The Supernauts look and sound like rock and roll, circa 1969. With two-thirds of the band long-haired and decked out in flared pants and pointy boots, the Supernauts conjure spirits of rock's classic era through cover songs and retro-sounding originals. Consequently, it's hard to accept the fact that singer Jordan LeBrecht Smith was born in 1987.
That makes him 19, younger than a lot of his clothes and a Supernaut for half his life.
Smith started the band when he was 9 with his older brother, Jason, and a drummer friend. Over the years, those two would eventually move on, and the band's lineup would fluctuate from quartet to trio, but Smith would remain a skinny constant, hitting impossibly high notes and playing bass.
"Dont Pretend (demo)" by the Supernauts:
Longtime acquaintance John Floyd Whitaker, a former member of the Sound and the Fury, joined the band about four years ago. By then, guitarist Tim Braun, 22, had been a Supernaut for about a year already. Whitaker, 27, says he's still amazed at the way the three musicians "lock up instrumentally."
"I have never been around other musicians that could, like, play off of each other as well as we do," he says.
All three Supernauts believe the best rock and roll comes from taking the music back to its source, as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones did. Kids who don't understand that annoy Whitaker most. "If it weren't for that jazz and blues," he says, "they'd be jerking off to Paul Anka."
Braun, who discovered Miles Davis when his high school buddies discovered Sublime, says he quit college when he realized that he could teach music theory as well as his instructors did. Now he has a roster of paying students and supports himself almost entirely, if modestly, with his guitar. "I can't imagine a better way to make a living," he says. Since adding the Kansas City Repertory Theatre's production of Love, Janis to his schedule recently, he's been strumming up to 12 hours a day.
"Dont Pretend (demo)" by the Supernauts:
Braun barely needs a costume for the wordless role of second guitarist in Love, Janis. He says he's the only member of the show's band that doesn't have to wear a wig. His own brown hair hangs past his shoulders, straighter but similar in length and hue to Smith's. Friends since their early teens, they could pass as siblings.
A little brother all his life, Smith accepts that role in the band.
He may be the original Supernaut, but he's also the only one who can't drink legally. He just graduated from high school, and he still lives with his mom which makes him the butt of incessant jokes. "They're smarter than me," he concedes.
But it's his voice, big as his curly hair, that will give you goose bumps in concert.
The boy who looks to old Disney soundtracks and Ella Fitzgerald for inspiration can howl like a rock legend several of them, actually. "I've gotten not so girly as I was in the past," Smith says. His startling imitations of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Robert Plant help make the Supernauts possibly the best classic-rock cover band in town.
And there's no shame in that distinction, even to a band that ultimately seeks more recognition for its original work. "It helps a lot to really pick apart what someone else has done," Braun explains.
Playing covers also is more profitable than trying to live on your own songs. The Supernauts are proud to offer a four-hour repertoire. And their originals, such as the bittersweet, Beatlesque "Hurts Like Love," slip easily into the mix.
The cover-band circuit led the Supernauts to manager Mark Shoffner about five years ago. Shoffner, who once managed Incubus, has helped get the band on Los Angeles stages for label showcases.
Unfortunately, pretty much the same advice has come down every time: Make the recordings sound more like the live show.
It's a discrepancy that the Supernauts hope to avoid on a new record, for which they're continuing to mine "the source."
"We're making things a little more rootsy, since this town was founded on blues and jazz," Braun says.
Ideally, the musical time travel will allow the band to move around in a way it has never fully experienced on tour. "Our plan for the next six months or so," Braun says, "is to get our record together and maybe try to pursue some sort of indie deal and go get in a van."
That van, by the way, is a 1990 Chevrolet Astro. What better ride for the Supernauts' Earth-saving, rock-and-roll mission?