Written By: Chad Berndtson
:: Interview - Steve Molitz ::
It’s been the better part of a decade since Particle could be considered a full-
time band, but as keyboardist
and scene mainstay Steve Molitz first revealed to JamBase back in December, the
jamtronica powerhouse is
back in business, albeit with a revamped lineup.
Molitz is the remaining founding member, and joining him for Particle’s first national
tour since more or less 2007
are later-era guitarist/singer Ben Combe and two new Particle members, drummer Brandon
Draper and bassist Clay
Parnell. Both Darren Pujalet and Eric Gould remain connected to the band but are focusing
on family and careers –
and give the new lineup their full blessing, Molitz says.
The foursome has a whole lot planned – they’ve been writing new songs with an album
planned and lots of
multimedia on the way. And as they head out on tour – which began this week in the
Northeast – they’re taking along
a full lighting rig, complete with 24 lasers and lights manned by LD and Atmosphere
veteran Wil Simon. Molitz also
tells us that every show will be available for download via Nugs.net the day after the
Molitz took a break from band rehearsals in Connecticut last week to talk to JamBase about
the past, present and
future of the band and also other projects he’s working on.
JAMBASE: So how’s it going with the new lineup?
STEVE MOLITZ: Rehearsals have been incredible so far. I came into this with a
really open mind and no
expectations, because I wanted to give Clay and Brandon a chance to get comfortable. But
they came out of the gate
swinging, man. It’s just such a cool and exciting thing we’ve got going, and even within
the first few days we’ve been
here, we’ve written 3 or 4 new tunes on top of the dozen we’d written toward the end of
last year. On top of that,
we’re going through the old material and revitalizing it to match the strengths of this
I think we have a good combination of staying true to the past while making it fit where
we are now. The band is a
collective again – really, it’s the platform of Particle material and the Particle style
with new and amazingly talented
musicians. I’m having a blast and we’re laughing like every minute.
[Particle Rehearses Untitled New Song]
JAMBASE: It sounds like you’ve got a foundation again. Do you think it’s accurate
to say it’s been a while
since Particle could be considered active, even though you have played handfuls of shows
in the last few years?
SM: I think so. We never quite said we were taking a break, but we went from
playing 150 shows a year to
playing 50 shows a year to playing 20 shows a year, and less. We never quite went away,
but obviously that’s a big
drop-off, and if we still played festivals and regional weekends over the last five years
or so, we never got together
for big tours because we had hit a phase in our lives where we were interested in pursuing
other things: starting
families or other musical projects.
I’ve had some amazing adventures, everything from working with Phil [Lesh] and Rich
Robinson to this ongoing work
scoring video games. I learned a lot and spent a lot of time doing some discovery. I don’t
know, why this year to
come back with a big tour? Sometimes things just need to blossom.
JAMBASE: So no particular reason why 2014 was the year for Particle to really come
SM: Well, this seed was planted two or three years ago. We started talking about
getting out and touring
again and that just wasn’t possible at the time. Darren and Eric were both getting married
at the time. Both are still
playing a lot of music regionally but neither is at a point where he can commit to a full-
time tour, so the 20 shows a
year we’ve been doing are all we can each make time for.
In the past year, though, I just really started to miss this music and the fans – I felt
it in my heart and in my bones.
The band has so much history and I think I just wanted to reconnect with this music. So it
wasn’t that 2014 was a
target year. It took some time to discuss and talk with Eric and Darren and Ben about
wanting to record a new album
and get back out there. We tried for a while to figure out a way for the founding members
to do it, but when Darren
and Eric realized it’s just not possible, they gave me their blessing to form a new rhythm
section that would be able
to tour on a much bigger level.
It took a while to line it up, and I’m so excited and thankful that we have all the
elements in place now. This? This is a
really exciting time.
[Photo By: Robert Chapman]
JAMBASE: Was that decision to go forward without Eric and Darren an awkward
conversation? Did they push
back at all?
