs to Learn” because I am always searching for a new sound or new groove to share with the band to increase our ever-expanding set list to make ourselves more rounded as a group.
TW: “Snack Sampler.” I listen to everything, folk, bluegrass, country, rap, metal and rock.
SM: Being a band, how do you handle creative differences?
MD: We’re all very close, and we’ve known each other for a while. We believe in an open dialogue and discussing things with each other before we make any big decisions. We’re all like brothers, like a family. We’re always going to have disagreements at times, but we listen to each other and value each other’s feedback. It helps that we’re all passionate and easy-going individuals.
AB: We may have our own influences and differences in opinion from time to time, but we all have a connection to one another which allows for an openness just like a family. We don’t move on a gig or song without everybody having a say in what we do. Communication creates a stronger band that will endure past any challenge presented to them.
TW: The great thing is everyone is open to each other’s ideas. We will try it if it works great. If it doesn’t, we will workshop it or scrap it.
SS: Good question. I don’t think we’ve had that issue so far… beer?
SM: What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
MD: I’m a firm believer you get back what you put out. Be sincere and honest in everything you do, and it will come back to you, I promise. Always help others if the opportunity arises but never be afraid to accept help from others. Also, it takes a great deal of practice, patience, understanding, and hard work, but if you’re passionate about something and if you care enough, it’ll never truly feel like work.
AB: My advice would be to avoid negative vibes and always challenge yourself to be better as a musician. If you ask all the great guitar players about how they know so much, they will tell you they are still learning and improving on their sound and musicianship. Also, be different. If we want music to continue, we all need to strive for that new sound or rhythm.
TW: You have to put yourself out there. You never learn or get better sitting where you are.
SS: PRACTICE. Listen to as much different music as you can. PRACTICE. Take yourself seriously but know when to get weird. PRACTICE.
There are plenty of opportunities to catch The League of Ordinary Gentlemen live in the near future. The band will perform an intimate Valentine’s Day show at Crema & Vine on February 14. On February 21, TloOG will play its first show with new drummer, Seth Hawker at 2 Witches. On March 12, it has a set at the Danville Community Market for St. Waggy’s Day. And TloOG will be at Ballad Brewing on April 18. For all dates and information visit facebook.com/TLOOGDanville.