Spot on the Lot: Meet The Bands Competing at Ardmore Music Hall

Photography courtesy of the Artists

Tonight, five local bands battle it out live from the lot at The Ardmore Music Hall for the chance to kick off AMH’s outdoor music festival on May 21st.  Rock on Philly had the chance to chat with some of these excellent musicians about musical influences, group unity, and Philly’s Jam scene.

Catch Grey Matter, Solar Circuit, and The Phonies, along with Lazy Afternoon and Catullus this evening at Spot on the Lot.  Tickets still available here.

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Rock on Philly: Tell us a brief history of your band.  How did you guys come together?  Who introduced who?

The Phonies: Myself (Sean Conlon, Guitar/Vocals), Brandon Conlon (Bass), and David Greiff (Drums) met and played music together in high school.  Brandon and I, being brothers, had been playing music with different bands since we were very young.  We experimented with a horn section in high school, which became a regular occurrence once I moved to Philadelphia for college.  In Philadelphia, I met all the members of our current horn section, including Phil Hansen (Alto Sax, EWI), Andrew Connors (Trumpet), and Mike Rilli (Trombone).  And our latest addition is Rob Wickline on keyboards, who we also met in Philly.

Grey Matter: We all grew up together, and pretty early on all gravitated toward music.  Grey Matter isn’t the first band we were in together, but it’s definitely the most serious one and it won’t be going away any time soon.  Funny story, Tyler actually hit Steffen with a golf club when we were ten, thus the rhythm section of Grey Matter was born.  Bottom line, we are all best friends and love doing what we do.

Solar Circuit: Two of our four members, guitarist Nick Orlove and keyboardist Becca LeVan et and started jamming loosely during their college days at Philly’s own Temple University.  Through friends along the way, drummer Rob Fray added his talents into the mix around 2014.  And our newest member, bassist Taylor Jamison, who has always been involved in music production, just recently joined up with Solar Circuit in the beginning of 2016, and immediately jived with the group’s musical chemistry.

Catullus:  Most of us were already playing together in projects around Norristown.  In the Fall of 2012, our keyboardist decided to move on so we added Justin “Carl” Minnick and our current sound started solidifying.  So you could say we’ve been at it with this lineup for about 3+ years. Most of us went to the same school and met through mutual friends over the years. Carl is the only odd man out here and we stumbled upon each other via an internet blog.

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The Phonies

ROP: Who are your musical (and non-musical influences)?

GM: Tyler (Bass): Jaco Pastoroious and OBVIOUSLY Snoop Dogg. Ben (Guitar): Rush, they’re the reason I play music.  John McLaughlin is definitely my biggest playing wise.  John Coltrane, Michael McDonald, the pool player Earl Strickland, Kung Fu, who’s probably my favorite band right now, and lastly David Race Atchison. Steffen (Drums): Keith Moon is THE reason I play drums, so The Who definitely.  A lot of influence also came from bands like The Disco Biscuits and the whole “jam scene.”  Also Kel Mitchell from Keenan and Kel.  That man’s love for orange soda was so inspiring. Jonathan (Keys): I used to play drums and my bigget influence was Neil Peart.  But Steffen always had a natural fell for drums, so I switched to keys and got funky.  I got inspired by Bernie Worrell, Stevie Wonder, and more recently Chick Corea and Cory Henry.

SC: Our sound it without a doubt rooted in “jam” and improvisational styles.  We enjoy incorporating genres and styles from many talented groups, while adding our own funk-tronic flare.  Our tracks generally show predominant influences from talented acts such as The Disco Biscuits, Sound Tribe Sector 9, Lotus, Phish, and more, while also invoking those everlasting classic influences such as Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, etc.

TP: We raw from a very wide range of musical influences, ranging from Balkan Brass music to Earth Wind and Fire to Streetlight Manifesto to Herbie Hancock.  We all bring a unique musical perspective to the table, and when we are practicing for a show and creating a set, each of our perspectives has some influence on the final product. Our non-musical influences are basically anyone that David can do a comedic impression of: Bernie Sanders, Barrack Obama, Donald Trump, Jerry Seinfeld, Bane (from the Dark Knight) etc.

CT: The most evident of current day influences is probably The Disco Biscuits and Phish but that’s just the surface. We all have very different musical backgrounds and upbringings which is what really gives us the ability to pluck from each other’s arsenal during the writing process. Many of us come from a classic rock background so we greatly appreciate the sounds of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, etc. etc. The list could go on and on here.

As far as some non-musical influences, most of us have been feeling the Bern lately, fascinated by the group evolution & waking up that is happening before our eyes no matter how hard those in power try to fight it.  Many of our lyrics include some philosophy and deeper ways of thinking about life but there is also story-telling.  Our Guitarist Andrew Meehan has been composing a rock opera based on Homer’s Odyssey.  We have about ¾ completed and ready for performance with lots of plans for it in the future.

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Grey Matter

ROP:  In your opinions, how does Philly rank as a local and national music hub? As musicians, could you imagine calling any other place “home?”

SC: We love Philly—the music scene is so heavily rooted in the culture here.  Philly’s music scene allows for a huge connection between not only the audience, which we’ve been heavily submerged into for years now, but the amazingly talented musicians who come out of Philly—it’s awesome. Overall, it’s a great city for music, and a lot of nation/country-wide artists make sure they stop into Philly for that very reason.  We know how to get weird and do it right!

