Addison Groove Project: Now, Not Never
Wade “Wyllys” Wilby is not only performing before AGP this weekend but also handling lights for you. For readers who don’t know his connection to the band, can you give us some back-story about how you first met and how he became involved with the band?
Rob: I’m sure Wade can tell the story better than me, but I’ll give it a try. Wade grew up with a band called Rane from Connecticut. My high school band before AGP performed with them and then AGP did some shows with them as well. Then I remember seeing Wade again later when he was doing lights for RAQ and we became friends. He married Jen Hartswick who was a friend of our tenor sax player, Ben Groppe. Ben and Jen both went to the Hartt School of Music together.
We did a tour in 2003 with the Jennifer Hartswick Band, and he was on the tour as lighting director. Like most of the AGP crew, he went on to a successful career working for Umphrey’s McGee, Buckethead and other bands. Then he got serious about DJ’ing and is now fully devoted to his DJ persona Wyllys and various related projects. I’ve performed with him several times over the last few years. He has an amazing taste in music for sure. He’ll be spinning before our set, then running to the lighting board, then we’ll segue back to him for set break, and repeat for set two. He’s also one of our biggest fans and always brings a lot of energy and excitement to the shows we do together. Wyllys is also doing a pre-party on Friday night at Rise After Hours in Boston controlling the lounge from 1am to 6am with a mix of disco and house all inspired from AGP’s music
As you mentioned before, George Langford of the indie rock group Javelin used to play with AGP from time to time. I remember he used to play percussion when you guys played Skidmore and that he did a covers set with you at one point. How did he get in involved in the AGP family?
Brendan: George was the first person I sat next to in kindergarten and probably the first person I ever made music with. We’ve been life long friends. Skidmore was always a home away from home for us in the college years—between our bassist John, our road manager Aaron, and George all attending—so it was easy to incorporate him in the band sometimes.
Looking back, is there an album AGP made or particular tour you are especially proud of?
Rob: When I think back to how young we were, I’m proud of all of our releases. To me though, a lot of our album Allophone holds up well after 10 years. We recorded it with Craig Welsch and Brian Brown at the legendary Fort Apache Studios in Boston not long before it was sold. Same place that Radiohead’s The Bends was mixed at.
Our shows in Boston and Burlington over the years were all special. Every show was different; we had many special guests, and usually featured at least one debut of a new song or cover. Headlining the Bowery Ballroom in New York and performing at Bonnaroo in 2004 were also big highlights.
Brendan: I think we just kept getting better as we matured over the years. We were probably playing our best toward the end when we weren’t touring as much, making each show a little more relaxed, fresh feeling, and overall more enjoyable for everyone.
When rehearsing for your upcoming shows, did you listen back to any of your old tapes? If so, is there anything you noticed about the music that you perhaps overlooked when you were in the moment that strikes you now?
Rob: Almost everything I listened to from 2002 was gold. I really enjoy listening to the shows from before our bassist John got sick with cancer. We were working really hard— so young and ambitious—and the music is very tight. Johnny Hall was a great bass player. I appreciate his playing more and more as time goes on. His passing in 2004 is still something I think about all the time. How different things would be if life had taken a different course.
To that end, we will be having bassist Aaron Bellamy perform with us for a bunch of the show. When John got sick, I took on bass duties with my left hand. And although I’m a lefty and there are a lot of advantages to having just a trio for the rhythm section, it was supposed to be a temporary thing. Certain songs were just not as full if I couldn’t play two different keyboard parts because one hand was playing the bass. Aaron is an old friend from the Sam Kininger Band and is from right near where we all grew up, so he’s part of the clan. I think his playing really honors our memory of John, and we’re super excited to have him.
In addition to his great bass playing, John also used to function as the band’s spokesman onstage and I remember his banter used to be quite funny.
Brendan: John was never afraid to “banter” into the mic as you say. Often times the smaller the audience, the funnier the antics in between songs. As far as musical highlights, some of the best playing he did was during the old Berkfests out in Western Massachusetts each summer. Those were happy times. I think those summers we spent touring with him before he got sick were some of the best days of his life. He is dearly missed.
Between Strangefolk, God Street Wine, From Good Homes and ulu, it seems like a number of ‘90s jambands have reunited in the past three years. Do you think enough time has passed that there is a sense of good-natured nostalgia for the ‘90s groove/jam scene?
Rob: It is pretty interesting that all these bands we used to know are getting back together. I suppose it’s a “now or never” type of thing that initiates it in the same way it did for us.
Perhaps the rise of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube might be involved here. Those sites didn’t exist back then, but when people reminisce about the old times, the social sites enable people to connect and share all of that and it brings the audience together. But then again, as you have reported, there are many members of prominent rock, pop, and indie bands that have spoken out as growing up being into the groove/jam scene. So I think the culture has brought a bit of nostalgia and appreciation for it that wasn’t present in the mid to late 00’s.
Do you foresee any more AGP shows or studio projects or archival releases down the line? A show in New York at Brooklyn Bowl or the Mercury Lounge seems like a nice continuation of this weekend’s show?
Brendan: I’ll leave the archival stuff to Rob, but I think everyone is on board to at least consider another show or two in the Northeast over the next year. The rehearsals have been tons of fun and I think we’re actually playing at a pretty good level all things considered. We’ll see how things go on the 15th, but I’m really excited.
Rob: Yes. I really want to play in New York City. We’ll try to make it happen next. There’s nothing planned in the near-term though. All of us have other careers, most have kids and our drummer Andrew Keith is pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology so he’s pretty overloaded with work this year.
So, it’s definitely super special that this show is happening. We’ll make sure it’s well documented. It’s going to be a crazy rocker!