Monday, December 1, 2014

The Little Red Men: The Next Front Line



For the past six months, I have been following a band that possesses musical originality in performance and composition on a level which I have not experienced for a long time ... and certainly never before from a group of high school-age musicians. These Long Island based teens are creating musical magic right now, and anyone who wonders where the next "front line" will emerge needs look no further than The Little Red Men.

Earlier this year, I was invited by my friend Rick Eberle to attend an event in Great Neck that featured live performances from a variety of young Long Island-based artists. It was a last-minute invitation, and it had already been a long day, so I was somewhat on the fence about making the trip westward. I decided to do a bit of research on the performers to help make my decision. Clicking on the various links to the artist/band web pages, I was unimpressed until I got to The Little Red Men … and then the pendulum swung. Listening to the opening chord progression of “Off Guard”, my eyes widened in wonder as I marveled to the musical ingenuity my ears were absorbing. In fact, the first thirty seconds of that track was the impetus that got me in the car headed to Great Neck to see what this band could do live. The four-piece band delivered a set that left no doubt as to the potential inherent in this group of musicians.

I attended several additional shows from that point, from Smithtown to Montauk, and became more convinced that this was indeed a band to be reckoned with. After a change in drummers, the current lineup is comprised of Brandon Gurba (vocals, rhythm guitar), Nicholas Granelle (lead guitar), Andrew Golub (bass guitar) and Jordan Godfrey (drums). Each of these individuals is a first-rate musician, and the songwriting team of Gurba and Granelle produces material that is miles above the mindless pap of   radio fodder that is currently infesting the airwaves. Songs like “Off Guard”, “Jessie”, “6”, “Psycho”, “Jibberish” and “Blueberry Jam” demonstrate a level of songwriting ability and musical prowess that is, to these ears, unmatched by their peers. The Little Red Men are my favorite new band, hands down.

The Little Red Men have been lighting fires all across Long Island, playing venues such as the venerable Stephen Talkhouse, Revolution Musical Hall, Amityville Music Hall, the Vibe Lounge, Swallow East, Mulcahy’s of Wantagh, and a slew of events such as the 2014 Li Roxx Festival in Long Beach, the Sayville Summer Festival, the Cedar Beach Blues Festival, the Smithtown Day Festival, the Merrick Fall Festival, St. James Day 2014, and the Deepwells Fall Festival. They also managed to land a gig at the legendary Bitter End in NYC. For these high school students, staying on top of their studies is a priority but an increasing challenge as their reputation continues to build.

Live in Montauk - July 2014

I recently spent a Saturday evening interviewing the band, also checking out some new studio recordings, and was treated to a live performance of songs both old and new, all in the privacy and comfort of the band’s home studio/rehearsal space. The newly-recorded version of “Off Guard” with its fusion of radio-friendly alternative rock with progressive swing, funk, and jazz stunned me with its professional mixing, arrangement, and performances, both instrumental and vocal. Live, the band has soared to new creative heights at an altitude that most groups can only dream of, let alone achieve. The musical maturity exhibited by The Little Red Men exists side by side with a four-cornered friendship that each member is fiercely proud of and committed to. Sitting around the Granelle’s dining room table, we got down to business, discussing the recent past, the present, and what the band hopes will be an exciting future.

Roy Abrams: This new configuration has existed since May and there’s been a whirlwind of activity since then. Are you surprised at the relative speed at which this seems to have occurred?

Nick Granelle: We thought that we were going to be further behind (after deciding to part ways with our original drummer) but then we got Jordan, and it turned out that we got a lot better than we used to be. We were a little worried, because Jordan has different influences than our original drummer, but it’s a lot better because he’s more cooperative.

RA: How did the songwriting partnership evolve?

Brandon Gurba: I met Nick for the first time in 5th grade when I moved to St. James. We were in the same class together. In 7th grade, Nick and I performed separately in our school talent show. This is where I saw him play guitar for the first time. He was playing in a band called No Admission. I performed a medley of "Here Comes the Sun" by The Beatles, and "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King. We both really wanted to play together, so he invited me into the band. Once I joined the group, the name was changed to Fully Charged. Nick and I played with Fully Charged for about two years. Then, we decided it was time to move on to bigger and better things. We wanted to perform and write songs of our own, so we started The Little Red Men in August of 2013. Nick and I have been playing together for four years. We both started attempting to write songs when we were about 12 years old. I'd say we finally got the hang of it about a year ago, when the band started up.
RA: Jordan, who are some of your influences?

Jordan Godfrey: Buddy Rich, Max Roach, people like that … Dave Weckl, a lot of people.

