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Published: 2006/03/16
by Randy Ray

Clairvoyant Voyages with Particle

Satori does not consist in producing a certain premeditated condition by intensely thinking of it. It is acquiring a new point of view for looking at things.

- Zen Essays, D.T. Suzuki

There is nothing more disruptive to a band than to have one of its key members leave the group. Theoretically, losing a guitarist can almost be fatal. And to have that musician to be asked to leave can sometimes yield a state of flux with musicians wandering in the sonic dark for quite some time. Particle seems to have avoided these dicey issues by addressing their personnel issuethe departure of Charlie Hitchcockand readdressing their overall sound by adding not one but two guitarists to the intense portrait that they paint on stage when delivering their “high energy dance music.” The two guitarists, Scott Metzger of RANA and Ben Combe of the recently defunct Badshoe, offer diametrically opposing yet unified styles.

2006 is starting out to be unpredictable, challenging and a vital turning point for many jambands and Particle is certainly symbolic of that fresh, forward movement that encircles the scene. With Frank Zappa receiving a posthumous Jammys Lifetime Achievement Award next month, the bar has indeed been raised in the field of musicevolve or cease to be a force; do something SPECTACULAR but don’t sit still. Particle appears to have hit an early stride by reinventing itself into a whole other live music beast intent on modifying the tempo of their shows to add air, color and a dual dimension of possibilities. takes a look at the continuing voyage of Particle via conversations with drummer Darren Pujalet and one of the two new guitarists to call the band home, Ben Combe. This writer had the unique opportunity to see Combe on a few occasions as his previous band was based on my home turf. When I read the news on that Combe had joined Particle, I wanted to know how the band dynamics would change with the departure of Hitchcock and the addition of the excellent Metzger and the relatively unknown Badshoe member. This story is the result of my curiosity.

Part I Darren Pujalet

RR: What happened with Charlie Hitchcock?

DP: I have so much gratitude for the amount of time and accomplishments that Particle achieved with Charlie. He was a great band member and we did so many things together for many years. There comes a time when you work together for a long period of time where everyone starts to go in a certain direction and you either continue to go along the same path or you drift apart a bit. Unfortunately, for the four of us, our hearts weren’t all in the same direction. When you try to work and pretend that everyone is going in the same direction, it makes it a lot harder for a band to accomplish things and it makes it a lot more work. Over time, we sort of drifted apart in our desires. We were so busy as a band and things kept getting pushed in our direction, opportunities kept surfacing and it was very challenging for us to actually take a break in time.

So, after doing 700 shows over a five year period in eight different countries, we decided that, O.K., it’s time to take a breath in Particle. Let’s take a breath, let’s analyze where we are, what we’ve done and where we want to go. With Charlie, we felt that the three of us [Pujalet, keyboardist Steve Molitz and bassist Eric Gould] were aligned in the direction we wanted to go but we knew that Charlie was wanting something different. At this period of time, it was either continue in the direction that we were going or take a gamble and try something new. We decided that since we had done so many shows and worked so many years that it was now or never to take this chance and this opportunity. The three of us decided to go in this new direction and sought out new guitar players that were probably a little more congruent with the direction we wanted to go in at the time.

I want to be sure to reiterate how thankful and appreciative I am that I played with Charlie. We accomplished so much together and he is a fantastic guitar player and this was absolutely in no way a talent-based decision. This was completely a heart-felt decision from a musical standpoint.

RR: Is it safe to say that it is like a relationship with a significant other that is growing further apart and you terminate before any emotional abuse?

DP: Any time you’re working in close proximity with people, you’re going to have some difference of opinion. For the most part, the band worked very harmoniously together; although, the amount of differences and tension were starting to surface more and more in greater degree. You’re very astute in using that analogy or example because a lot of times people will be in relationships because it’s comfortable but they know they’re not going to marry that person. The more and more attached you become and the more and more time you put in to it, it’s challenging because you know, in the long run, it’s not the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. It does become difficult at some point to continue to pretend and try to build for the future with somebody that you know you don’t have much of a future.

RR: During the transition process, did you know who you had in mind for the band? Did you know Particle would be a quintet instead of a quartet?

