Seconds On End
Following what turned out to be the closest vote in Jambands 250 history, our current New Groove of the Month is Seconds On End. The Northern California=based quintet consists of Carrie Adler (oboe, mandolin, percussion, vocals), Nick Peters (guitar, vocals), Brian Vandemark (bass, vocals ), Peter Sawyer (guitar vocals) and Jae Hendrickson (drums). The various band members chime in on the following interview with the group, which explores the evolution of the group, Jerry Garcia’s contribution to their moniker and the power of the oboe.
Can you talk about the development of the group? How did you meet and how did the current line-up solidify?
(Peter) I had been playing in bands for years and had been working hard on my songwriting and felt that I had strong enough material to warrant starting a band. I was a big fan of The Band, The Beatles and The Grateful Dead, bands with really strong songs at the core of their sound and with multiple lead vocalists. So I tried to form band in that style. A good friend of mine Harris Teague and I rented a small rehearsal space in the old Wonder Bread factory in Redwood City and set up all my guitar stuff, keyboards and my drum kit. Harris was a guitarist and keys player who had decided that he really wanted to be a bassist so he went out and got a bass and learned to play it.
So between the two of us we could play all the instruments. With the help of Carrie Adler we made a demo of 11 or 12 of my original songs in the hopes of attracting other members to join the band. Harris asked his friend Chris Rossbach if he knew of anyone looking for a band and he put us in touch with Nick Peters who hopped on board after hearing our demos. I found our first drummer Don Bourne through a posting on the wall at Gelb music (the days before Craigslist!) and shortly thereafter we befriended a phenomenal singer/songwriter named Julia Chapin who agreed to join and Seconds On End was born.
Due to the strength of Julia and Nick’s songs I abandoned my concept of the band playing only my original material and made SOE a collaborative operation in terms of songwriting. In 2003 on the day Harris told me he was moving to San Diego we played a gig with a band called the Grasshoppers that Brian played in, I loved his playing and attitude and we asked him to join that week. In 2004 Jae subbed for us at a gig our regular drummer couldn’t make and it was instantly apparent to us all that he was the missing link that we had been looking for on the drums and he joined a month or so after subbing for us and the lineup solidified then and there.
Who writes the band’s music? How it is typically presented to the group and how does it then come together?
(Peter) In the past, Nick and I have been the principal songwriters, but that is changing now with Brian contributing 2 tunes to California Sky, Carrie contributing one tune to Shadowland and with Nick and Jae working on some material together as we speak. For me the most important thing is not who wrote the songs but the highly collaborative process of getting together and coming up with parts for the tunes. I think a good example of this is the song “California Sky” which I wrote as a groovy funk tune and then Brian and Nick both wrote these amazing intertwining parts and Jae came over the top with a pile-driver of a beat and then when you put Carrie’s harmonies on top of that, forgetaboutit! That’s why it is so awesome to play and collaborate with these folks, I could have never envisioned that song sounding anything like that—our collaborative version is so much better than anything I could have come up with, that’s the magic of our band…
On your site you mention that you are "Proud to flaunt your Golden State roots" can you talk a bit about those roots and how they are manifested in your music?
(Peter) Three Fifths of the band were born and raised in California and Carrie and I moved here in the early 90’s. So in that sense we all have deep roots here. Also, you can hear the influence of California bands like The Grateful Dead, Sublime, Neil Young, CSN, Surf Music, Buck Owens, etc, on our music. Ultimately though what struck me about the Bay Area when we moved out here was the diversity and openness of people that lived here. I loved having folks from all over America, Central America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe all living together in relative peace and Harmony. I really feel like our music reflects that with influences from all types of American, Caribbean, Brazilian, Reggae, Indian, and African forms of music all melting into our sound, making us a uniquely Californian band.
How would you describe the vitality and support of the Norcal music scene?
(Brian) The Norcal music scene is vibrant and energetic these days, with many new and seasoned musicians working together to create a scene that is as unique and wonderful as the land in Northern alifornia. No doubt we are only a small part of a bigger picture that is unfolding here through love, mutual respect, and collaboration. If you go to a jamband show here, you will no doubt encounter many musicians from other bands supporting as audience members, running the door, running sound, loading equipment, or whatever else is needed to make the show work. In these tough financial times, bands need this mutual support to keep the business viable. We all understand this and work together whenever we can. The closeness and support found in the community also creates a very friendly atmosphere of artistic collaboration. When we do co-bill shows we are all very comfortable with having numerous sit-ins and group jams. Some of our favorite events are informal jamming formats, like jamming in the Sleep Deprivation Tank at High Sierra when members of numerous bands mix-it-all-up without limits. We know for sure that we wouldn’t have got this far without the community. We are grateful to the Norcal music scene for all the support we have received.
Carrie Adler sings and plays oboe, which is certainly an under-represented instrument in the rock scene. Can you talk about folding that into your sound and what the audience reaction tends to be?