GM: Philly definitely has the best music scene in the country, so many different styles and walks of life.  There’s an organic sound and an honesty about where it comes from that is endemic to Philly.  We couldn’t call any other place home, but we would love to play around Philly more and more!

TP: Philly is the largest music hub that we’ve really extensively experienced so it’s difficult to answer that.  Philadelphia has treated us well—I think there are a lot of open still be accepted by the audience regardless of what their expectations may be.

CT: Philly is a GREAT music hub!! There are so many phenomenal venues in and around the Philly area that host some of the best music around. This is great for young & hungry upcoming bands like ourselves as we get the opportunity to get in these venues with some of these touring acts. There is no place like Philly and we are all proud to represent it all across the country.   However, if we had to pick a #2, Colorado has a unique appeal and really special vibe both musically and culturally.  We can’t wait to tour that way soon!

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Solar Circuit

ROP: Describe your style of songwriting/performing.  What’s your ideal audience/listener response?

GM: It’s a combination of what sounds cool/organic and what invokes particular emotional responses.  If we want people to smile and dance, we write something funky or trance-ish, etc.  the ideal response is someone dancing the entire time and afterwards, saying that it put them deep into thought.  Or just someone losing it and screaming…that’d be pretty alright too.

TP: Sean: I like to experiment with songwriting.  I tend to combine very complex things with very simple things, that way a listener who just wants to groove along to the music will be satisfied, but a listener who wants to dig deeper has the freedom to do that as well.  The most important thing that I try to consider when writing is “Is this conveying what I’m trying to convey?” And sometimes, it takes some revamping for a tune to meet that standard.

Our performances take the shape of whatever we are musically interested in at the time.  We’ve been playing a few of our songs for years now, but if you listened to a version of one of our old songs and compared it to how we play it live now, you could clearly pick out several distinct changes we’ve made.  Our ideal response occurs when the listener makes some sort of connection with us and our music.  Whether an audience member is connecting by dancing, clapping along, head-banging, intently listening, watching, etc.  We perform our best when the energy in the room is good, we can all feel when an audience is vibing with us.

SC: As far as songwriting goes, we’ve developed an awesome system between all four members in which we all have equal say in the creative aspect of songwriting and performing.  Typically, one of us will take the lead on creating the skeleton of a song and will coordinate the process in order to get a cohesive flow going, but we all contribute to the development process in one way or another and consider/respect each other’s opinions deeply.  In regards to performing we hope to take the audience to all peaks of their emotions, from energetic/party mode, to spacey/weird/ambient vibes, just to pick them back up and leave on a blissful note.

CT: Typically either Bailey our bassist or Andrew on guitar will bring a song idea to the table.  We insist that the form is written down so it can be passed out and easily understood.  As we play through the tune, the other members will offer a few tweaks here and there and the composed sections will be decided.  Once we get through a good run-through, we will see where the jam takes us.  If we come across a really great riff we will incorporate it into a peak/ending section that will usually lead back to reprised section of the original composition.  Recently we have been doing more group composition but it seems to work well when someone brings their tune to the table.

Our ideal audience/listen response is really dependent upon the section of the song. If we’re telling the story, we want to captivate the listener and get them into the story, lyrics, & vox harmonies. If we’re hitting a stride in a deep groove, we definitely want them shaking their asses and moving their feet!! There really is nothing better for us than a sea of bobbing heads in front of us during a live set.  Although, at a peak of a jam, seeing someone with full grin, both arms in the air is pretty satisfying too.

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Catullus

ROP: What can we expect to hear from your guys throughout the rest of 2016?  Where can we catch you performing?  And can you disclose any top secret information regarding new releases?

TP: We have four new tracks just about finished.  Our goal was to put together an           8-track album, so by that measure we are almost halfway there.  When we are finished, we are planning for a huge release show.  As for shows, we have a bunch of shows coming up over the next 3 months for anyone who is interested.  We post about all our shows on our Facebook page, so check us out!

GM: Our debut album, Below the Line, just dropped.  We will have it available for sale at tonight’s show!  We have also been writing more complex fusion-inspired material.  It’s not that “top secret,” but we will definitely be looking to record more material this year.

SC: 2016 has so far been a crazy awesome year for us, as we’ve hit the ground running and have picked up some momentum and great feedback.  We’re truly in this for the music ad the listeners, and we’re excited to continue to extend our roots throughout the east coast.  You can catch us next at West Chester’s Boxcar Brewpub with Lazy Afternoon of 5-14-16.  And we’ve got tons of new material cooking in the studio that we’re working hard to get out there.  Expect to see a lot of new singles/LPs released in preparation for our upcoming studio album TBA 😉

CT: 2016 is sure to bring us a lot of new exposure and a lot of new friends and fans at home and on the road. Zinno has been working very hard and killing it with keeping our calendar stocked with great shows and festivals. Be sure to keep up with new dates and other news at www.catullusband.com.

Regarding new music, there is always several [new things] in the works. The thing that is not so much a secret but is really taking shape is the second half of Andrew Meehan’s rock-opera surrounding the story of the Odyssey. We are hoping to have this completed and on wax by the end of the year but to be realistic, this may be a 2017 endeavor. You’ll just have to wait and see!!

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Lazy Afternoon

Who is your favorite act? Tell us in the comments below!

2 Comments

  1. Kevin Matsanka

    May 5, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Catullus started seeing them last year and these dudes are finding there groove really fast.

  2. Ian T Butler

    May 6, 2016 at 8:54 am

    The ones from Grey Matter are lovable goons who play great music.

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