Originally held in Live Oak, Florida, Bear Creek Bayou Music Festival was held at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World. The festival’s lineup has traditionally included funk, jazz, and jam bands. This year, many veteran acts of Bear Creek followed the fest to its new home, including the Florida-based group The Heavy Pets. Known for their experimental sound and captivating grooves, The Heavy Pets have been together since 2005 and have released three studio albums with a handful of self-produced EPs. I had the pleasure of speaking with guitar player and vocalist, Jeff Lloyd, from the band about their experience as a group:
How long have you guys been making music together?
We’re gonna hit eleven years this November, but it’s a little complicated. This lineup has been together for 4 years, which is actually the longest-standing lineup in THP history. So that feels pretty good, but The Heavy Pets have been kicking around and making records since November of 2005.
Did you have a relationship with any of the other members before THP?
Absolutely. We all did. We didn’t all know each other, but we’ve all known at least one other person since we were little kids. Mike and I went to high school together in upstate New York, and Jamie and Tony went to grade school together all the way through high school. Jim and I went to college together at Syracuse, and Jim is actually childhood friends with Jamie. We’re very lucky that we get to do what we do and have had those roots together.
What do you like most about playing festivals?
On the backside of it, it’s like a fun party with some of your favorite people that you only get to see so often throughout the year. From the musicians and the artists themselves to the production staff, to the people behind the scenes running these incredible events. It’s like a family. We’ve all known each other for a very long time. Everyone takes it very seriously and busts their ass to do a good job, but it’s like a family reunion of sorts. On the other side of it, we get to meet all these new people that we don’t know, like new fans that may have never given us a chance before or even heard of us. Today we’re playing between Lettuce and the Flaming Lips, which we couldn’t beg for a better slot than that. We’re really pumped about that and seeing a whole lot of new faces out there that might enjoy our music.
When playing live, is it a conscious decision to play your songs so they’re extended or different every time? If so, why do that?
I don’t think we’ve ever done it any other way. I was raised by a music teacher and I’m from a very musical family. Since I was a kid, long before having my own bands, I was getting together with the family and just jamming. It’s all about listening and responding and playing along and not leaving people behind. We would just jam and get along great. That had a deep impact on the approach that I took when I did start playing in bands with kids my age. So, I’ve never thought of it in any other way and naturally the style of music that I got into became music with improvisation, extended sections, and sometimes completely exploratory jamming. It just seemed natural.
Do you think you could say what some of the musical influences of THP are?
Well, if you ask five different members of the band, you’re gonna get five different answers and they could be different answers on any given day. It’s a tough question for any musician because you’re constantly broadening your horizons. I particularly have focused my attention on more vocally driven songwriting, so has Mike in a lot of ways, but bands like Dr. Dog, Blitzen Trapper, and Dirty Projectors are really getting my attention these days. Mike is into some really cool alt-rock stuff like Modest Mouse and Wilco. As for the other guys, it’s just constantly changing from groove-oriented jazz music to reggae to Ween. Everything good.
In what ways do you think the band has evolved or grown since Whale?
First of the all the aforementioned personnel changes obviously come with great shift changes in energy and the way we’re gonna work together/make music together. We went through many bass player shifts; four, to be exact. Tony is our fifth and final bass player. With every new member we want to re-assess: What are our strengths? What are we trying to say? How are we trying to say it? And what’s the best way to get it done? Tony and Jamie have been playing together since they were little kids. They’ve had a band together called “Spontaneous Underground” since like 8th grade or something. They’re one of the funkiest drum and bass combos I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with. So, we knew we were starting with a solid foundation and some real pocket strength there. And when you re-assess, it’s not so much a conscience decision, but you want to start playing to your strengths. So, some songs that used to be staples from the Whale days and the years that followed don’t get played nearly as much anymore because we can do more. We can do other things that are stronger and have more emphasis. We are just always naturally refocusing on where our strengths and interests are because they’re constantly changing.
Are you guys working on anything exciting in the future?
You mentioned Whale, which is our last self-produced, full-length record. That was released in 2007, which was a long time ago. So, we just blocked off and made the song selections, and basically we’re cutting our first full-length, self-produced record record since 2007. On our own terms, using our own voice. We’re very very excited about that. It’s one of those things where you wonder “Why do these things take so long?” Because we all may be more excited about this band now than since it started. So, that’s the big news out of our camp, in addition to touring. The rest of this year’s looking pretty beautiful. We’re gonna go a lot of places and see our favorite people and play a lot of our favorite venues. And in the midst of it all, record a whole new record.
After our interview, The Heavy Pets put on performance at the River Stage that drew people in from all over the fest grounds. They are such a fun group to hear live, not only because of their improvised sets and flaming licks but also because they love to experiment with new sounds so that everyone has something to enjoy. In addition to some newer material, they played classics such as “Jackie Bones,” “3am,” and the hit from Whale, “So Thank You Music.”
Each member has such a firm grasp of his instrument and it’s impossible to ignore, making them a pleasure to watch as well. They always have such big smiles when they groove and witness each other shred. Equally fun to watch are the reactions of the audience as THP transitions from face-melting climaxes into cool reggae that hits you over the head with contrast. The band has come a long way since 2005, with nothing but progress. Easily making a name for themselves as one of the most talented and refreshing groups on the jam scene. Jeff mentioned that their new record will be breaking ground October 19th.