In the constantly evolving world of jam, bands are increasingly being overshadowed by DJs who rely on samples to formulate their sound. After nearly a year-long hiatus, the Frozen Movement returns to the scene to remind us of the merits of live instrumentation (Mike Stewart uses seven keyboards on stage).
In advance of their show tonight at Quixote's True Blue with Jeremy Salken of Big Gigantic and Garret Sayers of the Motet, we caught up with the members of the Frozen Movement, who will be closing out an informal week-long celebration of Jerry Garcia's birthday, and asked them about their hiatus and what brought them back, and how their studio work differs form their live shows.
Left to right: Mike Stewart, Peter Nyvall, Nathan Sheets, Paul Turley
Photo by Britt Chester
What was the reason for the hiatus, and what spawned the comeback?
Peter Nyvall: We stopped playing [shows] last November, so I guess about six or seven months, then Nathan started playing with us, but being on stage is definitely at the core for all of us. Studio playing, recording and practicing are all fun and necessary, but we all live for playing of live shows, improvising.
Nathan Sheets: I was coming over and auditioning, trying to find out if I was the right fit. I got the old CD and practiced for a few weeks, then came over and we started jamming in the studio, but I think we were all pretty anxious to get on stage.
How do your studio sessions differ from your live shows in terms of improvising?
NS: We work within a time frame when we're on stage, always top conscious of how long you're playing and keeping a captivated audience. When you're in the moment, you can take themes and ideas a lot further.
Mike Stewart: It's great because the options are so expansive. It's like everyone has twenty hands, so we can take a song anywhere. If you listen to our first album, you'll hear that it was mostly recorded live, except for two tracks. Peter's tracks were all recorded live, but we had a couple takes on some others.
PN: The great thing about live shows is that there are certain sections that we can never replicate, and perhaps shouldn't. We like playing in the moment and feeding off the energy of the people who are there experiencing it with you, pushing the direction of a song to see if people like it.
Paul Turley: In a studio, we can do whatever we want, but when we are live and go for it, it's out there, and you just have to keep going. That's the best part about playing live shows: Once you put it out there, it's there. We can't take it back, the mistakes or the perfections, and that feeling is what it's all about, I think.
Do you ever record your shows to go back and study them?
PT: I watch it for that reason. I want to see what people think, and it's fun to watch and critique. From the video, you can tell where we meshed and where someone may have gone off on a tangent. The idea is to get the crowd to feed off your energy, but sometimes it's vice versa, and we take cues from someone tapping a foot or dancing around.
MS: We just played a show last week at 320 South in Breckenridge, and it was one of the most raging shows we've had. It was good because it was just locals, a lot of people who haven't seen us jam before...
NS: And they got the fuck down. A lot of times lately, we've been passing the ball around and vibing together. We can take the levels up, bring it hard and fast, and then allow it to come back down.
PT: It's not like there is something we would do different, but when you see the energy, you become aware and want to play the best you can.
PN: It was fun too because we were playing our style, our music, which we know is good, and the people were really feeling it. It's nice to find our sound and run with it, especially when the people are feeling it.
What other elements go into your shows, aside from your music?
MS:We have a full lighting rig with cans, rotating lights, strobes. When we played in Breckenridge last week, we were able to use some light bars that were just blasting behind us.
PN: It's good to have a solid sound engineer, someone who can hear and differentiate between audio levels and instruments, because that affects the room almost as much as the songs themselves. Sometimes, if you have bad acoustics or no monitors, the show could be ruined. You could play the best set ever, and if the audio is bad, no one will be able to really get with it.
I think we can play anywhere now. When we played at Vine Street, we didn't have any monitors, but we were still able to get a good sound out. The best, though, is when we are playing together and we are all on the same page. For even some of the best bands in the world, it's hard to do any given night on a given stage wherever that may be.
What do you mean by 'best bands in the world'?
NS: Well that's kind of a big question, isn't it?
PN: Ha! In the way I was talking about it, I immediately think of Phish and the Disco Biscuits. As bands, they are at the top of the jamming style of music. The way Phish plays -- the way they mesh -- they could each be in separate rooms only listening to one other band mate, and they would sound better than pretty much any practiced set.
MS: A lot of the form that goes into jam bands styles can be traced to those bands, but the term "jam band" is used pretty loosely these days, unfortunately. It's different to have lulls in your set, but when you go to a pop concert, it just goes song by song, maybe with a little folk introduction in the beginning.
If "jam bands" is used loosely, how would you describe your music and where it comes from?
MS: That's what great about being in a band. We all come from so many different musical backgrounds that we all bring different and equally important elements to the table. I can get down to some cheesy pop music, old folk music, whatever really has some good song writing. Originally we just looked at like we had been in Colorado for a while and we wanted to put all of the music we were hearing in our heads together.
NS: I take a lot of influence from my friends who don't listen to just jam bands, but who listen to electronic, dubstep, rap, whatever. It's nice to get an outsiders view on what we are doing because hopefully it will connect on some level of that. Ableton is making is easier and easier to make music. There is such an open platform for production that the market gets flooded. It was bound to happen, but it's exciting to watch who and what will come out of it.
PN: The fans gravitate towards certain kinds of music, and there are so many genres -- Southern rock, jam, electronic, improvisational, dubstep...
PT: DRYHEAVE STEP!
With technology, now you can loop, sample, distort and remix live. How do you feel about the implementation of all this technology into the live jam setting?
PT: The electronic scene used to be way more exclusive, but now there are so many up and coming artists that are such a mix of styles, it's hard to pick one genre in particular. It's like Phish and Bassnectar had a baby, and it's like everybody in Boulder right now. They are the offspring of the generation of jamming and electronic, and it's blowing up.
PN: There are a lot of really good live electronic bands out there in the wake of what STS9 and the Biscuits have done. This is good, it's nice to see big five piece bands, and I like to think that we are putting our notch somewhere in there, without compromising our integrity as a band. That's why we work so well, because we mix dance music with a live show, which is more than just a DJ spinning tracks. And dance music is just fun. It's fun pulling people in to get down with us.
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MS: The electronic equipment is more of a supplemental instrument, where as organic instruments are where music is really made.
NS: If you think about it, electronic shows of old were not about staring at a deejay bouncing up and down for an hour. You walked around a warehouse, mingling, dancing some, but the DJ was actually on the other side. You walked massive warehouses and heard the music. It wasn't just going to a show.
The Frozen Movement, with Willie Waldman Project, Garret Sayers of the Motet, Jeremy Salken of Big Gigantic, Rufus J Fisk and Red Eyed Djinn, 8 p.m. Friday, August 5, Quixote's True Blue, 303-366-6492.