Interview | Cornmeal Returns - A Chat With Chris Gangi

JAMBASE: Tell me a little about each new member and what he or she brings to the table.

CG: Drew is our drummer and he was the first to sign on. He was referred to us by other musicians in Chicago, and he’s a Chicago guy. We looked all over the country, and we were definitely OK with exploring people outside of the area, but he ended up right in our backyard. He had been a fan of the band for a long time and going to Cornmeal shows for years. He really had a handle and grasp on what we do and also a good feel for what we want to bring out in our music. It was really cool to have someone come in with that level of background knowledge on the band.

Scott, our guitarist, is someone who we overlooked for a long time, I think.

JAMBASE: What do you mean by that?

CG: He contacted me early – right when he heard – and said, ‘hey, I heard you guys are looking for a guitarist.’ I wrote it off initially because he’s an electric rock ‘n’ roll guitarist. He was playing in some pretty heavy rock bands and Backyard Tire Fire…that right there is a good old, Gibson-loving rock ‘n’ roll band, you know?

I couldn’t picture it, to be honest. He was a rock guitarist and I was looking for a solid, flatpicking bluegrass guitarist. But six months later, on happenstance, we ended up doing what we call the Cornmeal Ramble, which is a big jam we do with a bunch of bands featured. And listening to him as part of the Backyard Tire Fire part, I looked up at Wavy, and I said, wow, he’s incredible. He can run the gamut of styles. It blew us away. And in truth he brings to Cornmeal a little bit more fire and a little bit more rock ‘n’ roll than we’ve had, which is a really interesting and really cool development. We’re relishing that, and he’s developed a few of his own guitars to fit himself in what we’re doing.

JAMBASE: And Molly?

CG: Molly was playing in a Springfield, Missouri, band called Big Smith. They’re a regional band in that area but also a band we’d run into a bunch in the festival scene, particularly places like Wakarusa. They were a more clear-cut band but she’s come in and been incredibly solid as a player and multi- instrumentalist. She gets it; it’s great. She’s also a really sweet person.

JAMBASE: Your lineup has her listed as a special guest, indefinitely. Does she have the job?

CG: Well, she’s going to be out with us for a while. She’s not 100 percent part of the band yet and like I said we want to be real patient to make sure we’re all a good fit for each other, so we’ve agreed to keep things at a trial basis. We’re keeping our eyes open in case for some reason we’ve missed something along the way, but so far, it’s been great.

JAMBASE: Are you focusing on the classic Cornmeal repertoire in these upcoming shows?

CG: We are. The band had a pretty immense repertoire of songs by the time everyone left – songs accumulated over 14 years of Cornmeal. So we’re getting a lot of these new players up to speed on the old stuff, but we’re also hoping to concentrate on some new material, doing some demos and looking to do some recording in the spring to get a full-length [album] done. We’re looking to explore, for sure. But lately, Wavy and I have been hard pressed to bear down and write new songs, so we have been focused on learning the old stuff so we can kind of move forward and establish the chemistry.

JAMBASE: But you will be working some new songs into the mix it sounds like. Of the new stuff, are these songs you and Dave already had going or are you actively writing with the personality of the new group in mind?

CG: Wavy and I have been the principal songwriters, and Kris wrote a lot, too, but for me, anyway, I always write with a certain voice. I always write for Cornmeal and it’s always the Cornmeal I hear in my head. So I do have a different set of tools now – Scott has a different style of voice than Kris did, for example – and I’m starting to shift and try some things that we may not have gotten away with before.

It’s really inspiring and I think it’s giving us this new fire in the belly to get out there. And it’s definitely Cornmeal. The overall songwriting style is the same.

JAMBASE: Do you think you’ll be on the road more after these initial tours wrap up?

CG: We expect it to move forward without any hesitation. The road is really where we find our biggest comfort zone – out there on the road with our fans. We’ve never been a big studio band and while that is something we’re going to do more of, we definitely want to be back out there, especially on the festival circuit. The fanbase has been really supportive and we’re hoping to continue through the rest of the year and build it from there.

JAMBASE: It’s good to hear about the positive feedback from fans. Loyal fans have a way of staying loyal if you’re straight with them, right?

CG: Definitely. We wouldn’t move forward if we didn’t think we had the caliber of players we needed and didn’t think we could get to where we need to be again with Cornmeal. There will be some growing pains as we feel each other out, but the general vibe, the songs, the direction…all of this is going to stay true to the Cornmeal we know and they know. If the fans were telling us to hang up the hat, we would, but they’re not.


[Published on: 1/30/14]

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