RA: You had a sizable amount of songs back in July, when I saw you perform at the Swallow East in Montauk. Is there any new material?

NG: Yeah! We’re done with all the first album songs, and we’re going to record all those; now we’re working on the second album.

RA: How many songs do you plan to include on the first album?

NG: About nine.

RA:  Andrew—as a bass player, when you’re very used to playing with a drummer for a period of time and that situation changes, there’s always a period of adjustment. What was that process like for you and Jordan? How did you find that link?

Andrew Golub: I’d actually played with Jordan before he was even in the band. I felt this weird musical connection to him, and thought, wow, this kid is good!

BG: He’s real easy to play with—

AG: It was easier to jump into and have him match what I was doing, and vice versa.

RA: To Brandon and Nick … talk to me about what’s been going on since July.

BG: We’ve had the addition of a couple of songs, we have “I Won’t Be Far” which is a new one that we’ve added to the set and it’s going to be on the first album.

NG: Jordan has been coming up with things that I wouldn’t usually think of. I have a vision about the song, just basic drum beats, and he’ll add something and—

RA: —it takes on a whole new direction ….

BG: Four heads are better than one …

RA: How did your Stephen Talkhouse gig go? A lot of illustrious people have performed on that stage.

AG: It was awesome!

Brandon Gurba - Vocals, rhythm guitar

Nick Granelle - Lead guitar
RA: What are some other special gigs that you’ve done since we last spoke?

BG: The Bitter End in NYC. That was a really great experience, seeing what it’s like to play in such a cultured town and in such a historic place. It has a great vibe, and it was our best show that we played (up to that point).

RA: What was the response like?

NG: It was really loud in there, too. It was fun! We also played at Mulcahy’s in Wantagh.

BG: We played at the Amityville Music Hall and that was really cool. We’re always jumping around from place to place with the shows, so we never really got a feeling for a Long Island music scene, I hadn’t really, up to that moment, seen anything, but when I got there, I recognized so many people from these other bands. I realized that there is a scene, and we want to be a part of it.

RA: How would you define the Long Island original music scene as you’ve come to discover it?

BG: Most of it is hardcore music, hardcore metal, hardcore, a lot harder than stuff that we play. But I feel like stuff that we’re working on for the second album, you can tell that we’re from Long Island. We are influenced by local bands that we’ve played with or have seen, so it feels like we’re really developing and starting to get a good feeling of ourselves.

RA: You made an interesting statement that I’ve never heard anybody say before: “You can tell that we’re from Long Island.” What exactly does that mean?

BG: Well, not necessarily with our first album and the older songs, but into the direction that we’re going with some of our songs, you can kind of tell with the subject matter, musical things that kind of relates to something …. Long Island is famous for a certain sound, and I feel that’s somewhat influenced us as a band. We’re influenced by artists around us, and proud to be from Long Island.

RA: What sound are we talking about?

NG: Alternative rock, like it’s kind of a new kind of wave of rock.

BG: It’s a mixture of a bunch of different things; indie/alternative music. Long Island is famous for producing artists like that, and I feel like all these artists have influenced us just the same as “big” artists like Foo Fighters.

RA: What other Long Island bands would you be happy to share the stage with?

NG: The Montauk Project; we played with them at the Talkhouse and at Mulcahy’s. They have a really cool sound. (There’s also) the Innoculated Canaries. My cousin is in a band called Oogee Wawa and he plays more like reggae stuff, and he’s touring all over the country.

BG: There’s also a band that I recently saw at Amityville Music Hall, I think they’re called Tallest Trees in the Universe, and I feel like they’re really good.

AG: There’s a band that’s getting pretty big lately, Bayside, and I’d be happy to share the stage with them.

RA: Bayside has been around for years; I knew their original drummer, John Holohana great guy.

BG: There’s an older band that started in the early 2000s called Brand New that I’m heavily influenced by and they’re from Long Island. I look up to them because they’re from the same area; the same with bands like Taking Back Sunday.

RA: Is there an artist or band that all four of you share as a common denominator as an influence?

NG: The Foo Fighters, I guess.

JG: Black Sabbath … [general murmurs of agreement]

BG: Some more than others! [Laughter] We just like a lot of different bands.

RA: What’s your rehearsal schedule like, what with school and all?

NG: Every weekend, and we try as much as we can to get weekdays to record.

RA: You have a home studio all set up here, right? What program are you using?

NG: Logic. We’re just recording drums now.

BG: For the kick drum we’re using a Shure SM-52 Beta.

NG: We have Shure SM-57s and SM-58s.

RA: Who’s responsible for doing most of the tracking?

