A Quick Chat with Ryan Kelley of The Timberfakes
Justin Timberlake may be taking over TD Garden on Saturday, but its Boston’s very own JT tribute band, The Timberfakes, who will get the party started Friday night at the Middle East. For the last several years, the group has grown in size and accumulated quite a fan base.
The current Timberfakes group has nine members: Ryan Kelly (vocals), Brett Malone (guitar), Joe Barbato (keys/vocals), Tobias Leiner (bass), Paula Strayhorn (vocals), Luke Gosselin (saxophone), Michael Lee (trombone), Jonah Francese (trumpet), and Anthony Fung (drums).
Before the Timberfakes’ singalong dance party on Friday, we talked with lead vocalist Ryan Kelley about all things Justin Timberlake, including favorite songs, trivia, and his ultimate dream scenario of the real JT showing up to a Timberfakes show for a “Dick in a Box” singalong.
Tell me how the Timberfakes got together.
It originally started as an idea back in 2007 when Justin Timberlake was out on his FutureSex/LoveSounds tour and the resulting HBO special. I had the funny idea, “Wouldn’t it be great to re-create that tour live as a tribute experience here in Boston with a full band and all the theatrics of a major tour?” Finally we started collecting the pieces for this band—it started out as a four- or five-piece and has now extended to a full nine-piece sound so that we can cover more of the big-band experience that Justin has put on his records in the past year.
What are some of the band members’ day jobs?
We do have a couple professional musicians in the lineup—our trumpet player is doing his master’s work at New England Conservatory, our saxophonist is a full-time music teacher and performer. Myself, I’m a web project manager. We’ve got another product manager, there’s a software engineer, a mechanical engineer. We all come from very different backgrounds.
What can people expect from your show on Friday?
We actually closely mimic the exact stage, sounds, and experience that you get from the full live 20/20 Experience World Tour. We play all the hits from the 20/20 Experience, the first and the second—2 of 2 as they called it—as well as select hits from FutureSex/LoveSounds, Justified, and a couple *NSYNC songs. You’ll see that we pay tribute to the same live sounds that his group has created over the past year.
Which of Justin Timberlake’s albums or songs are your favorite?
Well, my personal favorites differ from what goes over well at our shows. Obviously singles like “SexyBack” are big crowd hits, and lately his single “Mirrors” from 2013 has become almost an anthemic singalong for us. We close the night with it, everyone sings along. I actually have made a habit of getting off the stage and roaming through the audience, which is a lot of fun. My favorites songs are actually more of the older songs that he did on Justified and FutureSex. I really enjoyed that production concept he had with Pharrell and the Neptunes on his first album, as well as his collaborations with Timbaland like “Like I Love You,” “My Love,” and “LoveStoned.”
And that’s not to disparage any of the new stuff, I really enjoy the new album. In fact, without these two albums I don’t really know if we would be playing the places we have in the last year. We weren’t sure about Festival of Bands—what do we do? He didn’t have any new songs for a long time. And then he was, haha, gracious enough to release not one but two albums in a calendar year, giving us a lot of great new material. We’ve most recently started covering his new single “Not a Bad Thing” as well as the Michael Jackson–Justin Timberlake song “Love Never Felt So Good,” which is a big crowd hit right now.
There are three of you who do vocals. Who has the best Justin Timberlake impression?
I sing lead so I do the majority of the vocals. We’ve got a female vocalist, Paula, who does a great falsetto, so she and I go back and forth on that Michael Jackson song. And then our keyboardist, Joe, comes from an a cappella background, so he’s part of that third part of the harmony that blends very nicely. So, if we’re talking a straight rip-off or mimic of Justin’s voice, then myself, but if we’re talking notes and pitch, maybe myself or Paula on the falsetto.
Who is the biggest Justin Timberlake fan? Who would win a trivia contest?
Me. Haha, I’ve learned a lot—maybe more than I should—in my research about him.
What’s a funny fact that people may not know?
Hmm, well, at one point Justin Timberlake’s mother was Ryan Gosling’s legal guardian. They grew up doing the Mickey Mouse Club together. I guess that’s more Ryan Gosling trivia…
Have you guys ever met Justin?
No, we haven’t. It’s certainly on the bucket list. We’ve tried directly reaching out on Twitter and connecting with people on his team. We did a show last year the night before he and Jay Z came to Boston and played at Fenway Park. We tried to get anyone in the hospitality industry to help us send him gift baskets, we had all our fans tweet at him to let him know he should come and see us. I think the biggest goal for the band would be to have him sit in with us for a song or two. That would really validate a lot of the hard work we’ve put in.
People would go nuts if he showed up.
I have to think that he’s the type of celebrity who would do something like that. You hear stories all the time about random acts of surprising fans and being gracious with fans. So joining a tribute band for a couple songs on a night that he has off is not outside the realm of possibility.
You know, if he wanted to sing “Dick in a Box” with me, that would be fine.
You better get that on video if it happens!
Yeah, don’t think I haven’t thought of that! It’s probably the best thing that could possibly happen. I can’t think of a better scenario than having Justin come to a show and singing a few songs with us and for him to sing “Dick in a Box” with me.
The Timberfakes perform Friday, July 18, 8 p.m., with Miss Fairchild at Middle East Downstairs, 480 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Tickets are $15 general admission; learn more at thetimberfakes.com.
This interview has been edited and condensed.