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Clicking with the people

WHO: Garaj Mahal WHERE: GLC WHEN: Saturday, March 31 Four musical forces, one big sound. Garaj Mahal is being touted as the next big thing on the jam band scene.

WHO: Garaj Mahal


WHEN: Saturday, March 31

Four musical forces, one big sound.

Garaj Mahal is being touted as the next big thing on the jam band scene. Each of its members - Kai Eckhardt (bass), Fareed Haque (guitars), Alan Hertz (drums) and Eric Levy (Hammond B3) - have well-established reputations outside of Garaj Mahal. Some even call them legendary. Others say the band's unique blend of funk, jazz, R&B and blues is on the way to becoming a legend unto itself.

"I like the word groove," says Haque.

It's the individual band members' love of groove that seems to be the glue holding together their diverse musical backgrounds.

"There's a lot of world music that is real groove oriented, even a lot of Indian music that a lot of Americans aren't aware of," he continues. "We come at the whole jam band thing very organically. It's not like we woke up one day and said 'let's be a jam band'."

Eckhardt agrees.

"We're all influenced by the emerging fusion bands in the '70s. There's also a rootsy, funk, R&B element in there. Eric used to work with The Commodores. Fareed worked with Da Funkt. I'm a veteran of the John McLaughlin Trio. So it's really lineage ties with this band."

The band's manager, Christian Wires, can be credited with having the foresight to bring Haque and Hertz together. The two jammed with various other artists for a few shows and invited Eckhardt to join them at a San Francisco gig.

"Alan used to play with KVHW," says Eckhardt. "They were famous amongst the same group of people that follow the Grateful Dead and now the String Cheese Incident. But KVHW was over and Allan was searching for a new group of people. Allan just called me up and said he was doing a show with Fareed and asked if I'd like to play. It was at a little club called the Connecticut Yankee. It fit about a hundred people or so. We ended up improvising the whole night. The crowd was very enthusiastic. There were people who came to dance. It was just a very nice atmosphere. It felt good. We decided to do it again. And then each time we played there were more people. And then somehow it turned into something that blew out of proportion," Eckhardt laughs. "And it had as much to do with the musicians as it had with the audience and the kind of support we were receiving."

"We were a no name band for quite a while," continues Haque. "So at one of our shows we asked for name submissions. We set up a Web page for name submissions, like a little contest. The next day we had 800 names!"

That lucky fan won himself lifetime admission to all Garaj Mahal shows, anytime, anywhere. And it seems that contest sparked something which continues to grow even today.

"I wasn't used to so many people reviewing the concert on their own over the Internet," says Eckhardt. "Just fans who have their own Internet community. There's a lot of e-mailing going on. A lot of taping going on. People are allowed to bring their cassette recorders and DATs and burn CDs and trade over the net. There's a whole subculture that has developed there."

Garaj Mahal is just on the verge of completing their first CD (which is also without a name for all you fans out there). They actually hope to have the first copies ready for sale at their Whistler show.

With four musician/songwriters in the studio, there was unlimited potential for something explosive. But with four musician/songwriters in the studio, there had to be a democratic attitude to prevent the situation from exploding.

"Not to exaggerate, but if you get all these creative people in one room and they're not fighting, something's wrong," says Haque. "Because everyone gives a fuck about the music. We're all very opinionated and real strong people, but we're not particularly egotistical. So it's not been without bumps. But they're good bumps, healthy bumps."

"Conflicts are a harbinger or a sign that something needs to be taken care of because the energy is not flowing," adds Eckhardt. "Depending on how people decide to react to that, it can make things better or worse. What we decided to do is split everything even. Number one we have an even number of compositions. And then we designate leadership to each of the songwriters as the musical director. And sometimes things did get tense, but when this energy shows up it means we all care."

Beyond musical stylings, Garaj Mahal wanted to fuse another musical element into their CD. The band brought in two DJs, Roto and Fly Agaric 23, who helped lend a sound to the recording that's just a bit more than updated.

"I prefer not to categorize our sound as we're creating it," says Eckhardt. "There is always the possibility that we've actually come up with something new. We'd like to hear people categorize it as just 'new'."

Both agree the studio they recorded in also helped stimulate creativity and gave them the chance to work free of other distractions.

"We had a few weeks out in the country, with state of the art equipment. and the whole quality of life surrounding the creativity really makes a difference. I think the CD is really going to raise some eyebrows," says Haque.

"There are so many people who are helping us out, including the fans. They gave us the studio to work in for free," says Eckhardt.

And he takes that thought just a step further, saying that Garaj Mahal is always conscious of their positive relationship with the audience. In an age where Napster and file sharing are almost creating barriers between artists and their fans, Garaj Mahal recognizes the upside of the situation.

"The whole recording industry and Napster can be seen in the same way as the stock market and its fluctuations," theorizes Eckhardt. "The music in the '60s had a political background. The Grateful Dead for example, they were a sub-culture. A lot of people that were in to the music were also against Vietnam. We all know the history. But the industry came later because they saw the mass of people that were into this music. And the industry said 'Here's something worth while investing in'. They invested. It became huge. Musicians began making figures and salaries that were unheard of. And they got used to it to a certain degree in the pop market. So now that the whole thing comes tumbling down, it's kind of inevitable. It's like a big wave that has to be leveled out."

"As far as Garaj Mahal, I hope that we can always remain this organic," continues Eckhardt. "At this point we still have a lot of freedom of improvisation, but still take the music seriously. We can have real fun on stage while still having respect for the audience. And economically, it's working out as well with all these people wanting to help us. someone also picked up the tab when we went to Connecticut to mix the album. From that end, the band really owes the people. we belong to the people. and because of all this, I think that this could be something special. It's wide open. Anything can happen when you click with the people."