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New Groove

Published: 2009/01/25

Mad-Sweet Pangs

Following the closest vote in Jambands 250 history, our latest New Groove of the Month is Mad-Sweet Pangs. The Delaware-based group (we mooked in suggesting they're from Maryland, as you'll see below) has released two studio recordings, grabbed its name from Walt Whitman and impersonated the Spice Girls…

Can you talk about the development of the group? How did you meet and how did the current line-up solidify?

Mad-Sweet Pangs was born out of late-night jam sessions in Dustin Frohlich’s (bass/vocals) dorm room at University of Delaware in 2003. Each Thursday night, musicians and listeners alike would cram onto the beds and floor of Dustin’s tiny room to participate in raucous acoustic hootenannies. The openness of the jam sessions created a local musician community that allowed for the founding members of Mad-Sweet Pangs to meet. Dustin and Jordan Leitner (keyboards/vocals) collaborated and wrote many of the earliest MSP songs together. We began booking gigs before we had a real rehearsal space (we all lived in the dorms) so much of the early jamming and musical exploration took place in front of a live audience.

We have since built a home studio, bought a tour van (appropriately named “Whitey Ford”), and studied the crafts of songwriting and jamming. Over the past five years, we have had the privilege of recording and touring with a number of superb musicians. The current lineup includes Jordan and Dustin two original members, along with Gordon Lippincott (guitars/vocals) and Rob Young (drums/cajon/vocals).

In terms of the four members’ musical backgrounds and interests, what does each of you bring to bear?

The sound of Mad-Sweet Pangs is a result of a very diverse collection of influences, ranging from Rock n' Roll to American Folk, Blues, Bluegrass, and Jazz. Our live performances rely heavily on improvisation, and it's great to have a big bag to take from. Dustin and Jordan bring out a lot of the folk element within the band. Gordon is heavily influenced in Blues, and Jazz, and studied at Berklee College of Music. Rob studied Music Technology and Drums at NYU, with influences all over the place. It's a tricky question, because we haven't been defined as one particular sound or genre. I think that, by default, this places us in the category of Jamband, which we're happy to be in, but it's also pretty vague. I think that with a lot of Jambands you have to look past the label to figure out what they're really about.

What about your name? Who is responsible and how did you arrive at it?

We came across the name when Dustin was reading Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" for a college English class. We pulled it from the lines:

I hear the key'd cornet, it glides quickly in through my ears,
It shakes mad-sweet pangs through my belly and breast.
I hear the chorus, it is a grand opera,
Ah this indeed is music – this suits me.

When we refer to our name in conversation, we use the term to describe when one of us has a highly poignant musical moment, whether as a listener or a player.

How would you describe the vitality and support of your local Maryland music scene?

Well, we're actually from Delaware but we play in Maryland quite a bit. There are quite a few great bands playing out in Delaware and we're privileged to be a part of the local musical community here. The music scene in Baltimore is incredible. We play monthly at a club called The 8×10 that hosts the best music in Baltimore. Also, the Recher Theater in Towson has been kind to us; we've secured an opening slot for Perpetual Groove there on March 20th. Our Maryland fans have been extremely supportive and many come out to the live shows time and again.

Who writes the band’s music? How it is typically presented to the group and how does it then come together?

Dustin and Jordan typically write the songs for the band, and they usually record a sketch of the song for all of us to work off of. At practice, we'll spend upwards of two weeks collaborating on harmonies, structure, lyrics, and other nuances to make the song unique We try to incorporate new ideas in everything we write, drawing influences from artists we've been listening to or adding sections in musical styles we haven't explored yet. Sometimes after all of that, the song sketch and the gig-ready Pangs tune will be very different. Our most recent original started off as a lullaby that Dustin wrote and has changed into a driving country-rocker. That transformation process is something we're proud of. We're able to showcase these in our acoustic sets, and we've even posted original song sketches for free download on our website.

How do you approach original songs in the live setting?

Original material often changes with the context of the room that we are playing. Seated audiences offer us the opportunity to play quieter tunes while a dancing crowd brings additional energy to our up-tempo songs.

While our originals are generally complete before we perform them, they evolve though experimentation during live shows. The live setting allows us to toy with tempo, instrument arrangement, and style as we share our music with friends and fans.

What about covers, can you talk about what songs you toss in from time to time? Who selects them?
We enjoy rearranging cover songs to make them our own and we often perform a couple of cover tunes throughout the course of a live show. Some of our covers are rooted in traditional American folk and blues music (i.e. John Prine, Bob Dylan, Dr. John, Etta James). We also perform songs written by The Beatles, The Band, Grateful Dead, Paul Simon, Phish, and Wilco.

Cover song ideas usually arise when we’re groovin’ to a tune in the van and one of us says “Hey! We should go home and learn this!” If the other members believe in the song and our ability to do it justice, we hit it at the next rehearsal.

In terms of cover tunes can you talk about any spectacular successes and failures?

While some cover songs that we select are only played at one show and then retired (i.e. Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls”), other tunes have found their way in multiple setlists. We love performing Dave Wiffen’s “Lost My Driving Wheel.” You can view a video of us performing that tune live on our website, Madsweetpangs.com.

We have chosen a few cover songs that may have been a bit over-ambitious. A few years ago, we dressed up as the Spice Girls for Halloween and covered “If You Wanna Be My Lover.” That night was a turning point in our musical careers – we realized that we have absolutely no business playing Spice Girls songs. Also, our facial hair made us look like the most bootleg Spice Girls ever.

How often do you rehearse? What do you focus on when you get together for rehearsal?

We stay busy gigging three nights or so per week, and we practice together as much as we can. We each take another night a week to work on our chops and write new songs which helps bring fresh ideas to the table. At practice, we've been focusing specifically on finding our own sound as a jamband and finding the middle ground between all of our influences. We also spend a lot of time making our practice space and our van look cool, performing impromptu skits, and whipping up many a pot luck dinner.

Can you talk about some of your performance highlights thus far. Is there a gig (or gigs) that stand out? Why?

A few performance highlights include sharing the stage with Tea Leaf Green, as well as New Monsoon, Hackensaw Boys, and The Bridge. The Tea Leaf show was a huge success, as we chartered a couple of school buses to carry fans down to Towson, MD from Newark. The bus trips have been great in the past, and have allowed for our hometown fans to come and see us out of our local element. It also helps generate a buzz in a new city.

You’ve released two albums. Can you talk about the musical development from the first to the second and what may yet follow on your next effort?

Our debut release Stumbling Through Blydepoort Canyon was the product of songs we’d been writing in our first musical year as a group. Two years later, we had a new collection of live-tested songs that we decided to organize into our second release Witness and Wait. Regarding development, we knew the songs better on W&W from frequent live play. As a result, we had a better idea of how to arrange them to showcase both the songwriting and production, which was ultimately the goal of the second album. We speak often about how both albums are very eclectic in style and how our general sound is winnowing its way towards something often referred to as one's "signature sound." Hopefully, our third effort will further be indicative of what "Mad-Sweet Pangs" has been, and also what it is becoming.

Any final thoughts to folks across the country who may be hearing about you for the first time from this piece?

"Write it down, strum it out, photograph, and sing about it." ~ "Carlo" by Mad-Sweet Pangs

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