Garage a Trois is a band which at first could be thought of as an all-star band of heavy hitters, but that would be a severe understatement. The band, which started as a trio consisting of saxophonist Skerik, guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter, and drummer Stanton Moore, later adding vibraphonist Mike Dillon, has grown into a tightly structured, well oiled funk beast. Hunter is no longer part of the group, in that slot is one of the most in demand keyboard players around, Marco Benevento, who permanently joined the group in 2007.
After a couple of years of jelling as a band with Benevento, the group decided to focus more attention on the compositional side of things and all four started individually writing for Garage a Trois. The results of that transformation can be found on their newly released album Power Patriot.
The recording is full of masterfully created pieces that go from the insanely strange thumping monster sound of“Fragile”, to the blissfully calm, and very ironically pretty “Purgatory”. The real gem on the album is a track by Dillon called “Dory’s Day Out”. This song is a sweet, beautifully written, journey through many different “happy” moods.
Glide’s Joe Adler had a chance to speak to Skerik about the band’s history, progression, and how they came to choose Benevento as a new member.
For people not familiar with Skerik, can you describe your musical journey. What was the spark that started everything?
Well my dad really got me into music. He was a huge fan, especially of jazz and classical. And my mom would play piano and sing in a choir and stuff like that. So it was around. It wasn’t like, “play this or die.” An enforced madness kind of thing. It was definitely encouraged. I think it was probably the only thing I did that actually didn’t attract negative attention. (laughs) When you’re a kid, sometimes the only time your parents talk to you is to discipline you. And I was a really bad kid.
So music might have saved you from some evils that might have been impending?
No, not at all. It was something that I could do that didn’t piss everyone off. Which was a positive thing, Pavlovian.
So let’s move to Garage a Trois, I’ve listened to the new album now a few times and it’s a very dynamic. What was the process recording and writing the album? Do you write as a group?
Well see nowadays with music, if you wanna play with people that are really good, highly skilled musicians. Generally those types of musicians are in demand, from other musicians to employers, etcetera. So really the ultimate commodity these days is time. It’s really what I spend my money most on. If I have any money, I’ll spend it on time, or in ways that save time, or garner time. So this band especially is a serious victim of time because there’s never any time for us to get together.
Stanton’s very busy with Galactic and his trio, and his solo clinic stuff, and then Marco’s got all kind’s of stuff going on with his trio and the Benevento/Russo Duo, and Mike’s playing with Les Claypool and Ani Difranco and his Go Go Jungle, Dead Kenny G’s, and all that stuff, and I’m just kind of doing my own stuff now. It’s really hard to get everyone together, so what’s really important for this band, and other bands, is that you are writing on your own time and then bringing in pieces to the group, like when you’re in a studio. So we’ll book time in a studio and everyone will bring a couple pieces in, and then it’s just a matter of learning those pieces and arranging them how they sound best for the group, and just tweaking it. It’s a very demanding situation but all of these guys are really great. And Stanton’s a great studio drummer so any song that we bring in, he can learn it instantly, even if it has complicated metric modulation in it and other kinds of crazy stuff. He can just nail that shit right away. So mostly for this record, Marco, Mike and I, did most of the writing and we just bring it in and play it all in the studio that day.
Which of the songs did you bring to the table?
I wrote "Power Patriot," Mike D came up with the song title! And I wrote "Purgatory." And I might have written like little bits and other stuff too, a melody here or there.
Who wrote “Fragile”? It sounds like a Marco song. It’s very powerful.
Yeah that’s one of Marco’s songs, one of his anthems. He writes these crazy sing songy songs. Marco and Mike are really responsible for bringing in powerful harmonic movement music for this record. Both individually in their own bands have been writing a lot lately and really dealing with interesting chord juxtapositions, and really cool melodic movement against this harmonic movement. Were just really lucky for this record that they brought in some of this music because it just makes it so interesting. I mean I think I only take one short solo on this whole record, maybe a little blurt here and there. This record’s not about soloing at all, it’s really not about improvising at all. The whole record is very much about song writing. Every song on this is just totally scripted, arraigned, very much written.
Where do you see the big differences with this album and your last two with Charlie?
Those albums were more open-ended. Most of the songs were open-ended and kind of launch pads for improvisation. Or kind of a traditional head, solo, head style of writing whereas this record is completely composed and arraigned from the beginning of the song til the end. There’s only a couple songs with “solos” in ‘em, at all. And the ones that do have solos are really really crazy like… Did you listen to “Computer Crimes”? It’s really amazing, the ending’s really beautiful. I mean, we’re all extremely excited for this record and really frustrated that it’s taken so long to come out.
That’s a really good one. It’s been like a year and half since you recorded it, right?
Yeah we’ve had some really bad luck and a lot of things just not lining up. But everything’s kind of figured out now. We’re just really excited that it’s finally out. We just want people to hear it. It’s just a really great collection of songs. Especially with these records that are coming out these days, like the new Grizzly Bear record, and Deerhoof, and bands like that, and Queens Of The Stone Age, where there’s just like hyper-compositional focus on writing and arranging. It just feels good to put forth a record that really can be right next to those records.