(Peter) Carrie brings a lot to the table with the oboe. It is such a unique and beautiful sound that it always stops the audience in its collective tracks and causes everyone to really focus on the sound of oboe. I think it fits in well with our sound because we love going from a crazy dance-party rocker into a slow beautiful ballad with a gorgeous oboe solo on it. It’s cool because many folks understandably think it’s a clarinet because they have never seen an oboe. Ultimately the oboe works musically because Carrie makes it sing in a really soulful way and it brings a sound in that no one has ever heard at a non-classical concert before.
What about your name? How did you arrive at it?
(Peter) We had been agonizing over names for a while and weren’t coming up with anything decent. Carrie and I were brainstorming one night and she blurted out "Seconds On End" and we both went, yes! It describes perfectly the experience of getting the music just right, which usually lasts for a few seconds before you come back to earth and start looking for that next time when everything works perfectly. We have had some shows that, for me, have had that feeling extend out for an hour or two — those are the magic ones. I liked it also because it sort of describes what a mystical experience is like — brief seconds of perfection. I knew I had heard that somewhere before and it turns out Carrie was remembering it from an interview with Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh in David Gans’ wonderful book Conversations With The Dead. They were talking about how sometimes the Grateful Dead didn’t play so well due to the improvisational nature of their music but when it worked it really worked for, as Jerry put it, "seconds on end."
(Nick) Early on, in our more indulgent phases, though, we have been deemed with a wink and a nudge by fans as "hours on end."
How do you approach original songs in the live setting?
(Peter) We all come up with parts in rehearsal that generally work together but we have an unspoken agreement that anyone who wants to try anything new is free to do so and we often do. Once we get into the jams of songs we open it up and it can go anywhere. When we are feeling good and able to hear one another this is where the true magic happens…
What about covers, can you talk about what songs you toss in from time to time? Who selects them and can you talk about any spectacular successes and failures?
(Peter) Anyone in the band can bring in a cover at any time and we’ll work it up. Brian just brought in Jimmy Cliffs’ “Sitting in Limbo” a few months ago and we are loving playing that song, with Carrie singing lead. Nick recently brought in “Don’t Let Go” from the JGB and that one is really going over well with the band and the audience. Carrie brought in a Gillian Welch Song called “Revelator” which she sings beautifully. Gillian does it beautifully as a slow dirge. We bumped it up to a kind of Neil Young-esque deliberate rocker which we dug so much we put it on our last album. I recently brought in a Widespread Panic song called “Stop and Go” which I dig because it reminds me of seeing Panic in small clubs in Georgia in the late 80’s – good times indeed. Jae has also started working on a Reggae version of Ravel’s “Bolero” which is sure to turn some heads once we get that worked up!
Can you talk about some of your performance highlights thus far. Is there a gig (or gigs) that stand out? Why?
(Peter) Several gigs stand out for us. The first was our CD release party at the Boom Boom Room in SF last October. To have so many folks from far and wide come out and support us and dance their asses of was really flattering, it’s a great room and I felt we played really well that night.
(Nick) We also turned corners and really finally gelled as unit in 2006 at a party called PhilPhest on our friends land in Santa Cruz/Felton that is up on archive.org – followed quickly by some seminal shows that Fall including another at Stanford that is on archive and we’ve been generally playing good rooms with great crowds ever since. We’re working quickly to get some more recent shows up on archive.org as well, especially given this interview!In terms of the five members’ musical backgrounds and interests, what does each of you bring to bear?
(Peter) Jae brings a love of funk and reggae which suffuses every groove he plays. Jae is also classically trained as percussionist so he deeply understands the melodic and harmonic elements of music and plays with amazing touch and dynamics. Jae’s favorite bands include the Greyboy Allstars, John Brown’s Body and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Brian is classically trained as an upright bassist and is steeped in the adventuresome bass playing of Phil Lesh, Jaco Pastorious and John Entwistle to name a few. Brian combines a deep musical knowledge with years of dancing and hula hooping to bands such as Railroad Earth, String Cheese Incident and Hot Buttered Rum to create groovalicious bass lines that beautifully integrate Rock and Bluegrass stylings. Carrie is a classically trained oboeist who has been singing since birth. A huge fan of the Beatles, Bob Marley, and Jackson Browne, she brings an ethereal and melodic vocal magic to the room every time she steps up to the mic. I (Peter) grew up in Atlanta Georgia hearing the funk of Stevie Wonder and P. Funk as well as Rock bands like the Allman Brothers and the Atlanta Rhythm section. My father’s family is from the country so I got exposed to a lot of Bluegrass and old Country music from as a child. As a teen I started studying drums and percussion with Jack Bell, the principal percussionist from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and got really into Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Led Zeppelin and King Crimson. In college I got heavily into The Grateful Dead and the Band as well as Bob Marley and Fela Kuti, during this time I took up the Guitar and started writing songs. I feel like my music reflects my southern roots (both country/bluegrass and urban/funk) while integrating the more expansive questing nature of the Dead and Allman Brothers.
