The Heavy Pets know what you’re thinking when you hear the word jam-band. Chances are, your notion of what this type of band can do is about to be shattered. You know the negative stereotypes – soullessly meandering guitar solos, cringe-worthy vocals, and lyrics that sound like something your artsy nephew wrote for his seventh-grade poetry class. All that stuff truly does permeate the jam scene, but as guitarist and vocalist Jeff Lloyd put in the interview that follows, there are only two types of music – good and bad. This is a very good jam-band, one that recognizes the transcendent power of a band willing to take risks on stage while making every note and lyric count.
O&A: In the early years of the band, what inspired the move from New York to Florida?
Lloyd: The band as a group started in Florida, but we all have roots in the Northeast playing music together. Mike, our other guitarist, and I initially moved to Florida to work at an internet marketing company that our first bass player had started. It wasn’t glamorous, but we used it to get the capital necessary to get the gear and do things how we perceive to be the right way – from the ground up.
O&A: Talk a little bit about the importance of the Florida jam community to the band.
Lloyd: There are a lot of beautiful things happening around the state right now. Florida is geographically unique in that it’s a dead end for bands to come all the way down. It’s become infinitely easier to make that loop now with such a wide network of like-minded people. It was only a matter of time before people started connecting the great fans down here. The scene is growing rapidly.
O&A: How do you feel about the jam-band label?
Lloyd: We have mixed emotions. It turns a lot of people off, and rightfully so. There’s a lot of crap out there, but that goes with any kind of music. There are really only two kinds of music. There’s good music and then there’s everything else. Jam-band music is where some of us in the band got our inspiration, but for others, not so much. Lately, we’ve been focusing a lot more on composition and song-writing. Not every song has a jam in the middle of it. It’s still a large portion of every set, but a lot of our songs are starting to get to the point where they don’t need any extra explanation. The song itself is the statement.
O&A: A lot of jam-bands struggle in the studio. Have you guys made a conscious effort to avoid that?
Lloyd: Absolutely. It’s a different kind of performance. It requires a different mindset. We always discover more about our material when we get in there to do it. You realize that maybe this song doesn’t need the extra rhythm I’m doing. Maybe it distracts from what we’re really trying to do. Only under the microscope of recording do you tend to find that stuff out. We look at it as both a job to do and a learning experience.
O&A: After self-producing your first couple records, what did having a producer on the most recent one teach you?
Lloyd: The biggest thing was simply how to organize these mountains of material that accumulate and keeping it cohesive with five songwriters in the band. Everyone in the band could be considered their own producer of their track. So when you come into the studio and we’re working on your song, you get the final say. We’ve been doing this long enough and respect each other enough that we’re not afraid to open our mouths. Everyone’s opinion matters when it comes to recording. For a lot of bands, that would be a disaster.
O&A: When you’re writing songs, do the lyrics or music come to you first?
Lloyd: It varies. I’ll often have a lyrical idea. I’ll start with the statement. The music comes to support that idea. Other times, I get a guitar riff. What do these sounds make me think of? How do I feel when I hear it? What’s the first thing that will come to other people’s minds when they hear this?. It’s all about the statement. If it lacks focus, you get that watered down, generic jam-band stuff.
O&A: What inspired the idea behind the acoustic disc?
Lloyd: A lot of our songs we used to write were born out of Mike and I sitting with a 12-pack on the back porch and just coming up with ideas. There are still songs on that record that we don’t touch live. It’s not because we couldn’t. We don’t have the type of performances yet where we’re comfortable slowing things down and getting that quiet in the middle of a show. We go pretty balls-to-the-wall live.
O&A: Legendary mandolin player David Grisman is on a few tracks on that acoustic disc. How did that collaboration come about?
Lloyd: We were recording out in Mill Valley, CA near where he lives. Some of the songs were crying out for him. We sent him the tracks and agreed to it. The end result speaks for itself, but the highlight for me was sitting face-to-face playing with him. He was full of great stories, none of which I can repeat.
O&A: In the live setting, what’s the hardest part about being in band that improvises as much as you guys do?
Lloyd: We have things pretty well dialed in at this point, but if we have any snags in the improvisation, it usually comes from the differences in each sound system’s nuances. Each room is different. After the fact, one of us might think it was the greatest show and another will say how they couldn’t hear the other at all. Often, when you listen to the recording of the show, it’s a lot better than how you initially thought it was.
Photo: Heavy Pets Official