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Published: 2003/09/29
by Mike Greenhaus

Addison Groove Gives Their Project a Professional Go

Don't be surprised if your friends start sporting Addison Groove Project's new line of baseball caps: after all, this summer the sextet has been drafted into the "pros."

Since forming in Wellesley, Mass during high school, Addison Groove Project have slowly matured from high-school students to professional musicians, playing a party mix of jazz, funk, hip-hop and rock. A popular northeast club attraction since 1997, AGP have cultivated their fan-base strategically, moving from the basement of Boston's The Middle East to packing prime venues like the Paradise and the Mercury Lounge, finding time to open for funk legend Maceo Parker along the way. Despite four-summer tours and two studio albums under their belt, until this summer, the sextet organized their touring schedule according to their academic calendar.

Childhood friends, Dave Adams (Alto Sax), Ben Groppe (Tenor Sax, Vocals), John Hall (bass), Andrew Keith (Drums), and Brendan McGinn (Guitar, Trumpet, and Vocals) began playing together in 1996, adding neighboring keyboardist Rob Marscher after beating out his group in the 1997 WBCN Boston High-School Battle of the Bands. After releasing their self-titled debut album in 1998, the sextet went their separate ways, attending colleges across the northeast. Yet the group continued to gig on weekends and extended breaks, growing grassroots followings at their respective colleges and frequenting the east coast club circuit. With winter breaks used for practice and summertime devoted to extensive touring, Addison Groove Project began to expand their schedule outside the northeast, in the process earning a top Jamband nod from the Boston Phoenix. Despite their busy schedule, Addison also found time to record their second studio album Allophone, release two volumes in the Wicked Live concert series, and launch a successful charity called the Addison Food Project.

Laying a blueprint for their success semester-by-semester, Addison Groove Project have slowly built their fan base and increased their repertoire, while still earning degrees from some of the northeast's most prestigious academic institutions. Accommodating their performances to fit their academic schedules, and interweaving their outside influences into their music, the sextet earned enough credits to graduate into a mature, full-time touring band. Last June, with graduation firmly behind them, Addison Groove Project became a full-time touring band, circumnavigating the mid-west, east coast, and Canada throughout the summer.

But just as the group was preparing for their first extended outing, Hall was forced off the road after being diagnosed with rectal cancer, a rare condition for a twenty-three year old. While Hall underwent chemotherapy and radiation, AGP continued to perform, with Marscher playing each song's bass line on his keyboards. Musically, the tour was a success, with high-profile gigs at the Gathering of the Vibes and Berkfest, yet Hall's presence was greatly missed by all.

This autumn, AGP embarked on their first full-time fall tour, with an arsenal of new material and numerous new venues on their docket. Though Hall is still undergoing treatement , the bassist remains in good spirits and was able to sit in during the group's tour opening show at Manhattan's BB King Blues Club. Hall is also working on new material from home and hopes to return to performing in the near future.

From the start, the group's fall tour has been poised for success: besides Hall's surprise appearance, BB King Blues Club saw guest spots from frequent DJ collaborator, Mr. Rourke and a free-form power jam involving Lo Faber, Fro, Mr. Rourke, and members of AGP, Brothers Past, and Psychedelic Breakfast, among others. A few days later, Flecktone Jeff Coffin joined the group down in Nashville, TN for a version of "All About That" and, already this tour, AGP has debuted an arsenal of new material, including a cover of Tenacious D's "Lee", featuring Groppe's first shot as lead vocalist. sat down with Addison Groove Project's Brendan McGinn to discuss the sextet's slow, yet strategic, seven-year rise from collegiate students to successful musicians.

MG: This summer, Addison Groove Project completed its first outing as a full-time professional touring band. How has the group adjusted to this increased touring schedule? Did you feel more pressure knowing that you’re finally in it for the long run?

BM: We've already done four-summer tours in a row, and now we're going to approach the full-time year round thing this fall. I guess everything is going to be approached differently. Before, in terms of rehearsals, when your off the road you want to chill, but you also really want to get the new material out, so you pick like five days where you really go to the wall. You'd try to get as much stuff out as you can while you're off the road, and spend the rest of the time recovering [laughs]. But when you're on the road [full-time] its constant rehearsal. All the down time between shows- that's your best bet to get stuff done.

MG: When Addison Groove Project first got together, you were all teenagers. Now you’re each approaching your mid-twenties. How have your musical influences evolved over these seven years?

BM: In the beginning of high school we were all in the thick of alternative rock, and at the same time we were honed in on classic-rock. Any music geek back in high school is going to have their fair share of Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead and everything in-between. Everyone was listening to all of that, and definitely our fair share of jazz. Now we're listening to everything [laughs]. I think there are four MP3 players among us in the van, which comes out to something like100 gigabytes of music. We're just looking for new and interesting sounds all the time. We're trying to investigate different time signatures and trying to keep it funky, a lot of stuff like Mahavishnu Orchestra was doing.

MG: What modern musicians particularly excite you?

BM: Bands like Ween and the Flaming Lips are putting out these albums that are very coherent, yet at the sometime totally eclectic. It's seamless from end-to-end, but at the same time, it's so many different styles.

MG: Since forming, Addison Groove Project's sound seems to have become much more layered. How do you feel your sound has evolved?

BM: Rob has been really active in using his JP8000 for all that it has and trying out new sounds and workouts. Basically he has a whole arsenal of sounds right at his fingertips. As you say, it's become a lot more layered and we want to make it as layered as possible. Sometimes you want to strip down those layers, but if you have those layers you can add as many dimensions as you want. Over the past four years, everyone has been evolving on their instruments and their approaches to songwriting and composition. I think now that we have this "fulltime thing" practices are really going to start taking off.

MG: Did you study music in college?

BM: I studied music [as well as Biology] but it was much more theory, not performance. But I did play in various ensembles and tried out different styles of music. Rob was a computer science major, but he was definitely involved in the Boston music community regardless. Dave and Ben were very involved with music by studying at the Conservatory, and Andrew, like Rob, was very involved in the music community by being in Boston. [John studied creative writing, but also took bass lessons with Chris Brubeck, son of the legendary pianist and composer Dave Brubeck.]

MG: How does the group balance musical theory verses performance?

BM: I feel like [theory] definitely helps out a lot with compositions and also in terms of improvisation. I'd say with us, it helps us take more alternative approaches to improvisation. On a group level there is a total [song] that centers the jam. We really take a lot of strides in the composition itself, making sure that it can stand by itself, be it simple or complex. The compositions aren't necessarily a vehicle for improvisation the jams aren't necessarily what we're looking for and theory sets those composition apart. So, I think theory helps you on every level. The individual level to which you apply it is your own choice.

JB: With Addison Groove Project spread across five-colleges and four states how did the group approach practices? Obviously during the academic year it was hard to get everyone together for group jam sessions.

BM: When we were in school, having time-off for rehearsal was like an annual thing. It got to the point where we were so consumed with school that downtime was used for performing. But now when we have "off time" that means we're going to be off the road and can rehearse in a relaxed setting. For the last month, we've rehearsed in a relaxed setting and it's been amazing.

JB: So, in a sense, your college performances also doubled as band rehearsals?

BM: Yes, exactly. That's when you'd write and learn your songs. We'd have some sheet music, look at it before the show, and work on it during sound-check.

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