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Published: 2010/01/03

New Groove of the Month: steez

Our latest New Groove band is steez. The quintet which is based in Madison, Wisconsin first came together in 2003. Earlier this year, steez released Creepfunk Crusade and the group set off across the country in its bus, Big Brown, to support the disc.

steez features Matt Williams (keyboards,synthesizers, accordian), Steve Neary (guitar, vocals), Chris Sell (bass, vocals), Raab Bessert (drums, vocals) and Andrzej Benkowski (oboe, fiddle, saxophone, flute). Here, Neary and Sell offer their thoughts on the band’s development and its future.

Can you talk about the development of the group? How did you meet and how did the current line-up solidify?

Steve: Matt, Chris and I all met during 02/03 while we were attending UW-Madison. The three of us all had friends in the same circles and late one night at a party with our drummer Drew Brezinski we decided that we needed to form a band. We had all been jonesing to play live music (I could only take so much of playing by myself in my dorm room) and finally got together on one sweaty night in matt’s room amongst piles of dirty laundry and star wars figurines. That was the night steez was born…Anyways, after a couple years Drew graduated and moved on, and we quickly added Raab on drums. Raab (rob bessert) was a longtime friend of ours and a perfect fit for steez. Right around this time, I helped convince my longtime friend Andrzej Benkowski to move to Madison. His girlfriend already lived here and he had just graduated from Northwestern and was looking to take the next step. Andrzej had been known to come to Madison from time to time and jam with steez, so he was already the honorary 5th member of the band before he logged on full-time. At this point, we decided to rent a five bedroom house together and “try” to take the band seriously. That experience which lasted two unbelievable years would probably have garnered quite the reality show, but in the end somehow our friendship survived and the music grew amongst constant parties, a possum infestation, Reggie Jackson and his crowbar, and the constant smell of cat piss. Those days could rival Animal House … literally.

In terms of your musical backgrounds and interests, what does each of you bring to bear?

Steve: Although I like to think my sonic palate is pretty diverse – lately I’ve been really into electronic music so that’s where most of my stuff has been coming from lately. Artists like Lindstrom and Prins Thomas, Disco Biscuits, the New Deal, and Daft Punk have been on my radar as of late. However, I also love cheesy 80’s music and 70’s funk.

Chris: I can appreciate almost every style of music out there but really love old school funk. I love defunkt, the dazz band, lakeside, bootsy. I really love 80’s/early 90’s synth pop and even old school rap like Ice Cube that I loved to shoot hoops to back my awkward teen years. After those teen years, I really got into Phish and that made me want to play music and be creative. In college, Napster was huge and allowed me to sample a lot of different music and was very influential… I like to think of us as the Napster Generation. Newer stuff I’ve been listening to is a lot of Bonobo, Air, Ratatat, Mika, Scissor Sisters, etc.

On your website you describe your music as “Creepfunk.” Can you elaborate?

Steve: I like to think that “creepfunk” is funk music with creepy tendencies. Those tendencies come in the form of Matt’s synths and some dark passages in our music.

Chris: Really we came up with the term creepfunk as a way to help distinguish ourselves from other jambands or funk bands in our area. It’s also kind of a nice “out” because you’d be amazed at how many people have asked us over 5 years, ‘what kind of music do you play?’ ‘or what kind of band are you?’ which I guess comes with the territory when you pull up to a gas station in the middle of nowhere driving a 1981 poop colored school bus with grafitti on the side. But, even in Manhattan people gawk at us. Regardless this question will always be dreaded, because we strive to make original music and having to generalize it often compromises it as well. If you just say ‘creepfunk’, people kind of get a confused look and just kind of accept it, ha. However, to elaborate, we are a funk/dance band first and foremost. We like to lock into a deep pocket and layer different rhythms. we definitely have a tendency to lock into a disco-funk groove when we are improvising, but if you tell that to a stranger next thing you know you are trapped in a 15 minute conversation that often ends in confusion. But I think what sets us apart from the “general” funk sound is our ability to layer harmonies and melodies on top of a funk groove and be able to improvise with that in a way that a “jamband” would.

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