Since bursting on to the jam/prog-rock scene a few years ago, Backup Planet has been relentless about touring. With recent coverage by Relix, Live4LiveMusic, and LiveandListen, and backed up by sellout shows of Athens’ Georgia Theater and Nashville’s Exit/In, it’s clear that their hard-charging approach to playing out is working.
Founded in 2012 by Gavin Donati and Ben Cooper, Backup Planet gained popularity in the Knoxville and Nashville scenes quickly. Still, for the first several years they were handicapped by the lack of a permanent lineup.
“Originally,” Donati tells me, “we would add a guy and then subtract a guy and Ben had to play a lot of the bass.”
The band finally had former Afro frontman Blake Gallant sit in for a few shows. Almost immediately they knew he was the right guy.
“It felt very natural,” Gallant recalls. “After the concert, we had a jam over at my place and we were all pushing each other really hard. You could tell Ben was getting really excited being that freed up on the keyboard. I think we went and got some Thai food and then they were texting me before they even got back to Nashville like ‘You wanna do this?’”
Backup Planet hit the road with the new lineup. But As they crisscrossed the U.S., a serious car wreck on June 19, 2015, set them back again. The band’s drummer, Carson Brown, was badly injured and unable, at least for the foreseeable future, to play the drums anymore. Faced with another lineup change and a philosophical maelstrom, some of the band-members questioned whether they should go on.
“Carson was doing so well with us and then we got in that wreck and we thought ‘Man, this is the end,’” explains Donati. “It was almost meant to be though that Chris (Potocik) wasn’t playing that much right then. When we offered him the spot he took it.”
It didn’t take long to realize that Potocik was the perfect fit, and Backup Planet got right back to the business of playing live music. Opening for acts like George Porter Jr., The Revivalists, Moon Taxi, and The Werks, as well as headlining shows themselves, they racked up more than 150 shows in 2016.
“A lot of people were shocked that we went down to Birmingham being that we are from Nashville, but he has gear that you can try to imitate but not get right,” Gallant says.
According to Donati, it was exactly what Backup Planet needed.
“That was working with a real-deal producer,” he gushes. “He knows how to get the best out of people. He wasn’t taking no for an answer. We would play it technically perfect and he would be like ‘That doesn’t have the magic, go rework it.’”
Many of the band’s new songs are already firmly in rotation. Maintaining the poppy melodies and the dirty backbeats of their previous work, Backup Planet’s new music, nonetheless, is continuing to trend toward the heavier side of rock. There’s a reason for that, says Gavin Donati.
“It’s all written after the wreck and its a lot of reflections,” he says. “I mean, we almost died.”
Coming off of a year that would make a whirlwind dizzy, these guys have no plans to slow down. In fact, they’re planning on swinging harder than ever.
“We are trying to double what we did last year,” Gallant tells me, with a remarkably straight face. “We are hoping to play close to 300 shows between April of 2017 and April of 2018. Our first tour of the year will be from Vermont to New Mexico, but we’re still trying to expand it. Originally it would be like two months with maybe a day or two off out of 10, but it’s sounding more and more like it’s going to be extended.”
If that sounds crazy to you, and it does to me, to Donati it sounds just right.
“I am super stoked because we have been waiting so long and finally we have gotten here. We have a great booking agent (Tom Baggott of Hoplite) and we are going all the way across the country.”
Backup Planet, a band whose name aptly reflects the struggles it is born from, is blasting off and looking to take you with them.
“I have never felt better about anything in my life,” Donati opines toward the end of our interview, “than this core group of guys that want to do this as a career.”
Backup Planet plays at 9pm at Isis Music Hall on Saturday the 21st. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 D.O.S.
Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the author and publisher of Rosman City Blues and currently resides outside of Asheville with his dog and best friend, Dr. Gonzo.