by Kyle Taylor |
It is far from a secret that we truly love celebrating our local musicians and artists. This year’s Gala In The Grove festival is allowing us that opportunity like never before. While numerically far from the top of the festival spectrum, the inaugural event seeks to showcase vast musical talent, but on a fixated level. In other words, it is setting out to prove the point that hype and large social media followings are not necessarily the only way to measure a talented artist. Of course we hope all the bands and acts involved in this year’s escapades continue to find their footing and build the audiences they are so audibly deserving of; but for now, we will continue to enjoy the fruits of artists making art for the sake of making art.
A true standout this year will no doubt be Philadelphia funk-o-nauts Catullus. Reaching cohesion in the fall of 2012, the group has since become a steadfast and celebrated representation of our humble City of Brotherly Love. Moreover, Catullus continues to dig their instrumentally-vicious claws into the ever-growing festival scene through an immersive and jarring fusion of musical genres. Rock, jazz, funk- those ones are hard to miss; but it is no surprise that when I sat down with the Philadelphia musicians, two of their members pin-pointed The Disco Biscuits as a strong influence on their playing.
Whether you are listening to a Catullus album or catching the band live, your are undoubtedly in for a well-rounded meal of delicious sound from across the spectrum. The band continuously bleeds a rich and evolving storyline out of both their records and live sets, accomplished by showcasing each of its members influences and own unique sense of direction- at moments through individuality, but at the project’s height, always through fusion. The sound that results from such an approach is one that is just provocative, modern, and experimental enough to still obtain new, younger fans; yet still able to find plenty of time for reminiscing in rock and roll’s years past, and all the while avoiding a stale directive.
When I spoke with the members of Catullus about this sound and its origins, a pretty clear pattern came to light. These guys really loved music- not in a chalant, ladi-dadi, dreamy way; but a devoted, educated, and thoughtful way. Recognizing the progression of “jam” music into an increasingly electronically-punctuated sound throughout the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Catullus actually seems to seek to slow down that trend, though respectively making their awareness of its role in the modern music world quite known. While a lot of up and coming jam bands seem to be sticking to their guns- whether its staying purely instrumental and leaving electronic elements out of the equation, or placating tracks on tracks through reverberating torrents of electronic sound backed by far too lacking of instrumental accompaniments- Catullus has found the proper formula.
Classic rock influences such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin are equally as audible in Catullus’ music as that of jamtronica innovators like The Disco Biscuits and STS9. With all five members being not only well-versed, but well educated, in their craft, the electronic elements that squirm their way into the group’s grooves are far from domineering. Instead, they are used with calculation. This is not dance music. Sure, you can definitely get down to it- which we encourage! But just as you are starting to find your footing to the beat, Catullus is likely to throw you a curveball, in the best possible way.
Having just recently released their latest compilation of studio material, A Maze in Life, Catullus now sets its sights on what promises to be another epic summer of gigs for them. Be sure to check out our complete interview with the band below, and don’t miss your chance to catch them along with many other Gala In The Grove 2016 performers this weekend at Ode to Earth 2, right here in Philadelphia!
Funkadelphia: “What respective functions would you say each member of the band has, whether it’s in the studio,on stage, or on the streets?”
Andrew Meehan (AM): “Each member of the team has their respective duties. In the past year, our team has expanded with the addition of lighting director, Mike ‘Jaws’ Jaworowski; public relations slash merchandising manager, Justin Giannone; and stage manager, Marty Spitko.
As far as the band members go, we all have our strong suits that help keep the machine well oiled. [Anthony] Zinno and Giannone handle the booking, while [Andrew] Meehan and [Chris] Bailey, with a side of [Justin] Minnick, concentrate on songwriting and arrangements. Minnick mostly takes on the graphic design and website upkeep. Social media, while pegged as Bailey’s role, still tends to require much help from all members of the group as this is damn-near a full-time job anymore. It is important for everyone to keep their roles in line to keep the brand pushing forward.”
Funkadelphia: “How long has this particular lineup of Catullus been in place?”
Andrew Meehan (AM): “Most of us were already playing together in previous projects but it wasn’t until the fall of 2012 that we added our keyboardist, Justin ‘Carl’ Minnick and the current sound started coming into fruition. So, you could say we’ve been at it with this lineup for about three plus years.”
