Gripping Jangly Sounds & Powerful Vibes (At Your Leisure)
By Bill McLaughlin
The history of rock music is rife with instances of bands ensconced in recording studios who emerge with collections of songs that somehow bear the spirit of the place, and with titles that bear the studios' names. Witness, in this connection, the bands, music from Big Pink, The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Electric Lady Land, and Cowboy Junkies' The Trinity Sessions. For three-quarters of the Grip Weeds, central Jersey's psychedelically-drenched power pop quartet, the trek to the rehearsal/recording space consists in rolling out of bed and descending the stairs. Their first full-length release, 1994s House of Vibes, is named in honor of this domicile in which the siblings Reil (guitarist/vocalist Rick and drummer/vocalist Kurt) and guitarist/vocalist Kristin Pinell (Kurt's fiancée) reside.
Although House of Vibes is a strong, alternately punchy and pretty debut, it is its full-length successor, The Sound Is In You (released in September 1998), which justly merits such descriptions as "textured," "rich", and "mature." Kurt and Rick, born in Englewood hospital and raised in Dumont, formed the band in 1987 in New Brunswick. In 1993, Hartford, Connecticut, native Kristin (of the Rooks), whose guitar chords, riffs, and leads are an integral element of the overall euphonious sound, joined. After a couple of bass players, Staten Island's own Mike Nattboy (a music teacher and graduate student in psychology at The New School) completed the line-up over a year ago. "I loved the music, loved the whole concept about the band," explains Mike. Although Kurt, Rick, and Kristin still work part-time in non-musical professions (as civil engineer, title examiner, and accountant, respectively), the balance of their time is spent producing other bands and contributing to side projects (among these, Buzzed Meg, with "Founding Father Figure" and fellow New Brunswick-associated musician, The Smithereens' Jim Babjak)
Modal, spacey, instrumental music opens and closes The Sound Is In You. Within this lies some of the most melodic, exquisitely crafted songs this side of The Fab Four. The comparison is appropriate here, for similarities to Revolver-era Beatles. In addition to mid-60's The Byrds, The Who (whose Pete Townsend invented the term "power pop") and other first and second wave British Invasion and British Invasion-influenced bands around here. "We're music fans as well as musicians, "explains Kurt, who admits there "influences are undeniable."
However, this is no Rutles rip-off, parody, or caricature. Buffalo Springfield's "Down To The Wire" is covered in an original manner, and all of the songs from the potent "In Waking Dreams" and the folksy "Morning Rain" to the haunting "Tomorrow" and the chiming "Strange Bird" are imbued with the archetypal Grip Weedesque quality. "We spend a lot of time working on our arrangements," elaborates Kristin. "It's a lot of working on these parts." Psychedelic rock staples such as mellotrons, backward electric guitar solos and sitars are assimilated seamlessly into classic pop/rock structures. Kurt summarizes, "We like to try to create a tight song that's focused and satisfying." Add to this mix beautiful vocal harmonies and interesting lyrics and the result is a record that is garnering radio air play as far away as Los Angeles.
The group is performing regionally to promote The Sound Is In You, primarily in New York City, North Jersey, and around their Highland Park headquarters. However, in the Spring of 1999, they will be returning to Germany, where they are handled by Twang Records, their stateside record label, Ground Up Records, has been usurped by Buy Or Die, a Hackettstown-based label. Although they enjoy playing live, the energy that is required, given the laborious preparation for the The Sound Is In You (including moving, and renovating their home/studio and re-recording songs), rendered it prohibitive last year.
For now, they plan on continuing playing out, promoting The Sound Is In You further, appearing on a Left Bank (remember "Walk Away, Renee"?) tribute CD. Writing more songs, and recording an EP to satisfy fans until their next full-length is released.
The Sound Is In You is my favorite release of this year. If these musicians progress as they have been, it is probable, a decade or so down the line, Grip Weeds' tribute albums will appear according the band it's place among their influences in the rock music pantheon. Check them out for yourself "www.gripweeds.com" contains a listing of upcoming shows and record ordering information ).