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When music is given the benefit of instinct, imagination and inspiration, the results are guaranteed to be good. So it ought to come as no surprise that the critically-acclaimed Annapolis Maryland-based trio, appropriately dubbed Pressing Strings, has infused those elements within their musical mantra the beginning. The band —Jordan Sokel (Guitar/Vocals), Nick Welker (Bass, Vocals), and Justin Kruger (Drums, Vocals) can trace its origins to Sokel’s initial fascination with some iconic influences, among them, the usual suspects — Dylan, Marley, Simon, Withers, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, etc., as well as some more under the radar artists like Taj Mahal, R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and Nick Drake.
Fascination became fulfillment once he picked up the guitar and started writing songs. That’s when his course became clear. After growing up in New Jersey and Arizona, he eventually moved to Arnold, Maryland to attend high school and eventually university at Salisbury University. However once there, he found he began having doubts about his career choice. That’s when he made it his mission to pursue his musical muse. Still in college, he formed Pressing Strings with one of his buddies. Those early efforts, beginning in 2006, found Sokel’s desire and determination taking hold, eventually coalescing into a career that now spans six albums — Where We Are (2008), Episodes (2010), Pressing Strings (2012), Life of a Tree (2013), Owe the Source (2015), Settle In (2020) — and two EPs — Most of Us (2016) and Morning Takes (2021).
“This band has had a lot of different parts and personalities over the years and if you listen closely, you can hear that in the music,” Sokel reflects. “It’s never been static; the chemistry and creativity has morphed and evolved and it’s still doing so now. However it has changed, one thing has stayed constant. Music has moved and motivated me ever since the first time I realized I could write songs and share them with an audience. That’s been my motivation ever since I was 20 years old and had my first opportunity to perform in front of a live audience. And after I learned how to record and shape songs in the studio, that was it, I was hooked.
Kruger was similarly inspired. He grew up in the Bay Area of California, the offspring of two working musicians and spent much of his youth behind soundboards and in green rooms. Like Sokel, college felt unsatisfactory so he began jumping into tour vans and onto festival stages in the western U.S. Giving him years in Jazz, Rock, Reggae, World, Country, Americana/Songwriter and even Comedy shows. After a decade plus, he moved to Maryland where he would begin again. First with the Annapolis scene. Then Baltimore city, Philadelphia, New York. Always knowing of Sokel and Welker’s forward motion and staying in close communication. JK was tapped to join full time in 2021. A singing drummer, adding 3 part harmonies and a new life to older tunes.
Welker is a local boy who was raised in Annapolis. He first picked up the bass in 6th grade, and eventually started performing in his school’s orchestra before going on to form a band with some high school friends. He joined Pressing Strings in 2013 and has been with the group ever since.
Not surprisingly then, Pressing Strings’ upcoming album, due for release on _____, And I For You, is the group’s most fully realized set of songs yet, one that touches on timeless themes that resonate and find meaning at a time when turmoil and tenacity seem so predominant within a weary world. They remind us that gratitude, devotion, and the wisdom, to recognize that even in the midst of uncertainty, there are virtues that are important to cling to and which, in turn, can ultimately lead to true satisfaction.
The melodies reflect that upbeat optimism, from the easy, affable designs of “Down for You” and “We Will Be Alright” to the instantly engaging sound of “Weather the Storm,” the playful yet persistent “No One Else” and the emotive and expressive “Home To You.”
So too, the infectious first single, “Your Love,” immediately sums up their stance. Propelled by a catchy rhythm, soothing sentiment and absolute joy and desire. It’s an ideal introduction to the album, and like each of the songs that surround it, it immediately takes hold, and resonates well after the final notes fade away.
Somewhat surprisingly then, the new project came together on the heels of a shift in the band’s musical ranks. Sokel says that when Kruger came on board, it brought them added impetus when it was needed the most.
“We regained our focus,” he notes in retrospect. “It found us digging deeper than we ever had before, rehearsing and woodshedding the songs in order to come up with a varied approach. Our producer, Steve Wright, was a big part of the process as well. On the other hand, this is the first record we’ve made that has everyone sharing the singing and helping with the harmonies. It was challenging at first, but it was also fun and fulfilling.”
Sokel had spent a considerable amount of his down time during the pandemic demoing the material, and as a result, the band found it easy to make critical decisions when it came to their approach to the material and the direction the album would take overall. Once they resumed touring, the band took the opportunity to road-test the songs in front of live audiences, giving them the feedback needed to ensure their recordings reflected the energy of their stage shows.
Indeed, it’s a far cry from Pressing Strings’ formative years. The members found themselves waiting tables and stocking shelves in order to pay the bills. It also meant taking whatever gigs were offered and selling CDs they burned themselves out of an old Samsonite suitcase. Fortunately though, their efforts paid off, and they not only were able to pay their bills, but also pay their dues as well, leading to headliner status at home in Annapolis, as well as in Baltimore, Washington DC, and Maryland’s eastern shore. Their fame eventually spread to the entire Eastern Seaboard, leading them to make frequent festival appearances at Peachfest, Firefly, Sweetwater 420 Fest, Floydfest, Cavefest, and WTMD’s First Thursdays. It also found them opening for the likes of The Beach Boys, Government Mule, Toad the Wet Sprocket, JJ Grey & Mofro, Rachael Yamagata, Neil Francis, The Toadies, Jerry Douglas, the Sam Roberts Band, Rayland Baxter Michael Glabicki (Rusted Root), Rayland Baxter, and Junior Marvin of the Wailers.
Soon, radio began taking notice, with national AAA and public broadcasters across the U.S. eagerly embracing the band and taking them to the top of their charts. As a result, they’ve been featured on WTMD’s “Top 89 Songs of the Year” five times and WRNR’s “Top 103” four times. WRNR Program Director Bo Waugh declared “[Band frontman] Jordan Sokel’s voice is insanely unique and compelling. One day, the world is going to wake up and wonder why it’s taken too long for Pressing Strings to receive the national recognition they so richly deserve.”
These days, Sokel himself finds reflecting on all that Pressing Strings has accomplished thus far and how it’s impacted his life overall. “Music is an extension of who I am, what I’m going through, what I’m feeling, and the people who are meaningful in my life,” he maintains. “It offers me an avenue to share my feelings and, in doing so, connect with people. It’s never failed to give me comfort, in both the best and worst of times.”
That’s what great music is all about. It’s comforting to have Pressing Strings providing that comfort and concern.