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New Groove

Published: 2003/01/23
by Jeff Waful

Psychedelic Breakfast

Psychedelic Breakfast is an energetic young quartet hailing from Connecticut. The group specializes in hyper speed improvisation fueled by virtuosic guitarist Tim Palmieri and the spastic human metronome, Adrian Tramontano. Bassist Ron Spears and humble keyboardist Jordan Giangreco fill the space in between, creating a cerebral mix of Frank Zappa and early Phish-esque tension and release. The technical ability of Palmieri is second to none and for this reason alone the band is worth checking out if balls-to-the-wall jamming is your thing. In addition, the foursome has begun to evolve musically, making an effort to pace its sets a bit more strategically and demonstrating a more mature style of songwriting.
In a day and age where most jambands refuse to be categorized as such, Psychedelic Breakfast seems to embrace the genre. The set lists include covers by Zappa, the Grateful Dead, Phish and the Allman Brothers (a version of "Hot ‘Lanta" with guest guitarist Seth Yacovone appears on the new live album, Bona Fide). There is also a chunky repertoire of impressive originals that run the musical gamut from jazz to rock to funk to roots reggae. As the band prepares for its busiest year to date, with three national tours in the works, Palmieri spoke with prior to a gig with his ongoing side project, the Diesel Experiment.
JW: Take us back to the beginning when the band formed in 1998. How did that come about?
TP: Basically, Ron, Adrian and I had been playing together since freshman year of high school and we’d been in a lot of bands on and off again. Finally we were all in this one band, Mocha Jam, and just decided to leave. Adrian met Jordan in August of 1998 and we jammed once and were like "let’s get a band happening." We continued to practice for the next couple months and then played in October for the first time. *JW: What was that first gig like? *
TP: It was a Halloween show at [UMASS Amherst dorm] Butterfield on October 30. It was awesome. We got a good buzz on and went down there and played four hours straight [laughs].
JW: What was the first vision of the band? Did you discuss what direction you wanted to go in or did it just happen organically?
TP: We just wanted to explore our rock roots, because the band we were in at the time was a jazz/funk outfit that was instrumental. I grew up playing rock and roll so we just wanted to play all the shit that we liked and all our friends liked, you know? We wanted to get vocals going and that was a big reason that we had Jordan join the band. We didn’t really sing so we thought he would motivate us to sing. Our vision was just to rock…heavily.
JW: You said you grew up playing rock and roll. You’ve quickly gotten a reputation as being a very technically accomplished guitar player. Did you just lock yourself in a room for 10 years? What was your practice schedule like as a kid?
TP: Yeah. I picked the guitar up again when I was like 12. I started when I was four, took lessons, sort of put it down for sax, played it every once in a while, but when I saw an Eddie Van Halen video, I was hooked. That was about age 12. After that I just played all the time because that’s all I wanted to do. I wouldn’t even consider it real practice time. It was just more about having fun, but I would start at like eight p.m. and play until like two or three in the morning.
JW: Every night?
TP: Yeah, for a while. I couldn’t do it during school very much, but one summer in high school, it was incredible how much I just stayed in my room and played. I didn’t even party then. All my friends were partying and I was just playing.
JW: Yeah, who’s got the last laugh now?
TP: [laughs] Yeah, exactly.
JW: Besides Eddie Van Halen, who were some of your other guitar heroes in that era as you were maturing?
TP: Well, all the greats: Clapton, the Allman Brothers, Santana, Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robbie Krieger of The Doors.
JW: Talk about the other three band members. What are their strengths?
TP: Well Adrian grew up listening to John Bonham primarily. He played a bunch of other stuff. He’s pretty much a chameleon with styles, but ultimately he drew heavy influence from Bonham. Ron basically started bass because he liked Flea from the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers. Adrian and I taught Ron how to play the bass, for the most part. Freshman year he wanted to form a band and he bought a bass and then wanted us to teach him. I would write the notes down on a piece of paper. Our first tune was "Are You Gonna Go My Way" by Lenny Kravitz. The other one was "Fire" by Jimi Hendrix.
Jordan’s strength is the Dead, definitely the Dead. I don’t even know his background too much. I know he’s been playing piano since he was a kid; like ten or 11.
JW: Has the vision changed? You said in the beginning it was to ‘rock heavily.’ Along the way, as you’ve got management, a business plan and a record label, have you revised what you want to do or are you still just trying to rock as hard as possible every night?
TP: Ultimately we’re just trying to rock as hard as possible, conjure up that energy and spirit that people love and just gets things going; that healing power of music. At the same time we’re trying to write better tunes, more structured compositions, more heartfelt lyrics and just grow as musicians and composers.
