One of those motivational posters that you can find in many offices in America features an empty canoe floating down a purple river during sunset, accompanied by a caption that says “Success is a journey, not a destination.” As simplistic (and perhaps contrived) as it may sound, this is actually based on an ancient Taoist belief that the substance of life is found in the voyage itself. Perhaps no one in the jam/improvisational music scene epitomizes this motto better than Particle. Keep in mind that this band has been together for just over two-years, and in that short time they’ve managed to earn a huge following throughout the country without an album just through word of mouth and heavy touring. They are a source of inspiration and satiation for fans who crave experimental high energy dance music. Additionally, they are a model of how a band can launch into the touring circuit quickly and effectively, making all the right moves at the right time. But the most admirable thing about Particle is the way they approach their never-ending pursuit of new musical territory with a passion for the ride more than the destination.
Consisting of Eric Gould on bass, Steve Molitz on keys, Darren Pujalet on drums, and Charlie Hitchcock on guitar, Particle blends thick melodies of funk, rock, and electronic music to form their unique futuristic grooves. Through a grueling tour schedule over the past few years, they have been able to become one of the more prominent bands on the jam scene. Much of their buzz comes from their classic performances, most notably the sunrise set at Bonnaroo, a moment that encapsulated the whole festival’s experience perfectly. In just two years, Particle has come from playing clubs in their home base of Los Angeles to opening for bands like Widespread Panic during their annual sold-out New Orleans Halloween run. This year alone, they have already completed their first Japanese tour and will play at many premier summer festivals including Coachella, Bonnaroo, Music Midtown, Gathering of the Vibes, South by Southwest and are slated to perform at the most recently announced Field Day Festival featuring Radiohead, Beck and The Beastie Boys.
I had a chance to sit down with drummer Darren Pujalet for a few minutes before a packed Tuesday night show at the smoky Agora Ballroom in Cleveland to discuss the band’s bountiful journey so far and, hopefully, to get a peek of what’s to come down the road.
In the last year, it seems the whole US has been introduced to the Particle sound. I feel like you guys have discovered the intangible signature that makes a song a Particle song.
Thanks, I really appreciate that. We don’t have a special formula so to speak, but we have found a common outlet for our influences in Particle.
And how do your influences come out in the Particle sound?
Well, I think overall, the four of us have some very eclectic backgrounds in music. I have more of a funk and acid jazz thing that I bring to the table, Steven has his thing which is a mix of everything – old school rap and hip-hop. Eric is influenced by rock and funk, and Charlie comes from a jazz and rock oriented background. We all come from different angles, but when we blend together we make a unique sound – what we like to call Space Porn.’ It’s like really high intensity dance music.
Do you think some of that comes from the band’s origins in Los Angeles a city that seems more accepting of electronic and groove based music than anywhere else in the country?
I’m not sure; it doesn’t seem like its mainstream or anything there. Los Angeles is going to have the biggest scenes regardless of the subculture it’s that much bigger than any other city. We didn’t come from the “rave” scene, so I’m not sure how that has affected us, really.
Fair enough. Do you think, then, that the potential for a large fan base contributed to Particle’s fast rise?
Well, it seems like a quick ride, but we have been touring all the time. We were a band that really just tried to jump on every opportunity we could to progress.
Particle doesn’t sound like mainstream techno, but the energy that’s prominent in electronic music or house music is definitely there. Do you see Particle as electronic?
I think it’s an urban feel. I wouldn’t necessarily say its electronic just like I wouldn’t necessarily say its the sound of Los Angeles, or San Diego, or Cleveland or New York, but its an urban feel you get an urban feel from Particle that you don’t necessarily get from a band coming out of the hills of Colorado. However, in Colorado we do very well attendance and energy-wise every time we get there to play. When you look at it that way, it seems like it’s more of a mindset that can be urban but doesn’t have to depend on an urban location.
Your view on lyrics in songs…do you guys prefer to be instrumental? Would you like to someday perform with a vocalist, or at the very least do some a-lyrical sounds so you have voice but not words?
Definitely! Lyrics are on our mind and we’ve been dabbling a bit by covering songs that have lyrics with special guests. We just started out a band that was about the music, and it has evolved but it’s still the concept that the music will speak for itself. Within the first year we played together, when the music was barely newborn, we began playing and touring all the time. It’s one of the things that come along with going forward so rapidly. Lyrics are just not something we have time to think about now. I wish we could take some serious time and revisit a bunch of directions I feel we could head in, but that’s time we don’t have.
If only all artists were so fortunate…
I know, it’s such a blessing to be where we are and I want to stress that, we wouldn’t trade it for anything doing what we love to do and finding a path to succeed.
The shows seem to flow so well do you guys write your setlists before every show?