BG: Nick knows how to work the program, but we all have a say (in the mixing process).

RA: So Nick does the actual engineering, but the production is shared by all four of you?

BG: Yeah.

RA: What are your official release plans?

AG: We’re releasing a three-song EP first, and that’s going to hopefully tide people over until we get the album finished.

RA: Which three songs?

AG: “Psycho,” “Off Guard,” and “Jibberish.” We’re aiming to have the album out before next summer.

RA: How do you juggle the responsibilities of being students with everything that’s going on musically?

BG: It’s very hard. It’s pretty much just like coming home from school, doing your homework, and coming over here to record or go to a show, or write. We always find time to work on the band.

AG: If you care about something enough, you’ll make it work.
Andrew Golub - Bass guitar

Jordan Godfrey - Drums
RA: When are you looking to release the EP?

AG: Hopefully by the new year, like really soon next year, like January, hopefully!

RA: Any shows coming up?

BG: We’re playing at Adelphi University on December 5th.

AG: We’re playing an acoustic show at Barnes and Noble at the Smith Haven Mall on December 3rd from 6:00 to 6:45 PM. And then we have a cool show at Revolution Music Hall on January 4th. There’s a great sound system there, there are going to be a lot of great bands there, and it’ll be a great show.

BG: Our main goal is to write timeless music and keep going!

NG: Our goal is pretty much to get signed to a major record label.

RA: Why?

AG: They have the resources that we don’t necessarily have for ourselves to put us places where we wouldn’t normally be able to go. We’re looking for a record label that has all the qualities that we can’t get for ourselves; all the things on the managerial end that can put us forward to a place that we’re looking to go but can’t necessarily get there without their help.

RA: Personally, I think you should research that thoroughly, because that’s a huge step, and I think you guys are too good to put your eggs in one basket and rely on an environment and a situation where they aren’t necessarily looking out for you and your interests first.

BG: The Arctic Monkeys, which is one of the biggest bands in the world right now, is signed to Domino Records (an independent label);. They chose to do that for the creative control. A lot of bands choose to do that, and if they want to branch off to go to a bigger record label, then that’s a choice.

RA: You’ve recently released one of your songs on iTunes, right?

BG: We released our first single, “Jessie”, on iTunes on September 4th. We’ve gotten a pretty good response from it. It’s something to get our feet wet; that’s how we’re looking at it.

RA: The first time I saw you guys play, you included Neil Young’s “Down by the River” in your set. What made you choose that song?

NG: It’s something that we could jam and do whatever we want with. It’s a classic song.

BG: I did, because I love Neil Young.

RA: Jordan, what’s your take of the band, as the newest member?

JG: It’s great, it’s really good.

RA: What’s your recording process like? Are you tracking one instrument at a time or are you doing basic tracks?

NG: W do everything separately because we don’t have enough mics to do it live, the right way. It just works better because if we record two guys at a time and one guy messes up, it’s annoying for the other guy. It’s just better, and it sounds better. It’s more focused.

BG: We’re specifically focusing on one track at a time.

AG: It’s easier to mix; there’s less bleed.

NG: For guitar micing, we’re trying to use as many good mics as we can, as opposed to one.

RA: So the songwriting is basically the domain of you and Brandon, but going back to what you said earlier, regardless of whoever brings the song in, by the time you’re ready to record, each member has put his own stamp on it?

NG: Pretty much, yeah.

BG: There’s a lot of stuff that Jordan brings to the table, because there’s a lot of stuff that we wouldn’t necessarily think of, and he’s a great drummer! It’s great that he’s in the band.

RA: You guys are obviously very close friends. What degree of importance do you attach to that in terms of your ability to make the music that you make?

NG: We have to be. We just naturally are. We’re always together. (With regard to our future), one guy makes a decision, and it affects all of our futures, so—

RA: Everyone kind of watches out for the other. Interesting!

BG: It’s really like family. We function as a family, except that we don’t love each other! [Laughter] We’re each other’s best friends and it’s great to be playing with who we’re playing with!

RA: What is your opinion of songs that are on the radio today?

BG: It just seems so manufactured to me.

RA: If you listen just from a musical standpoint, a lot of what is defined as “hits” these days sounds the same.

NG: I’m surprised there are no copyright issues, because it’s all pretty much the same. We’re in the car and we’re all singing different songs to the one that’s on the radio. And the producing is also really similar.

RA: Who do you admire as record producers?

