Music News

Groove Junkies

It´s Saturday night at Tobacco Road in Miami, and the Heavy Pets are holding court upstairs. Funky environs and even funkier music have always converged at the Road, and tonight´s no exception, especially since it involves a group like the Heavy Pets, whose instrumental prowess and ability to fuse genres are on the stage.

Despite being recent transplants, their stylistic diversity fits perfectly into South Florida´s musical mix. Locally, it all started two years ago, when vocalists/guitarists Jeff Lloyd and Michael Garulli, bassist Joseph Dupell, and drummer Ryan Neuberger -- all of whom played together for years in upstate New York migrated to Florida. They recruited keyboard player Jim Wuest and began playing shows as the Heavy Pets. Thanks to a well-executed and accessible repertoire, they´ve managed to win over audiences previously accustomed to tried-and-true cover bands that do nothing more than hash out the same old standards. Sure, the Pets play covers, but it´s their original material that tends to get fans worked into a groove.

Their eclectic musical palette is evident on Whale, their recently released debut. Spread across two discs, it´s a clever encapsulation of their sprawling musical template, veering from straightforward blues and boogie to relentless rock and reggae, with the occasional cosmic swirl tossed in for good measure. It´s the sprightly shuffle of the Grateful Dead, the assured interplay of the Police, and the rock-steady rhythms of the Wailers wrapped up in one ambitious mix.

Garulli, who along with Lloyd wrote the bulk of the new album, concedes that translating the Pets´ live sound to disc did, in fact, become something of a challenge. ¨I´d say, yes, we are pleased with the album,¨ he suggests, ¨although I´d have to say the band is definitely not satisfied with the album, because as an artist, you´re always striving for something better, and I know that this project is capable of a lot more. I think anyone in the band would agree that we compromised a little quality for quantity on this one.¨

¨We weren´t really worried about establishing some identity as much as we were interested in getting the material out there,¨ Lloyd adds. ¨Actually, I´d like to think that writing a lot of songs is part of our identity.¨

Obviously, when putting out a double disc, a group typically has to justify releasing that much material at once, but the Pets stand behind their decision.

¨It was a large undertaking, and the list of songs that we wanted to include on this album seemed to grow as we went along,¨ Garulli recalls. ¨There are some great tunes on the release that showcase a lot of different styles, songs that are close to my heart and songs that have a lot of history with the band... We never sat down and decided to record a double disc, it just kind of happened that way, because there were songs that couldn´t be ignored or excluded.¨

The band´s diversity, along with its appearance at this year´s Langerado Music Festival, the South Florida conclave that showcases groups with a freewheeling sensibility, confirms the fact that they fit comfortably into the jam-band genre. But Lloyd doesn´t necessarily identify with that tag. ¨We do jam, quite a bit, but most of the material we play has no real jamming´ in it, although it may sound like it does,¨ he concedes. ¨We´re just being ourselves. Having three songwriters with pretty deep catalogs really helps us keep it fresh.¨

The love that they often allude to seems to have rubbed off on their audiences as well. ¨When we first started this band, we were playing in small, empty bars for six of our friends,¨ Garulli recalls. ¨Going from that to packing the Culture Room for our CD-release party and playing venues like the House of Blues in Orlando in a year and a half time indicates a pretty strong audience response in my eyes.¨

As the Pets´ fan base has grown, so has the number of clubs where they´ve cultivated a following.

¨We´ve found that there are a lot of great venues in South Florida that support and appreciate good original music,¨ Garulli says, citing the Bamboo Room and Delray City Limits in particular. ¨Although I must admit, when we first moved down here and started poking around, we found an abundance of bars and clubs that almost exclusively hire cover bands. We just realized we were looking in the wrong places.¨

Inevitably, they were forced to do the cover-band shtick for a while, but they were able to win the hearts and ears of more than a few converts along the way.

¨As luck would have it, setting up shop down here has been one of the best things to happen to us,¨ Lloyd maintains. ¨We´ve met some incredible people, people that have helped and supported us throughout every step. Without the support structure that we happened upon, we wouldn´t have been able to get nearly as much done. When we first moved here, a lot of people told us that you have to have a healthy catalog of cover songs to make any money in South Florida as a band. Most of these guys were either in cover bands or just didn´t write their own music, so we didn´t listen to any of them.¨

For the most part, Garulli attributes the Pets´ success to working hard, networking, and playing a lot of gigs as well as putting on live performances that made people want to come back and hear the group´s progress.

¨We´re not that local band that´s sitting around waiting for someone to tell us, Hey, you guys are really good you could take this music thing somewhere,´¨ he says. ¨We´re that band that´s grabbing people by the collar and saying, Hey! Check it out, we´re a great rock ´n´ roll band that´s really going places, and we´re gonna play some music that´s gonna make you smile.´¨

¨I believe that our music has a very wide appeal, and as we progress, we find it grows even wider,¨ Lloyd adds. ¨One of my favorite things to hear from a fresh listener is something like, I´m really not into your type of music, but I really love the band...´ I think what´s implied is that not every audience member is hip to instrumental jams or compositions. But with a certain respect for melody, you can get anyone jamming out.¨

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Lee Zimmerman