SM: No, really, not at all. They’re so supportive. They want to hear Particle music
being played, I mean, it’s
in all over our DNA. It’s a bittersweet thing, I get what you’re asking. I give them a lot
of credit for having the
sensitivity and maturity to make a very difficult decision. It’s like that old phrase, if
you love something, set it free,
I think they realized the best way for Particle to shine was to me to move forward with
it. They want, and need, to be
at home right now. They have new families. It’s a beautiful next step in their lives and
they committed to me that
they want to see Particle carry on. We’re of course going to keep talking and jam together
when we can. Darren’s in
L.A., he’ll probably be with us there, and in Boston, Gould will play with us the first
JAMBASE: So let’s talk about selecting Brandon and Clay, and I’ll start with
Brandon. But to take a step back,
did you hold auditions? Was this a long process to select new rhythm section players?
[Photo By: Robert Chapman]
SM: No, it was a very organic process. Eric used to play in the Kansas City area
with Brandon. I’ve known
him for many years – Eric would tell me about him, and say, 'man, I know this amazing
drummer, you guys should
play with him at some point.' He thought if we hooked up we’d make some amazing music and
also get along
incredibly well, and he was right: I felt a connection to Brandon the first time I played
In live music like ours you’re really searching for uncharted territory – things where you
get to a point, and it’s new,
and the audience knows it’s cool, and it’s uncertain and mysterious and you’re looking for
buried treasure and you
hit gold. It’s one of the greatest feelings for a musician in the world, and the audience
knows that because it’s
something that’s genuine and happens in real time and that’s not preconceived.
The first time I played with Brandon, we got to that place during a show maybe three or
four times – the music was
there, the lights were right, the crowd knew it. We looked at each other and we knew we’d
gotten there. I can’t
remember when it was, I think he was sitting in with Headtronics. He’s incredible – he’s
well-studied in world music,
but he’s also a killer rock and electronic player, as well as a multi-instrumentalist.
So when we got into a situation where Darren couldn’t make all the shows and needed a sub,
Brandon was the
obvous choice. He stepped in and was a natural, right off the bat. He was a great fit so
when it did come time to pick
a new drummer, he was the first person I called. And now here we are, rehearsing together
for 14 hours a day.
JAMBASE: What about Clay?
SM: Clay and I have been crossing paths for like 13, 14 years now. I always loved
Brothers Past, so he’s
someone I knew about, and we’d come into contact at festivals. I moved from L.A. to New
York a few years ago, and
Clay lives in Philly, so we’d bump into each other even more often, and at very odd times
Around the time I was thinking about recording some new Particle tracks and thinking about
how to get back on the
road, I felt like I was bumping into Clay around every corner, you know? I feel like the
universe was sending me a
message. Every time I’d be thinking, I have to locate a bass player, Clay would show up
somewhere like at a jam
session or a festival I was also at, or something.
I love his playing – his tone and his style. I was also happy he became available. He’d
been doing work with Brothers
Past and especially BioDiesel but BioDiesel is on hiatus for 2014, so the timing for 2014
was going to work. And Clay
also did some recording with Ben and Brandon and me and the bass lines he laid down were
exactly what was needed
– the perfect parts. So when it came time to make a decision, I reached out to him, asked
if he was interested, and
here we are.
JAMBASE: And Ben was all-aboard too? I remember back in his earlier days with
Particle he had other
priorities that kept him from focusing on the band full-time, but he was ready to do a
SM: Ben is all cylinders firing and ready to roll. He’s jumped right into the deep
end, and he’s also taking
the opportunity to rework his own sound and tone a bit. He has a bunch of new effects and
amps and he’s
incorporating some MIDI technology into his rig, and some more modern stuff. He has a lot
of colors in his palette
now. I watch him and he’s so excited. Whenever you have a new piece of gear you haven’t
toured with, it’s like having
a new Ferrari in the garage and you’re just waiting to take it out.
JAMBASE: I have to ask the obligatory Charlie Hitchcock question. You guys played
shows with Charlie in 2010. Has he stayed connected to you and to Particle?
SM: Everyone we’ve ever played with is part of the Particle universe, and on a
technical level, Charlie was
one of the best I ever played with. We’ve actually been e-mailing a bunch over recent
months, and when we do see
each other, we always have a good time and get our laughs in.