BG: I really like Rick Rubin, who worked with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, worked with an upcoming artist named Jake Bugg. I really admire George Martin just because he was the producer of the Beatles, because they were so innovative. I really admire Brian Wilson not only as a genius composer, but also as the innovative producer of the Beach Boys. Pet Sounds is one of my favorite albums of all time. I love Jeff Lynne's work too, especially on A New World Record. I also find Butch Vig's work fantastic on Nirvana's Nevermind and Wasting Light by the Foo Fighters.

NG: Jack Douglas, who worked with Aerosmith.

RA: Given the relative youth of your band, I would imagine that you’ve had to deal with what can best be called “ageism”—how do you deal with it?

[At this point, Doug Granelle, father of Nick, chimes in. Doug is without peer as a tireless supporter of his son’s band, acting as manager, chauffer, booking agent, cheerleader, and surrogate father to the three other members of the band. His enthusiasm is infectious, his devotion complete, and I have the utmost respect for him for all that he does. Doug points to four areas that, for him, make up the heart and soul of The Little Red Men: “The confidence, the control, the timing, and the energy.”]

Doug Granelle: If they’re playing in a bar for the first time, they see that they’re kids, and they don’t want them to play right away.  The respect level is down. At one venue, when they jumped up and played, you had to see, almost every single person in that bar was bopping. (The venue manager) didn’t want to look at them or talk to them. He was like, “All right, let them play” and after they played, he was like, “Wow. These guys are good.” Everybody in the bar just kept coming over to them; it was a complete turnaround in respect after they played.

AG: It’s a common theme. It’s kind of annoying that every time we go to a venue, it doesn’t matter what it is, even the other bands are going “It’s just some kids.”

BG: And there are so many venues in the city that we can’t do because we’re not 21.

AG: Yeah, we hear, “We love your music! Come play! Are you over 21?” It’s so commonly accepted that no one sees it as a problem, except … it is!

RA: What’s on the agenda for pursuing radio airplay?

AG: We have a connection at the Sachem High School radio station that’s actually pretty popular on Long Island and they should be airing our EP when it’s released.

RA:  I think that for you guys, it’s only a matter of exposure. The music is already there, which is a great thing.

AG: We also realized how heavily the music industry stresses your image.

NG: We’re trying to realize that.

AG: We’re working on it.

RA: How so?

NG: Looking at other bands and how our genre kind of ….

BG: We’re more so looking at ourselves …

RA: You say “our genre”—what would you define “our genre” as?

NG: Alternative rock, indie rock …

AG: The problem is that there are so many different extremes of alternative music that you can’t just …

BG: When we have to write what genre we are, for now we just pretty much write “rock” and if we have to go deeper we write “alternative”—but we’re still trying to figure ourselves out.

RA: When I first heard “Off Guard” it really took me off guard, because there are so many different influences in there, up to and including that whole swing thing …

AG: That was me. I’m a big jazz guy. I love jazz, big bands …

RA: Really! Who do you listen to?

AG: Coltrane.

RA: Do you?!

AG: Yeah. I’m a sax player as well, so I love all that; big bands, swing.

JG: We played at a record store in Montauk, and somebody told me I played exactly like the drummer for The Who. I don’t know them that well, but I started to research it when I got home that night, and I don’t see it, but if other people see it, then OK! [Author’s note: He does!]

AG: Multiple people have compared us to The Doors …

BG: Are you serious?

AG: Yeah.

BG: That’s awesome!

RA: I can’t compare you guys to anybody, and I love that, because you don't get to say that that often about any band.

BG: That’s a really big goal, because when you say like, a band like The Beatles, there’s not really anyone like them. We want to have our own sound, we want to be original and bring something new.

NG: We just don’t want people to say, oh, they rip off these guys.

BG: We’re really big on—

AG: —Originality.

RA: My ears are telling me is that you have a lot of influences, but such is the nature of each of you as a musician and as a creative soul, and the chemistry you’ve developed results in something that is really unique. Nobody else sounds like you.

BG: Once we release our EP and the first album, we were thinking of doing a small tour, because we’re getting people from different states, saying we should come there to play—all these different places.

AG: We’re trying to create a buzz about ourselves to get a spot on a local Warped Tour date. Because the Warped Tour—that’s our audience right there, those are the people who would say, “Yeah, you guys are cool, I’ll buy your album.” Those are the real people in this industry that care about the music. Kevin Lyman, the guy who runs the Warped Tour, he’s a down to earth guy; he’s in it for the music.

BG: A lot of huge bands got their start on the Warped Tour: Foo Fighters, Green Day, Paramore.

Kudos to these four young musicians! I fully expect great things from them and cast my vote for The Little Red Men as Best New Artist/Band of the Year.

—Roy Abrams
    Long Island, NY

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