Interview: Percy Hill’s Aaron Katz & Joe Farrell Discuss ‘Color In Bloom’ 20th Anniversary
Words by: Sarah Bourque
With spring finally deciding to appear after what seemed like an endless winter, Percy Hill could not have picked a more appropriate season to play back to back shows in Boston and New York City in celebration of the 20th anniversary of their album, Color In Bloom. The band will come together at The Sinclair on May 11 and again the following evening at The Gramercy Theatre in NYC to perform the album in its entirety.
Color In Bloom is among their most popular releases and won the inaugural Jammy Award for Album Of The Year. It’s easily understandable why the album is so popular with fans as it combines a masterful balance of infectious tunes that mix a touch of jazz, a hint of soul and a heaping dose of jam sensation into one addictive record.
I caught up with drummer Aaron Katz and guitarist Joe Farrell to get some insight into the band, find out more about the reunion shows and get filled in on what they are currently working on. Time in between studio sessions allowed the two musicians to give their take on the past, present and future.
JamBase: Let’s go back to the beginning. The band was formed at the University of New Hampshire by Joe and Nate Wilson. What’s the story behind the name Percy Hill and how did the band emerge from UNH? Take us through those early years.
Joe Farrell: Yes, the band began at UNH in 1993. There was a very vibrant music scene there at that time. Many great bands were playing in the area, like Groovechild, Thanks to Gravity and many others. We were lucky to be involved in such a thriving scene. Before Percy Hill came to be, I was playing in a band called Riders of the Kitchen Range, which was a big acoustic band with eclectic influences of bluegrass, rock, jazz, etc. The band was affectionately known as “a bunch of people onstage.” It was the kind of thing where new people joined almost every time we played. That was how I met Zach Wilson, Nate’s brother.
Zach was in the audience at a Riders show and he came up after and said, “Hey, I play congas. Can I play with you guys?” Just as we did with pretty much everyone else who asked, we said sure! Anyway, Zach played with us for a while and that was how we met Nate, who was still in high school in northern New Hampshire at the time. Jeremy Hill [Percy Hill’s original bassist] and John Leccese were also playing in the Riders. Long story short, we started playing with Nate, Zack, Jeremy and, along with Tom Powley and Tim Leavey, we started the original Percy Hill. The name came from Jeremy’s dad, who is the Percy Hill, also a musician and just an all around very cool guy. Those years in the UNH music scene were inspiring. There were lots of great musicians and innovative bands.
JamBase: Who were the biggest influences on the band and how big of an influence was Steely Dan?
Aaron Katz: Early Percy Hill was heavily influenced by The Allman Brothers Band and old-school Phish. After Nate and Joe decided to move the band in a different musical direction by bringing me and John in, the influences turned to more funk and dance feel based compositions. The four of us shared a love for Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, the Grateful Dead, The Police, Peter Gabriel, Pat Metheny, The Beatles, Jamiroquai and all things jazz, funk and Motown.
We wanted to create music that was uplifting, danceable and fun but also expressed openly and honestly our life experiences. Nate introduced me to Steely Dan in my sophomore year at UNH so while I would definitely say Steely Dan became an influence as to how we created parts, arranged and recorded our material, the songwriting approach/style for me came long before becoming a Dan fan.
JamBase: Is it true that Tom Constanten of the Grateful Dead and the late Bobby Sheehan from Blues Traveler joined the band on separate nights in Portland? If so, what’s the story behind those sit-ins?
Joe Farrell: It is true that Tom Constanten and Bobby Sheehan both sat-in with us on separate nights at the Stonecoast Brewery in Portland. It was a happening club in Portland at the time. Lots of musicians would come by if they didn’t have a gig. Those two guys happened to come by while we were playing. I honestly don’t remember what we even played, but they were both gracious and we were honored to play with them both. We have been fortunate to cross paths with many great musicians over the years and have had a number of them sit-in.
JamBase: In the early years, Percy Hill was an unstoppable force with touring. Then the band slowed down around 2000, with just a few shows a year. Talk about that “lightening of the load” if you will. What lead to that slow down?
Aaron Katz: While we had a number of unbelievable life-changing positive moments on the road, we also had our share of pitfalls out there. We realized it was better to spend our energy focusing our efforts in smaller bursts rather than continue on the path that was leading us apart from each other and the music.
JamBase: The two shows in New York City and Boston are a celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Color In Bloom. How did the idea come about to celebrate this album in particular and why the limited shows?
Aaron Katz: Color In Bloom is our first born and represents a time in our history that was full of creativity, enthusiasm, passion and what felt like limitless potential. While our album After All, and what we are currently working on, represents development and progression towards a greater realization of what we are going after musically, Color In Bloom has an energy and spirit to it that only a maiden voyage can have. We wanted to celebrate that with each other and our listeners at these anniversary shows.
JamBase: Percy Hill has been dropping big time hints to fans on social media – Instagram in particular – about a new album that’s currently in the works. What can fans expect? When will it drop?
Aaron Katz: We are back in the recording studio working with producer Sean McLaughlin at his 37ft productions facility. It feels right bringing new material to life as well as bringing older ideas back from hiatus. New music will be coming soon, most likely in the form of one track at a time. You can check our Facebook and Instagram accounts for all updates, live clips from the studio and more.
JamBase: With both the new album coming up and the two anniversary shows, can fans anticipate an extended tour by the band in the near future?
Aaron Katz: We all have very full and balanced lives. Percy Hill is one of the great joys that make all of our lives better. We plan to continue honoring that by creating and recording new music as well as performing live. As for an extended tour, that is not likely but there will be consistent forward motion and growth. At this point, the work we do together feels like a gift. We are, in many ways, back to the way it felt when we were recording Color In Bloom but now, with the lessons learned and wisdom gained, there is a clarity and deep appreciation unlike before.