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Even amongst die hard music fans Garage A Trois can be a challenge to sink your teeth into but Stanton Moore isn't worried. I think once people hear us they dig it," Moore said. This new record [Always Be Happy, But Stay Evil (released April 12 on The Royal Potato Family)] is getting a good response and good reviews. We're filling up whatever rooms we play, so we're happy with that. Things keep growing."
Moore made his bones flying off the handle behind the drum kit with Galactic, and with GAT he's joined by sax-player Eric Skerik Walton, Marco Benevento rocking the keys, and Mike Dillon taking on a broad array of percussion duties. Benevento has taken on less of a prominent role than he does in his other groups. Between the Benevento/Russo Duo and the Marco Benevento Trio, GAT is the most prominent project he's involved in that doesn't bear his name. But like most things you get him talking about, Benevento doesn't take it too seriously.
When told that Moore commented Benevento's contribution to the group has darkened their sound, he jokingly replied, Those guys are all pansy ass older men." He took on a more serious tone when he continued, I bring a little energy to the group and they all tend to go out. I think Skerik and Mike D are huge contributing factors in that way. I happen to cover bass lines and almost doubling with keyboard riffs that sound like heavy guitar riffs, and that's what makes it heavy from a clear musical perspective."
Benevento replaced guitarist Charlie Hunter, who bowed out from the group a few years back. Moore said that Hunter wanted to focus on his family, but Benevento was a little more blunt: Charlie Hunter wanted to keep things a little lighter. He didn't like playing loud. One of the reasons he wanted to quit was because they played loud."
After Hunter left the group, GAT played a few one-off gigs with guys like Robert Walter, and did shows with John Medeski (billed as Garage A Medeski), but Moore said they knew a permanent replacement was needed.
The idea was to keep doing things with different guys," said Moore, [But] we realized to do a constant stream of guests filling in would just be a lot of work. To always have to work on new material and learn their stuff, and them learn our material [would be too much]. With Marco, it worked so well. We loved it, and after a few gigs, we said, Why don't we just make this the regular lineup because we're so musically like minded and have so much mutual respect for each other?'"
The three remaining members were used to cycling between various organ players, but even Benevento felt like the transition was smooth.
It took about a year. First they wanted me to learn their music for GAT. They made a few records with Charlie so I had to learn those tunes, so I was learning the bass lines but I also knew they wanted me to do my own thing as well," said Benenvento. They liked what they made with Charlie but accepted that with Charlie out of the band they wanted to do another take on what they had done, so it got darker and heavier like Stanton mentioned."
If Benevento took any time to settle in, you wouldn't be able to tell from the current state of affairs. GAT's latest release, Always Be Happy, But Stay Evil, features a handful of Benevento compositions that showcase the entire group firing off on all cylinders like they're attached at the frontal lobe. The album takes a few spins to fully appreciate, but after a few listens, you'll find yourself sinking your teeth into the instrumental album of the year. Moore called the album expertly executed, highly conceptualized, improvised avant-pop." He added, We've got some great composers in the band with Mike D, Marco, and Skerik. But with Mike D and Marco, the compositions are really developed because these guys compose all the time for other projects."
Seeing as most of these guys made their bones improvising, Moore made a point of noting that there is a lot of jamming that goes on inside and outside of the compositions. Especially after this record, we really felt like we gelled." Still, the members of GAT are conscious of the differences between this group and their other projects. I try to make each song the best it can be and I try to approach it by a song by song basis regardless of the project," Moore said. Whereas [The Stanton Moore Trio] versus Garage A Trios versus Galactic, I feel like I'm the same person slipping into three different suits. I know what this suit feels like and I like feeling it, but I like going over and putting this suit on. I love different hats and suits. I love them all equally, but it's a different variety that helps me grow as a musician and player to have opportunities to play in different groups and situations."
On the same note, Benevento also sees the difference between what Moore does with GAT in comparison to his other projects. Stanton isn't doing what he's doing in Galactic. In GAT he plays super heavy rock drums," Benevento said. Everyone plays a lot harder [than in their other acts]. We're egging each other on to blow each others' minds out."
For Benevento, his role in GAT is also a step outside of the norm, and that says a lot for a guy who uses an array of toys on stage.
[It used to be more jamming but now] my own trio is very song-oriented," Benevento said. GAT is the one [group] that stretches the most. What seems beneficial to everyone in the group is the degree to which each member helps the others improve. We're all pushing each other a little bit, which is what GAT is all about. Those guys are always pushing themselves. Stanton is always practicing and turning me on to new music, and when I show him what I'm up to sonically"or Mike D gives us some amazing percussion stuff. Everyone pushes each other, which is good."
During a late night performance at One Eyed Jacks during Jazz Fest, Mike D went ballistic on the vibraphone while Skerik visibly egged him on. Benevento and Moore kept a close eye on each other's playing as the foursome continued to plow through two sets of avant-pop" that had people grooving out to some irregular rhythms.
As far as the live show goes, Benevento said, It's like being in a band where instead of playing music for a night, it's almost more getting into the mindset of being a DJ or someone coming up with a good set list. If you play too many fast songs in a row, you could burn the crowd out quick, but if you play too many slow songs in the middle you can have a wandering momentum, so it's a balance of different styles throughout the night. As simple as that sounds it becomes a focus and that's how you get people's energy and attention, as well as yours. So, we focus on different tunes with slightly less improv, but not on purpose, just naturally."
Although Moore, Benevento, Skerik and Dillon have all found success with other projects, it's safe to say they're getting a certain rush out of this group that they're not getting anywhere else. Moore emphasized this, saying, What's beautiful about this project is that we focused on the music. We're not focused on how to make this band bigger, or how can we have big management, or a big tour bus. We self-manage and self-crew."
Everyone in the group is involved with multiple projects, but Moore gave the impression that Garage A Trois had some longevity ahead of it. Music unlike other types of relationships, you can go out and do different things. I'm very fortunate with [that] Galactic I can go out and do different projects. I can keep Galactic as my primary focus and watch that continue to grow, so it's an awesome position to be in."
When asked what he would want to tell Jambase Nation while he had its attention, Benevento gave some love to his record label, saying Royal Potato Family rules!" Moore, however, chose to answer with a little more depth: Have no expectations. Listen to the record with open ears, and I hope you enjoy it."
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.