By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Gridline.
Gridline: they’re tight, mean, and not afraid to funk your brains out. The five-piece collective, born out of the art-school circus of SUNY Purchase, have formed a band of best friends and longtime musical comrades. Bass player Andrew Yanchyshyn grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, playing local blues bars and learning alongside some of the city’s wizened talents. He soon became good friends with guitarist Dan Kottmann, a funky rhythmic force reminiscent of southern rock’s glory days. They met their lovely, spirited, and acrobatic singer, Rachel Croft, dangling from a trapeze, and pulled her on to a different creative venture. After enjoying considerable success playing shows around the tri-state area, the band realized they were missing something. The last ingredient was sax-man Neal Spitzer, a product of the New School for Jazz Performance in NYC. He’s been a major player in the scene for 10 years now, and has collaborated with all kinds of acts such as moe., Dave Mathews Band, Blues Traveler, The Skatalites, and Parliament Funkadelic. The road is life, and these guys make no qualms about it: touring has become second nature, and the live shows keep them getting tighter. With a new album on the way, BTR caught up with Gridline to reflect on the good times, and what’s in store for the year ahead.
Tell me a little bit about your musical backgrounds. How did you guys come together?
Dan Kottmann: Well…
Andrew Yanchyshyn: Let’s keep it PG-13.
Dan Kottmann: For the most part, we all met at SUNY Purchase. The string section—bass and guitars—we were all pretty tight for a while, before the band even began to take form. We’ve been through hell and back with one another, and have had some damn good times. In my opinion some of the best bands, and really even any solid outlet of creative expression, can be made possible through a real understanding of one another. At least as complete as can be made possible, and music is definitely one of those forces that allows for connection capable of transcending almost anything.
Andrew Yanchyshyn: It’s been a wild ride. You end up making music with your best friends, and you draw on one another for influences. I mean sure, everyone’s turned onto different artists that give them their distinct style, but it’s the melting pot that makes everything possible.
Neal Spitzer: Amen.
So how do the songs form out of the melting pot—is it a cumulative effort, or does someone usually take the reins?
NS: To be honest it can happen in a variety of ways. Sometimes we’ll be playing, and in the midst of a jam some riff will spring up that sparks an idea. Other times it can turn out a bit more structured; someone will come to rehearsal with a concrete idea and use the rest of the group to help them reach their musical vision. We all try to remain as open and supportive as possible. You keep your palette open to new experiences, and in doing so help one another along their sonic path. Roam the space highways, if you will.
You’ve undergone some big line-up changes recently. Has it affected the sound, and how do you see yourselves evolving going forward?
AY: It’s one of those hard lessons in life, but absolutely necessary. People—friends, family, lovers—will come and go. It should never take you away from your art. If anything, it can be capable of feeding everything. Learning to let go can help stoke the fire.
DK: It’s a tough grind. Some might ride the train for a few stops and others ride it until the end of the line. I’ve found that the music dictates its players and the right ones always seem to come along when they really want to. As with everything we do, we’re charging full speed ahead. Our summer tour will not only be our biggest yet, but our funkiest!
Art from Gridline’s latest bandcamp release.
You guys definitely bring the funk. What are some of your biggest creative influences, musical or otherwise?
AY: Well, we all come from different backgrounds and have studied specific disciplines, such as jazz and classical. It’s hard to base everything down to a science though
NS: It might sound strange, but some of our best musical ideas have come from the least likely of places sonically. The everyday sounds that you hear on your way to work, or going for a walk late at night—those natural kinds of atmospheres can be recreated into something that almost sounds familiar. Something surreal, and at the same time in a way subconsciously stimulating.
DK: We draw musical inspiration from a lot more than typical genre-based styles. Inspiration can come in the form of poly-rhythms created by the scraping of wheels on the subway tracks, or the clacking of boots down an empty hallway.
Taking those sounds on the road for weeks on end—you’ve done your fair share of touring. What are some of the most important lessons you’ve taken away from these experiences?
NS: I’ve been playing for most of my life, and I’m definitely the older cat in the group. But it really doesn’t matter, because we’re all in it for the same reason: we absolutely love what we do. You do your time practicing, you really do it, sweat it all out until it’s pouring straight from you. Not until then. If you’re passionate about it then it’ll pay off.
DK: It’s a lot of ins and outs, a lot of what-have-you’s. And like most things it ends up becoming simple over time. You learn your worth; do all of your research, and try to be prepared for anything.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you on the road?
DK: “People are strange… (singing tapers off).”
NS: (laughs). It’s the truth.
DK: There was that one time with the fire dancer who thought she was a psychic…
NS: I don’t think I remember that…
AY: As far as the music goes, hands down the craziest night was upstate in Buffalo. I felt like I was dropping legitimate bombs with my bass. We were barely a minute into one of our original tunes, “Means to an End”, when the audience just completely lost their shit. I’m talking some real frenzied pandemonium. Before we knew it one of our guitar players and our singer were on their asses. And the audience was crawling up onto the stage.
DK: Listening back to the tapes was madness.
NS: Out of nowhere, some girl just started screaming, “Cindy, hold my hand!” (laughs).
So if you could choose, what would be your idea of an ideal gig?
DK: We’ve definitely already done a few. Good friends, some new faces smiling, and dancing all around.
AY: Playing in paradise is pretty fucking sweet.
Audience interaction seems to be one of the driving forces behind Gridline’s live performances. How do you go about connecting with your audiences on such an intimate level?
DK: We do our best to be as reactive to our audience as possible.
NS: There really wouldn’t be a show without the audience. Sometimes, I feel like they’re almost playing us.
DK: Definitely. The connection is what makes anything possible, what makes the music a shared experience. When they jump, we jump, so that when we say shout . . . SHOUT!
What kinds of sounds and inspiration can we expect for your next release?
AY: The sounds we have in store for y’all… not only will they make you move but they will move you. That’s the kind of record we’re trying to make.
You guys were featured in Relix Magazine as an up and coming artist—that must have been exciting.
DK: It really was. We were, and in some regards still are, so new to the scene. So we were surprised when they got in touch. I mean, this is the same publication that started its career hand-in-hand with the Grateful Dead. All of us are avid readers and were extremely honored to have been contacted.
What does this year have in store for Gridline Base Band?
NS: Expanding our fan base, with a new studio release and tons of touring. Face to face interaction is the fuel that keeps this circus alive.
Okay, so who would win in a funk fight—James Brown, Stevie Wonder, or Sly Cooper?
DK: Well see, you have to break it down like this… right off the bat Stevie Wonder didn’t see anything coming, so he’s out. Sly is a crafty sucka, but you have to remember that James Brown was a professional fighter, so he holds the higher card. At the end of the day though, Ray Charles would swoop in and kick the shit out of everybody. He may also be blind, but he is one bad ass mother fucker.