Who is Herschel?

Twenty-nine-year-old Herschel has been making music for almost a decade—longer if you count the raps he wrote in high school. First, he made the rounds in the L.A. band scene (indie-rock, reggae, the works). Three years ago, after moving back to Minneapolis, he broke out as a solo artist, and hasn’t looked back since. Now with a seven-piece band, he’s Herschel and the Detainees, and he’s taking over the Minneapolis music scene with his soul-pop-reggae jams.

His main calling card thus far: the flashy, larger-than-life music video for his pop hit “Out of my System.” It’s gotten more than 350,000 views on YouTube, and, more importantly, attracted the attention of booking agents and fellow artists. But although he can do over-the-top productions, Herschel’s live shows are more about the melodies, the harmonies, the stories. And he’s got quite the story to tell.

Most of Herschel’s childhood was spent on the run from his abusive father with his mom and two older siblings. Summers were spent with his mom’s family down in the Virgin Islands, the influence of which you can hear in his music. When he was 14, his mom brought him to an open casting call to be a model for Dayton’s. One gig led to another, and modeling and acting has been on Herschel’s resume ever since, likely explaining why he’s so comfortable on stage and in front of cameras (which can clearly be seen in the video).

While he was a student at Washburn High School, he thought he wanted to be a journalist. But his senior year, he attended a creative-arts school, and it was there that he realized that music, not writing, was his calling. “The school had a recording studio, and I would write raps with my best friend, Alex,” Herschel tells me, a smile creeping across his face. “He would sing, I would rap, and that’s when I really thought about it.”

His biggest influence back then? Notorious B.I.G. “He was the first rap artist that I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ To this day, I think he’s just the greatest.”

Since then, the singer/songwriter has expanded his musical influences—and sound—to include such artists as Fiona Apple, Tracy Chapman, and Regina Spektor. “I tend to gravitate toward female artists,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t know why!”

Asked to describe his music, Herschel says it’s a little bit Prince, a little bit Tracy Chapman, and a little bit Otis Redding (“Otis is my all-time favorite. To hear that voice from such a young guy—there was so much pain; it sounded like he was 60. Amazing.”). Of course, there are plenty of other influences mixed in there, too, but what really matters is that no one else sounds like Herschel. No one can really even peg what Herschel sounds like—not even him.

And that’s a thing of beauty in today’s world of synthesized voices and computer-generated beats. It’s also why he can book such clubs as the Dakota Jazz Club and fill it, drawing a wide-ranging audience that includes everyone from 20-something college students to seniors who dig his soulful, bluesy vibe. On Saturday, November 17, Herschel and the Detainees will take the Dakota stage again. What to expect? Well, you’ll just have to go see for yourself.

Herschel and the Detainees
Saturday, November 17
11:30 p.m. | $5
Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant
1010 Nicollet Ave., Mpls.
612-332-1010, dakotacooks.com