The New Orleans electronica-funk band realizes its sound on its new album.
Gravity A has spent the last few years finding itself and its audience. Drummer Michael Fouquier and keyboard player Drew Meehan knew they wanted to play live electronica when they started playing together in 2006, but the lineups affected how fully they achieved the goal. In 2008, they cut their debut album, Naissance, when at the time sounded like a prog rock jam band just starting to find its way. With the new New Beginnings, Gravity A’s much closer to realizing their vision, and they’ll play the Maple Leaf Bar Saturday night, then with The New Mastersounds New Year’s Eve at the Joy Theater.
They had a concept when they recorded Naissance, Fouquier says, but “we didn’t know what we were doing in the studio. We had written songs, then we had some songs that were way out of place in the middle of everything.” They cut it in a weekend and now feel like much of it was forced as they had to nail down sections in the studio that had always been improvised live, but “I can still listen to the record and enjoy it,” Fouquier says.
That incarnation was more jazzy than intended, but Gravity A started to change when one guitarist left to pursue yoga, and they split with a bass player over the band’s direction. Danny Abel joined and solidified the guitar chair, but they continued to go through bass players including an extended stretch with Bru Bruser from Gov’t Majik, but his preference for funk and Afrobeat led the band in a more conventionally funky direction. Khris Royal has played sax with them and even did a short stint as a bass player as well.
“He’s gone on tour with us and he’s helped develop the songs - How about this chord instead of that chord? - stuff like that,” Meehan says. “He knows the ins and outs of the music.”
Finally, they connected with Devin Kerrigan, a UNO music student on sax who started off on piano. He picked up the bass, joined the band, and things moved closer to the music Fouquier and Meehan envisioned. Gravity A had cut some tracks for New Beginnings before Kerrigan joined, and they had him recut the bass parts. “He was the right fit,” Meehan says.
The album is less out there than the combination might sound. It’s easy to imagine the title track and a few other pieces as straight funk tunes in the Umphrey’s McGee mode, and only “Developing Civilization” flirts with the freaky side of synthetic textures. In those cases, the electronica elements add something, whether it’s a mood or swell. The most complete integration of Gravity A’s components comes in “Some1 Like You,” where the Kerrigan’s bass percolates as if the the groove will go on forever on a passage that gives way Cristin Bradford, who sings the title phrase and imposes a soul jazz vibe on the song. Like much DJ-oriented music, the sections feel collaged together more than one organically growing out of the other.
Fouquier became interested in electronic dance music when he started going to the State Palace raves in 2002 toward the end of their run. As a drummer, he connected to drum & bass, then when he and friends jumped a fence, snuck into the High Sierra Festival in northern California, he saw Sound Tribe Sector Nine and knew what he wanted to do. “ That’s the first time I saw any band play drums & bass and trance music with live drums, and it clicked that that was possible,” he says.
Sound Tribe Sector Nine and The Disco Biscuits have pioneered an electronica band circuit, and there are places in the country where it is big. Unfortunately, New Orleans hasn’t proved to be one of them. The jam/funk audiences have been slow to embrace the idea of loops and sequenced parts folded into the music, and electronic dance music audiences don’t think about bands. “The only live music they go see involves one person and a laptop,” Fouquier says. “It’s hard to get them to accept that it’s happening with live instruments.”
There are loops in 40 to 50 percent of their songs, but those elements are just one part of their identity. “We always knew we wanted to be a band that was playing electronica music with elements of funk and New Orleans sounds,” Fouquier says. Playing with loops took some getting used to, and they learned when they played the Banks Street Bar regularly how to get in sync with loops. “If you lose it, you really lose it and that’s a train wreck,” he says. “That doesn’t happen anymore.”
Drummers who play with electronic elements often perform with a click track in their monitors to help keep them in time with those parts. Fouquier prefers to have the loops in his monitor instead. “It would take away the musicality and inspiration if I was hearing in my ear deet deet deet,” he says.