Funkadelphia: “You guys recently released a new album. Would you say you were working to expand the Catullus sound more, or develop your already existing sound further? Essentially, what were you hoping to accomplish with the new record?”
Andrew Meehan (AM): “Our new record, A Maze in Life, was a combination of what we had previously written, and also some fresh out-of-the-box songwriting. We wanted to combine our rock-based, progressive sounds with the latest electronic, funky hip hop flavors that we have produced as of late. We also wanted to stay true to our live sound and included sections in each track for improvisation. The ability to go back and lay down overdubs allowed for experimentation with arpeggiators and samples which give our studio jams some unique flavors.”
Funkadelphia: “How did each of you initially start out your musical paths?”
Andrew Meehan (AM): “I picked up a guitar around the age of eleven or twelve and started noodling around a little. I tried to take lessons but the teacher moved and my family couldn’t really afford it anyway. Throughout most of high school, I put the guitar to the side and explored other avenues and sunk into the awesome hip hop that was coming out in the late 90’s. Even with this style of music, I realized I had a profound interest in the beats made by the RZA and other amazing producers of the time. I knew that my musical journey wouldn’t stop at just hip hop.
I began hanging out with a friend whose father taught guitar lessons in the basement. What I overheard was some serious playing! I started saving up money and taking lessons. After about a year of this, I got into jam bands and used to stay up all night playing along to recordings of my favorite band’s live shows in their entirety.
I was considering applying for University of the Arts in Philly when my teacher proposed I try for Berklee College of Music. I didn’t think this was possible as I had only just begun getting serious a year prior. As fate would have it, I was accepted and crafted my art up in Boston for a few years. After graduating, I moved back to Philly and started jamming with some old friends and the rest is history!”
Anthony Zinno (AZ): “I come from a family full of musicians and vocalists on both sides. My earliest memories are of my dad’s band rehearsing in our basement and growing up with the sounds of Frank Sinatra on ‘Sundays with Sinatra’, amongst many other classic musicians. I picked up the saxophone in the third grade at Visitation grade school where I learned how to read music and use my ears to listen to the whole sound of a group.
After a few years, I really started to gravitate towards the drum kit and played throughout high school in the concert band while also learning vocal technique with the choir. Outside of school, I played with a band Wynrise for six years which led to many friendships and introductions in the music scene at a young age. Eventually, those experiences led to joining what became Catullus as a full time percussionist where I’ve learned so much about the craft itself while also learning about music business in general.”
Chris Bailey (CB): “My musical career started around the age of nine when I took up trombone in fourth grade, only sticking with it through fifth grade. Then, at the age of twelve, my parents bought me my first full bass rig consisting of a cheap Samick four-string Bass and a combo Hartke VX3500 for Christmas after expressing interest in getting into rock and roll. At this time I started taking bass lessons with an old school guy by the name of Tony Maddonna out of Norristown, Pennsylvania.
After several months of lessons, I was unfortunately involved in a catastrophic accident that led to being hospitalized and out of commission for several months. This derailed my goals of moving forward with my music lessons and interest was lost. Then at the age of sixteen, a childhood friend of mine and I decided to try the six string and picked up an $80 Carlo Robelli, which I still have and do most of my writing on ’till this day. After his tragic passing, I got pretty heavily wrapped up in playing both bass and guitar, using his passing as motivation to conquer my previous aspirations of getting into the industry. From that point, I joined a few buddies in the basement where we started a three-piece called The Tragics. After years of writing music and honing our craft, as well as many changes in lineup, Catullus emerged from the ashes. Like a fine wine, it only gets better and better with age! I’m very excited to see what the future has in store!”
Justin Minnick (JM): “I was lucky enough to have parents that were musically inclined and also had a decent record collection. I remember putting on ‘Rocky Raccoon’ and ‘Sunshine of your Love’ over and over before obtaining and obsessing over the Bangles 45″ single ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’- am I showing my age yet?
We had a piano and a guitar in the house that my brother and I would mess around on. We both had a talent for being able to figure out melodies and repeating phrases with ease. When I was in third grade, I set up a bunch of milk crates and cans and hit them with rulers, playing ‘drums’ along to my Beatles tapes. Seeing this dedication my parents bit the bullet and bought me a drum set.
