The Heavy Pets rolled through Syracuse, NY again on September 19, and it’s always good to have the Floridian reggae/jam/rockers back in Upstate, NY. Their youthful energy is a great way to help bring in the weekend, even if it’s only Thursday. I’m always down to get things started a day early, and having T.H.P. here to provide the soundtrack suits me just fine.
For any of you traveling types who prefer sunshine to snow, The Heavy Pets will also be one of the featured acts on this year’s Bear Creek Festival in November, as well as the AURA Festival from February 15-17, and both of those take place in Live Oak, Florida. If anyone has figured out teleportation or has a rocket jetpack I could borrow, I could use your help to hit these.
Since the band will be on the road for much of the foreseeable future, I wanted to get their take on some of the higher and lower points of the road as touring musicians. I sat down with singer/guitarist Jeff Lloyd prior to their set to discuss their summer tour highlights, their approach to writing new songs, their ties to Syracuse, NY, and partying!
G- What’s up Jeff and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! The Heavy Pets have had a very busy this summer, am I right? How were all the shows and festivals you guys performed at?
J- The shows have been fantastic, and the festivals have been even better! We’ve had a pretty busy summer… It was our first summer actually taking a bit of time off, but the time surrounding it was really busy. This tour started in Colorado and we did 6 shows out in Colorado before coming back to Florida doing 3 nights in Key West, doing a flood benefit in Live Oak and a couple of Phish after parties…
J- And then we hit the road hard and for the last month, we’ve been playing 5-6 nights a week.
G- Yea and you guys played the Catskill Chill a couple of weeks ago.
G- I thought it was fucking incredible! How was it for you guys?
J- It was amazing! That was certainly a highlight I think, speaking for the band here, but I think it’s easy and safe to say that it was a highlight for our career to play that show. We really looked at that as a huge opportunity for us. We got a really nice billing, our font size on the flyer was really nice and big…
G- Yea I saw that!
J- And it was out third year playing the festival. We paid our dues and they gave us a killer spot right after Lotus, who are our friends and one of our favorite bands, and we really focused on that set a lot. And it very rare… Sometimes it’s hard to have the right energy when you come and play a show that you’ve put so much energy and thought into beforehand… It’s easy to be disappointed, but it went so much better than expected. We played so well and had so much fun up there, and we put in a couple of special treats for the audience as well, visually, in production, and in performance.
G- So it worked out well for you?
J- Yea it was fantastic!
G- Awesome. That’s excellent! So you’ve got roots here in Syracuse and I’m told you studied at Syracuse University. As an Orange alum myself, I wanted to ask you about your experiences while you were here. Something about a small stage at Harry’s Bar and Grill, perhaps?
J- Yea that’s right! Jim (keyboardist) and I studied here at Syracuse our freshman year, and in my sophomore year I began bringing my high school band up to perform around Syracuse. The gigs went great… We were playing at a place called Darwin’s, which is no longer there, but the gigs went fantastic, and for the first time ever in our careers, we had an audience. So there was a bit of demand up here for more live music, and Jim and I thought ‘Well, why don’t we form a band of all Syracuse students so we can play constantly, all the time?’
We started off with weeklies at a little place called OPL, and then eventually moved to playing every Wednesday at Harry’s Bar and Grill, which I think is still there…
G- Yea, it’s still there.
J- Umm, fantastic place, and that really was really the first time for us having a regular audience and having a regular gig and learning how to be a band, you know? We were playing at Harry’s every Wednesday and Darwin’s on Saturdays, and the cool thing was is we really felt like we were making a difference… There was no music on Marshall Street when we started off. Our whole freshman year, there wasn’t a single place near campus where you could see live music. You had to go downtown… Kids had to drive, and they’d drive drunk half the time.
J- And that was part of my pitch to Darwin’s when we first started playing there. It was like ‘Hey… We’ve got an audience and we’d rather have them stay up here on the hill and be safe,’ and the owners loved that idea.
G- For sure.
J- And so did we, so we started playing music right on campus and pretty soon, it seemed like it had a pretty big impact. So, it was like we were doing the good work, you know?
G- Yea it sounds good! I mean, just like you said, when I was in college up here and I was on Marshall Street, the last place I belonged after 8pm was behind the wheel of a car, so positive vibes and a positive message for all.
J- Be safe, kids!
G- Yes… Be safe, everybody. Now, I’m going to throw you for a loop here… I want to know if you have a favorite song that you have ever written with The Heavy Pets, and if so, which one is it and why is it your favorite? Or, if there was one song that you had to select to give to somebody to listen to, who’d never heard of your band before, what would it be and why?