On my first listen, yeah, the compositions were the things that stuck out. It was slightly confusing at first, knowing your previous works, but after getting over the change in direction, I fell deeply for the style of attack on this record. So tell me, what, dynamically speaking, is different between Marco and Charlie in the band?
On a human level, whenever someone else joins your group, everything changes. You’re talking about people like Charlie and Marco, two completely different people and musicians, but with very similar talents in music because they’re both providing a foundation of support by playing bass and providing harmonic and melodic information in the band as well, simultaneously. Which is a huge responsibility and a huge tradition usually found in Hammond organists throughout the past sixty years.
So you really couldn’t have replaced Charlie with another guitar player because there isn’t anyone who does what he does?
No, no, not at all. You know, the bands that I play in are not dictated by instrumentation, they’re dictated by individuals. Les Claypool wasn’t out looking for a saxophone player when he hired me. He hired me because of what I do. The last thing he needed was a saxophone player. He was looking for an attitude and a texture to support what he’s doing. So I don’t care if somebody plays bagpipes, bassoon, or whatever. If they have some kind of perspective on music, some kind of individuation that is super compelling, I’m going to want to play with that person. Marco was just a really good friend, and an incredible musician so it was just a real easy choice for us to play with someone like that after someone who was so powerful, and such a good friend, Charlie.
With the band hitting the road in November and December, are going to spend some time relearning these songs or some of the older songs?
You know, these songs have been recorded for a long time. We’ve been playing them for like a year already, a year and a half. So we know this music inside out.
Is there any new stuff?
We always play new stuff at shows but since we don’t play that often, people don’t know what new stuff is. (laughs) We’ve only been playing like three or five shows a year, the last couple years. And most of those are at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. It’s just going to be great to hit these people over the head with this two to three hours of total concept, that’s totally fleshed out. We know this music inside out and it’s very complicated music but very super rocking live, just in your face. The combination of these four people, we know how to do this now. It took a couple years for us to figure out what we wanted to do and then we started writing for the band, and then we had this record, and now we’ve been performing this music for a year and a half so now it’s really coalesced into a band that has it’s own kind of card.
Do you guys still wear the tracksuits?
No, no. We stopped doing that with Charlie years ago. (laughs) Those were jammin’ man, I’m always down for some concept. I like that, the unifying thing. Even if it’s something simple. And any time you have a band playing instrumental music it can be so pretentious you know, and taking yourself so seriously. Having costumes just helps bring it back to, hey this is still just music, we’re having fun live. We not some hyper teched out fusion band that’s going to blow your mind playing to the 99 percent all male audience! I grew up checking that music out, but it was always such a drag live, no one needs to see that.
The one time I saw Garage a Trois, you guys were in the track suits doing laps around the stage before even picking up your instruments. The crowd ate it up and were already on your side before you hit the first notes. It was a party, it was an event.
You know we haven’t felt like we needed to do a costume or uniforms thing with Marco yet because it’s very obvious that when we’re on stage we’re having fun. Marco’s a very positive person, he loves to play live, so he’s always laughing and goofing around. So we don’t have “jazz faces” on the whole time.
Well, if I could make any suggestion for this tour for the Power Patriot record, I would suggest powdered wigs and the whole American Patriot thing.
(laughs hard) I hadn’t thought about that. Power Patriot came from Mike D, he grew up in Texas, his dad had a farm and one of the bulls on the farm was always getting out and fucking all the cows in the area and he named him Patriot. I think he added power, because he’s very… sexually… powerful… So it’s just a ridiculous kind of thing. So maybe we could dress up like bulls or something, some toreador thing, 18th century American bullfighters, I don’t know if there were any, but maybe we can invent them!
So what else do you have going on, is the Syncopated Taint Septet still going?
We have a live record that’s coming out next spring, so the septet isn’t doing much. But the Dead Kenny G’s record just came out a few weeks ago. We’re really excited about that. We just did a west coast tour and we’re going to do some stuff in December. So that’s going to be really good. This west coast tour we just did was a blast. That band is really writing some good stuff now too. More of an improvisational band, the model for that band is more like Art Ensemble of Chicago, having lots of crazy compositions and lots of improvising where the compositions can just come up at any time.
I’ve heard some of the live Dead Kenny G’s stuff and it’s amazing.
Thanks man. This most recent tour, if you can hear any live stuff from those shows, that is really where we are at now.
Anything more going on with Les Claypool?
I haven’t been playing with Les this year, but Mike D is still playing with him.
I just saw Mike D with Ani Difranco. And it was really nice to see him in that setting, which is so different from most of his other more avant-garde work.
He really likes it, and Ani’s really cool, she’s a good friend of all of ours. She was actually at the studio while we were recording the new Garage a Trois record, which her husband, Mike Napolitano, engineered. One of the songs was named after one of her lasagnas, but then the title got changed… She makes an amazing lasagna!
Upcoming Garage a Trois tour dates:
December 8 | Tractor Tavern | Seattle, WA
December 9 | Nightlight Lounge | Bellingham, WA
December 10 | Doug Fir Lounge | Portland, OR
December 11 | Red Fox Tavern | Arcata, CA
December 12 | The Independent | San Francisco, CA
December 19 | The Bowery Ballroom | New York, NY
December 20 | North Star Bar | Philadelphia, PA
December 21 | The 8X10 | Baltimore, MD