In a music climate defined by push-button producers and popularity through obscurity, the art of building a sound from the ground up has not only become an uncommon approach but more of an archaic methodology for the modern musician. Marketing has always been the name of the game in mainstream music but even the counter-culture has bought in, for better or for worse.
The power of a grassroots approach to touring and evolving, via time vested in hard work, has been replaced by social media saturation and big label bombardment. Despite the odds against, the true artist still has a place for those that pay attention and can ultimately thrive under the aforementioned principles.
When the third wave jamband scene erupted in the wake of genre monopolizer Phish’s second hiatus, a void opened in the landscape for young music troupes. Among them are a fortuitous Fort Lauderdale quintet of rock mavericks that go by The Heavy Pets.
For the past six years, the band has brewed a strong local buzz that has spilled beyond the region. They are multi-talented, motivated and seem to live for the music beyond the normal artist’s call of duty. These principles are aligning as they cut Swim Out Past the Sun (an introspective acoustic record featuring newgrass pioneer David Grisman), embark on yet another extensive East Coast tour and push a spectrum of side projects in their “spare time.”
I spent a few evenings with The Heavy Pets’ guitarists Jeff Lloyd and Mike Garulli at their studio while listening to Swim Out Past the Sun. As the album played we discussed making an acoustic album, working with David Grisman and what the future holds for the band.
WeMerge: Although some of the songs on the record are in The Heavy Pets live rotation, these are entirely new takes. Where did the idea for an acoustic album come from and what was it like doing something so different?
Jeff Lloyd: We are such an aggressive band typically that it’s an idea that we have always toyed around with. Many of our songs are written and first shared with the rest of the band on acoustic guitar. We use a gaggle of effects and synthesizers live, so we thought it would be fun to strip things down and let the tunes and individual performances shine in a fresh new light.
WM: This album has the infamous longtime Jerry Garcia collaborator David Grisman, aka Dawg, sitting in on three tracks. How did that opportunity come about? How was the experience working with him?
JL: We were recording the album out in California and our producer, Scott Mathews, thought that a few tracks would fit well with Grisman. He made the call and things fell into place. He came in and laid down his parts after hearing them a few times. Most of what you hear is his take on what would go well with the song, and he basically improvised it into the recording.
Mike Garulli: Recording with him was an incredible experience and having him appear on our record is a tremendous honor. He taught us much and simply crushed his performances on our tunes.
WM: David Grisman is not the only person that got to play on the album. Who else did you collaborate with?
JL: We also had the pleasure of working with Shana Morrison (Van’s daughter) on vocals and Michael Kammers who wrote, arranged, and recorded the horn parts for “Lantern.”
WM: Speaking of collaborations, you guys will be on Jam Cruise in January, which stops in Haiti. As musicians in South Florida, a region densely populated with a Haitian community, how important is it for you to support their relief efforts there?
JL: We are donating a portion of the proceeds from Swim Out Past the Sun, as well as organizing several fundraisers for Positive Legacy, for this cause. Jam Cruise ports in Labadee, Haiti for this reason, and we want to use this unique opportunity to help.
WM: The new album has some really beautiful cover art. Where did that come from?
MG: That is actually a painting done by the Mark T. Smith. Our drummer Jamie (Newitt)’s dad is an art teacher at a school in Delaware that Mark attended, and they have remained in contact and collaborated over the years. He agreed to continue that artist-to-artist relationship with the next generation and give us this to use for our cover.
WM: What can we expect from The Heavy Pets in the future?
JL: Expect the new record to surprise you and, of course, a lot more touring. We are also currently hard at work on yet another album – a self-produced double-disc recorded in our own studio in Delray Beach, FL.
Going above and beyond by contributing proceeds to Haiti from record sales while on the road, The Heavy Pets have moved beyond simply being a band but are now a local institution. With that comes more responsibility, but the band has never shied away from challenges or change. This is the same band that played their first show by finagling a spot at a Fort Lauderdale apartment complex pool after Hurricane Wilma, a show played to a crowd that needed an outlet to escape the aftermath of that vicious storm. The very genesis of the band has evolved to reach a more expansive rendition of living the creed of fan and philanthropy coming first.
The Heavy Pets will return to Florida on October 9th for the Langerado Music Festival in Sunrise before wrapping up the tour with the official Swim Out Past The Sun record release party at The Stage in Miami on October 22nd.