PERCY HILL IS BACK IN ACTION

Well, it's been just over a year and Percy Hill is ready to get back on to the stage. Their last show was at the Redhook Brewery Music Festival in September of last year and these guys are absolutely itching to get out on the road. They have all been taking it easy the last year or so and have spread out and are doing many different things. This month, Percy Hill will be making their debut back on to the stage as a 12-piece, including a horn section, backup singers and two percussionists. These shows should be legendary and everyone seems to be real excited about them. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Nate Wilson, Percy's resident keyboard extraordinaire, and found out the recent happenings of this funky foursome from New Hampshire.

SK: It's been a year since you've played on stage together as Percy Hill, what have you guys been doing in your off time?

NW: Well, we've all been doing different things. I've been in school, trying to finish up my undergraduate degree at UNH in music performance. I've been teaching a lot of piano lessons and I've also been playing with the Reid Genauer Band. So I've been doing that and Aaron [Katz - drums, vocals, songwriter] has his own group [Aaron Katz Band] as you probably know. So he's been doing a lot with that. John [Leccese - bass] was playing with Aaron's band for a while, but he's not doing that anymore. Now he's playing with Reid Genauer, so both of us play with that group. And he's also doing a lot of different stuff, some freelance graphic design all sorts of stuff. And Joe [Farrell - guitar] is up in Portland Maine, he's teaching music in the school system up there. We all have our own little niches carved out and we're doing our thing.

SK: So the first show back in over a year will be at Pearl Street in Northampton(MA). And you guys now have a 12-piece ensemble?

NW: Actually, 13 at some times... at some points. (laughs)

SK: So, all the players are there, you guys are ready to go?

NW: Everything is there, we still have a fair amount of rehearsal left. But all the players are there. One backup singer is a woman named Anastasia Rene, who is from NYC and is just an amazing singer. The other backup singer is Lauren Wool, we've got four wind players, two percussionists, and an extra guitar player, Adam Terrell. He's in Reid's band as well. Adam's been in the area, he's one of the first guys I played with down here, I've known him for 10 years now. He's a really great guitar player, it's going to be great.

SK: As far as the horns go, who is doing all the arrangements?

NW: I wrote all the arrangements, which is sort of a new thing for me. Part of the big reason I wanted to do this whole project was just to get the learning experience of doing some of that. So that was fun, it was a lot of work. Sitting at a computer, sort of pushing notes around. But it was really good and I think the arrangements came out well. It would have been difficult to have someone outside of the group do those. You never know what you get into, and it's hard to say no to people once you get in. So that whole aspect has gone really well.

SK: Are you going to be performing your classic songs, some tunes from Color in Bloom, etc.?

NW: Yah, about half the material is from Color in Bloom, and then the other half is newer stuff. Some stuff that we've played before, some that we've never played. But all previously unrecorded. Should be about half and half.

SK: Was any of the new stuff written with the horns in mind or the 13-piece in mind, or was that all kind of added after the fact?

NW: It was all pretty much added after the fact, but what I think is interesting about the way Aaron writes and the way I write, is that when we're writing the songs - when we envision them - we sort of hear a larger arrangement anyway. So there is tons of room for parts and things that we probably originally heard when we wrote the song, but just wasn't there with the 4-piece. A lot of the newer stuff has sort of a more orchestral angle anyway. So it really works out. And everyone is playing great, everybody is playing just the right amount, nobody is overplaying. That's important.

SK: I wanted to get into your history briefly and kind of refresh everyone's memories, as there obviously hasn't been too much press on Percy Hill recently. So you started in 1993 at UNH, and it was a 6-piece then?

NW: Yah, it was a 6-piece band. It was all just friends and family who met up at UNH, my brother was actually playing on those gigs too - he was the percussionist. Joe and I are the original members still in the group. And then we had three other guys. Basically there was a big changeover that happened around 1997, I think, or '98. That's when Aaron and John joined and the other members left. Basically it was typical stuff- everyone had different priorities and different things pulling them in different directions and some of us wanted to stay on the road and some of us didn't. So we just decided to revamp the whole thing at that point and see what we could do with it. And it's been a really great experience with Aaron and John. Aaron is just an amazing songwriter, he added so much when he came to the group. Working with him has really changed the whole direction of the group, which is great.

SK: Something I've always wondered is where did the name Percy Hill come from?

NW: Percy Hill is an actual guy that we named the band after. Our first bass player, Jeremy Hill, who left the group in '95 ish, his father is named Percy Hill. I think what happened is we were trying to come up with names for the group when we first started and his dad was there helping us brainstorm and then someone just said his name and was like whoa, wait a minute let's just name the band Percy Hill and it worked, y'know?

SK: Color in Bloom, obviously a fantastic album, was honored at the first annual Jammy's as Record of the Year, I believe. What was that like?

NW: Yah, that was such an honor to get that award and I think it spoke volumes about what we were able to get done in the studio. And I think it's easy to take your work for granted, y'know? By the time we won that Jammy, I probably hadn't listened to that album for a while, so I was like eh, this is interesting, and then it won the award and I was like whoa! I went back and listened to it and I was pretty pleased with it. A lot of factors came together at the right time. We were all just in the right mind set to be in the studio and make something happen. And we all had a real cohesive, artistic idea as to how we wanted things to come off. It really shows on that record.

SK: Do you have any plans for a new studio album anytime soon?

NW: If we get the opportunity, we'll be there in a second. It's hard these days to make that... in some senses it's hard and in some senses easy because the technology is so much better. We would absolutely love to get in the studio and do that. It's just a matter of getting the right circumstances together- the right funding and the right people to put it out and the right way to go about it. These days we're about quality rather than quantity, so we'll probably wind up holding off until we can make it happen the way we want it to.

SK: What are your plans for the future? Will you be doing a full blown tour after the mini-run?

NW: We've talked about making a live recording out of this run, hopefully that will work out. If that happens we'll do some more shows in support of that. We may end up doing some shows this winter. And then we're also looking into festivals for next summer. That's sort of a pipe dream of mine - to get this 13-piece band on some of these bigger festivals. We're all really excited about this group. It would be really fun. Basically, we've got four people all doing different things, trying to balance all sorts of different projects. Aaron's got his group, John and I have the Reid thing. So basically we're more about trying to balance and make everyone involved happy and fulfilled rather than trying to come up with something that is going to consume everybody in terms of being on the road all the time, being in the studio and forcing yourself too much. We got bummed out a little bit when we were on the road all the time. So we are trying to take things on a totally different pace. We'll definitely be playing shows, I think, into 2003 and beyond and hopefully whatever presents itself we'll take advantage of.

Words to live by.

GO CHECK OUT ONE OF THESE SHOWS!!!

Thu 09.19 - Pearl Street Ballroom, Northampton, MA
Fri 09.20 - Paradise, Boston, MA
Sat 09.21 - Rochester Opera House, Rochester, NH

Sam Katz
JamBase | Boston
Let's Go Red Sox!

[Published on: 9/19/02]

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