Once again, we’ve enlisted our readers to select our New Groove of Month. Those who participated in the Jambands 250 poll chose New Jersey-based quartet Natural Breakdown. The group consists of Eric WaldMan on keyboards, Dan Farella on guitar, Gene Lantigua on bass and drummer Vinnie Smith. All four musicians contribute vocals to the band, which released its debut disc Inside the One, this past September. The recording was mixed by Railroad Earth sound engineer Mike Partridge and mastered by RRE’s Johnny Grubb.
As a visit to the Natural Breakdown website reveals, this collective has rather lofty aspirations. However, rather than dreams of topping the charts or filling arenas with rabid fans, this is a band with a slightly different mission (not that it presumably wouldn’t appreciate performing to swollen stadiums). Natural Breakdown’s intentions are readily apparent from the front page of its website, which proclaims:
Our goal is to raise consciousness through sound and word. To bring crowds to intense peaks, through a winding river of sound. Like Nature breaks down rock over thousands of years, and how everything can be broken down to its base component, light: Natural Breakdown is a hopeful outlook and a call for change.
We believe that the world is in need of some serious healing, and a strong vehicle for this shift is music. We want to break down the barriers between people and bridge the gap between performers/audience, to uncover that core experience of unity and oneness. We strive to bring people together for a unique and uplifting musical healing experience and hopefully spread the seeds of a brighter future in this time of great change.
That’s quite a charge to action which we do indeed explore in the following exchange with the band
Let’s start out with the development of the group. How did the four of you meet?
We came together gradually, over a period of time. The seed was planted when Eric was sitting on the beach, while living in Santa Cruz CA, and the Pacific Ocean clearly said to him, “Go home and start the band.” Two years later, he met Vinnie through a flyer at a music store in New Jersey and the first pieces of the puzzle came together. The groove started to flow. After playing with many bass players, we found Vic, who became an integral part of our first few years. For months we played as a trio as we searched and searched for the missing link. We auditioned many guitar players, and just when we had given up hope of finding the right person, Dan appeared. As soon as the four of us got together, it was on.
After tons of practice we played our first gig on the spring equinox, 3 days into the US invasion of Iraq, in March 03. We had attended the huge peace marches in Washington DC and New York City together, in our first few weeks as a band. In only our third gig, we landed a slot at The Great Bamboozle festival at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park NJ, where we played with national acts like The Roots and MMW, and got our first taste of the festival scene. It was a great beginning.
We developed musically and personally over the next three years by practicing non-stop, playing lots of shows, and sewing the seeds of a growing community. When our second bass player told us he was quitting due to school and other interests, we gave Gene the call, and at the perfect time. Gene was living in Crescent City CA, and had no plans of returning to the east coast. Eric hadn’t spoken to him in years and called to discuss the possibility of playing with us. After conversations with all the band members, Gene took the chance, packed his stuff into storage and headed east. From the first moment we played together, it was a perfect fit. Everything took off when Gene arrived at the Ranch.
On your website you say "Our goal is to raise consciousness through sound and word." can you talk a bit about that?
Our band was formed around a set of ideals. Our message is conveyed through our music and lyrics and can be broken down into three parts: Consciousness Creates Reality, We are all ONE being, experiencing ourselves as individuals, and Anything is Possible.
We believe that the Consciousness Revolution is happening right now, and there are millions of people coming to the same understandings, all around the world.
We believe that Consciousness is Cause, that our beliefs about "who we are" create the world we experience, and that we are responsible for everything in our experience.
We believe that human beings are undergoing a global shift, and that we are transforming our ideas about who we are, why we’re here, where we’re going, and what is possible.
We believe that we are ALL ONE. What we do to someone else, we do to ourselves. What we do for someone else we do for ourselves, literally. We can change our beliefs about who we are, and see the world change right before our eyes. It is our beliefs about ourselves and the world, that create how we experience ourselves in the world.
We believe that we are infinite and limitless, and as more and more of us become aware, we can choose to vibrate and operate from compassion and love. We can create the collective experience of peace, oneness and abundance. This is the Peaceful Revolution. We are all creative beings. It is about having an understanding of the mechanics of creation and choosing to create the world we wish to see. It happens on the inside, in each individual.
For us, music is the perfect vehicle for these ideas. Music is vibration and has always been a conduit of love and healing energy. We love to sing, dance, celebrate, and bring people together with the intent of changing the world.
You also mention that "Natural Breakdown is a hopeful outlook and a call for change." how do you guys promote that through your music? What role do your lyrics play in that? How about interaction with your fan community?