J- Well, I have… It’s a bit of a complicated answer. You said the favorite song I’ve written with The Heavy Pets, but the one I’m going to talk about first is a song that I actually wrote here in Syracuse when I was living and going to school here. It’s a song that I wrote with my friend’s band…
G- Is it called “Too Much Snow” by chance?
J- (laughs) No. It’s actually called “So Thank You, Music.” I was in a big reggae phase, and was writing, you know, pseudo-reggae songs, and that song has maintained its position in our set lists through all the different incarnations of the band, and its always mattered and its always meant something. But that song to me… It’s a very simple tune, and it’s got extended sections of improvisation between these tight little hooky verses, and that song can be whatever we want it to be on any given night. We’ve done really short versions of it, and it maintains its integrity as a song even when we don’t jam…. It’s a great song, if I do say so myself!
But the song means a lot to me, and it’s just about appreciation for music, in general… For the experience we have together listening to music, or being at a show, or playing music together, or anything. It’s just an expression of my love for music and everything it represents. And then we get the opportunity, as a jam band, to jam these tunes out and take them wherever we want to go!
G- Right on, man, and I hope you will play that tonight and jam it out a little bit!
J- We might.
G- I think you played it last time and I enjoyed it very much. So back to touring for a minute. You guys are road dogs, and you’re constantly on the road touring around. How do you guys maintain your schedule and how do you occupy your time and not kill each other when you’re traveling?
J- Well, when we started off, you know, we kind of always did everything together, no matter what. But now that we’re a little more ‘professional,’ if you will, we manage our time a lot better. So, when we have time off, especially when we’re in the Northeast, because we all have roots and families here, we are able to split up.
So for instance, today, the van started out in Centerville, Virginia. Mike and I were in our hometown of Goshen, NY, Jamie was in Wilmington, Delaware, Tony was in Philadelphia, and Jim started off in Centerville. We had 3 days off, so we all went to do the family thing.
To answer your question, I guess, managing our bits of downtime better is certainly critical, but we also love each other. We’re really good friends, and I think we all feel very grateful to be doing this. We’ve all known each other for a very long time, we’ve been friends for a very long time. We each have one member of the band that we’ve known for longer than a decade, and for some of us multiple members of the band that we’ve known and been playing with for more than a decade. So it really helps to enjoy each others company as much as we enjoy doing what we do.
G- Nice, and that’s a good way to be because the last time I saw you when you were here at Westcott Theater, the music… I don’t want to say it sounded incestuous, because you guys aren’t blood related, I’m pretty sure…
G- But you had this very fraternal cohesion on stage. Everybody was very comfortable with each other on stage, you meshed well and played well off of each other, and I think those are some of the key components to being in a jammy type bands. I mean, you guys incorporate many different genres, but having that jam element, you really have to be succinct and well dialed in to each other, and you guys have that for sure.
J- Well thank you very much! In my experience musically, and playing with all the different people I’ve played with, I’ll take a good attitude over nature talent or chops any day, and I feel very lucky to have a band where we have a lot of both.
G-Excellent! So, you guys always seem to bring the party wherever you play, but are you a partying group of guys yourselves? What kind of beers and booze do you want people bringing up to you onstage when you hit their town?
J- Umm, that’s a good question. We try to keep the partying to some kind of minimum before we perform. Nobody ever gets on stage where we’re like ‘Oh man… He’s really drunk,’ which I think surprises people, but it really doesn’t happen. And we’re all… We really love to do what we do. Afterwards is a different story.
As far as beers, I used to say ‘Give me the tastiest, flavorful, heady beer, whatever. But, for performance reasons, I prefer a lighter beer during the show, which is why I’m drink a Budweiser right now. PBR or Budweiser before the show, maybe a shot of whiskey just to loosen me up and get rid of any anxiousness I may have. But other than that, that’s all you’re gonna find us doing. But we do like to hang out… We’re not one of those bands where everyone is anti-social and go back to our hotel room and watch Family Matters…
J- I mean, we do that, too, but if kids want to hang out, we’re gonna hang out because I want to get to the heart of the scene. I want to meet people and meet kids and find out what’s happening. You’d be surprised just in going out and hanging out with people the music I come across and the new things that I become hip to. So it’s important for me to be social as well as being an artist and everything else.
