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New Groove

Published: 2007/08/24
by Jared Hecht

Grimace Federation

Grimace Federation may perhaps be the window into the future of music. Their sound is vast, spanning various genres without losing its distinct and inherent style. When you perform with two drummers facing each other, front and center, staring each other down with intent and focused attention, there is a definite tangible energy. Top it off with vibraphones, keys, two guitars, and a bass, you have the perfect combination for a New Groove of the Month. Their deliverance is symphonic and kinetic noted by an uncanny ability to attract fans of all styles of music. It's a true "performance," from both the musical and visual element, they provide a captivating production.

Guitarist Wes Schwartz discusses what Grimace Federation is all about. From their collaborations with Antibalas and Aesop Rock to "Postjam" music, Wes hits a strong note describing what makes this band different from everything else out there. The fact of the matter is that in their short span of playing together, this group has created and maintained a sound they can call their own. Read on as Wes delves into what makes a strong federation.

JH: For such a young band, Grimace Federation has some impressive cameos to date. How was it playing and recording with Aesop Rock and Antibalas?

WS: It was totally awesome. We're huge fans of both acts from back in the day. Collaborating with people who have influenced us was very surreal. We never even met Aesop. He just took our track and flipped it. We're very stoked about how things turned out.

JH: How would you classify your sound? It doesn’t really fall into the realm of "jamband."

WS: Demon prog slasher jazz I think sums it up. We're not a jamband cause there's no real jamming, but lots of subtly tweaked sections, tones, textures, and layers. We're pulling from everywhere, taking elements from so many genres; rock, jazz, surf, afro beat, old film scores, etc. We don't really care what it’s called as long its fresh and original and heavy.

JH: Have there ever been any thought of adding a vocalist to the band?

WS: Well we scream a lot on stage so that's kind of like having vocalist. I think the music is pretty full-sounding right now. To add a vocalist might force the other instruments to become a bit more submissive and take on a background role. We're all about the idea of collaborating with different artists; the occasional singer, rapper, whatever. There's talk of a 40 piece children's choir at a future show.

JH: When writing song material, is there composed instrumentation for all six instruments or is it more free-lanced with everyone contributing their own ideas?

WS: It's a bit of both. Almost all songs come from just screwing around; finding a riff or a chord progression and building from there. We improvise with basic themes but mostly it's pretty deliberate. With us the songs are always tweaked out once they're written; always messing with structure, phrasing, form. We want the songs to be something of a jigsaw puzzle that even we can't really figure out sometimes.

JH: A lot of bands in our scene have brothers in them. Lotus, The Slip, old Brothers Past, Secret Machines, etc.. The Grimace Federation brothers are different though and sit in the front of the stage, facing each other, playing their drum kits. How long have the brothers been playing and writing together? Does their energy and relationship add or detract to a live performance? Brothers are usually rather competitive, is this the case?

WS: They've been playing together from day one. Literally as long as they could hold drum sticks they have been ripping it up. Their brotherly energy is damn infective.

JH: Living in Philadelphia and growing up with the Disco Biscuits, how was it to play Camp Bisco late night this year? It’s a prime slot for a young band. How did the show go?

WS: It was a whirlwind. So much energy there. We knew it was gonna be hype when people were getting down during the soundcheck. We sort of were bringing something different to the festival; our stuff seems a bit more raucous-y and rock driven than the other acts that weekend sometimes difficult to dance to because of all the changes in the music. In the end I thought it was really well received and everybody was parting in odd meters. It was an honor to play the festival and on the same bill as some of those heavy hitters.

JH: Recently, there has been a group of self-proclaimed bands doing "post-jam" songwriting and performing. When I first talked to you, you characterized Grimace’s sound as post-jam since their inception. Who else do you think falls into this category? What qualifies a band as post-jam? Is it better than jamband?

WS: The Slip, The Duo, and Lake Trout have morphed their sounds and cut the jam but kept a real groove and pulse to their sound. What's left is maybe this post-jam thing, which seems way more deliberate and sonic than the all out jam band with the 45 minute improv stuff. I think we're pulling from bands like Stereolab, Jaga Jazzist, Euphone, Mercury Program, and the Dylan Group who were doing this stuff back in the 90's calling it post rock or post jazz. That was the original concept of the group. We were sick of the noodling. You can go back further and talk about groups like Gentle Giant, David Axelrod, Egg, Supersister, Laboratorium and all these crazy prog jazz groups that we're killing it in the 70's. The "post" thing has been around for years. The hipsters got it in the 90's. The jammers are just getting turned on to this stuff now.

JH: You recently played several dates with Pnuma on the East Coast, a band bred in the electronica jamband world. How’d you link up and how did the shows go. Your sounds aren’t necessarily so similar. Were fans equally receptive to both bands? Do you feel like the cross-genre mash-up was successful?

WS: The mash up is essential in this day and age. People want everything in their concerts. Head banging, dancing, a slow song. Those shows were badass. More to come with those Pnuma playas.

JH: In your sets you sometimes cover Peter Bjorn and John and The Arcade Fire. Who would you say your influences are? How’d you get around to covering these bands?

WS: Those songs are just so catchy it's tough not to play them. I love the instrumental spin on songs that really feature heavy vocals. Burt Bacharach did lots of instrumental covers of pop songs of the day. He's an influence. Madlib nowadays and that whole Now and Again/ Stones throw scene. We all listen to so much music it's disgusting. Lots of punk and stoner rock, psychedelic jazz like Sonny Shorrock, Dubstep, and sort of everything else. We cover Hall and Oates and Steely Dan. Daryl Hall is the man.

JH: What are your plans for the immediate future?

WS: We have a couple recording projects in the works with lots of local and not so local special guest. Shows and more shows. We'll be in your hometown sometime soon enough.

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