Fans of the Beatles and especially John Lennon should take note—The Nutopians aren’t another tribute band, they’re producing stellar arrangements of the classics.
The Nutopians, an eight-piece ensemble that celebrates John Lennon’s musical legacy, was founded by Rex Fowler (Aztec Two-Step) and Tom Dean (Devonsquare). By combining songs and bringing their own musical interpretations into the mix, The Nutopians have created two albums filled to the brim with unexpected, yet compelling, melodies.
The Nutopians go beyond the Beatles four-piece band format, incorporating cello, violin, mandolin, accordion, piano, and chromatic harmonica. They produce hybrid arrangements, combining multiple songs for a unique take on the classics. One such hybrid is “I’ll Get You/Imagine” off the Nutopians’ first album. “John’s ‘I’ll Get You’ lyric begins with, ‘Imagine I’m in love with you…’ which made me think of the iconic ‘Imagine’ that followed many years later. I sketched out an idea that incorporated both songs and played it literally knee to knee for Tom in his NH studio. He loved it and the idea of combining two songs into a cohesive song concept. When he came back a week later with ‘Come Together/I Am The Walrus’ we were off to the races,” explained Fowler.
In 2010, their first album Imagined won the Independent Music Award’s Vox Pop “2010 Tribute Album of the Year”. The band is now busy promoting their newly released second album, Lennon Re-Imagined.
Fowler had an overall amazing experience working on the Nutopians’ latest album. “The highlight for me was recording the live tracks for nine of these songs with all eight of our amazing ensemble over three days in Maine last summer. It was a joy recording and hanging out with everyone during the sessions and afterward in Portland which is one of my favorite places on earth,” said Fowler.
The band focuses exclusively on Lennon’s work as they wanted to honor his legacy with their acoustic interpretations of his music. “There was never a more honest or enlightened songwriter on this green earth than John Lennon,” added Fowler.
The band came to be involved with WhyHunger as another way to honor Lennon’s legacy as a songwriter and activist. Fowler had been a long-time friend and colleague of Harry Chapin and when Chapin and Bill Ayres founded the organization (originally World Hunger Year, which turned into WhyHunger), Fowler said it was only logical that the Nutopians would get involved, donating some of the proceeds from their concerts and album sales.
From the beginning, the Nutopians wanted to steer clear of falling under the Beatles/Lennon Tribute Band category, and avoided naming themselves after popular songs or catchphrases. Originally, the band went by The John Lennon Song Project, but when WhyHunger ran the name by Lennon’s estate, they suggested choosing another name for the group, reasoning that they have many “song projects” in the works. “We had to scramble to find a name that would satisfy our sincerity of honoring John’s legacy as an activist, while not adding to the glut of Beatles and Lennon cover band names. Oh yeah, and not offend the Lennon Estate which was the last thing we wanted to do,” said Fowler.
The band ran the name Nu-Utopians by them and it was Yoko Ono that stepped in and suggested The Nutopians—inspired by Nutopia, the fictitious country Yoko and John founded. “It will undoubtedly take longer for people to affiliate us with Lennon’s music than The John Lennon Song Project would have, but we are very pleased and grateful to Yoko and the Lennon Estate for their benevolence and support,” Fowler continued.
On June 3, 2013, the Nutopians performed for Yoko at the WhyHunger Awards Dinner. “It was pure joy performing for Yoko this year and to share my ‘Yoko Ono’s Husband’ story with her from the stage that referenced a chance convergence I had with John when we both were shopping at Bloomingdales in 1975. Seeing her laugh out loud to the story’s punch line and then singing along to ‘Instant Karma’ during our a capella breakdown section—these images will live with me forever on my lifetime highlight reel,” said Fowler.
As for what the future has in store for The Nutopians—“Hopefully touring more to faraway places and recording another album in a few years—also to be known as the best acoustic interpreters of John Lennon songs on planet earth and Across The Universe,” said Fowler.
For more information, such as tour dates and where to purchase their albums, visit The Nutopians online.
Special thanks to Rex Fowler for sitting down with Pop Rewind for an awesome interview!