Steve Molitz Pieces Together Particle
Particle keyboardist Steve Molitz surprised fans last December when he announced that founding members Eric Gould and Darren Pujalet would be leaving the band to spend more time with their families. However many of those fans were soon excited to learn that the band would soon be hitting the road much harder than they had in some time, with longtime Brothers Past bassist Clay Parnell and Quixotic drummer Brandon Draper replacing the newly departed musicians. A few weeks later, Particle were back onstage with an album in the works and a renewed sense of purpose. We spoke with Molitz about the band’s new lineup, their forthcoming album, some of his other projects (including a video game with the one-and-only Shaq) and more.
So, the thing that everybody really wants to know about right now is the lineup change. What was behind the reshuffling of the Particle lineup?
It was a solution to the question of how could Particle get out on the road to really tour again. For the past few years, I’ve been talking to our founding rhythm section, Eric (Gould) and Darren (Pujalet), about recording new albums and really touring again but they were in very different places in their lives than I was and the timing just wasn’t right for us to go out and do big tours like we used to. They were starting families and involved in projects, work related projects outside of the music business that they needed to stay local for and really couldn’t get out on the road.
So, by necessity, over the last 5 or 6 years I was doing a combination of things. I was still playing about 20 Particle shows a year. That was the amount of time that those guys felt comfortable giving. We had a blast the last 6 or 7 years playing together even though it was on a smaller scale. I did a variety of different things on my own: touring with Rich Robinson for a couple years, playing with Headtronics and scoring a bunch of video games. I worked on one game for most of 2012. I was playing with a bunch of bands but still keeping busy with Particle along the way. Somewhere in the process of doing all of these different things, there were some years where I was playing with 20 different bands and I always loved playing with different people. I always learn something from the musicians I’m playing with.
Playing different styles and interacting with different types of fans is always a great experience but somewhere along the line I just found myself missing the Particle scene. I missed playing those songs on a more consistent basis, interacting with the fans and just kind of throwing the circus tent up from town to town, night to night and seeing how the experience unfolded. Particle has always been a band that liked to try new things, enjoys improvisation within the show and liked to incorporate new thematic elements. Over the years we would do themed tours or themed events, whether it was a Studio 54 party or a Calilicious Tour. I just missed all of that creative energy and of course writing and playing new songs.
Basically, I reached out to Eric and Darren and asked if they would be interested in revitalizing the band and really getting in the studio and getting back out on the road. They shared that they were really at a different point in their lives and they gave me their blessing to carry the Particle torch with a new rhythm section because they have a lot of love for Particle and want to see it thrive and continue even if they can’t be the ones to continue it. They sort of respected the fact that I really wanted to get back out there and play this music again, and they didn’t want to hold the band back even though they couldn’t tour anymore. So once they gave me the green light to move forward with a revitalized lineup, it was a really easy choice to turn to Brandon Draper on drums and Clay Parnell on bass. They were the first people I called. I’m very thankful that they were available and that it worked out.
Brandon is somebody who had been subbing for Darren whenever he couldn’t make shows over the last several years, so he’s played a handful of shows with Particle, and he’s just an amazing drummer who’s totally risen to the occasion. He really blew my mind with his playing on the recent winter tour we just had. He was really just a perfect fit in terms of his style and also his creativity. He’s a great multi-instrumentalist, so he’s been writing songs and singing as well. He’s a really diverse player. He comes from a jazz and world music background, but definitely has a lot of flair and originality within the more electronic dance music style — breakbeat, drum and bass. So he’s a real thrill to play with because he’s always trying new things and within his own playing trying to set the bar higher for himself every night and really takes risks, and that’s something that I just love and admire. It was a blast playing with him on this last tour.
