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.
Jambands.com 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.
MG: Looking back, do you feel it was beneficial or detrimental attending different colleges?
BM: If we had been at the same place I don't think anything would be that much different. Obviously there is the whole rehearsal issue but, at the same time, everyone had a different approach to college and, when it came down to it, I think we did the right thing in going where our interests outside the band lie. Luckily, it was going well enough so that we decided to continue.
MG: When you went your separate ways after high school did you have any doubts that the group wouldn’t stay together? Would you have continued to certain members decided to pursue other career paths?
BM: When we went to college we all wanted the band to work out, but it seemed like such a far-fetched thing at the time given the circumstances. But the more we did it, the more it developed naturally. While we were in school, we were able to play weekends and we made it accommodate our schedule. It was enjoyable instead of just trying to play any gig we could get. The fanbase has developed naturally- it's kind of a lot of preparation for what we're doing now. I'm glad we really had that four years to say, "Ok this is how we're going to do it-how we want to do it." Instead of making it up as we go along, as we would have been forced into if we had gone straight into touring full-time, we had a blueprint for what we wanted.
MG: By your sophomore year in college, you were playing in front of thousands of fans at festivals like Gathering of the Vibes and Berkfest. Did you ever considering putting your education on hold?
BM: No. Definitely not. It got to the point where we'd see that those things were happening anyway, while we're still in school. Obviously you think about what if we weren't in school, but it almost makes holding out that much more exciting for where we are right now. We don't feel any less in a position to take advantage of previous experiences.
MG: Addison Groove Project released its last studio album in early 2002. Does the band hope to return to the studio within the next year?
BM: Yea, definitely. We don't have any recording plans, but we've been overdue…
This summer I think we're trying to get in [a studio] somewhere. Our ideal situation would be where we have unlimited entry. Just finding some living room recording situation where we can really have a lot of time to lay out our tracks, go away from it for a while, and then come back. I guess in a sense we're going to try and do it independently. We're really into making every studio experience different.
MG: Would the next studio album consist of songs you debuted this summer, or new material?
BM: I'd imagine anything that will probably be on our next album hasn't even been written yet. By the time we play our ten or fifteen new tracks before the falls over, I'm sure we'll be sick of them [laughs]. Some stuff will still be hanging around, but the majority of the album hasn't been written yet in my ears.
MG: Ultimately, would you like to see Addison Groove Project on a major label?
BM: Yeah, I mean why not? If the situation is right. My whole perspective on the music industry is so negative that I can't see a place for us in the industry right now and all the legal parameters that go along with it "signing your soul over"...[laughs]. But there are many different levels and, if it's the right situation, sure. Just as long as in the end we can choose how we present ourselves; Right now our focus is making sure the live shows and the tours are solid. Our purpose is not to write a hit single, as I'm sure any jamband or improvisational-based band would tell you. But sometimes it happens in freakish ways..
MG: Addison Groove Project has been documenting various stages of their career through the Wicked Live series. Does the band plan to continue releasing live albums?
BM: I'd love to keep doing that. It's always a blast. Maybe if we can get the situation ready, we can record a New Years show or something like that or maybe our next one will be recorded in New York City.
MG: Is there a specific recent show you’d like to see released?
BM: It's not always like a specific show that comes to mind. Sometimes you remember certain songs and wish you had the luxury of some larger bands that can record every single show and can pick and choose your best. We kind of take the risk that goes along with recording just one show and saying, "this better be it."
MG: Shifting gears to a more serious note, this summer John Hall was diagnosed with rectal cancer, a very rare condition for a twenty-three year old. When did you learn that John was ill?
BM: We found out the day before we were supposed to go out on the road [in late June]. Initially, it took a few days to know exactly what was going on, but after [the rest of us] had gone out on the road, we learned more about it.
MG: Did John stay off the road for the entire summer tour?
BM: Yeah, he did. It was pretty special to have him back [at BB King's] tonight. We're not going to be able to go out with him in the fall and he's slated for surgery in late September-it's the last time we'll be on stage with him for at least a couple of weeks.
MG: Did you ever consider forgoing your tour while John recovered? How did you adapt to his absence?
BM: It's kind of like cutting off one of your limbs. But luckily Rob's done a great job covering the low-end [on his keyboards], but it's definitely not the same. It's caused us to change some things and, I'm sure if you ask Rob, he'll say it's restricting. But as soon as we played those first two shows, we realized we could pull something off while John was home recovering. As a tribute to him, we weren't not going to go out on the road. He's given us the energy to keep going. But it's going to be weird [this fall]. You kind of take it a few weeks at a time. We're pretty busy through the middle October with this tour. When that's over we'll re-evaluate what's going on. Basically the goal has been to get John incorporated on a regular basis as soon as possible. If that means being sparing on how long we have to be on the road or staying local, that's something we're psyched to do.
MG: As Addison Groove Project’s primary lyricist, have you addressed your own feelings about John’s illness through your songs?
BM: No, not initially. We're still trying to keep the vibe as positive as we can. John's helping out with some of the writing and whether or not it's going to be more introspective or not I'm not sure. Right now, we haven't let [cancer] become a focus.
BM: Have you worked on lyrics with John in the past?
BM: This is John's first endeavor at it, but we wanted to have him involved in the creative process. If we couldn't have him playing, we'd definitely want to him involved creatively.
MG: Having established a strong following on the east coast and throughout the Midwest, where does the group hope to expand its tour schedule next?
BM: When John gets back in the lineup I'm sure we're going try to head to the west coast and western Canada. That will hopefully be after New Years. If this hadn't happened maybe we would have been there right now. But we've never had a problem taking things slow.