Words By: Ryan Dembinsky
We check back in on former Blips act Sprocket after the release
of their new album.
Back in November, we introduced JamBase readers to Sprocket as one of our favorite
up and coming bands.
We expected to see big things from the Brooklyn-based jam band this year, but little did
we know in just a few short
months they would knock out their debut full-length album Tropical Bushwick start
to finish. The debut
provides a snapshot of nine Sprocket original staples including standout tracks "Headway"
New York City residents might know Sprocket for their ongoing weekend residency at the
Bitter End, which we assume
has the venue seriously questioning their tables and chairs policy as hardly anyone could
possibly sit down during one of the jams
that have been emerging from the famed stage in front of the bricks. Fans of Phish and
guitar/bass/keys/drums jam band lineups should consider giving Sprocket a serious listen.
We caught up with the band to get a closer look into all things Sprocket.
Ryan Dembinsky: Can you describe how the band formed and how you all met?
Sprocket: Dan (Haller), Nate (Rosler) and Tom (Tompkins) had been playing together
in a different band, and after that band broke up they felt like there was a deep musical
connection. Sharing the same views on writing and performing music, we decided to continue
on. At first it was pretty casual, but as we played more and more, it quickly became an
obsession. Eventually, we felt like progress (especially harmonically) was not moving
along as fast as we'd have liked, so we went about trying to find a fourth member that
would round out our sonic capabilities.
Ryan Dembinsky: It seems like the addition of keys represented a real inflection
point in the progress of the band. How has the addition of Angelo (Miliano) helped you
Sprocket: Incorporating the keyboards allowed us to expand our musical palate both
harmonically and creatively. We felt like as a three-piece we weren't able to open up as
much harmonically and were relying too much on rhythm. There was a time that, as a three-
piece, we considered calling ourselves "The Meatpocket Groove Machine" because we thought
that our best stuff was when we would all play a part of the rhythm section. But in order
to fully realize Sprocket, we knew we
needed another harmonic contributor.
Ryan Dembinsky: I find it’s less and less common to find bands these days who
openly confess to being a jam band, but you guys seem to be totally on board with it. Is
everyone in the band a longtime member of the so-called jam scene?
Sprocket: We think of ourselves as a rock band, but we like to improvise on stage
and in the studio. We certainly embrace the ethos that is found in the jam band scene
(freedom of musical expression), but "jam band" is a really broad genre. Some of the
greatest rock bands of all time were technically jam bands on stage (Pink Floyd, Led
Zeppelin, Etc.). We like to think that we're a classic rock band in that vein. We write
and play composed music, but embrace the freedom that we find when jamming.
But to answer your question, all of us have been participating in the jam band scene in
one way or another since the moment we each discovered it existed.
Ryan Dembinsky: So you guys cranked this album out in short order, but it’s clearly
very complex music. How much work went into the process? Was this mostly a DIY effort or
did you have an engineer on board?
Sprocket: Luckily, Angelo is a very experienced engineer and we were able to do
this album completely DIY in 49 days start to finish. We had been writing and working on
the material for months, until we were happy with the versions of our songs that would be
going on the album. Then, we laid out a plan of attack to record in which we took a month
off of gigging so we could focus on recording. We stuck to our schedule and two months
later, we had Tropical Bushwick.
Ryan Dembinsky: So give us the blow by blow. What goes on at a typical Sprocket
Sprocket: We try to focus on learning new music as much as possible. We have a
whiteboard in our room where we keep track of the next few songs we are trying to learn at
all times. Currently, we only have one black marker, but we are looking to expand our
color palate soon. We usually warm up by jamming a bit, either on a groove that any one of
us starts, or on a song structure or fragment that one of us had been thinking of/working
on. Then, we'll talk about what we want to get done, like specific songs we want to work
on. Usually there will be a show coming up that we want to debut certain songs at, so we
will focus on trying to get that music stage-ready. The rest of the time we're in the
studio, we're working on our tightness, general vocal work and improvisation.
We all love coming to rehearsal, so it really doesn't feel like "work" even though we
really do work very hard at what we're doing. We also like to laugh and mess around on
stuff that will never see the light of day, so it wouldn't be totally out of the question
to hear us break into a random "Born On The Bayou." At one rehearsal, we spent the whole
time coming up with what ice cream truck songs would sound like if they were written by
The Grateful Dead.
Ryan Dembinsky: For Tom, in terms of your guitar playing and music writing, you
have a very unmistakable Trey influence. What are some of the most important things you’ve
learned from him as a guitarist?
Tom Tompkins: I first started playing music as a trombonist, but picked up a guitar
because of Trey, when I was 10-years-old. In my formative years I listened to early '90s
Phish constantly (in fact, I had the band's New Year's show from 1993 at the Worcester
Centrum in my walkman at all times). The ferocity and raw emotion I felt coming from his
guitar was the best thing I had ever heard, and that quickly became the "right" attitude
to have on guitar. In terms of songwriting, I love his early fugues and how he would have
a common passing tone through his chord progressions (like in "Esther" or "Lizards").
That's been a direct influence on my songwriting style. I like to think that I have taken
these ideas that I've learned from him and applied them (I hope) in new ways. But I also
love and am heavily influenced by guitarists like Grant Green, David Gilmour and Jimi
Hendrix. It's all about raw expressive power.