JW: There’s certainly a lot of criticism about the jamband genre, that it’s not enough about songs and there’s too much self-indulgent noodling and not enough emotion. How do you respond to those critics?
TP: I think those people don’t have open minds necessarily to even stray from the norm of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus; like the standard pop format. It’s not fair that they’re selling music short. They should really wipe away all restrictions and rules of music as they know it and then approach the sound they’re listening to fresh and new. They’d probably actually find themselves enjoying the jam structure and whatnot. Then again, jamband music does get away from the songwriting thing. Songs can be too long or guitar solos can be pointless. I mean, we’re just trying to find a happy medium in it all because we don’t want to lose our jam roots. I love different sections together all the time. I love long guitar solos, but at the same time I want to make it different a little bit by writing shorter tunes with a structured guitar solo that everyone can sing for years to come. Like Jimmy Page, he wrote the best guitar solos on earth. Everybody can sing his guitar solos and they’re short, but they’re monumental.
JW: I assume you listen to tapes of your shows and critique them?
TP: Every once in a while. Really lately we haven’t been able to. We listened to our live release [Bona Fide] to death, but other than that, I don’t have too much spare time to listen to our own shows. I just try to remember what happened that night. We’ll talk about it and go for a new thing the next night.
JW: So when you listen to one of your guitar solos on the live album, what sorts of qualities do you look for? What makes a great solo or a not so great solo?
TP: Hmm. Well first I usually listen to my chops, like if I’m warmed up or not. I can tell when I’m going for something and I can’t hit it. You’ll hear a "clam" or whatever. Maybe some riffs just aren’t the freshest. I certainly like to hear stuff that just makes great melodic sense, like if it’s a hum-able riff or if it goes somewhere new where I’ve never heard myself play something like that before. Or sometimes there will be telepathy in the playing, like my lick will exactly match the drum set and it’s clear that we are definitely listening to each other and hooked up. It’s a lot of different things. It also depends on my mood on that day. Sometimes I’ll listen to a guitar solo that’s really great and I’ll be in a weird mood and be too critical over hitting one wrong note in ten minutes.
JW: At this point, how much of your playing is subconscious? Isn’t the goal to practice so much that you get to a point where you don’t have to think about what you’re playing in the moment?
TP: Exactly.
JW: How much does that actually happen?
TP: Most of it’s subconscious. There are times when I say to myself, "alright I want to do a quick diminished run anywhere in this solo" and then I’ll work it in. That usually helps me. By forcing something new into the solo, it will help my subconscious come out with different shit that I never even knew was there. Just by changing it up consciously, it has then moved my subconscious, which is a pretty interesting thought, now that I think about it.
JW: Well, you’re not supposed to think about it.
TP: [laughs] Oh right.
JW: Improvisation is such an inexact science. Do you recall any particular nights that were just magical for completely unexpected reasons, such as lack of sleep or being severely hung over?
TP: Yeah. Yasgur’s Farm in 2000. We played Greenstock. That was just a magical performance. Our first set was like four hours straight. It was only supposed to be an hour, but once we started they were like, "ah, you guys can just play forever, however long you want to." So we played that long first set, took a break and then came back for like a two-hour second set at like one-thirty in the morning. I’d have to say we’ve had a lot of magical nights at Tobacco Road in New York City. There’s very good energy in that room. This past New Year’s show was definitely a magical musical night.
JW: You’re doing a few dates with the Seth Yacovone Band. I know Seth is also on the new live album. How did that come about?
TP: We’ve always heard of him cause we see his posters at pretty much every place we ever play. Finally it just worked out with that Pearl Street show [captured on Bona Fide. We did a gig swap for a [Winoosk, VT venue] Higher Ground show with him. We invited him to sit in and we worked out "Hot ‘Lanta." We didn’t even plan on putting "Hot Lanta" on the album either. Only afterwards did we decide to throw it on the record. Once we played the Higher Ground show with him, that’s when we started talking about a possible co-bill tour because the energies in Seth and I are very similar, with the guitar rock thing happening.
JW: But at the same time, stylistically you guys are polar opposites.
TP: Pretty different yeah. He’s very blues oriented and I guess I have more of a jazz sense in a rock style.
JW: So it makes for a nice contrast.
TP: Yeah, it certainly does. I got to sit in with them at Higher Ground that night. It was an unbelievable frickin’ jam. I had such a great time. He’s a very good guitar player and a good listener too.
JW: Talk about your songwriting process. Is it the type of thing where you write a song and bring it to the band or do you write collectively in the practice room?