He’s been living in China for a number of years now, and he is playing music over there
and is in a good place in the
scene over there. But people do ask me – still ask me – man, what’s up with Charlie? And I
get a kick out of that
because Charlie has his own life and a great groove.
JAMBASE: But you understand why people ask, of course.
[Photo By: Robert Chapman]
SM: Yes. You mentioned we did those 2010 shows and those were amazing. We do talk
about ways we
could play together and even ways we could record together. He’s only in the States a few
times a year, but we do try
to line things up and hopefully we can line up something in the future. We do different
things now but I hold Charlie
in the highest esteem as a guitar player and friend.
JAMBASE: Fair enough. Talk about the new songs you’ve been writing with Ben,
Brandon and Clay. What do
they sound like, especially to folks who know the Particle sound and have been around for
more than a decade?
SM: It’s definitely still a lot of high-energy dance music, meant to pack a punch.
We carry a lot of
momentum, and the idea is still to get people on their feet and dancing. But I also think
there a lot of new songs that
show a more evolved songwriting style. Don’t get me wrong: these songs will take it to 11
every night. But we’ve also
slowed some down so we have a better balance of 100 BPM breakbeat, electronic stuff and
stuff that’s more groove-
We have some songs we plan to open up with the intention of adding lyrics. I think toward
the start of the tour,
they’ll be instrumentals but as we solidify them and add lyrics and workshop a lot of
these songs, we’ll figure out if
they can be structured for vocals, too.
I think overall we have about 15 new songs written and about ready to go and another 10 to
15 in various states of
completion. Some are less about solos and more about a group dynamic. Some have the
classic Particle high-energy
banging electro feel. Some are downtempo.
JAMBASE: Are you looking past this tour to what’s next for Particle? Are you guys
back full time you think?
SM: I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but on a macro level, the answer
is yes. On a micro level,
we just want to take it day by day and show by show. We’re ambitious enough to say we’re
going to put out one,
maybe two albums this year. We have more than 40 dates on the books and we’re going to add
more, and I’m sure
we’ll be out at summer festivals. We’re planning a big fall tour.
So yeah, we’re all thinking about the future and how to not only get back into but stay in
the swing of things. I really
missed this feeling of putting the work in. We have to make sure the Particle embers stay
lit and burning. We all have
the fire and passion, so we’re just so thrilled to be hitting the road again. I think we
all really believe in each other.
JAMBASE: It’s great to hear and it’s great to have you back. While I have you
Steve, I know you do have
many other commitments, particularly scoring video games but also with other bands. I want
to ask you about a few
of them, starting with Rich Robinson. You seemed to hit on something playing with Rich in
his solo band and now the
Crowes are once again on hiatus. Are you going to be playing with Rich again?
SM: That was a great band, and I’m looking forward to playing with it again. We did
record some tracks for
a new album, and while I’m not 100 percent sure, I think Rich is still finishing that up.
I don’t know what his plans are
but I really hope to play more shows with that band. He just came off a really busy year
with the Crowes so we’ll see
what happens next. Rich is one of my favorite songwriters and guitarists on the planet.
JAMBASE: Another one I hear fans talk about a lot is Headtronics. Is there more
Headtronics the future?
SM: Yes, and we’ve talked about doing a bunch more shows this year. Freekbass is
going to be opening
about 10 to 15 tour dates for Particle this spring – his group is doing the Midwest with
us. I’m sure once we’ve been
hanging again for a few weeks we’ll get the creative wheels turning and we’ll call DJ
Logic and put some plans in
JAMBASE: The other one I’ll mention is Phil & Friends. You were an active Friend
from 2004 to about 2008
and I know you’ve sat in with him and with Furthur a few times since. Are you in frequent
touch with Phil?
SM: We try to hang whenever I’m in San Francisco or he’s in New York and we have
definitely talked about
doing some things at Terrapin Crossroads. That’s another one of those things where it’s
all about finding the time in
the schedules. But we have been talking about how to line something up. That’s always such
experience. The people who play with Phil always leave those gigs with more than they came
with. You asked about
my plans for the future, and that Phil is still doing it at his age is an inspiration.
That’s what I want to do – go that