GREYHOUNDS: BEHIND THE SCENES OF LIBERTY


Greyhounds by Tapir Productions

Have you ever been handed a cocktail and upon taking a sip, sputtered, choked, and let loose with a "WHOO!" You were expecting a smooth Captain & Coke, but what you got was Wild Turkey? That’s the deep-down straight-to-the-gut burn I experienced when I first listened to the new Greyhounds album, Liberty. I've been familiar with the band and their loose, laid-back soul-jazz groove for several years, so imagine my surprise when I was greeted with a much dirtier, more rockin' sound than I'd ever expect from this young Texas trio. With rich, multi-layered tracks like "Yeah Yeah Yeah" and "Hot Sauce," it's evident the group has truly found its voice. Indeed, in a literal way, as Liberty sees keyboardist Anthony Farrell sounding like the result of a one-nighter between Bill Withers and Sly Stone as he steps up on vocals for the first time (the great track "It's All Over but the Shoutin'"). Their new sound is the product of years of incredibly hard touring and writing (and most certainly their relocation back to their home turf of Texas), and it pays tribute to the fundamentals that always made them a great live band with the addition of mature songwriting and a turn towards a more organic, rock-solid sound. Think of 'em as a once-smooth stone rubbed gritty with sandpaper and dipped in a shot glass full-a Jack... With a barbecue sauce chaser.

 

In their journeys as one of the jam/groove scene's most relentless touring acts--it's not uncommon for them to venture across several states overnight to get to a gig--Greyhounds were fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of another of the hottest groups in this musical arena, Galactic. It's here that our story begins--check the liner notes of Liberty and you'll see that the album was produced by two members of that New Orleans powerhouse, drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Robert Mercurio. I managed to sit down with Stanton, Robert, Greyhounds drummer Nick Pencis, and keyboardist Anthony Farrell to get the scoop on how they achieved Liberty.

 

How did you meet Greyhounds?

Stanton: Who? (Laughing)

 

Ha! Greyhounds! They’re this band. From Texas? I hear they're pretty good.

Stanton: They came to our show in Boulder in 2001. I think I may have met them at a show before that, but that was the first time we really met officially.

Robert: I first saw them at the Hi-Ho Lounge after one of our shows during JazzFest 2002. I didn't actually meet them that night, but it was an intimate affair and I felt like I already knew them.

 

Were you familiar with their music before you took them on as a project?

Stanton: A little bit. You know, I'd sat in with them and checked them out a little bit. They were doing this soul-jazz thing for a while. Then they changed the direction they were going in. They wrote a lot of great new tunes--I think they changed for the better. Andrew's a really talented songwriter, and he's only gonna get better--I mean, they're all young so... I'm really proud of what they did on this record. They totally had their shit together. They really came up with a new voice on this record. It's raw, kind of who they are and what they grew up with, and it sounds really cool.

 

Where did the band rehearse and write?

Nick: We heard from our good friend Elbert Wright that the Liberty Theater (in Tyler, TX) was being renovated and the owner was super cool. Andrew and the owner, Jake James, hit it off really well. Jake gave us a key and insisted that we make ourselves at home. We worked on these tunes in there off and on during November and December of 2002 and then headed to New Orleans to record in January. It was such an amazing, creative atmosphere. I mean, there is a freakin' jet hanging from the ceiling! How cool is that? The Liberty couldn't have been more perfect for us. It was an easy choice to name the record as a tribute and I can't imagine it happening any other way.

 

What was the most challenging part of preparing for the album?

Anthony: The fact that we were working under a deadline--we weren't used to that type of pressure to create, but I think it inspired us. We've been working towards this for years and now we finally had our chance to show people what we can do.

 


Anthony Farrell and Robert Mercurio

Did you find that you had an idea of a specific sound you wanted to produce for them or was it just organic?

Stanton: Their sound is pretty much straightforward on this record. It is what it is--Nick played on vintage drums, Anthony plays an organ, and Andrew is on guitar a majority of the time. So it's pretty much an organ trio with Anthony pushin' bass. So it's like we just wanted to get nice, fat tones, y'know?

Anthony: Yeah, it was great getting to use vintage keyboards such as the clav and Dave Pirner's (of Soul Asylum) Wurlitzer. I haven't had the chance to play those types of

instruments before and it was a real pleasure to get to work with sounds that I've loved listening to growing up.

 

How do you feel you all worked together? What was the balance of power?


Goat

Robert: It was a combined effort, I went into it thinking there would be more experimenting going on, but we ended up just tightening up the tunes they had. This band's record is a perfect representation of the great songs they had written. They had almost total freedom. We took into account their suggestions and they would listen to ours. We usually agreed on stuff--it became the 5-headed animal that wanted to take over the world.

