WORDS / KODY FORD
PHOTO / FARRIS GERARD
Few bands find their break after taking a break, but for the Fayetteville-based band The Plaid Jackets, that’s the way it went down. Having gone on a hiatus after creative burnout, vocalist/guitarist Brandon Adkins and drummer Matt Johannesen did not anticipate the future waiting for their music.
They never expected that within a few years, they would be running around with pop culture icons and playing for packed crowds, but then the call came. James Tooley, son-in-law of legendary actor Adam West, and director of the new documentary Starring Adam West, contacted The Plaid Jackets. Tooley wanted their song “Adam West Is Batman” from their album, “The New Adventures of The Plaid Jackets,” released in 2010. The track is a tongue-in-cheek, grunge pop ode to West’s classic take on the Caped Crusader. Tooley said West heard the tune and loved it. When Tooley asked if he could use the song in his upcoming film, the guys jumped at the chance. According to Johannesen, the unexpected attention jolted them out of their musical lull, and they didn’t know where it would take them.
Over the years, Adkins and Johannesen played in various bands before joining forces in a four-piece group called Studder. Having kindled a friendship over the love of 90’s music, they decided to step out on their own and adopted the moniker Cheesy Poofs.
During the next few weeks, they played around with songs until Johannesen tuned his drum kit differently. After banging away for a bit, they had a sound fitting for a two-piece outfit, and they decided to call themselves The Plaid Jackets. In 2004, they recorded demos and put the songs on MySpace. Bailey Mendenhall of 104.9 The X, in Fayetteville, heard the demos online and invited The Plaid Jackets to the radio station. With encouragement from friends, they enlisted sound engineer Dwight Chalmers to record a self-titled EP. Chalmers guided the band to further define their sound, and once the new sounds (that Johannesen describes as “loud and fast”) were complete, they took them to the radio. Mendenhall took them under his wing and facilitated gigs and local radio exposure, but the duo’s success remained local, and nothing materialized.
Four years later, in 2008, local musician and state representative, Jon Woods, heard a newly written song “Adam West is Batman” performed live at George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, Arkansas. When Woods heard The Plaid Jackets perform the unique tune, he offered to fund and produce a recording session. They agreed and returned to Chalmer’s studio for their new album. They enlisted Chuck Bame to work his artistic magic on the album cover, and Bame created an ode to Golden Age comics.
In 2010, after recording for a year, they released their album, “The New Adventures of The Plaid Jackets.” After spending 2010 and 2011, playing gigs in bars and nightclubs, Adkins and Johannesen needed a creative break.
For years, the band bounced around the idea of playing comic con festivals, but the idea did not come to fruition until later. After being contacted by Tooley about the Adam West documentary in February 2013, the band rekindled their relationship with Jon Woods, and solicited his production and leadership help. Woods recommended Little Rock business executive, Randell Shelton, to help manage and promote the band. Adkins & Johannesen met with Shelton, and the three began working together immediately.
Very quickly, Shelton booked four high-profile shows, and scheduled a high profile interview. The shows were played at the Glitch Con in Springdale, AR; Comic Con in Salt Lake City, UT; Comic Con in Winnipeg, Canada, and Napa Valley Film Festival in Napa Valley, CA. Johannesen got to meet his inspiration and idol, Dave Grohl, former drummer of Nirvana & lead singer of the Foo Fighters, for a sit-down interview at Napa Valley. The reception they have received from the audiences and new fans across the continent is overwhelming.
At the Salt Lake Comic Con, The Plaid Jackets were able to meet the man himself – Mr. Adam West. Johannesen describes the original Caped Crusader as a “laid back guy with a great sense of humor.” “He’s really a sweet guy,” Adkins adds. “He spoke at the Comic Con about the importance of being a good husband and father. We were happy to play our tribute song to him, and we are obviously huge fans.”
West was not their only celebrity encounter; Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy, was at the show. Currently, a documentary is being produced called Standing in the Stars, chronicling Mayhew’s health struggles in recent years. The band met the man and the production crew; and, when they heard The Plaid Jackets original song, “Ode to Chewbacca,” they solicited the duo to use the tune in the film. Adkins and Johannesen also met William Shatner, who Adkins described as aloof until he found out they were musicians; and at that point, Shatner talked about his upcoming record with much excitement. Of course, the Plaid Jackets “geek cred” wouldn’t be complete without having a song entitled “Captain Kirk,” which they do. No word yet if there’s a Shatner documentary in the works.
Shelton used every opportunity to promote the duo, and worked his magic on the phones. As of press time, they had booked a gig at the video game awards to be held at SXSW in the spring, and are already booked for the Napa Valley Film Festival in 2014. He is also hoping to book the band at overseas Comic Cons as soon as possible. The Plaid Jackets still hold out hope for the “Holy Grail of Nerd-dom” – the San Diego Comic Con. Shelton feels confident they will reach that point when they have a few more events under their belts, and their reputation spreads.
Shelton believes the band is a natural fit for events like Comic Cons and film festivals. “I think people at Comic Cons and those type of events like upbeat music,” he says. “People are there to have fun. Here’s a band that can be fun and have relevant songs. At Salt Lake they had songs about three people there [West, Shatner and Mayhew]. The opportunities are incredible for the band now.”
Despite their rapid upward trajectory, The Plaid Jackets are calmly optimistic. “Success came at a perfect time,” says Johannesen “This is something I always wanted to happen, and now it is really happening. It’s a really fun, fast ride.”
After a pause, Johannesen reconsiders for a moment. “But, I do keep waiting on a reality check,” he says with a smile.