Our intention is that our music energetically opens people, (all music does). Our jams are intended to produce various states of energetic healing. Our lyrics are all about the Shift in one form or another. The song “The Wave” from our album is a good example of this.
Our “call for change” is unique in that we are not trying to change anyone. We are changing ourselves. Our aim is to gather people together who already know this, and to give exposure to people who are interested. When you bring large crowds of people together and work on the level of consciousness, real change is possible. In that spirit, we have led many group intentions and meditations at our shows. Being part of that energy is truly amazing and directly affects the collective consciousness of the All. This is the level we are interested in.
We are fortunate to be part of a wonderful community of artists, friends, and family. Our shows have become love-fests, and our closest friends have become known as the Natty Bees. We like the bee symbolism because of the idea that without bees, we could not survive. They pollinate our crops and keep us healthy and fed. Natty Bees pollinate the world with compassion and joy. We all get together at shows, fill ourselves with Love and Light, then go out into the world and share it. We have had many amazing moments together and we look forward to many, many more.
Along those lines, we have been hosting weekly events at the ranch such as meditations, yoga, and tai chi classes. We held a conscious gathering and group meditation on New Year’s Eve, which was incredibly inspiring and left us all glowing. There were 50 or so people (kids too!) drumming, dancing and chanting OM together to welcome the new year.
We are happy to be just one part of a much larger movement that is sweeping across the planet. There is truly a paradigm shift happening.
How about your name, is there a story behind that?
We went out to the woods to find our name. We went together to the Promised Land (State Park PA) and asked. When we came back, we had it. We had seen a sign in the park that talked about the natural breakdown of a soda can, or a cigarette butt. We loved the idea because everything can be broken down further and further, and you can take anything all the way down to its base component, which is light.
Everything breaks down when you go inside. You can go all the way down to the atomic level, and find that most of what we call matter is really space. Quantum Physics shows us that the basic material of the universe is both particles and waves. In classical physics, they were thought to be mutually exclusive. But Einstein demonstrated that not only can the same light show up as either particles OR waves, but that how the light shows up depends on the intention of the witness. If the witness expects the light to show up as a wave, it will. If she expects particles, that’s what she will observe.
The same is true for consciousness. If you expect things to be one way, they will be that way. If you expect people to be rotten and evil and that life is harsh and mean, it will show up that way. The trick is to get out in front of it and create what you wish to experience, instead of reacting to “the way things are,” because again, anything is possible and you get what you believe you will. Change your intention and you change your experience.
That’s where we choose to operate from, breaking it all down to the level of Intention. Our intention is unconditional love, peace and abundance for all. That’s the natural breakdown.
How often do the four of you rehearse? What do you focus on when you get together for rehearsal?
We rehearse as often as possible. We live in a ranch house on a 12-acre tree farm and we rehearse in our basement studio. Basically, in one form or another, there is rehearsal going on every night that we are not gigging. Whether we are practicing all together, writing, practicing individually, or recording, there is always music going on at the ranch.
When we all get together, we focus on the upcoming shows. We pay particular attention to always keeping our shows fresh and new and moving forward. We each write quite a bit, so there are always new songs to work on, plus new jam ideas.
Who writes the band’s music? How it is typically presented to the group and how does it then come together?
Sometimes one member will come in with the song totally done, with all parts, notes and lines written, and we play it as is. Sometimes most of the song is done, and the other guys will put the finishing touches on. Sometimes we hit record and jam for a long time, then go back and extract the song ideas, then work them up from there. The computer is great for that, and having a recording studio for practicing has been key. It’s great because you can capture the first takes, which is where the inspiration happens, and you don’t have to go back and try to recreate what you’ve played. You catch it right there, and you’ve got it. Also, having recording capability is great for writing lyrics, because it’s much easier to channel lyrics when you’re not worried about playing the music.
Sometimes we use charts for learning instrumental parts and for complex song structure. We also use tabla language to create intense rhythmic phrases and melodies, such as in the song “OM-I-GOD.” We learned these compositions from Vinnie’s tabla guru Pandit Divyang Vakil, who he traveled with through India.
How does Natural Breakdown approach its original songs in the live setting?
We love to play our songs in lots of different styles. Our list of originals is ever growing, and frequently we debut a new song each week. We also like to take a song we’ve played for a long time and see how many different ways we can play it.
Sometimes we make up songs on the spot. We believe in mantra healing, and get into some great group chanting. We try to provide the space for people to get down, feel good, and sing as much as possible. Lots of times we don’t know what’s going to happen at a show, and it ends up working out great. Often we don’t plan set lists, and just let it flow.