(Nick) After years of playing and studying with some very accomplished musicians (who have gigged with John McLaughlin, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Zigaboo Modeliste, etc.) I came to the band with very high aims in terms of my potential but a very self critical eye as to where I was at in terms of actual ability as a guitarist, singer and songwriter. In other words, I got torn down by some of the best, often right on stage. Meanwhile, at this same time (throughout college) I would catch the JGB playing R&B standards at the Warfield, and seeing these simple songs grooves transformed to the equivalent of gospel truth made me want to write music with a similar general restraint/accessibility yet leave the door open for mystery, as Jerry did so well and with such humility. On good days, I’m really getting there.
You’ve been at it since 2002, has the line-up remained consistent? How have those changes or lack thereof impacted on your sound?
(Nick) Actually, SOE started gigging in 2002, but Peter, Carrie and I had been playing in the band since mid-2001. I joined the band thinking we would become the next CSN as we had some extremely strong vocalists then (Harris Teague and Jules Chapin, along with, of course, Carrie). After Harris and Jules moved away we went through a period of writing, there was some personal tragedy, and what emerged was the current lineup that was featured on almost all of our second album (_Shadowland_) starting in late 2004. We five really gelled in the summer of 2006 and we’ve really been growing ever since, especially as our conflicts get resolved and we build respect and true support for our often diverse backgrounds/tastes/visions. Our latest album showcases a band that that is happier and rocking a lot harder, but with the same eye to dynamics and songwriting that make us special, and even magical on good nights, precisely because of that diversity.
You’ve released three albums. Can you talk about the musical development from the first to through the third and what may yet follow on your next effort?
(Nick) I think that the common thread throughout all of our work has been that it is truly heartfelt, generally very subtle (even in the funk tunes if you pay attention) and deep. Our lyrics are often deeply personal, our messages are meant to be thought about, and our melodies/arrangements are meant to stick around long enough to cause fans to think about what we just said. Our album covers are also thoughtful in that sense because at our best we are asking the same profound questions folks have been asking since dance and music started. That does not mean we don’t like to party, it just means we see more to music (and the jam scene especially) than just a party.
On each album we decided to go ahead and use the full 80 minutes and let ourselves stretch out on journeys. Life has thrown us enough curve-balls that we have had a lot to say. I mean sheesh, in the age of iTunes, why not give anyone willing to buy a CD all the music the CD can fit? Folks can buy the tracks they like, and ignore the ones that don’t resonate. We have enough variety to offer something for just about everybody, yet our sound has certainly become our own.
Meanwhile, the songs speak for themselves. You can trace the trajectory of the band from wistful rock-folk on 2002’s The Glow, to a more funky-groove oriented sound on 2005’s Shadowland, to a band confident enough to try its unique hand at well-known cover songs like Dear Prudence or Revelator on 2008’s California Sky.
While we have no idea how long or what our next album will ultimately sound like, you can bet it will reflect the personal and interpersonal growth each of us continues to experience. We do this for the joy it brings us and our fans with the simple goal of reaching more ears and hopefully playing some big stages. The fact that we have jobs, kids, and "real lives" means we’ll continue to have deeper insights into life that get reflected into songs much deeper than your typical traveling party band. Our lives are our songs and I’m finding the more mature we get, the better that sound keeps getting until finally, hopefully, our collective "soul" is wide open for others to learn from (and hopefully be inspired by) as all the greats have done.
How often do you rehearse? What do you focus on when you get together for rehearsal?
(Brian) We rehearse weekly. We start with a meal, and at each rehearsal we take turns preparing dinner for each other. We’ll discuss band and personal stuff over the meal, which is an important part of rehearsal. Then we move on the music, where we are usually in one of three modes for the entire rehearsal: either writing, recording, or rehearsing.
When we are writing, we go around in a circle, taking turns directing the music. When a song is introduced to the band it has an owner who provides the chords, lyrics, and a vision of where the music should go. Through improvisation the members of the band all contribute material to the production, with ideas presented by everyone. We will work on song for a while until we get to a stopping point, where we move on to the next person directing a different song. Taking turns helps us all have a chance to provide input and include each songwriter’s material.
When we are recording the process is similar, but we tend to work more highly-focused because of the intensive nature of recording. We can spend the entire time tracking the same song over and over. We can also spend time overdubbing or mixing.
When we are rehearsing for a show, we have a set list of tunes ready for performance. We also go around in a circle, taking turns choosing which songs to play from the set list. Some songs might need a refresh while others don’t. And we have different opinions about which need the most work. By taking turns choosing we make sure that everyone has a chance to improve their weakest material.
Any final thoughts to folks across the country who may be hearing about you for the first time from this piece?
(Brian) We wanted to thank everyone who helped give us this honor. The benefits go way beyond having this interview, and are difficult to describe in short words. We have experienced a growing whirlwind of support in the process of being in this poll. We have made many new friends and found new opportunities that seemed to just pop-up overnight. It’s almost like a landslide of love that just keeps picking up momentum, where each new good thing seems to lead to another. And now you are here reading this, which is yet another great thing! So we are grateful to everyone who listened to our music and voted for us. We are grateful to the other bands in the poll who have reached-out and connected with us. Thank you all!!!
(Peter) Hope you guys dig the music, feel free to contact us at email@example.com and let us know what you think. Those of you in Norcal please come out to our shows and say hi! Peace everyone…