to know the Groove Company
10/9/03, Kate Napolitano, The Fairfield Mirror, Fairfield, CT
So I was sitting in the Campus Center the other night chatting with jambands.com's "band to keep your eye on." I wasn't exactly sure what I was in for as I sat down with Family Groove Company, the Chicago based band now touring the northeast. Their recent debut album, Reachin', a dynamic fusion of rock, jazz, and funk bundled in a "jamband" bow humbled this lowly A&E reporter enough. Then I got to sit in at their performance on WVOF's "Sharin the Groove".
Family Groove Company doesn't play their instruments-- they are their instruments. The caliber of improvisation, the energy of the performance-- I looked down at my notebook with all the questions I'd prepared beforehand and sighed. I might as well open an interview with Jimi Hendrix by asking his favorite ice cream flavor. How do you talk to the real deal?
It's a good thing they are as fun as they are talented. I was a lot less nervous by the time we all plunked down in the middle of the campus center with sandwiches and drinks from the Stag. I produced my little Sony handheld mini-recorder.
"I bought this today to feel professional," I admitted.
Jordan Wilkow, the laid back lead singer of the band smiled, "We'll you're making us feel professional."
Yay! Score one for the timid reporter!
"In listening to your music, I couldn't think of one word or one phrase alone that describes it. How do you describe it?"
"Not with one word." Jordan answered, "But we could really use one, though."
"Well, I'd start with 'good'."
"Thanks I appreciate that-"
Suddenly, guitarist/resident wiseguy Adam Lewis interjected excitedly "I'll take that!! What kind of music do you play? Gooood!"
We finished giggling as Jordan took over again.
"Um, we struggle with that. It's a really common question. Especially with talent buyers when we're trying to book gigs. They're really anxious to get off the phone-they're very pushy. And I stumble over words with how to concisely describe it. I don't know. If you allow multiple words and phrases?"
"Let's see. Improvisation, I think, is at the heart of what we're trying to do...we try to bring a lot of harmony and vocabulary associated with jazz into what we're doing and hopefully package it into-- I guess-- a more commercial sound. That sort of harmonic approach but putting a danceable, funky kind of groove behind it. There's definitely a lot about us that's like a rock band... I think we're offering something with a little more depth than your average pop rock single...Melodically we're trying to stretch out a little bit more-- offer something with more depth, that's all."
"I don't understand why that doesn't all fit on one flier."
Everyone cracked up (Whew! Two more points to the cub reporter!), and Jordan started to continue:
But Adam cut him off. "A lot of what heÕs talking about, though-I'm sorry to interrupt-"
"But you will anyway," Jordan teased.
"I will. You bet. And you're gonna like it. Anyway-- [our sound] reflects a lot of the vocal arrangements and harmonies that we do that you didn't get a chance to see-- er hear so much of on [WVOF]. I just want to interject that we do a lot of singing. Except for me."
Next we talked about their musical backgrounds. Jordan described his in his tranquil, friendly manner. Then, it was Adam's turn.
"My story's better."
"He's the humble one, right?" I retorted.
He laughed,"Yeah, I'm the humble one. Right. My family was all big music fans growing up... I started listening to Led Zepplin and I thought they were the coolest when I was like twelve or eleven. I decided to get an electric guitar-- and I found out it is awfully hard to be good. So I practised a lot, learned a lot of songs... and tried to play with as many people as I possibly could find. I played with anybody. If someone wanted to make music-let's do it..."
As he finished his answer, I looked over at drummer Mattias Blanck, who was totally silent until now. I assume it was out of contentness since he looked pretty darn happy with his sandwich. But being the resident "quiet one" in a band has its own special charm, so naturally I wondered what secret his silence was hiding. Turns out, it was a Sweedish accent. Gotta love a band with an imported drummer.
"I started very early. My dad played Tuba, trumpet...And a harmonica. Yeah, he played all those instruments. He got me started playing trumpet when I was seven, but I thought drums were much cooler so at nine I got my first kit and started taking lessons. I played in a lot of orchestras and, yeah, that's pretty much it, I just played a lot of music..."
I figured that was a pretty legitimate story. But Adam wasn't quite satisfied.
"What were you in the army, Mattias?"
I knew the quiet ones have good secrets!
Mattias looked at Adam, then back at me, and told the real ending of his story.
"I was in the army. I'm from Sweden, so at that time you had to be in the service. And I played in the army band. At that time I thought-"
Now bassist Janis Wallin wasn't satisfied. "He was the director!"
Mattias grinned as his bandmates outted his true story like proud parents.
"He was the musical director of the Swedish Army Drum Corps!" Jordan added, then teasing, "They don't send musical directors to the front line."
"Then again, they don't send Sweden to the front line," Adam joked.
After another good laugh (sorry, Sweden!), I then asked Adam a more personal than business question.
"Adam, your pedal list on [the band's] website is eight miles long. What's your favorite effect."
He brightened up, "Ooh, I don't know!"
"We never get asked these questions," Janis mused.
Adam got real excited and spun off into guitar-banter-land. Nothing is cooler than seeing someone's love of his craft so blatantly. "I really like filters. Filters can go anywhere from like-- it'll encompass anything from a wah wah to what they call an envelope filter to like some type of phase shifting device. That's what I would like. So I guess basically the short answer is like a wah wah. But I use it pretty sparingly. I just like the sound of the guitar. I really like just the guitar, so I tend not to use a lot of effects. I use like a little bit of distortion here and there, some delay here and there. That's about it."
We moved on and talked about their current tour, their album, and then my recording tape popped. I flipped the side and pressed record again, apologizing for the pause.
Adam remarked "Hey it's nice to know it isn't all bull---- though. The thing's actually recording!"
Now that I knew how much tape I had left, I wanted to make sure I asked them a burning question I had that had nothing to do with playing their music whatsoever.
"Fairfield has a lot of bands on campus. Do you have any advice for any of these guys starting out?"
"They should let us open for them." Jordan beat Adam to the punch on that one. Then Janis continued with a legitimate word to the wise.
"I'd make sure that in addition to the musical end of your band that you have the business end of your band together. Make sure you have a good press kit and a good person in charge of booking the gigs and just all that stuff that goes on behind the scenes that I didn't even think about when I was playing in bands in college 'cause it was all being done by someone else...I would say it's more work than writing music and playing a gig."
Family Groove Company handles all of the business side of their music themselves, which led me to my final question.
"What is it like having the whole package-- music and business-- up to you?"
"It's miserable," Jordan answered immediately, "It's draining and it's really a struggle not to let the creative side suffer. Having spent the day dealing with a half dozen different talent buyers who don't want to talk to me-- they think they don't want to talk to me. They'll give me the gig if I just keep on them-- and it's just a frustrating, foolish exercise that they won't just say okay the first time...The goal for us is certainly to expand our empire to have people help us with that...But I would imagine that there'll be things I'll miss at that point when a guy won't be doing as good a job as I think he ought to, there'll be just some way I'll miss having the hands on control that we have now. But if I could spend my time just dealing with music that would be really ideal."
With his answer, I realized something. This band has talent, drive, chemistry, charisma-but even they have to fight tooth and nail to get the attention they deserve. Don't let them or all the other fabulous jambands out there go unrecognized! Visit www.familygrooveco.com for album and tour info. I think it's pretty safe to say they're the most talented least recognized band you're not listening to. So go listen already!