There's definitely something Phishy about the Heavy Pets. However, any tie-dyed elitists out there quick to write off the SoFla favorites as knockoffs should consider increasing the dosage of their preferred method of consciousness expansion. Certainly, the Fort Lauderdale quintet follow a lineage that traces back to the Grateful Dead, but the root characteristic of each jam act is a spirit of exploration, pushing further into new space and creating something unique within improvisation, a career, and a lifetime. Now about 500 shows deep into their journey as a band, the Heavy Pets are experiencing a surge of development and as much enthusiasm for venturing onward as they've ever known.
In 2010, the band released its second studio LP, a self-titled affair, and enjoyed its best touring cycle to date. The album was recorded in Northern California and was produced by Scott Mathews, who has also worked with Brian Wilson, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, and others. The tour was the first to feature the Pets' souped-up production team, and audiences filled venues all over the Northeast to witness the newly evolved spectacle. It's apparent that forces are gathering behind the Pets and that after five years of inspired noodling, they are finding a strong groove.
New Times caught up with founding member Jeff Lloyd as he was relaxing at his parents' pad in New York on the heels of a monthlong fall tour of the Northeast. He was excited to talk about the state of the band, his relationship to Phish, and the upcoming New Year's Eve show at the Culture Room.
New Times: How was the tour, man?
Jeff Lloyd: It was fantastic. It was definitely the best [tour yet]. We showed a lot of growth in a lot of the cities that we were really hoping to show growth in. Not to mention, this was the first tour that we traveled with our own front-of-house — our own sound guy, our own lights, and our own lighting director. From a production standpoint, we were leagues beyond any tour that we'd done before. And it really showed. It showed in the playing, and we got great audiences all up and down the coast.
Do you feel like you're getting a lot of new people out at the shows because of the record?
Not necessarily because of the record. It's from a combination of the record and playing these places so many times, paying our dues.
This latest record is quite a departure from the first. What was your vision going into the process?
What we really envisioned, most importantly, was for it to be tremendously different from Whale, which was our first release. With this record, we wanted to do something completely different. Whale was a very jammy record, and this record we wanted to do something that was more focused on the songwriting and on the production. It's more geared for people listening to the record by themselves.
Do you think you'll stick with that approach for future recordings? Is there a difficulty in trying to capture what a jam band does live, in the studio setting?
Recording is difficult, period. To try to get these long-winded jams in the studio, without an audience and all that energy in front of you is definitely difficult. I won't say that we're not willing to try it again. In fact, that's something that we've talked about a lot. Maybe going back and making the next record more self-produced, just recordings of us jamming and multitracking everything with the ability to then take that and turn it into something else. Maybe some sort of hybrid between the two.
Right now, we've been releasing a tremendous amount of music on this tour because of the front-of-house guy that we're traveling with, a guy named Charlie Miller who is actually pretty famous in the scene as a Grateful Dead taper. He just releases a tremendous amount of music on the internet for download. His recordings are absolutely phenomenal, and he recorded absolutely every show from this tour. We made one available for free. We wanted to give everyone a taste of what's happening now. That's been incredibly rewarding. It's kind of like, why go into the studio and jam when we can get fantastic recordings of our actual shows?
The Heavy Pets are similar, stylistically and structurally, to Phish. And the band plays Phish afterparties. Are you ever concerned with being too closely associated with Phish?
We've definitely been written off as being really Phishy before. A lot of people don't necessarily write us off as much as they say that some of our tunes sound kind of Phishy and they like it. As far as the Phish community, we've been really lucky to be embraced so openly with the afterparties and even the way people talk about us on websites like phantasytour.com. The response has been fantastic.
I grew up with Phish. I grew up going to Phish concerts in the Northeast. You know? I've seen plenty. They were a huge influence on me and my songwriting and my guitar-playing growing up. They're definitely still a big influence, but certainly my musical horizons have broadened greatly, especially with having a bunch of people in the band who aren't Phishheads. Everybody respects and loves Phish in this band, that's a fact. But the rest of the guys, you're not going to find any Phish on their iPods, let's put it that way. Everybody is into so much different music in the band, the five of us. Phish has greatly impacted my life for the positive. One thing Phish instilled in me was that a rock band can do anything they want to do.
The Heavy Pets never do covers. Why is that?
In the end, I think it's in the best interest of this band, especially given [that all five members write songs, that] if we have time to work on music, it's going to be our own. Right now, there are probably a dozen songs of mine that I want to be an active part of our set that are real close. So, why work on Terrapin Station?
You do a project called Spaghetti Warhol, which is entirely devoted to covers. Do you do that because it's a place for that?
Yeah, exactly. It's just an opportunity for us to do something different.
On the covers theme, I remember you sitting in with Crazy Fingers at the Fisherman's Wharf back in the day.
Oh yeah, I absolutely love Crazy Fingers. I've got big love and big respect for those guys. I love the Dead. I love the Dead's music. And it's very challenging stuff. It's like jazz in that you really need to know the chord progressions to solo through them properly. It's great exercise. It's great fun. And any opportunity to get up and play with musicians of that caliber, I relish.
So you're headed back down here soon. Are you excited for the New Year's Eve show? Any big plans for it?
Yeah, I think we're gonna be busting out a bunch of new tunes. And playing the Culture Room is always awesome. That place is home. And the energy on New Year's Eve is always phenomenal. Everybody is there to party, which is fantastic. But then there is the very real fact that another year is ending and another one is beginning. This year, I think we really get the opportunity to do a crushing New Year's show and really focus on what's ahead of us.
We played the Culture Room a few years ago on New Year's Eve, and it was one of the last shows played with our original bass player, Joe Dupell. So it was kind of bittersweet. We were really kind of standing on the edge and had no clue what was in front of us. Whereas now, we're going to be up there playing our hearts out on New Year's Eve with so much contentment and being so excited for the future of this band. We're really standing on the edge of getting some serious recognition around the scene. And it's just got us all very excited right now.