What about covers, can you talk about what songs you toss in from time to time? Who selects them?
We cover everything from gospel, funk, classic rock and traditional folk songs, to Tito Puente, and Guns & Roses. We have a wide range of covers. There are songs like, “Isn’t About Time” by Manassas or “Song for Jeffery” by Jethro Tull, which people may not necessarily know are covers. We’ve also played more well known covers like “Power of Soul” by Band of Gypsies, “Peace Frog” and “Land Down Under”. We are always looking for new covers to throw into the mix and we try not to repeat them.
Then there are tunes that have been totally re-worked. We played “Black or White” by Michael Jackson but with a fast bluegrass beat and acoustic instrumentation. We like to take chances, and sometimes you win, sometimes not so much.
In terms of cover tunes can you talk about any spectacular successes or failures?
We did “Sgt Pepper’s/With A Little Help From My Friends” at the beginning of last summer, then at the end of the summer played “Sgt Pepper’s (Reprise)/A Day in The Life.” We spent that whole summer playing songs from 1967, commemorating and celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Summer Of Love. Part of what we are about, started with the movements of the 60’s (at least in the American culture), and we’re glad to be carrying some of those same messages in our music.
“War Pigs” is also one of our most remembered and talked about covers. We played the song because of its political lyrics, and our performance of it helped us promote a peace march in Washington DC the next day. We’ve gotten great response to our versions of “Life During Wartime” and “Whip it.” We use these up-beat tunes to take off into “four on the floor” style jams. Paul Simon’s “Gone At Last” has also been huge for us. People love the gospel feel, especially when we bring out the Holy Ghost!
On the other hand, we once did Tom Jones’s “It’s Not Unusual” at Mexicali Blues, in Teaneck NJ. We all switched instruments and Eric, along with dancing Natty Bees, appeared on stage in a purple cape and mask and sang the tune with a vocal processor set on helium voice. Dan started the drum beat much too slow, and half way through, the bass cut out. Many in the audience were ashamed to know us that night, but eventually we won them back.
Can you talk about some of your performance highlights thus far? Is there a gig or gigs that stand out and why?
Our CD release show at the Crossroads Theater for our debut album, Inside the One is one performance highlight. The sold out show was a big step for us and we really felt the love and appreciation of our community. We put a lot of work into the production of the show and it paid off.
Another memorable moment came at one of our ranch gatherings on the winter solstice. It was World Orgasm Day, and we were able to capture the collective energy of all who were there, and release it as an Intention for Peace. Everyone who attended that show felt the vibrations for days afterwards.
Another highlight was Phanphest 3.0. It was Eric and Vinnie’s birthday, and the energy of the show was unmatched. Something was going on that whole weekend, between the crazy lighting storms and beautiful weather. We played after the Breakfast and before RAQ and it was intense. The holy ghost came out that day, and it was truly memorable for us, and for a lot of people who were there.
Opening for Railroad Earth at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg PA was an amazing moment. Those guys have helped us so much. Mike Partridge, their live sound engineer, mixed our album, and Johnny Grubb mastered the disc. When we opened for them, both John Skehan and Tim Carbone sat in with us. By the end of the show we had the place going and the energy was off the hook. You can check out the video on our website if you like.
What about your next studio or live release, where do things stand there?
We released our first full length album Inside the One, last September. The album emphasizes our message through the songs. Most of our styles are represented, from live sounding jams to full 48 track studio works like Appalachian Melody.
Right now we are in the middle of recording our second album, and we are looking to release again in the fall. As far as live shows, we have had many taper friends record us over the past few years (thanks guys!), and we have given away thousands of free discs. It has been a good way to get our music out there.
Any final thoughts to folks across the country who may be hearing about you for the first time from this piece?
You can listen to our music and if you enjoy it, we are thrilled. You can also get further into it, and come to a show and check out the community. We hope it will resonate with you. Bringing people together is what we are most interested in. We all have this amazing light and creative power, and we are learning together how to tap it to create the world we all know is possible.
There are tons of authors, artists, organizations and teachers of all kinds, talking about these same things. In fact, when one looks closely, every spiritual tradition contains the same universal truths. We want to thank all our families, friends and teachers who have helped and inspired us. We are grateful and happy to share our influences and teachers with anyone who is interested, and we love to learn more about the teachers and influences of others.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. We love to meet and connect with new people, so please contact us if you feel it. Peace to One and All.