This months New Groove of the Month is Ohios One Under. While bringing together members of such Midwestern mavericks as Ekooskik Hookah (vocalist Ed McGee and percussionist Johnny Polansky) and The Shantee (keyboard player Robb McCormick), One Under has come to define its own sound. Along with lead guitarist Mike Iannicello, bassist Patrick Kenney and drummer Seth Kafoure, the sextet has become a band to watch as the 2007 Summer Festival Season approaches. The group, which recently released its self-titled debut disc, blends roots rock, Afro-Cuban rhythms and sliver o funk to produce a delectable sound thats exponentially greater than the sum of its parts.
Jambands.com caught up with the entire cast of One Under earlier this week to glimpse the fresh sound of these veteran players. *Jambands: So tell me a little bit about the band, how the idea arose, and exactly who you are. *
*Cello: *Johnny Polansky and I toyed around with the idea of starting a band for years but the timing and circumstances weren’t right until early 2005. Were a group of musicians that have toured with many projects over the years but this project (One Under) is home. Its our baby in every capacity.
Johnny: Cello was thinking about moving to California to do some work out there and we had talked for years and messed around with different musical projects together. Cello was actually the first musician I met when I moved to Columbus in 1994. Anyway, I felt like I had to try and keep such a great talent from leaving the region (and honestly I didnt want my best friend moving all the way across the country) and wanted to explore some of the music ideas we had worked on for so many years together. I was getting really fed up with the situation I was in for mostly non-musical reasons. I felt like I needed a new outlet and situation where the combination of music and business were respected and the men you play with show the same respect and passion for the music as I did. When Cello and I lived on West Coast together as we were both going through divorces, I can remember Cello writing and us recording some of these songs that have become One Under staples. The line up got set pretty much right away and the musicians really seemed to fit naturally and we hit the ground running as they say.*Jambands: How does One Under differ from the member’s previous bands in terms of sound, style, personality and direction? *
Robb: I played with dozens of bands over the last decade. For a few years I was juggling a bunch of local gigs at once, A 12-piece funk band, a jazz quartet, a rock band doing mainly Allman Brothers, grateful dead and some originals and bands like that. I also played with a few great blues artists and was picking up a lot of sub work. I think I was playing with so many bands at the time because of my wide range of musical interests. One Under is extremely versatile compared to many of my old bands. We play everything from rock and blues to jazz, prog and funk. Many of the other guys have played with many different bands and genres also. That creates an atmosphere where anything is welcome. I feel like that also creates a body of music that is identifiable by a large audience as well. There is something for everyone and it’s all played very well
Johnny: First off, the overall personality is that of one that has a drastically higher level of commitment to the preparation and the development of our craft than any band Ive been in up until now. Bottom line everyone in One Under does their homework and comes ready.
Theres a much deeper sense of teamwork than past projects or bands and certainly more respect for what each other brings to the table than in past bands. Theres a passion towards the common goals of the group instead of being hung up on individual goals. We dictate and decide by the question What is best decision that falls in line with the long and short term goals of the band? Other bands Ive been in seemed so disconnected from each other. Just getting one decision made that fit the convenience of each individual person (instead of looking at the goals of the band sometimes) took so long, it became ridiculous. With One Under I feel like I am working with friends instead of five other guys who are in other cubicles for the workday. There is a sense of camaraderie that I havent felt before.
I think this leads nicely into the direction question. The best answer I can give is that the way it differs is we are all moving in the same direction. Other bands as I explained seemed moving in different directions at best. If we arent working together we must be working against each other and that isnt going to work at all. Although blending styles in music is a critical element of other bands Ive been in, I think One Under is blending different genres than I have in the past. This band is going for a fusion of styles that none of the other bands I have been in previously were doing.
Our style ranges from Sly Hipster to Crafty St. James, or maybe Little Italy meets the Lonely Pimp. Capiche?*Jambands: You list an eclectic array of styles and sounds, how would you pin down and truly define One Under? *
*Ed: * One Under feels like a party hosted by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eddie Van Halen…Sting is chaperoning, Hendrix crashes the party at some point, Eva Longoria is dancing on a table with some friends, but Joni Mitchell feels completely comfortable and doesn’t leave till dawn. (You know, like rock ‘n’ roll infused with funk, jazz, blues and sexy intelligence.)