Stanton: A lot of it was just us offering constructive criticism. "Instead of going to the verse after the solo, I think we should go to the chorus," or "I think we need four bars in front instead of eight bars..." Simple things. They'd say, "Oh, no, man, that tune? We usually play it much slower than this," and I'd say "No! That tempo's KILLIN'!"

Nick: We all got along really well. They were great producers. You'd never know it was their first time in that position. Plus the guys that they hired to engineer (Goat--Drums & Tuba, Ani DiFranco) and mix (Michael Napolitano--Squirrel Nut Zippers, Blind Melon, Galactic, Garage a Trois) were freaking AMAZING.

 

Was there a big shift in the music from start to finish?


Nick Pencis and Stanton Moore

Stanton: Not really a big shift, I don't think. One thing that they did while recording was Nick played all these tunes with a click-track, so everything is just block-rockin' and relentless. It just made everything really feel solid--they came in playing live to 2" tape, so it's not like on our new record (Ruckus) where we wrote shit, rewrote it, demo'ed it, re-recorded it, re-re... You know, went in and tweaked it out, always changing it, always messing with it until we got the final product--their thing was just come in and play to tape, which is how we did our first record.

Robert: They worked their collective ass off. They hustled and wrote some great, mature songs in a very short amount of time. Greyhounds started a jazz/funk/jamband and became an original Texas soul band, which I think is so much more what they are about.

 

Do you have a favorite song on the record?

Robert: I like "Troubled Days"--it has a great bass line, great lyrics, and they just killed it. It is a very sexy song.

Stanton: "Hot sauce" and "Yeah Yeah Yeah." There are so many good tunes on the record!

Nick: I have my fave's because of the creative process. "Yeah Yeah Yeah," "Troubled Days," and "Hot Sauce" were written because of new toys. I got a cowbell for my birthday, Andrew had this lap steel that he bought when he lived in L.A. and he had never even played it. He blew the dust off and pulled it out one day to screw around. He also found his old harmonica--he said he wanted to see if he could play it. Turned out he could.

 

Speaking of new toys, I don't know if a voice counts, but I'd never heard Anthony sing before. I was shocked!


Ani laying down "Black Hole"

Stanton: Yeah, he sounded good. He's gonna blow up.

 

Did you bring any friends in to help? And how did Ani DiFranco end up on the record?

Robert: We used two great engineer friends of ours, Mike Napolitano and Goat to do the project. They both kicked ass and went the extra mile under a tight budget. As for Ani, she was living in the studio house. She'd pop in throughout the 5-day session and took a liking to the band. Andrew was sweet-talking her and finally one day just asked her if she'd sing on "Black Hole." She was more than happy to "try," and the outcome is one of my favorite moments on the record.

 

So is this your first full album as producers. Do you want to do it again soon?


Anthony Farrell and Stanton Moore

Robert: Hopefully some bands or labels out their will like what we did and think about using us someday. It is something that I am very interested in pursuing. I plan on producing some of my own projects. From working on the Galactic records and this one, it makes me feel more comfortable about the making of a record.

Stanton: There's just so many projects that I want to get done, but If someone asked me and I had the time, I'd love to do it, but right now there are so many projects that I'm pursuing--a DVD, another Garage A Trois record, some solo stuff, a book--I need to concentrate on those things first.

 

Where did you record the album? And in the studio, what constitutes a good vibe for you--what mood contributes to your creativity? How important is the vibe of the room?

Anthony: Down in New Orleans at the Truck Farm.

Stanton: Well, the killin-est studio of all time was Kingsway in New Orleans--it was like this decaying mansion. It was awesome. Crumbling--it just added to the killer vibe--antique furniture, oriental rugs, just really comfortable--it felt like you were in somebody's living room. And, the same people that ran Kingsway now run the Truck Farm. So I really dig that kind of a vibe. I mean that's what we did at the Galactic studio. We have a big room where we all play--lots of chairs, oriental rugs where we can just sit and hang, or there's another whole room with big sofas and Christmas lights.

Robert: I think the vibe of the studio is very important. Stanton and I went to visit Truck Farm before we tracked there to make sure it had a great vibe and would make these guys feel comfortable on their first recording. The last thing you want for a new band is to feel uncomfortable.

Stanton: Yeah, The Truck Farm's a really cool spot--it's got a really nice vibe.

Nick: I felt like we were playing in our buddy's house. It was so laid back! Very comfortable. And to top it off, we were practically in the Quarter.

Anthony: New Orleans definitely had a big impact on how I felt in the studio. There's just something about the whole flavor of the town. It made me feel like in order to be worthy of recording in NOLA, we really had to put our best foot forward since there is so much musical history there. There was a little bit of pressure, but thanks to Stanton's and Robert's help, I feel grateful that we got to be a small part of that in some way.

 

Interview by: Gina Figliuolo
JamBase | Texas
Go See Live Music!

http://www.greyhoundsmusic.com

[Published on: 11/25/03]

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