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New Groove

Published: 2001/06/19
by Allison Hall


What do you get if you mix: a space porn soundtrack, high-octane funk, jazz and myriad electronic styles? The sweeping soundscape of Particle.

Particle is an instrumental groovy contraption from Los Angeles. The interlocking parts of this smoothly running machine are Eric Gould (bass), Charlie Hitchcock (guitar), Darren Pujalet (drums) and Steve Molitz (keyboard). In the ten months they’ve been together, they’ve lived a fairy tale existence — from their first gig to their recent I-5 west coast tour. But in every fairy tale there is some tragedy or hardship that first must be overcome, and Particle has been privy to that element too. But let’s start at the beginning

Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who longed for a handsome

Oops, wrong tale. The seeds of the band that has become Particle were planted in a funk covers project called Spanakopita. Eric first connected with Darren through musicians’ exchange ad. Spanakopita played a couple of gigs, including a friend’s house party in San Francisco. That friend happened to be planning a boat cruise party a few months later (scheduled to depart directly following the last pre-hiatus Phish show) and asked them to play. Eric and Darren, not wanting to play the gig as a cover band, pulled together an “originals” band. Eric had known Steve for a couple of years and begged him to “come out of the basement and jam with us.” Steve acquiesced; the trio fit together well. They put out ads and recruited their first guitarist, Dave Simmons.

The time frame from the band’s fruition to the cruise? A mere two months. “We wrote, what, like five songs in two weeks?” says Steve, sitting with the rest of the band eating lunch in the brilliant southern California sunshine. “The writing process wasjust fragments and ideas that weexpanded upon in a very open way because of time constraints.”

He adds, “Being instrumental, we have the challenge of conjuring up colors and emotions and images only through the music, without the vocals.”

“The music is like a good plate of food,” suggests Darren. “There’s so many different things, but they all blend together wellAnd there’s not a lot of people out there mixing high energy dance music with the DJ soundscape.”

The boat cruise was a pretty high-class first gig. An emotional and intense Phish show; 300 music lovers eager to extend the evening’s energy; funky decorations; a DJ; and Particle (or Metric, as they were called that evening) taking the stage as the boat glided beneath the Golden Gate bridge.

“We start playing and people are dancing so hard and we’re having so much fun,” says Eric. “We were so happy and we all knew that something special was about to happen.”

They played a few more high-energy shows before the tragic part of this tale unraveled. Two months and one day after Particle’s frenetic debut, Dave, who had just celebrated his 30th birthday, passed away. He was a lifetime diabetic.

“He played sitting down,” recalls Steve. “Everybody thought it was a style thing, but his feet hurt so bad [from the diabetes] that he couldn’t stand for long periods of time.”

Dave’s death was a reality check for the remaining members. They’d been too caught up in the rapid rate of their local success. But they decided to continue; they played a gig the following week as a trio, “celebrating a life rather than mourning a passing.” It was also a fundraiser for Dave’s young daughter, Maya. A couple hours after they finished playing the last notes of the night, they boarded a plane, and headed to Dave’s funeral in Florida.

“I know for me, and for the band as well, he really opened our eyes to a lot of things,” says Steve. “And I think he is partially responsible for elevating the consciousness of this group.”

Then came the depressing task of garnering another guitarist. Enter Charlie Hitchcock. He briefly played in Spanakopita, so he received an invitation to jam. Regarding the prospect of filling Dave’s shoes: “Yeah, it was pretty intense, actually,” says Charlie, who has been sitting pensively in the corner during most of the interview. His quiet demeanor is a departure from his extroverted guitar playing. “I didn’t know the whole story for a while. I didn’t know if it was a bad topicit wasn’t an easy transition I don’t think.”

That wasn’t easy, but Particle’s transition into a popular California groove machine was. They’ve opened up for some of the hottest “jambands” around, including Sound Tribe Sector 9, Deep Banana Blackout and DJ Logic. They’ve secured large audiences in the Boom Boom Room in San Francisco, the Temple Bar in L.A., and Winston’s in San Diego. They’re planning on taking their “sonic exploration” to Colorado in July and the east coast sometime in late summer or early fall.

Why the name Particle? “If there’s anything that is unified amongst everybody in this world, it is the particle and atoms and things of that nature”philosophizes Darren.

Eric concurs, and adds, “basically a particle can be the most minute little speck that you can’t even see or a particle can be something that is so big that it’s beyond what we’ve ever imagined.”

“Positively charged particles,” interjects Steve. “If we can pull into town and there’s a bunch of Particle people and we can positively charge them and create energy, then I’m happy.”

Going to a Particle show definitely involves a lot of energy. Dave Simmons once described the audience at a gig as “dancing like popcorn.” The band members exchange memories of looking out from the stage to see a sea of smiling faces. And the audience can look right back and see the shit-eating grin on Eric’s face. (Well, the rest of the band is smiling too, but once you see them perform, you’ll understand.)

“I want people to be on a voyage [when they see us,]” Steve opines. “I want them to feel like modern day warriors, like explorers.”

Eric wants people to ingest the experience and leave feeling inspired, capable of anything. “Art — and especially musicis a great outlet to bring people into that zone of thinking,” he says.

“I want to strike everything we’ve said and just say our goal is to play our asses off,” says Steve, changing his mind. “Screw all that lofty shit!”

Big things keep happening to these guys. More proof: during the interview, Darren’s cell phone was constantly ringing. One of the calls confirmed Particle for a last minute opening slot for Galactic at the House of Blues in Las Vegas a couple of days later.

While live shows are the best way to soak up these charged Particles, they are also in pre-production on a studio recording. A five-song demo that contains both live and studio tracks is available at their shows. They are also featured on a new compilation called Jams Vol.1 Don’t Call Us Jambands, that you can get from musicblitz. Or you can listen to the music and get more information — on their webpage:

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