*Seth: * One Under is a culmination of the sounds that shaped each of us as individuals and musicians.*Jambands: In developing the band’s sound, how has it evolved since your inception a couple years ago? Where is heading? *
*Cello: * Our sound is definitely growing. We put very little limitations on our creativity. Its only natural the more we play together the tighter we get.
*Robb: *We are still a pretty young band compared to a lot of these other guys. We are still making leaps and bounds as far as the music and business goes. We can’t get to the tunes quick enough. We are fortunate enough to have 3 major songwriters, each with a very large bag of material. We’ve been working with a great new bass player and revisiting a lot of the old material. Much of it is getting a nice face-lift, which will hopefully be a nice treat for the dire hard fans.
*Ed: * We’re getting tighter and better at improv, the surfing part of it. Not riding the wave too long, waiting for the right wave, giving other surfers their room on the wave, choosing better swimwear.*Jambands: Who are some of the band’s influences? Do you pay attention to what’s going on in the jam scene as well as popular/mainstream music? *
*Seth: *I think everyone in the band has their ear to the ground in the musical world, but I think we play the music that feels right, its not really dictated by whats what in the music scene. *Cello: * Our influences range from jazz to classic rock to bluegrass to folk to Latin to blues to funk and so we seem to fall into the jamband market. So yes we do keep an eye on whats going on in that scene but as far as popular/mainstream music, not quite as much.
*Robb: * I’d say as individuals our music interests vary as much as our songwriting. Personally, I’ve always been a big fan of the jamband scene. I saw a lot of Dead shows in my late teens and early twenties. I got to experience Phish in the early 90’s when I was still a teenager. In my opinion that was Phish in its prime. The Hoist tour was unreal. Page definitely played a major influence. Chuck Leavell and Bill Payne are my heroes as far as rock and roll piano are concerned. I really like what a lot of the jambands are doing. I am a big fan of Steve Kimock, Robert Walter, Umphreys and so many of those guys. I also like the newer mainstream stuff like Amos Lee and Norah Jones though too. Really, the jamband scene is one of the few places left to play blues, jazz, fusion and gospel and still develop a major following. I think the jamband fan has a much higher standard in musical appreciation than many other genres. You find a lot of dedicated fans in this genre.
*Ed: * I pay attention (in the jam scene, I dig Keller, Phish, Honkytonk Homeslice, Umphreys and some others…), but my influences are still my older ones: my poetry professor Gordon Grigsby changed the way I write, and guys like Bono and Sting taught me about the potential for depth and substance in popular music. These days I listen to public radio mostly.*Jambands: How do you feel the band will be perceived by longtime fans of Hookah and The Shantee? Will they be impressed with the new product or will there be messageboard dismay? *
*Robb: * There were a lot of upset Shantee fans when we split up. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the last two years. They were great ones. I gained a lot of experience with them on the road and knew that I no longer would be satisfied playing locally. I think many of the upset fans now have come to accept that there is room for everyone and the music keeps playing on. Mike Perkins of the Shantee is still playing to his fans around Ohio and is reunited by the original keyboardist. Hookah is back with their original front man and seems to be touring regularly and we are lucky enough to have a dedicated fan base that continues to show their support. The numbers keep growing. The band keeps growing.
*Ed: * I knew when I entered this change that many people would be upset and act out, and I’ve seen my share of that, but mostly I’ve experienced very positive reactions. People have been so generous in wishing us well and accepting the natural course of things.
Though I must say, often when longtime Hookah fans approach me before shows, they’ll say hi to me almost reluctantly, with this sheepish look like they don’t want to admit they’re there. I sense (and have heard) that they feel they’re betraying someone, maybe their friends, maybe Hookah, maybe themselves, by just being there. It’s very sad and very much missing the point. Music is not a competition. Bands are not exclusive clubs.
