Jay Hurtt always has answered to the name Little Bird. “I was born James Henry Hurtt IV, and Jay Bird was a family nickname growing up,” the singer explains. So when he decided to start a band—first with guitarist James Rubush, and later as a five-piece with Rubush, bassist Ben Mossman, drummer Oleg Terentiev and keyboardist Noah Jones—the choice of name was a no brainer. “We just never thought to change it,” he says.
Both Hurtt and Rubush grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, and began making music together as high schoolers in 2014. In 2015, they released “Groove”—a seven-song LP of slackerish acoustic tunes in the style of G. Love and Special Sauce. The album earned Little Bird early praise, and gigs at music festivals up and down the East Coast. When the time came for both musicians to go to college—Hurt to Savannah College of Art and Design, where he studied film and television, and Rubush to College of Charleston—they decided to start over. “We didn’t have the same members available eight hours away south,” Hurtt explains.
The unfamiliar surroundings allowed them a fresh perspective. They expanded with new members Mossmann, Jones and Terentiev, which allowed them to broaden their sound, too. Jones, who is currently on hiatus from studying jazz piano at College of Charleston, brought in R&B and soul influences. Mossmann brought new bass sounds and knowledge of electronic music. Terentiev brought his love of hip-hop. “There’s just so many different directions we could go, it’s kind of overwhelming sometimes,” the drummer says.
Those influences are rampant on the band’s second album, “Familiar.” Opener “Honey Leak” recalls the ambient R&B of Hiatus Kaiyote and Nick Hakim. Standout track “Made in the Shade (Fool)” sounds like Kings of Leon’s “Pyro,” filtered through a neo-soul lens. The album shows the band growing up in more ways than one: Hurtt says he’d recently returned to Annapolis for the first time, and wrote the album’s lyrics with the nostalgia that comes with visiting one’s hometown after being away. “Everything’s the same but it’s all sort of different,” he says. “There’s new buildings. It’s like the first time in your life you can acknowledge as a different time than growing up.”
The band also found inspiration in Charleston’s music scene. With the exception of Hurtt, all of Little Bird lives together in a house on James Island—on a street called, poetically, Meander Road. The area is full of musicians; Hurt says it’s not unusual to pull onto the street and see several tour vans lining the road. “You can stand in the street and hear multiple people singing in their houses. It’s pretty funny.”
At Bourgie Nights on Saturday, Little Bird will play “Familiar” in its entirety, as well as material from its forthcoming album, “Proxima.” Beginning with the song “Ghost,” available now on Spotify, the band will release a series of five singles, followed by a 10-song record in 2020. The album owes as much to British writer and philosopher Alan Watts as it does pioneering musicians like D’Angelo and LA-based neo-soul trio Moonchild.
“I think it’s about how we try to perceive the world through our own opinions,” says Terentiev, who describes the new record as “a space odyssey tale … It’s about social media and self-awareness and time and the way we perceive time linearly, and just a lot of random stuff.”
Hurtt says the album name came about while he and Jones were discussing the band’s future on their porch one night. “I said something like, ‘What’s next?’ And Noah heard the word ‘proxima’ recently, referring to Proxima Centauri, the next star system,” says the singer. “So we were like, ‘What’s next? Proxima.’”