Can You Handle The Journey? Paul Wolstencroft and Chris Q on Jiggle the Handle
Victor Hugo once said, “Music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” If that is the case then Jiggle the Handle must have a lot on their mind. This Boston based jam band drives their audience to unimaginable places during every live performance with powerful grooves, innovative tunes, and psychotic space jams.
Gary Backstrom, the only original member Jiggle the Handle, began the journey in the early 90’s. Greg Vasso, former drummer for Max Creek and Paul Wolstencroft, ex-keyboard player for Planet Be, joined the band years later. The most recent addition of Chris Q, former Hypnotic Clambake bassist, brings Jiggle to their current line-up. They’ve had a successful summer in the Northeast as well as a tour to the west where they performed at the High Sierra Music Festival in California and at a private party for the Further Festival in Denver. Upon returning home, Jiggle the Handle jammed it out at two H.O.R.D.E. shows.
Shortly after they blew me away at a show in Tammany Hall, I sat down with Paul Wolstencroft to get the low down on the Jiggle scene. A few days later I was fortunate to catch a few minutes with Chris Q as well. This is what each of them had to say.
One thing I’ve noticed with Jiggle the Handle, is that you guys really seem to have perfect timing when deciding when to just jam within a set. How do you plan this?
Paul: We are trying to build a show out of a set. There are certain tricks that we’ve learned to make a set flow. Putting the Jam in a certain space. If it comes at the right time it works out better for us and for the audience. So we start out planning out sets thinking of where we want to take the journey. So we’ll take it here, then go in that direction, then all of a sudden take a left turn just as we hit a certain part or the set. But the type of jam that we go into is spontaneous. It depends on what type of mood the audience is in and what type of mood we’re in. We are trying to put on a show that’s really entertaining.
How did the transition into Jiggle the Handle affect you musically?
Q: This band has a lot of unstructured jams, but the song writing is a lot more structured. I really dug that because it enabled me get into the role of a bass player, which is playing pocket and playing groove, instead of everyone playing lead at the same time. I once met this old bass player in the Fenway who said, “It’s not knowing what to play, it’s knowing what not to play.S Greg and I are focusing on actually being a rhythm section.
Do you find it helpful to be a little more structured?
Q: We’re not really that structured. We still have all the jams, but within the actual songs there are parameters that we’ve set up for each other. That definitely helps with the accessibility of the music and helps us be more of a cohesive unit. These parameters don’t limit what we do, they provide a guideline of where we want to go or how we want to get there. There is still tons of space to do whatever you want.
Paul: When you are doing a spontaneous jam, one of the hardest the hardest thing to realize is that it’s not all about you, it’s about the whole thing. So you’ve got to get into this group mindset where you think “I’m just a small part of this jam.” That’s something that we’re tapping into now and it’s hard to do. It’s hard to give up yourself and do something as a group. If you can make someone else shine then you’re doing a good job. You’ve got to realize that the spotlight should travel around. Especially with Chris in the band. We like to give him a spotlight since he’s got such a nice bass solo.
What do you think each of you bring into the band?
Paul: Gary and Greg come from a big jam scene background, Greg being in Max Creek, and I think they bring the influence of spontaneous jams to the band. Gary has always been one of the most talented guitar players in the jam band scene. I think at some point he’ll be compared to some of the better players, such as Santana. Greg does this talking, drumming solo type of skat thing which goes over really well. He has a lot of energy and is always pumped up and ready to try new ideas. He can follow everybody’s jam which makes him a great supporter. Chris being a new bass player definitely brings a whole new feel to the bass; he’s a real powerhouse on the groove factor. I think I bring a more poppy side to the band. I bring in all the “I believe” type, short and snappy feel.
Q: Greg is rock solid. He can play a simple part and make it really good. Then he can just rip it out. He’s a chop monster and he can play all this difficult stuff, but he knows when not to do it, which is cool and rare. He also has impeccable timing. Gary is a great player. He knows the value of layering parts. Gary will take a song and add something that is complementary and simple, but at the same time he can take a solo that’ll blow everyone away. Also, he and Paul are song writing guys. They’re just really good at it. Paul’s got a great voice. He’s got a good ear and does most of the harmony arrangement for us. He also takes a mean organ solo, not just what he plays, but how he plays it. He’s really aggressive, which is why he breaks organs every two seconds. It’s a high energy thing that people groove off of when we’re playing.
What’s going on with the new album that should be out early next year?
Paul: The new album is going to be completely different than the last. First of all, Chris and I weren’t part of last one. [author’s note: The last album, “Mrs. White’s Party,” was released in 1997. Paul was featured on five tracks.] It was an album taped at two live shows so we have a lot of jams. This new one is going to be specifically for the studio and I think it’s going to be all songs that have been written over the last year. We want to learn how to be as good in the studio as we are in alive context. But when you don’t have the audience to feed off so you just have to bring it out from inside.
Q: We are looking at this album not as a bunch of tunes, but as a larger concept.
What is that concept?
Q: It’s a journey. That can be looked upon on many levels: Each individual’s journey, a song’s journey from conception to final product, and the journey of the band getting from one place to another together. Each one of these songs is going to be its own step as another part of this larger journey. When you listen to the album, you’ll be like, “so this is where they’re going…and this is how they got there.” And hopefully, by the end of it you’ll realize, “This is where they’ve arrived.”
What do you think of the crowd that comes to your shows?
Q: The audience is great. There is a lot of energy for us that comes directly from the audience. It’s essential to have that. When we’re at a show where the audience is really into what we’re doing, then we play better. It’s a group thing. The audience is very much a part of the group.
Paul: I like to see people getting involved. I like the crowd and the musicians in the jam band scene. What I really like is that in this scene you have people getting excited about going out to see live shows as opposed to listening at home. They come out to see the band and listen to how is this song is different than the last time they did it. It’s a crowd that’s very involved, musically. It’s an exciting scene.
You guys did a really fun thing with the Jiggle the Handle website. It’s very interactive with the message board, webcasts, and chats. What do you think about it?
Q: I think it’s great. I hop on the message board every night. It’s really cool because it’s a way to gage how people feel about what we’re doing….a way of getting feedback. It’s a good way for us to know the audience and for the audience to know us on another level. It makes it more personal.
How do you see the band evolving in the next couple of years?
Paul: I’d like for us all to stay together and have sort of a family scene. I’d love to see the music come up to next level and break through any barriers that we’ve put on ourselves.
Q: I see the live shows become more of a package…..like a journey. I want it to be a happening and an experience.
What is Jiggle the Handle?
Paul: It’s the ultimate project where you can do whatever you want. I could come in with an idea and everyone’s eager to try it because it’s a new idea coming in. To me Jiggle the Handle is a project, a friendship, a small little family, a job, and it’s life, wrapped up alphabetically.
Q: Jiggle the Handle is an outlet or a vehicle that we’re on to get somewhere. We don’t know where it is yet and we might never know. We’re hoping that it’s a vehicle for the audience as well. We’re all going somewhere. This is how we can get there.