*Johnny: * There have been fans on both sides of the coin. Some are cool; others are not so cool and even can be harsh. Wasted skinny kid in Cinci, message board know-it-alls, you know the typemy band is so good and I can only love one band and if you love another band you suck..They are the ones who are hard to deal with but we expected it to a certain extent. We put ourselves out there and fans do as well. Music is not only a passion to artists, but to the people who listen to it. Im hoping that real fans of music will give this music a listen. I hope theyll give extremely talented musicians and songwriters like Cello, Seth and Pat, who have had no prior association to one of those bands, the respect they deserve and listen to what they have to say musically. Id think that if you truly come to the table with an open mind and hear what we are trying to do, I believe you will find something to enjoy. If someone comes with a ton of baggage as a listener, I dont think they are going to be able to get past that to open their ears enough to hear what we have to offer. I guess their loss in the end.*Jambands: Where does Ohio stand, in your opinion, on the musical map? *
*Seth: * I believe there is an exciting energy in Ohio right now and I think the music from our state has a lot to offer. Ohio is a microcosm of the United States in many ways. The things people complain about in Ohio are really the problems we face nationwide. So being in the center of something that is really like a smaller version of the nation is a good test ground to see how your music will be excepted across the country.
*Cello: * Between Indiana and Pennsylvania….just kidding….Although its clichits the heartland. If youre willing to travel its a good central location to be based out of. I do know a lot of great musicians come from Ohio. Also many successful acts originate from Ohio.
*Johnny: *Theres an incredibly deep pool of musicians and bands from Ohio. I think you can find some of the most talented cats playing at local clubs and on the Ohio circuit any night of the week. I feel lucky to have over the years played and cut my teeth with some great gentlemen and highly talented individuals that play music. Of course there are the more widely known bands out there from Ohio, but guys like Jimmy McGee, Derek Dicenzo, Kris Keith, these cats are incredible and all playing here.
There other thing about Ohio is that theres accessibility to many other areas of the country within a relatively short distance. Its a place that you can get to other places to play very easily and not blow your budget on touring out of water. Like any place we have our pros and cons.
*Robb: * Columbus has some great musicians. Major players. Tony Monaco plays to about 40 people here every week. He and Joey D are the two heavyweights of the Hammond B3 in the world in my opinion. The jazz players here are top notch along with the local circuit of funk players. I was so lucky to have grown up being inspired by these guys. The unfortunate thing is that there is no business here. For gigging its great, there are plenty of clubs, but there is noone in the business here for real opportunities.
*Jambands: Describe the song writing process of One Under. Who is writing the songs and is it a collective effort? Also, can you explain the style and how it compares and contrasts with some of the members previous song writing… *
*Cello: * The song writing is more of a collaborative effort. Ed Mcgee, Robb Mccormick and myself (Mike Iannicello) are the three primary songwriters. We all write differently but seem to write well together. Different songs have different processes. As I said before we don’t put limitations on ourselves and don’t get too caught up on what style a certain tune is or should be and I believe this is part of our strength.
*Robb: * It’s a wonderful thing. Ed has a very large catalog of tunes. Some he played with Hookah and some are new. Cello and I both have a large collection of instrumentals and they keep coming. Ed writes all the lyrics for the band and seems to do it with ease. Everyone always has great ideas when we first start working with a new song and tunes definitely take on a shape of their own once the band gets their hands on it. I have never been happier playing with these guys. My songs always end up better then I originally could have imagined when the band sinks their teeth into them. We all trust each others judgment as far as making the parts our own, yet we are all open to suggestions. It’s really a great thing.
*Ed: * Most of the songs started with Cello or Robb, or both, and then I added lyrics and suggested structure or alterations to existing structure. It’s wonderfully collaborative. We feel genuinely free to suggest and discuss and alter and morph as we please, because we have an agreement that nothing is ever set in stone.
It’s especially exciting for me adding lyrics to these great tunes Cello and Robb create. Often they have titled the instrumental versions and I will intentionally free associate from those words and develop a theme. Joyful Days Ahead, Juniper Falls, and Front Porch are all examples of this.*Jambands: What are the band’s strengths? Weaknesses? How do you maximize those strengths while minimizing the band’s weaknesses? *
*Johnny: * I think two of the biggest strengths are songwriting and learning new material. With the talented songwriters in the band and the large body of work they bring, it is imperative for all of the guys to be able to pick up on music very quickly. I mean Ive been in situations where for weeks we are working on covers. It was so frustrating. So I think we really exploit this strength through learning and trying to present new material at almost every show.
I think our most glaring weakness right now is our inability to be patient. All of us are getting on in our thirties and I think that brings a sense of urgency to what we want to do. We all have to remind ourselves not to put the cart before the horse and enjoy the process of getting to and achieving the goals weve set out for ourselves with this band.
