Green Thumbs

Blending exotic grooves, business savvy and their own microbrew, Government Grown is cultivating a bumper crop buzz

by Lee Abraham

Sometimes a name will fool you. Don’t judge a book by its cover and all that. Sometimes though, a name says it all. In medicinal marijuana circles, Government Grown is Uncle Sam’s finest. In musical circles, Government Grown is a jam happy quartet of West coast kind buds intent on sparking a musical buzz wherever they go. Coincidence or connection?

"It may be a veiled drug reference," says bass player Harley Orion wryly when asked about the band’s name. "A good deal of the members of the band and crew have moved beyond experimenting with some of those substances... but none of us would be making the music we’re making if we had never gotten into psychedelics and mind expanding stuff." For Orion and his fellow g-men, experimentation is the operative word. Especially when it comes to music. "All of us really enjoy having the chance to explore the instrument, and explore the music, by giving it some room to breath and getting creative rather than being locked into a set," says Orion.

That doesn’t mean GG shows are total anarchy. Not even close. Since forming in San Diego back in ‘94, the growers have learned to keep things interesting for the audience as well as themselves. "We’re not the kind of band that everybody can quite grasp what we’re doing on the first listen... but we’re a lot easier to -get- than we used to be," says Orion. "We’ve definitely boiled it down to a little more of the accessible song material."

GG’s sound is summed up perfectly in the two newest tunes to crack its ever expanding set list. Alternating between verses that bop to a syncopated, Afro-beat rhythm, and a slow, melodic chorus, "Green Tides," has wonderful dynamics - a GG trademark. "Remember Me," is a Cajun flavored, open road rocker that morphs into a rubba-dub reggae jam, and back again. "We’re all into a lot of diversity," says Orion. "It’s always been an original band and a real collaborative process." Except for the lyrics that is. Jeremy Moss, drummer -and- lead vocalist, writes the words. When it comes to the music though, everyone contributes. "Basically everybody comes up with ideas, we throw ‘em at each other and see what everybody likes."

At twenty-two, Orion is the band’s youngest member by a couple of years. Back in high school, the other GG cofounders, Moss and guitarist Tyler Hardwick, "...were in a band, and I was in a different band," recalls Orion. "Nothing that was real serious. Everything really started for us with this band." Originally, Government Grown performed as a trio, gigging close to home in San Diego. "We’d be doing little gigs and more and more people started showing up. We kind of all stopped and said, ‘Wait a minute, we could actually -do- this.’"

In an effort to take their career to "the next level," Orion and his bandmates moved to Colorado. Although they enjoyed the Rocky mountain high, after a couple of years, GG returned to the West. "Just to keep things growing back there too," says Orion with a laugh. Back in California, what had become a revolving door of keyboard players was slammed shut with the arrival of current ivory stroker, Rob Lamonica. "Basically, he just started sitting in with us for shows," says Orion, "and that was it."

Typical GG. Everything revolves around their shows. -Live on the Coast Again-, the title of their recently released, self-produced CD, says it all. "We’ve always been more interested in doing the live performances," says Orion. "It’s a lot more energetic and alot more fun. Especially on the road. It’s always an interesting experience to get up in front of a crowd that’s not familiar with us, and do what we’re doing."

Finding an unfamiliar crowd is not as easy as it used to be. Touring up and down the West coast, as well as to Colorado and back, these guys have been gigging with a vengeance. The first East coast tour is planned for the fall. And the band is stoked. "We all really enjoy traveling," says Orion. "It’s a very cool thing to be able to actually make money to travel -while- you’re out there on the road, rather than to have to front your own expenses and go on vacation or whatever."

Not only are they making money as they travel, GG is building a business empire. One pint at a time. "We have a major sponsorship going on with the Port Brewing Company," explains Orion. The deal includes a vending table full of merch - shirts, hats, beer mugs, all on the "Government Grown" label. But that’s not all. "They are going to be brewing us our own beer," says Orion enthusiastically. "We’re finalizing the ingredients right now." A key to the plan - selling clubs they play on tour to stock Government Grown Ale. So far so good. The brew isn’t even available yet and they already have takers.

Pretty impressive work for an independent band of young explorers. Only in their early twenties, Orion and crew have demonstrated a natural flair for biz well beyond their years. Not only does GG have a new record, a line of merch, -and- a brand of beer, they’ve got a plan. "The biggest thing for us is staying on the road, trying to expand our fan base and the areas we are covering," says Orion. "People who have never seen us before are going to have a chance to see a big sound, a lot of real free form, open ended stuff, connected by strong songs along the way. We try to keep the material engaging from a song perspective, as well as from an improv perspective."

The plan is working. One example - the band's growing fan base in Las Vegas. Folks there are still buzzing from GG’s recent, high energy New Year’s Eve show at Legends. Same with the band. "The cool thing about playing Legends is that it’ll be a really long show," says Orion. "We’ll usually go from like 10:30 to whenever, four or five in the morning.... it really lets us
expand and get creative."