DP: Not at all. When we decided to take the break, we just knew that the band couldn’t grow in the direction that we would want it to in the present formation. We didn’t feel that it was fair to Charlie to be looking for new guitar players before we let him know that we wanted to go in a new direction. We made the change and the three of us after the change started to look for a guitar player. Scott [Metzger of RANA] was someone that we had played with on our last show, the last series of shows that we did, the Xingolati Jam Cruise. We had met Scott and all of us had played at different times with a DJ Logic and Friends show. I played drums and Eric came up and played bass for a little while, Steve played keys with John Medeski and, actually, Charlie was up on stage but, for a good portion of the night, Scott Metzger was playing guitar. The energy and the vibe were really good and we were all just feeding off of each other.

When this decision was made, Scott was one of the first people we contacted based on the relationship we had developed on the boat cruise. We asked him to come out and audition and he went through a series of auditions with us. He lives in New York and he came out to the West Coast a couple of times, actually. Meanwhile, a lot of other CDs and interest and applications were coming in from other guitar players around the country once the word had hit that we were looking for somebody. Amongst the pile of CDs that we got, we received a Badshoe CD, which featured Ben Combe on guitar. We were blown away by the CD and the opportunity of working with Ben that we decided to call him right away and ask him if he wanted to audition for the band. Ben also blew us away, right away. We really appreciated both Scott and Ben in the auditions; they both brought very different pieces and styles to Particle; they brought different elements to the bandvery different players. Ben also went through a series of auditions.

We, basically, narrowed it down to Scott and Ben. We sat one day on the beach for three hours going through what type of direction the band would go in if we hired Scott? What direction would the band go in if we hired Ben? We just could not make a decision. We said I wonder what it would be like if we had both of them? It was said as kind of a joke. All of our eyes started opening up and we said, “WOW. That’s interesting. Think about the unlimited possibilities we would havetwo very different guitar players, two very different voices, two very different personalities.” We started to resonate with it. It started to build an excitement in us for the first time in three or four months. We were so excited all of a sudden. We sat with it for a moment and the next day all of us agreed: “let’s try this,” and we presented it to the two guitar players.

RR: How did you deliver the news to Scott Metzger and Ben Combe?

DP: They both had to sit with it for a moment. I know Scott sat with it overnight because it was a lot to think about joining the band. He’s always been the one guitar player and he was the one guitar player in RANA and he’s done a lot of side projects but he was the guitar player. They both had to sit for a while. I know Scott had to sit for a while because of the idea of “Will this guitar player get in my way? Will we be able to work together?” After a day, he decided that “Hey, I need to take this opportunity and try it.” I called Ben on the phone and said, “Lookit’s down to two guys. We can’t make a decision right now. We’re having a tough time figuring it out. We really like both of you guys and the idea came up yesterday to try and have both of you guys in the band.”

There was this long pause and Ben said, “Huhwellwait a minutelet me think about this. Does that mean I got the gig?” (laughter)

I said: “Yeah, it’s yours if you want it.”

He said: “You meanI’m in Particle?!” (laughter)

I have to tell you that Ben worked so hard on Particle music. He was so prepared at the auditions and that impressed us so much. He knew all of the material. He knew all of the questions to ask and he worked like a full-time job to get Particle in order before he came. We were so impressed and so pleased with him. He did such a great job and both of these guitarists bring such different elements to the table that we are just so proud to have them. We feel so fortunate to have these new elements in our band.

RR: Are you going to mix RANA and Badshoe material into the Particle mix?

DP: Absolutely. We already have played both bands’ material. We’ve played “Smile” and “It’s So Hard (Believe Me)” from Scott and “Losing It” and “Sweeper” from Ben. They both add great dynamics to this band as far as being incredible writers. They also bring diversity to what Particle has done. The most important thing that I want to stress in this entire interview is that Particle in no way, shape or form is going to transform into a different style of band. We’re still going to be a high energy dance band. We’re adding different elements so that we have a little bit more dynamic diversity by bringing in material from Scott and Ben and using the talent when all five of us culminate as one.

RR: Describe the chemistry that exists just between Steve, Eric and yourself.