So I think the best way we maximize one and minimize another is to bring lots of music to the table and concentrate on developing those songs. When the focus and concentration is there, the patience seems to come.
*Ed: * Our main strength is our creative force. We have three songwriters erupting with musical ideas constantly…we can’t even catch up to ourselves. If we had the time, we could combine to write a few double albums by next month.
Another strength is our management. We have a trustworthy, capable, good-hearted soul at the helm with clear vision and unwavering energy.
And to be sure: our camaraderie. You can see it on stage, I’ve been told. And it’s infectious. Less like a nice mountain you glimpse in the distance, more like a roller coaster with no lines right in front of you.*Jambands: What are the band’s plans, touring/recording/etc…for 2007? What can our readers and your fans expect? *
*Cello: * We are playing some good festivals this year. Were also continuing club dates and universities, really trying to build our fan base. We also plan on releasing our 2nd CD towards the end of the year.
*Seth: * We are looking to be billed on more festivals this summer have discussed going back into the studio later in the year as well.
*Johnny: * Well, will continue to foster our relationship with the Crickkette/Crafty St. James production crew and fill out or 2007 schedule. We plan to tour as much as possible to spread our music. I whole heartedly believe we have a certain responsibility to the general Jamband fan base and our specific fans. So many of these dedicated people take so much time and money to come and see shows each weekend tirelessly in order to support their favorite bands and musicians. We as musicians have an obligation to go to them and make it easier on some of them and the way we do that is to tour. I think we will be working on some new projects. I hope to bring a video project together this year and I think we will look to follow up on our studio debut work somehow. Not sure whether that will be another studio or live disc but we will look into that as well.
The biggest thing everyone can look for is more One Under for sure in some package and shape all over the country.
*Jambands: What is a ‘jamband’ and do you see it fit for One Under to be labeled as one? *
*Seth: * I am not really sure how do define a jamband as most people see it, but I guess it would have to mean a band that explores improvisation. Thats one of the things I really like about One Under is the blend and particularly the balance between parts that are structured and parts that are more spontaneous.
*Robb: * Again, the jamband scene it one of the few places left to play rock, blues, jazz, gospel, funk and electronic music and still have a develop a large fan base. A dedicated one at that.
*Johnny: *As Ive always said, I think the genre of jamband is a little broad and not really a genre as much as a larger classification. Lets just face it, when you break it down Yonder is not Galactic is not MMW is not Dr. Ralph Stanley is not CJ Chenier. I think One Under possesses the same thing that connects many of the jambands today and thats improvisation throughout the show. That philosophy is what brings so many of the fans to the table of Jamband music. The fact theyre all but guaranteed to see or hear a different show from night to night is what makes us a jamband and for that matter what makes One Under appealing to fans of the genre or classification. I believe it would be very hard to get away for long with this insatiable fan base playing set lists that dont have much derivation from one to the other each night. We dont hit the stage with a set list and in fact we let the night, the vibe and the fans dictate in what direction the set list will develop.
- Jambands: Who are some of the acts that you’ve been most impressed by lately? Why? *
*Cello: *Yonder Mountain, Derek Trucks, Govt Mule. There putting out quality music, I like that a lot of it is instrumental and people are digging it. There’s still hope for good music *Ed: * Ollabelle is a new favorite. Riverside Battle Songs, I cannot remover from my CD player. Amy Helm’s voice reduces me to Liquid Ed.
Honkytonk Homeslice blew my mind at Schwagstock. Just gorgeous music. Fresh and swift, but somehow still drenched in tradition and impassioned storytelling.
And Dave Matthews was good on House.
*Seth: * Sorry dude, I gotta pass on this one I dont get out enough.
*Robb: * I really like Zero 7 and Ozric Tentacles these days. Great synth stuff. I am always impressed by a good player. Especially a keyboardist. I am constantly impressed by so many. This week it was a Kimock show I downloaded from Archive.org. Last week it was a nice Sound Tribe Sector Nine show from 2006. We are lucky to have some great acts sprouting up. You should check out One Under. I’d say they impressed me the most in 2006. =)
*Johnny: * Yonder Mountain. These guys smoke.Hands down. I love what they are able to accomplish with such a simple set up. They are absolutely top notch. I really love Mike Doughty. I was always a fan of Soul Coughing and I still follow his stuff. I dig the texture of his voice and his lyrics. In fact I am listening to Skittish right now! He is the total package as far as I am concerned. Plus he is one hell of an entertainer. I dig a lot of stuff but I am trying currently to dig deep into what got me into music in the first place and that is obscure music from around the globe. Ive been into a ton of world stuff recently from Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn and Steve Reich to old Heptones and Brazilian Capoeira music.
