Wednesday, November 16, 2005
A conversation with . . .
Jungl Ed brings the wacky to Blacksburg
Long-time Blacksburg band Jungl Ed is known for its creative, playful and technically complex musical style — what the band describes as “adventure music,” “space funk” and a “sight/sound experience.”
Members of the band — Hal Hasselhoof on vocals and guitar, Forest Blanchard on keyboard, Mike Rebich on drums and Jeff Norris on bass — recently took some time to talk about their goals.
The band Jungl Ed plays
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Considering the lead singer showed up to interview wearing a false nose, it seems this is a band whose members take their music — sound and sight — with them wherever they go.
How would you describe your music?
Hal Hasselhoof: A space funk sight sound experience adventure.
That makes sense. You’re a jam band, but you’re all actually competent on your instruments, unlike most jam bands. What’s your musical background individually and how did the band come together?
HH: We’ve been playing together, this group, for three years. Mike and I had played with Jungl Ed for a year, and that bassist moved to Colorado. At that time we were playing with a lot of different people to try to see what fit, and Forest had played guitar one day, and Jeff on bass. And so we had some other musicians over and then they came back and that time Forest was on piano. And in the first 15 minutes we knew this was something different, this was more than what we were expecting. Forest started playing violin at age 6.
Forest Blanchard: Yeah, my mom was in the … symphony and teaches middle school orchestra, and she brought my sister and I up playing music. In middle school I started playing guitar, and in high school I joined the marching band and had a year of trumpet and other things. We had a piano in our house, but I didn’t start playing seriously until later.
Michael Rebich: I didn’t really start playing until my senior year of high school. Before that I played trombone, so I could read music. And I played in a couple bands here and there until I started playing with these guys. … They called me up one day and asked if I wanted to play drums with them, and we had a month to practice before our first gig and that night I knew that Jungl Ed was going to go places.
Jeff Norris: I started playing bass at the end of high school but also played trumpet in the high school band and guitar on the side since middle school. I feel like the guitar helps me a lot, just knowing what it looks like, since it transfers over to the bass so much.
What’s your gigging life been like?
HH: We’ve done some East Coast touring . We have contacts as far as Philly and Chicago, but we’ve really done well in North Carolina — in Asheville and in Greensboro — to the point that after one gig there, they knew the names of some of our songs and requested them next time we came. Both times we sold more merchandise than we had ever sold before. … We’ve been moving around and getting out places, but we’ve all been in school as well. … The one thing that I think has been key is that in four years we have 61 originals that we’re actually proud of and over 110 cover songs — 64 full songs and the rest are things like “Happy Birthday,” the graduation theme, the “Knight Rider” theme, of course.
Of course. Part of any competent repertoire. So where do the songs come from?
HH: At school I was an English and creative writing major … so I think I got my lyrics started from that.
And the music has always been about a feeling, so I write it down on a piece of paper and stand in front of these guys and I say, “It feels like this!” And they make it come to life.
FB: He’ll come to us with an idea in lyrics that he has, an outline of the song he wants, and we’ll pull it together.
He brings in lyrics and a few riffs, and you guys fill it in?
HH: This is what makes songwriting to us — it all starts with the importance of the feeling or the idea. We don’t just write about love, money and partying, three of the biggest themes. It can be, “If there’s a corner of a garden where sound grew and one corner didn’t get any light, what sound would grow there?” That’s an idea for a song. A song could be one feeling that we have to stress so hard. There’s one song where the guitar only plays one note and all the things the rest of the guys are doing goes with this poem that’s chanting in the background. And the one moment that I play is when you’re sitting in your living room on a Sunday, and a piece of lint catches the light and it just glitters for a second — that’s my one note in the whole song — and that’s what that song is about.
As opposed to the kind of songwriting where you’re always telling a story about some relationship you’re having or this kind of generalized self-reflection or a “mopey celebration of alienation,” as a friend of mine described it recently when I introduced him to Modest Mouse. You guys seem to be having more fun with it . What do you try to get across in your live shows?
HH: We like to have costumes, contests, games, trivia, all this going on in between songs. There’s never a pause between songs. If it’s time for me to tune the guitar, the three of them have something prepared; if it’s the time when I’m going to talk and they all need a drink, that’s planned into the show. In that way we can keep it going.
JN: We try to have fun, bringing everybody in and forgetting whatever else is going on, just have an experience that night and forget about everything else.
MR: Just playing the music, getting into it, forgetting about everything else and just playing the music, playing for the crowd, getting feedback from the crowd. If they go nuts we play all that much better. One of my goals is to play in front of a thousand people, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen in the next year or two.
What’s the most people you’ve ever played for?
HH: At Buckshot there were right around a thousand, but the lights were in our face and we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us, so Mike and I decided that didn’t count.
Jungl Ed will perform Friday night with the Asheville, N.C., band Fifth House, at Attitude’s Bar in Blacksburg. Doors open at 8 p.m.; music starts at 9:30 p.m. Hear sound clips from Fifth House on The List.