And then Clay Parnell is someone that I’ve known through the scene. After years of touring, Particle and Brothers Past had crossed paths many times. Recently, I kept bumping into Clay at all these different situations, it’s like the universe was sending me a message as I was looking for a new bass player. I think the first time we hooked up was on a recording session with Jon Gutwillig for a mockumentary called Bad Foot that’s getting made. It’s basically a film being made about this band, three girls, called_ Bad Foot_, and Barber brought a handful of guys in to write the music. So Clay was brought in on bass and I was brought in on keys, so we found ourselves at this recording session, had a blast and really connected. And then we played together a handful of times. We also did a show together in Chicago with this group called Skydeck Allstars. And then we were on Everyone Orchestra together with Matt Butler. Kind of like every step of the way as I was sitting there scratching my head like, “Oh, if only I could find an amazing bass player,” Clay was just kind of there. So I was recording with Ben Combe, our guitarist, and Brandon Draper, our new drummer, the three of us were recording up in Woodstock, NY, at a studio just writing some new songs. And Ben was playing bass on most of the tracks, and then one of the days I said, “I bumped into my old friend Clay Parnell, and he lives in Philly, it’s not that far away. Maybe I’ll call him and see if he wants to come by and play.” So sure enough he was in town and had the time off and generously drove up. And we just recorded and jammed together for a couple days, and there was an instant chemistry. And he ended up just on the spot playing on probably three or four songs without ever having heard the songs before. And the parts he played were so good, they’re all keeper parts that are going to make the final cut of the album.
When it came time to tour, it was just a really obvious choice that Clay was who I wanted to reach out to. And I have to say the same thing about him that I said about Brandon—that he just totally stepped up and was just such a pleasure to play with on this past tour. We’re really just having so much fun out there. And we just finished up this tour with 16 shows, and on the last night of the tour we were all just having such a good time. We didn’t want the tour to end because it was different arrangements of the tunes, and trying new material, and practicing as long as we could every day at soundcheck. We were having so much fun playing together. We wanted to play together every chance we got. It feels great to be playing with these amazing guys, to be surrounded by such talented people and also people who are just so passionate about what we’re all doing. We’re really all out there with a common goal, just having a blast and really enjoying playing together.
It’s a fun thing when you start developing these friendships on the road, but also developing new relationships with the material. For me to play some of these songs that I’ve been playing in Particle for 13 years now, and just hear how different musicians use the rhythms and the melodies. They put their own personal stamp on the sound. So it’s been really fun for me to listen to the material kind of being reinvented by Clay and Brandon. Ben and I have opened our minds to some new arrangements. But they’re really fun. Even the old material that those guys have been learning, it all feels new to me. It feels like a new song. But obviously the melodies and the song structures are all there, but it’s kind of been revamped to fit this new format. And then on top of that, we’ve written probably 15 or 20 new songs together, and I just can’t wait to keep debuting those. We’re definitely going to be playing a bunch of those on our upcoming spring tour, and that’s 24 shows.
The fact that those guys are so diverse and can go wherever the music takes them—it’s such a cool thing. And by the end of this most recent tour we did, we were really opening our minds to going wherever the music took us. My favorite show of the tour, if I had to choose one, would be Austin, which was the second to last night. So it just felt great. It felt like the tour had this really beautiful arc to it, like this exponential build where every night we were learning more about ourselves and figuring out new and interesting ways we could do things, you know really progressing from night to night, which is such a good feeling and it’s really why I wanted to play with Particle again.
To get back to what I was saying a moment ago, I just really missed that feeling in my soul of being out there on the road, totally creatively immersed in the Particle music and with the Particle fans. So it was a great tour, and I’m really looking forward to the next one as well. It just feels great to be really digging in and playing these songs again, and also writing new songs We’re heading out to our guitarist Ben Combe’s place in Connecticut, and the two of us are going to lay down some guitar and some keyboard parts over some of the rhythm section parts that Brandon and Clay took down in Woodstock. So, slowly but surely the new studio album is shaping up, and I’m really excited to keep cracking these new songs and ultimately playing them on our next tour.