G- So, you headline a lot of the shows that you play unless you’re doing festivals, and what I’d want to know is… There are a lot of bands out there doing what you do and bands that I think would be very synergistic for you to be on tour with, so what I’d like to know is are you guys going to be out on the road with any particular bands in the near future, and if you had to pick 3 artists to tour with, who would you want them to be?
J- Uhhh, that’s a great question, and I like that question a lot. We toured for a little while with Mark White from Spin Doctors…
J- As our bass player, and he was filling in with us in a time of need, and he was just a wonderful guy a bass player, and he also had a lot of wisdom to impart on us…
G- Opening for The Rolling Stones and all.
J- Yea, exactly! But back in the day, they did this thing called Horde Tour, and it was Blues Traveler and The Spin Doctors and Phish and Dave Matthews got in there at some point…
G- I was there for those.
J- You know, and he was just like ‘Why don’t you guys do something like that?’ Hey, it sounds great to me! So I think if we were to pick bands that we wanted to tour with in this day and age, and trying to take the best of the best and get them all out there, like a traveling festival, there’s so many!
I think the lineup for AURA is a great place to start. With Papadosio and Perpetual Groove and Conspirator…
G- My birthday is February 16th, and I know where I want to be!
J- Yea! I mean, that is a great lineup! If we could take that on the road, and go play venues around the country…
G- It’s so feasible!
J- It IS so feasible! Maybe the music business is so fractured now that people… Maybe it’s the economics of it all, but that idea is great on paper. It had me writing emails to the band because Mark White said ‘It’s like a big brother type of thing,’ but they all got rich, so that’s another thing, but they just buddied up with a bunch of other bands and all ended up on MTV with hit records (laughs).
And it certainly isn’t the way it is anymore, but he had me writing emails to all these bands saying ‘We’re looking for a big brother band,’ and I just thought it was cute and funny, and I was writing directly to the managers of Lotus and Disco Bisquits, and I didn’t get a single response (laughs)! But you know, whatever.
G- Hey man, you tried.
G- That’s the most important things, guys… If you want to succeed in this business, it does not pay to be safe… You have to throw it to the wind if you want to make something happen.
J- And of course Moe. and Umphrey’s McGee are two other bands I wrote to and would love to do stuff with. You know, 2 guitar bands… I don’t know why they’re so afraid of us.
G- Maybe The Heavy Pets pose a threat?
J- I don’t think so. I just write poor emails, I guess.
G- Fair enough. Well, you’re a good singer and guitar player so stick with that and we’ll let destiny take care of the rest. Now let’s do something fun for a second… I want to know what the wildest or most memorable show for The Heavy Pets to date? Can you tell us about where was it and what was it like?
J- Well, there’s a couple I want to mention. First of all, Catskill Chill was just amazing for us. We had an aerilist performing, which was just a phenomenal experience for us to bring a different level of production to our show, and the audience was so great! We had a killer slot… I’m still jittery over it. It was so fun!
Jam Cruise was an amazing experience! What a feeling to understand that our music is taking us places like Jamaica and Haiti and all over the Carribbean on a boat, and getting to meet our favorite musicians from all different aspects of our lives. That was a phenomenal experience.
Playing Bonnaroo was amazing! Just to be around there and look around and just be in the artist backstage area and feeling like, in some little way, we were contemporary with all these amazing players and musicians and inspirations. So, those are 3 of the biggies.
G- Well, there are a lot of kids out there want what you just described. I’m a touring musician and have been since I was 19, and I never was able to do al that, and this leads right into my next question to close out today… As somebody who’s making it on the road, and you are making it on the road. You don’t have to get up at 6am and go to a job, you’re performing music, you’re traveling and meeting people, and having a good time doing it. As someone who is still in the building phase, but is definitely doing a lot better than many of the others out there right now, what advice could you give to some of the young, up and coming bands out here who, like yourself, want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
J- I would say you’ve got to find people that you can really stand to be around and enjoy being around, because you’re going to be around them a lot. And like I was saying before, they may not be the most talented people you come across, but they’ll be people that you can deal with. Longevity is very important and enjoying what you do is the MOST important thing you can do.
And also, understand that it’s never as good as it seems, but it’s never as bad as it seems. Keep an even keel. The failures are going to be just as important as the successes. They’re going to teach you a lot about what to do and what not to do.
And most importantly, follow your heart. Do what you think is right. A lot of people are going to come along with a lot of advice, and mostly they’re going to tell you what NOT to do. Very few people are going to actually tell you what TO do, but a lot of people are going to tell you ‘You’re doing this wrong’ or ‘You’ve gotta do it different.’ Fuck ‘em… Do you YOU need to do.