*Jambands: If you weren’t playing music for a living, what would you be doing? *
*Ed: * Maybe teaching at a college in New England somewhere. Or counseling teens. Definitely playing hockey somewhere, regardless.
*Seth: * Bitching.
*Cello: * If I wasn’t playing music… Thats a tough one…....I’m going to pass on this one..
*Robb: * Magic. I perform regularly. Music and magic have so many connections. They share many of the same principles. Especially when it comes to practice and discipline.
*Johnny: * I guess I would love to go back to my beloved hometown of Pittsburgh, PA and have the opportunity to work in ANY capacity for the Steelers, Pens or Pirates. I love, bleed and live black and gold. (There is nothing more annoying than being in a band with Browns fans during football season!) Im also a tech whore. I love capturing life in photo and video and wish I had the talent and time to work in those mediums. I love the way a guy like David Schwartz can capture just the right moment in life and put it on film. Or .If I were not worried about making a livingI would be at a beach somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. Most likely the Outer Banks of North Carolina working on a pier selling bait and just enjoying the days listening to the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
*Jambands: What can fans, both old and new, expect from your live shows? I’ve heard that they’re pretty dynamic. Can you describe the musicianship, the overall feel and what you guys try to achieve when you hit the stage. *
*Cello: * Fans can expect a variety of songs that display interaction, improvisation, groove that makes you want to move, and lyrics that grab you in the live setting.
*Johnny: * I believe you can expect to need your spare face because were going to take your current one away from you with the live music.
Jambands: In your opinion, what’s the best part of playing music for a living? Now I know it’s a terrible job, so please try to explain yourself
*Seth: * The best part about playing music for a living is that you can truly devote your time and life into doing something you love. When I have had other jobs it just felt like I was totally wasting my life away and depriving myself of what made me feel like a human being. Everyone has something they feel they are supposed to do. For me, thats music.
*Cello: * The best part is doing something you really love to do. Also providing joy and an escape is sort of good therapy for people.
*Ed: * The group experience. The Sharing of music. With my band mates. With people dancing. It’s a beautiful ceremony that I’ll never take for granted.
*Robb: * I wouldn’t know where to start. As long as I can remember it has been perhaps the most important thing in my life. As a kid I was convinced that I wanted to be a professional musician. I was lucky enough to have a mother that pushed me a lot and got me the best teachers she could get. It’s more of a passion. It’s never been about the money. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in my life to follow my passion. I have a son who is almost 10 years old and a family. It can be tough being on the road sometimes, but some of the most magical experiences of my life have happened on the road. Both as a musician and as a fan. My best friends are my band mates. We have a blast on the road, but we all make the sacrifices to put ourselves in a better position musically and as a business. It’s a great thing to get 6 determined 30-something’s together who have all been around the block and are willing to start over from scratch for the music. I really think we’ve created a great thing and I know that not a single one of us would trade it for the world. It’s definitely the end-all-be-all as far as I am concerned. The best part of playing music for a living for me is doing it with One Under.
*Johnny: * I feel like I get to go on vacation still to this day when I go out on the road. As a kid, my folks (John and Merlene thanks!!) took us on tons of vacations and in high school our band traveled all over the country to march in competitions. I love the fact I can see NYC one week, get Chicago hot dogs the next and maybe a Memphis BBQ and a round of golf the next in Tennessee. I think Ive always loved getting out on the road and now playing music for a living I get to do it with great musicians and great friends as well.*Jambands: Johnny, this ones geared towards you. How has becoming a new father changed your outlook, both professionally as a musician, as well as a person in general? *
*Johnny: * I think it has let me look back upon my life and see what kind of person and musician I want to be for my wife and our new daughter. It has sharply and dramatically refreshed my views about music and life. My daughter has brought a feeling of excitement to my soul as a musician and I want to show her someday what I do and with such passion. Its even deepened my already incredible sense of pride to have a group like One Under to create with.