It varies. We really can go without it, just requires a bit more communication and trust in the transitions. From my perspective, we seem to use a setlist when we have a lot of time to think before the show but not too much time to actually play. It really does depend on the show if we have a time slot when we have to go out there and go 1,2,3′ and hit it, then we normally do write down a setlist. But, just because we have a set list doesn’t mean we stick to it verbatim. When we’re doing longer nights, we often like to just go off the cuff.
Well, I’ve seen both types of shows from you guys and they always seem to move well. Now that you have the new light rig, I’ve heard people refer to the light guys and the visuals as the 5th member of the band. How do you guys see it?
Well, some people have made the mistake of making it out to be more than it is. It’s not that way exactly. The lights kick-ass, though, and the guys who run them have been doing a good job.
Do you think that’s a bit of a borrowed expectation from the success that Phish’s light guy, Chris Kuroda, has been accredited with?
Yeah, exactly. I think for us, it’s more like the multimedia itself is an element of the music. This tour, the lights actually we have a projectionist and a light guy has been fantastic. I’m the most excited about the new lights and the vibe that they’re creating, you know, the way they’re bringing the audience and the band closer together. Instead of it being like here we are playing music and there they are dancing’, its now like, with a really nice light show and the way we play…I think of it as each of us is painting on our own canvas and the light is painting as well. The audience is watching the lights and hearing the music, and we’re feeding back off the energy they’re giving off to create the next notes. It helps to make a really giant circle, this particle thing, you know, like a molecule of energy. That energy, synergy between it all is really what keeps the flow of everything going. Our goal is to make it grow exponentially.
I think the crowd is aware of it much more with you guys than at some other shows.
They are aware whether they know it or not (laughs)…
Do you see a huge difference in the reactions of the crowds here in the Midwest or a difference in the vibes when you play the East Coast compared to the West Coast?
I see it as the same crowd, generally. Different accents, different attitudes, but the same love of the music. See, we found early success and started making the rounds on the West Coast. The vibe there was incredible. We had a big following there before 2002. A bunch of people didn’t get exposed to us until Bonnaroo, apparently, because we hear so much about that show. With a festival like that, though, people come from all over the country and so its hard to tell where we gained the biggest number of new fans or, at the very least, exposed new people to our music. It was a great time and was an awesome festival. We love the vibes at festivals and we love the vibe at clubs and parties. We like to do warehouse parties they’re a blast. They create a vibe that’s really unique and showcases our sound well a totally different element gets brought out.
How did it feel to have a bunch of West Coast Particle People show up at the New Years shows? Was it a new step for the band, having fans follow you coast to coast?
It was fantastic great crowd. But we never really know when we make steps, you know, nothing is laid out in our heads, or in this business for that matter. You take steps everyday, some just happen to cross another goal line. The way we see it, it was yet another awesome experience, and the best compliment our fans could have paid us.
The first Particle studio album is due in June. Anything you can tell me about it?
We’re so excited about this album. The goal is to get the vibe we put out there live to show through and, luckily, we have a great producer. The album is being produced by Tom Rothrock, who worked with Badly Drawn Boy, Foo Fighters, Beck’s first album he is there all the time to help us and lend his touch to the project. We get in the studio and try to create the best project we possibly can. We think so far things sound very fluid, unique, and different. It’s a little too early to really say, but there will be a few things people haven’t heard from us yet, I think. But above anything else, I think it’s going to be something our fans really get I know they won’t be disappointed! I just can’t give away any secrets yet.
OK, finally, since Particle is all about the fans, I checked with the discussion board on the Roadsabreeze.com site (Particle’s Fan Website), and I have a few short questions that were relayed to me by some diehards. First off, Reed (Reed Stewart, Particle’s Tour Manager), is it true that you ate a 4 pound hamburger this tour?
Reed Stewart: Yes, it is true (laughing) – It was about the size of this table. It took me about 58 minutes to eat it. I had to dip the bun in water to get it down and all that. It was somewhere in Kansas at this truck stop. I puked afterwards.
Sounds like a fun time.
RS: Well, I just had to do it, you know?
That’s hilarious. So will Particle play at Shank’s wedding (Jonathan Shank, Particle’s manager)?
Will we play at Shank’s wedding interesting…I think we will, actually. We won’t be the house band but I think we will play.
OK, someone wanted to know your food preferences…Favorite grub? Favorite nonalcoholic beverage? Beer or mixed drink?
RS: I like 4 pound hamburgers.
(Laughs) Chicken for me. Nonalcoholic drink would be O’Doul’s. And I like tequila.
Complete this sentence: the world would be a better place if…
If Particle could play in every city every night (laughs). Seriously, though, if people could feel the vibe and the peace that music brings us and our fans. It’s the reason we keep going.