Written By: Chad Berndtson
:: Interview - Cornmeal ::
It’s a transition that might have killed off a lesser band: a decade spent building a
following, achieving national
attention, a fanbase and the respect of your genre elders, and then a near-dissolution,
thanks to the exits of 60
percent of your personnel.
But Cornmeal lives again. The Chicago jam-grass outfit bid goodbye to Kris Nowak, JP Nowak
and Allie Kral within
the span of eight months heading into the spring of 2013. But through a hiatus, founders
and remaining core
members Chris Gangi (bass) and Wavy Dave Burlingame (banjo) have gradually rebuilt the
band and are ready for a
big return, with a national tour starting next week that will take them all over the
Midwest, to Colorado, and to the
Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the country.
The new Cornmeal features guitarist Scott Tipping, formerly of Backyard Tire Fire, drummer
Drew Littell and fiddler
Molly Healey. JamBase caught up with Gangi to get the lowdown on what to expect.
JAMBASE: It’s great to see Cornmeal back on the road. Not every band
losing a majority of its
members in the span of a year, so I have to ask, was there ever a point in here where you
and Dave looked at ending
the band altogether?
CHRIS GANGI: I wouldn’t say we didn’t have that thought cross our
minds, but it was
never our intention.
And hey, we had more of a heads-up about the departures than the general public did
obviously so we had some
time to sit on it and think.
But in general, no, we’ve never thought that was a necessary move for us. Dave and I
started the band 14 years ago,
and we’ve been through so much together, watching this slowly progress and grow. In the
early years, members
came and left so many times, so one way to look at it is that this is just another one of
those hills we have to climb.
We believe that our fans are there for the music, though, and this band will prove that.
We’ve had incredible support
already from the community about this. It’s been a long, arduous process to find the right
matches, but we’re
confident we can move forward with this lineup.
JAMBASE: Everyone has their reasons for leaving a band, and I don’t
want to spend
too much time looking
back, but why do you think Cornmeal went through these changes?
CG: Well, we worked together for eight years with that lineup, which
is a very long
time in this business.
Everyone was getting older, people were getting married – all three of them got married in
the span of two years –
and I’m sure that had a lot to do with it.
They’re all still playing music, which is great, and Allie’s probably playing the most.
But they’re not out there right
now with the same intensity we all were together, and by that I mean we were all on the
road probably 200-plus days
a year for five years in a row. That takes a toll, and you question your mental state, and
you also wonder what you
want your life to look like. Chris had a baby, and Allie moved and got married, and it
made sense for them.
JAMBASE: Did you look at all at changing the instrumental voices in
were you and Wavy set on
recruiting players to play those same roles?
CG: Cornmeal has always been such a strong, fiddle-oriented band so we
keep that there. As
we’re progressing forward, we’re finding that there’s a lot of room to grow with the sound
we have and develop it. So
maybe we’re trying to look backwards and take that from the past, but we’re also looking
to develop the sound that
much more, and the possibilities become endless for that when you bring in three new
people. Cornmeal lays so
much improvisation into everything that this definitely gives us some new, interesting
things to explore.
JAMBASE: Did you have these folks in mind? Did you audition a lot of
CG: We spent a lot of time, yes, and really wanted to keep it open and
make sure we
covered our bases. We
didn’t want to make any snap judgments about moving forward and we were determined to be
patient about it. So we
won’t be coming out of it with 200 dates a year again yet, because we’re slowly building
back the band and making
sure everything is ready.
Auditioning people – and we auditioned a ton of people – is an exhausting process. But
ultimately there is a feeling
with certain people who come in and play with you for the first time and you look around
the room and you’re pretty