Selfishness is a good thing," says Jeff Lloyd, guitarist and frontman for the Fort Lauderdale quintet the Heavy Pets. Lloyd, an avid reader, has recently finished Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. And like all bright-eyed disciples of the objectivist author, he believes selfishness suffers from a bad rep. "It's especially important in the bind that this country is in financially," he says. "The idea that self is bad is such a detriment to young kids who are growing up."
Lloyd's philosophical leanings are somewhat ironic considering the unabashed progressivism of the jam world in which his band circulates. Still, with a catalog that boasts not-so-subtly titled songs like "Precious Mind" and "John Galt," his passion for Rand is at least an entertaining break from the standard hippie dogma.
The Rand thread doesn't end with the lyrics. The music too is infectiously cheery, but not in that annoying, noodly, clichéd jam-band way. Just check a performance of "Precious Mind" on the band's Facebook page. The song is epic in typical jam fashion, clocking in at more than seven minutes before hitting a crescendo of instrumental chaos. But then, in an abrupt but weirdly enjoyable transition, the track shifts into a Caribbean island groove. It's Randian because of the seemingly eternal cheerfulness it conveys, a happy optimism found in the triumphant conclusions of novels like The Fountainhead, in which protagonist Howard Roark retains his individualism and idealism despite those pesky collectivists.
"Most of our songs are positive, which is something people keep telling me," Lloyd says. "I don't know that I try to write songs that have a positive message necessarily. [But] the works of Ayn Rand inspire me to want to go out and wake people up."
It's not all Rand, all the time, though. The Heavy Pets have, for instance, written plenty of songs about love, Lloyd says, even though he's now trying to shy away from that. "I've been trying to write some story-songs lately, which is something I just didn't do for many years as a songwriter. I really respect songwriters who can go out there and tell an awesome story and make it sound great."
Still, the Rand literary appreciation runs deep. Lloyd, now 28 years old, grew up in Goshen, New York (about an hour northwest of New York City), where he befriended current Heavy Pets guitarist Mike Garulli in high school. Together they formed Anthem, the first iteration of their band named after (what else?) a 1938 Rand novella.
But of course, the other common thread along the band's existence has been the musical partnership between Lloyd and Garulli, who today still perform songs they wrote together in 1997 and 1998. "Mike is a very tenacious guitar player. When I first met him, he was in a [hardcore] band called Strep Nine. It was crazy jump-off-the-amp-and-kick-you-in-the-teeth kind of stuff," Lloyd recalls, and adds, joking, "He's still bringing that hardcore edge to our jams."
The group, which went through a variety of names before sticking with the Heavy Pets, fizzled eventually as members scattered for college. After college, the band regrouped, but eventually Lloyd felt the Pets start to plateau. Then in 2004, he got a call from former Pets bassist Joe Dupell, who had moved to South Florida to start an internet marketing company. Dupell invited him to visit, and soon, Lloyd saw the opportunity to get out of New York.
"I was just looking for a change of pace. I went down to Florida and within a month or so, Mike came down to meet up," Lloyd says. "We fell into a groove in the Northeast of doing the same things and not getting ahead. The idea was that we could go down and build up [Dupell's] company; we could raise up some capital and really start a band and do it the right way."
The band's first South Florida gig was in 2005, on the patio at a Broward condominium called the Summit, just after Hurricane Wilma ripped through South Florida. "It was the only place in town that had power," Lloyd says. "We called up the condo people and said, 'Hey we'd love to play a show for free.' It was a cool way to start. Hundreds of people living [in the building] were like, 'What the hell is going on?' "
The band recorded a demo soon after and started booking at local venues such as Fat Cats and Alligator Alley and Tobacco Road in Miami. The group's heavy support among locals led to a slot on Langerado's Florida Native stage in 2006 and 2007, when votes decided what local band would take the stage. Then it was officially booked for Langerado in 2008.
The current Heavy Pets lineup, however, is only 2 months old and includes pianist Jim Wuest, drummer Jamie Newitt, and bassist Felix Pastorius. The latter is the most recent addition and the son of local bass legend Jaco Pastorius. (He reticently but unpretentiously names Victor Wooten and Bobby Thomas among his closest mentors.)
Lloyd first saw Felix Pastorius at Tobacco Road when they both played on a multiband bill. Felix was performing with his project Way of the Groove, a South Florida fusion-funk staple of the '00s. "It was just jaw-dropping to watch him work the bass like that," Lloyd says. "They overlapped the bands' [showtimes], so I picked my jaw off the floor and was like, 'I'm going to go play now.' "
Luckily for the band, Pastorius arrives just in time for the Heavy Pets' jam pilgrimage to Tennessee, as the band was recently invited to play the Bonnaroo Festival. "It was very, very, very exciting," Lloyd says. "We've always wanted to do it. We've been talking with [the promoters] for years, and when the lineup came through, we were really happy about it."
Pastorius is similarly honored to play the monster festival, but his idea of a perfect show occurs much closer to home, away from the big-arena-rock spotlight. "I prefer playing in my living room," he says.