TP: We’ve done more of the first. Usually I’ll complete a tune and then bring it to the band and then some minor changes will be made in the practice room. There’s maybe been only like five tunes that we’ve been able to collectively work on at the same time. Most of the time, we ask the members to finish most of the song and then bring it to the practice room, you know? It’s always better when that person has the complete vision in mind and can tell the others how to bring about their vision in the practice room. I’m certainly looking forward to doing more collective writing. I have plenty of tunes I’ll be able to bring to the table that are complete, but then I’m also working on tunes that I’ll be able to throw to the guys and we’ll see what happens.
JW: Psychedelic Breakfast is pretty in-your-face and like you said, trying to rock as hard as possible. You’ve just recently began to tour nationally. Have there been certain markets where you’ve just totally freaked people out or do you generally find your audience?
TP: We get a little of both. After our last national tour, we’ve actually toned it back a little bit. We still rock when we have to, but a band can’t just blast the whole time. You have to have dynamics to keep anyone interested. So we’ve been working on dynamics and mellow jamming and just covering all sides to the spectrum, volume wise and intensity wise. What we do in new markets especially is to make sure we have a little bit of everything there. We’re really conscious of how the crowd is taking it. If we find that they like the funkier tunes more, we’ll start playing that. If they do want to hear the rock songs and lose their skulls, we’ll blast em [laughs]. So it sort of goes with the mood of the night and how many people are there and what they’re into. You have to definitely play for the audience.
JW: You guys have sort of stepped up to touring fulltime now; six weeks on, six weeks off?
TP: For the most part, yeah. We want to definitely tour nationally three times throughout a year, at least. We feel it’d be too much letting the crowd rest if we’re not getting out there and letting them know we exist.
JW: It’s a really weird time now for the music industry. Do you have a plan to make a living at this long term? Obviously record sales, especially in this genre, but across the board are sort of waning. Where do you see the industry going, as far as survival for musicians?
TP: I’m not too sure. What it comes down to is, people who are running the biz have no frickin’ clue what good music is and they’re looking at art in a monetary sense. You know, they’re looking at what’s going to make them the dollar and that’s not gonna pay off in good music that’s wholesome and will last long and sit with somebody very well. I think they just need to wake up. The record sales are sucking because the music they’re putting out is shit. Good music has to have a resurgence soon. Where we fall in that is that I really want to focus on writing better tunes that would sell music, so that way we don’t have to play so hard on the road to make our money. We’ll be able to still tour to support the albums, but also have the albums do a good amount of work for our money making side of things. Yeah, good quality music needs to come back. That’s for sure.
JW: You guys are lucky enough to be on a label that has national distribution and you’re putting out Bona Fide on March 18. You chose to record the album on digital multitrack, which is great because a lot of bands these days are trying to save money by just releasing two-track board tapes.
TP: Yeah, this is not your conventional live recording by any means. We recorded the basic tracks live, but did minor overdubs in the studio, vocal wise. I don’t think we touched many instrument tracks at all. It was more vocals and the production end of it, making sure it was smooth and polished. This is really the best representation of our live performance to date. We’re really proud of it. The next album, we’re looking to take more of a studio approach and just dive into really taking our own sound and knowing what we’re capable of doing in the studio. This was our last hurrah for the live, playing-in-your-face kind of deal.
JW: It seems like for most jambands, the whole Phish comparison is taboo and people generally try to run from it. But you guys cover ‘You Enjoy Myself.’ Is that in defiance or because you just think it’s a great song?
TP: A little of both. Now we only play it when nobody’s at a show. Let’s say we want to astound people and really make them have a good time for being out, we’ll play it for them, so everyone else kicks themselves for missing it. I don’t know if I should really say that because then I’m giving away our secret weapon [laughs].
JW: Well you certainly play it much tighter than Phish these days.
TP: Compared to the recent Hampton version, yeah. I don’t know if you heard those shows.
JW: Yeah, I was there. It was a bit embarrassing.
TP: I couldn’t believe when I heard that. I could not believe it.
JW: The name of the band, Psychedelic Breakfast, is pretty obvious in connotation, but was there a specific incident that spawned the name?
TP: Our drummer was doing a side project for a little bit. He had some tunes and his cousin named the band Adrian’s Psychedelic Breakfast. He got the name from the Pink Floyd album, Atom Heart Mother and it was "Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast." When we were coming up with band names, that was one of the choices and it seemed to be the best. We just lopped Adrian off and got Psychedelic Breakfast.
JW: Oh, I was envisioning the four of you sitting on a mountaintop at sunrise sharing strawberries or something.
TP: [laughs] No, nothing that spiritual.

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