DP: The three of us have an intrinsic, almost musically inherent energy that we share together. Some of it is indescribable but once we’re behind our instruments, we are very childlike and jovial in the way that we approach our music. We have a lot of fun together and some of my favorite moments playing with Steve and Eric have been just thatwith just Steve and Eric. The three of us have done side projects together when we were in a band prior to Particle and the interaction and the direction of congruency of where we are going has just allowed us so much enjoyment with playing with each other. The three of us have developed a lot of skills to be the backbone of Particle and we have come to understand each other over the years. By playing 700 shows together, I know what these guys are doing. It’s almost clairvoyant in a way; I know where they’re going and they know what I’m doing a lot of the times. It has been a real treat for Ben and Scott because they’re coming into a band that’s already well-oiled and they’re adding things and their energy is so positive and clean. It has really helped the three of us to clean up old energy, as well. This has allowed us to regroup as a band and start over fresh.

RR: What individual colors are Scott and Ben bringing to the group? I assume that they aren’t just duplicating each other by echoing riffs and chord changes.

DP: Right. They work so well together. This is an interesting question and the first one I probably want to be a little bit careful on because if I label Scott and BenI’m going to try to answer this without labeling them.

RR: Well, why don’t we do thiswhat do the two new colors as a whole bring to Particle?

DP: O.K. I guess I’ll try to use an analogy. Before, Particle was like a very small canvas that you could throw a handful of colors against to make different combinations. Now, with the addition of Ben and Scott, we’re like a mural on the side of a building with hundreds of different colors and tons of space to paint.

RR: Have you changed as a drummer with these two new guitarists in Particle?

DP: I have found that in the past our music was really high energy and quickly-paced. Our new philosophy in Particle is that we’re able to take breaths now and there’s much more of a mature patience in our music. That is something that I felt was missing in the past and that I have been yearning for a long time. My favorite thing about Ben and Scottas an umbrella statementis that I see the potential for so much growth and maturity. We’ve only done two shows and I’m so pleased at the direction of the band. I’m truly reinvented and re-inspired and just so ecstatic to be on stage as a quintet.

Part II Ben Combe

Badshoe went on around midnight and immediately sank into a very cool groove. By the time they bit their collective teeth into Ween’s “Roses are Free” as siphoned by Phish, Badshoe had entered another improv dimension. I made a point of talking to several of the band members after their electric set in a mad flurry of exchanged e-mail addresses, phone numbers and CDs. Great sound from a talented band looking to play melodic riffs imbedded into the deep pocket of colorful improvisational music.

- Notes from the Road, Kind Jam, Buckeye, Arizona, April 2005

RR: How did you go about sending a demo to Particle?

BC: I was at a party and we were listening to Particle and one of my friends mentioned that they were looking for a new guitar player. Someone said, “Hey, you should audition,” and a light bulb went off and I made some contacts and I got a questionnaire which was like a ten page report on myself. I sent them the Badshoe CD Cannonball Savant. Two days later, Steve gave me a call for the first round of auditions.

RR: So Steve calls you and what happened next?

BC: I had never met those guys until I went out to the first audition. I felt like I was on a blind date; it was pretty funny. They sent me a CD with some material of Particle stuff and I went out and played. The audition process was very long and grueling. They did not make it easy, at all, on myself and Scott. They wanted me to come back a second time and everything started rolling. They were both about a month apartfrom the first audition to the second audition. They sent me a lot of material to learn and so I did. That’s kind of all I did; I just kind of dropped everything and focused all of my energy on getting into Particle and it worked.

RR: I’m glad you brought that up. One of the things that Darren emphasized when I spoke with him was that the band was very impressed with how well you had done your Particle homework.

BC: I really saw this as the biggest opportunity of my life so I wanted to leave nothing to chance. I just went for it and I prematurely quit my job before I even found out the real answer, yes or no.

RR: Were you that confident?

BC: I had been teaching private music lessons here in Arizonafifty private lessons a week. I also just wanted to get out because I didn’t want to flash forward ten years and still be teaching. I really saw this whole auditionwhether I knew the outcome, I needed to make a fundamental change to pursue playing live music all the time. The whole Particle audition was the catalyst that made me make a big shift in my mind as far as what I needed to be doing, what my priorities needed to be. They needed to be focused on playingthat’s it. If you need to make itthat’s what you’ve got to do.

RR: Before you got the phone call from Particle, describe the situation for Badshoe. I know last year, Badshoe was pretty much the resident band for what was The Sail Inn and is now The Loft in Tempe, Arizona on Thursday nights.

