Tamed by the groove
In its promotional bio, composite-rock band The Menagerie calls on its linguistic roots, pointing out that a menagerie is a collection of wild animals.Yet seeing them at the Sandbar in Vail last Friday, wild didn’t seem a word that accurately enough captured the band’s style. No doubt there’s more than a hint of wildness in each band member – both on and off the stage. But together and as one unit, some element seemed to drag the band’s sound toward the tame side of the fence.Trouble was – what is that element? It took a chat with The Menagerie guitarist and keyboardist Eric Holder to clear the fog.
Groove, says Holder, is just as important as melody when The Menagerie writes songs. He feels that one of the band’s trademarks is its ability to lash its tunes together with “syncopated, locked-in rhythm.” Aka groove. Holder adds that the band invests a great deal of effort in writing different instrumental riffs “that sound the fullest when locked together.”And that’s what’s constantly surprising to the ear from song to song and measure to measure. As wild as the sounds are that each musician coaxes out of his instruments (each plays multiple if you count the ol’ larynx), the unique musical patterns and diverse sounds gravitate toward a single, full groove. The dual effect of a sound becoming both crazier and tighter with respect to the song at large persistently refreshes.Though the band does improvise, stage-time innovation is limited usually to a single instrument.
“We pretty much have the songs figured out; we have controlled improvisation,” says Holder. Depending on the audience, Menagerie might get a bit looser, but “eight times out of 10 we know where it’s gonna end up,” he said.No, while the band jams as well as your standard jam band, what lends Menagerie’s sound so much pep is the combination of wild diversity and rollicking groove.
“We work hard on that,” says Holder.What’s more impressive, given the cohesion of the band’s rhythm, is that its lineup was evolving until just a couple months ago, when the acquisition of do-it-all percussionist Jeff Lane completed the band. Lane and keyboardist Ethan Ice had been playing with the recently dismantled Henry Parsons Project.”We’re still gelling as a group and trying to figure out what we sound like with each other,” says Holder. He adds that, in a band that’s been subject to constant lineup modification, the acclimatization process has been faster than ever with the current bunch.Stylistically, The Menagerie’s music runs the gamut. They made up the genre “composite rock” to describe the way they blend different musical backgrounds into Menagerie-rock.
Plus, adds Holder nonchalantly, “blues is big for us, though that doesn’t cut through as much.” It’s fair to say the band appreciates music that continues to catch the listener off-guard. “There are a lot of bands that write one song over and over,” Holder says. “We try to change up the tempo all the time, keep people’s attention.”Though The Menagerie has completed four national tours and has performed at venues as large as the Fox Theatre in Boulder, the band has yet to release a full-length album. They plan to record one by April. As far as a label goes, The Menagerie is satisfied to “keep playing away and hope something happens.”
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