Drums and percussion were my main instrument through high school and into college. I auditioned and played in any group I could, jazz band, youth orchestras, competition marching band, pit orchestras. But, rhythms alone could not satisfy all my musical cravings. Though I never received any formal training, I was developing my style on piano and keyboards. In college I started a playing keys in a band that we ended up calling ‘Hubbub Tonic’. We were deeply a jam band, in that we had about four composed songs and would wing it the rest of the time. Somehow we managed to play in Philly, New York City, and D.C. before going our separate ways.
After college I took my drum skills to the ocean and played on cruise ships for five years. When I got back on land for the final time, I got a random Facebook message from Andrew looking for a keys player. Apparently a friend who had known me in the Hubbub Tonic days dropped my name in their thread on Phantasy Tour. I explained to Andrew that I had no keyboards and I had been playing nothing but drums for five years but, sure I’d give it a shot.”
Mike Fazekas (MF): “I was sitting in fourth grade English class when the door opened; a teacher came in and asked the classroom, ‘Does anyone want to try out for percussion in the concert band?’ I immediately raised my hand, ‘YES!’ They took me down the hall and out the door and asked me to repeat some rhythms they clapped out with their hands and I was in. From there I started out with classical music with an added dose of Oldies 98.1, which I grew up listening to with my mom everywhere we went in the car. Next was jazz band in sixth grade which opened me up to rock, funk, jazz, Latin, odd time signatures, and everything else that has molded me into the percussionist I am today.”
Funkadelphia: “Do any of you regularly play other instruments, or play with other sounds even in any other or side projects outside of Catullus?”
AM: “By day I am a music teacher and band and choir director, so I am required to play all the instruments in the orchestra moderately. The ones that really grab my attention are the piano, saxophone, and percussion. Most of my compositions are done on the piano rather than the guitar. We all tend to jam with friends outside of Catullus and I’m sure some more concrete side projects will emerge one day!”
AZ: “Outside of Catullus I have a bunch of close friends that I jam with at studios or open mics around the area. It’s a nice change of pace from the norm of being in a serious band out to accomplish our goals.”
CB: “I love playing anything I can get my hands on. My most recent purchase was a mandolin, which has quickly become a favorite to pick up and fool around on. I even incorporate some keys into my rig now and again for those deep house bass grooves. I’ve dabbled with drums in the past, love beating the skins and blowing off steam. Hopefully soon enough I’ll be able to add a double bass to my ever growing collection of instruments. No side projects for me as of now but, I always love stepping out and jamming with friends.”
JM: “I used to play drums for a small jazz combo for weddings and events- Mr. B Natural- and briefly played drums in a ethno-experimental Fishtown startup band called Svalbard. I have so many songs written on guitar, bass and keys that I should probably finish before getting involved in any more side-projects. I tend to get distracted easily.”
Funkadelphia: “How would you say the Philadelphia area and its music scene has affected each of you musically and the sound of Catullus as a whole?”
AM: “I can say that one of the big influences for us is the trance-fusion sounds that emerged out of Philadelphia in the late 90’s early 2000’s. Some us were big fans of The Disco Biscuits since the early Sammy era days and have seen them literally hundreds of times. It’s kind of hard not to, being in Philly and into jam bands at that time. On the other end of the spectrum, we all had deep roots growing up with classic rock with the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, et cetera. You could say our sound is a combination of all of them!”
AZ: “The Philly music scene is very unique. There have been tons of players and experiences over the past ten years that have really shaped the player I’d like to become and my outlook on music in general and it’s definitely owed to the Philly music scene.”
CB: “There has always been such a strong heartbeat of music in the Philly area with such great venues and music history, as well as so many friends around me that turned me onto such a variety of sound. Your environment plays a huge role in shaping you as a musician and as a human being in general. Gotta’ love the endless influences and inspirations Philly has to offer!”
JM: “Going to high school in the Philly burbs gave me many opportunities to catch awesome music in Philadelphia. I caught my first Phish show at the Spectrum in ’97, my first Disco Biscuits show at the Troc in ’98 and countless others including Radiohead, Return to Forever, Jaga Jazzist, The Bad Plus, Medeski Martin & Wood, They Might Be Giants, Herbie Hancock just to name a few. Philly is an amazing melting pot of many musical scenes. I feel blessed for having the opportunity to experience so many of them. All of them have left lasting and irrevocable influences on my musical thinking.”