BC: Right. Actually, one of the reasons I got the idea to audition for Particle was because of the end of Badshoe, so to speak. We had played together for several years and we were at kind of a standstill, I think, creatively and what our goals were. Actually, it’s kind of funnythe timing of things. Basically, a week after Badshoe breaks up, I’m talking to Steve on the phone about auditioning for Particle. It’s funny how things worked out in the timing sense. My best friend and always will be, Dan Biederman, the keyboard player from Badshoe, and I hang out all the time and I see all of those guys a lot. Dan came out to see the last two Particle shows. He’ll always be my brother. When we have off time with Particle, I really hope Badshoe gets to play a show here and there.

RR: The irony is that you’ll return with some of the energy that Badshoe needed. Describe the phone call you received from Darren where you got the Particle gig.

BC: From my end, it was the most stressful two months that I’ve had in my entire life. I was completely standing at a crossroads. One way, I’m looking down the street and I’m playing with Particle. The other way, I’m here in Tempe without a band and I’m teaching. (laughs)

RR: Sure. Not that there’s anything wrong with teaching. [Editor’s note: Right on, Randy Ray]

BC: Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The thing to realize with the teaching thing is that I’ve taught over 5,000 guitar lessons and that’s all I did. I’ve helped my playing more than I can ever realize now because I had a guitar in my hand all day.

RR: Not to get all Kung Fu/Kane/Grasshoppa but did you ever have a student come in, was really good, didn’t know it and you learned something from the student?

BC: Stuff like that happens all the time. I’d be teaching and I’d see something that I had never seen before at a very fundamental level. Teaching was great for me.

RR: You’re at the crossroads, the phone call from Darren comes and you’re tense.

BC: DarrenI think he said something along the lineshe was kind of messing with me and he said, “So, do you want the good news or the bad news?” And he was totally just messing with me. There was no real bad news.

RR: So you think. I think they have some Metallica kind of hazing in store for you. I’d watch out; I wouldn’t sleep on the same bus as those guys. (laughter)

BC: No choice in that. He just started going off on the possibilities about what their sound wanted to be and then was dropping in the idea about having another guitar player. They had briefly mentioned that to me. I had gone out for three auditionstwo auditions and the third was just to hang out and they had mentioned “What would you think about that?” The idea of having two guitar players in a band is new ground for me because Badshoe was just one guitar. Some of the bands that I’m totally into now like Radioheadthe things that you can do with two guitarists is just amazing. From Radiohead to the Allman Brothers to the Deadthere’s just so many different things that you can do. It was exciting to me right off the bat. I had never met Scott Metzger and I hadn’t heard his name [until the auditions]. He’s awesome.

RR: The thing about Badshoe playing in Tempe with you on guitar was that it was like watching some sixteen year old kid pitching pure heat somewhere out in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma and you wonder if some scout will come to see him.

BC: The chemistry was there right away with Scott. When I met himthe first thirty seconds, he just had this certain energy. Our personalities definitely meshed right away. Everything just started to click and fall into place when we first started playing together. We compliment each other’s strength and that is just very important. There are things that Scott does that I can’t do and I’m glad when those things happen that I can make those things shine in his playing. We definitely got along right off the bat and, now, under the circumstances with this whole opportunity, the sky is definitely the limit.

RR: There’s a scene in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey where the ape throws the bone up in the air and the bone as a tool’ becomes a ship in space as vessel as a tool’ in a great jump-cut montage of, like, 40,000 years of man’s development. Alrightparallel scene for you. You’re auditioning with Particle and a few months down the line you’re playing your first gig with the band and Robby Krieger from The Doors does a guest spot [2/24/06 at Hollywood’s Fonda Theatre and due to be released as a DVD in the next few months]. A far cry from The Sail Inn, eh?

BC: That was amazing. I grew up listening to The Doors. I love The Doors. I meancome on. When I was teenager driving around, I had The Doors playing. I was just all about them for a long time. It was full circle for me just to be playing “L.A. Woman” with Robby Krieger. It was very surreal. I’m still kind of figuring it out. (laughter) I’m still kind of working out my amazement about this whole thing every day. This is just a crazy rollercoaster ride that is not going to stop anytime soon.

- Randy Ray stores his work at

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