Sinister Twist
Playing less jazz and more rock helps Lake Trout embrace the dark side

by Lee Abraham

The surest way to piss off an artist is to tell them they’re doing something that’s already been done. Makes ‘em cringe every time. It’s an originality thing. Creative types aren’t interested in following trends, they want to start them. Funny thing though - the few artists who can truly be called -trendsetters- find out that the real challenge is to remain unique -after- gaining influence.

"When we first started out, it was more like soul, jazz, hip hop, that kind of thing," says guitarist Ed Harris of Lake Trout. "We were doing that kind of stuff and we sort of got into hip hop and a lot of dance music. We also got into the concept of sampling. But not -really- sampling, -conceptually- sampling, like playing the same part over and over again on our instruments, and that’s where we sort of got lumped into that ‘live techno’ thing, which is kind of becoming a trend now."

"I think a lot of bands are sort of hopping on that bandwagon," continues Harris. "There’s people in Europe who’ve been doing that for a while. We’re just very adamant about maintaining our independence. We see ourselves as a unit within ourselves, and not really part of a genre or a trend or anything like that. I think seeing some of these other groups doing that stuff maybe has had some sort of subconscious effect as to like, ‘Yeah, we just want to move on and do our own thing.’"

Originally from Baltimore, Harris, Mike Lowry (drums) and Matt Pierce (sax, flute, keyboards, drum machine) all met in college. The current lineup, including bassist James Griffith and Woody Ranere on guitar and vocals, gelled in ’96. Since inception, Lake Trout has ‘done their own thing.’ They continually experiment with their sound, improvising onstage, taking chances in the studio, and bringing together a variety of influences to create something unique. Their adventurous approach, coupled with their location smack dab in the middle of the mid Atlantic’s burgeoning circuit of summer music festivals, has made Lake Trout a darling of the jamband community.

"It’s pretty crazy," laughs Harris. "We’ve sort of sat here and watched the jamband thing grow and watch it sort of spread our name throughout the country since we’ve started touring, and the whole time never even considering ourselves a -jamband-. I think our fanbase is very eclectic. We have people from ravers to a jamband hippyish kind of thing, to like indie rock kids, college kids... I think that because we draw from such a wide variety of influences that we’re a band you can’t quite place. I think that those fans are open minded to new and different music has as much to do with it as anything."

Long time fans, jamband or otherwise, who expect constant change from Lake Trout won’t be disappointed with the band’s current sound. "I think we’re going in some kind of weird rock direction," says Harris with a chuckle. "We’re doing much harder and darker stuff these days. Actually, the dark side of our music has always been there. We certainly like bright and happy things too, but they usually have some type of sinister twist these days."

"That feeling, that emotion, is just something that naturally comes out of our music and I think that now that we’ve gotten to the point where what we’re doing is -rock- based, more than -jazz- based, it’s really evident," continues Harris. "There’s so many tools in that idiom you can use to get that sound across, so now all of this sort of rock band influence has come into it. Stuff like Nirvana, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, Bad Brains... although I think the jazz element can still be heard in the fact that we improvise things a lot of times on stage, but it’s -group- improvisation, or -composition- improvisation. We literally just wrote a song with vocals on stage by improvising."

Lake Trout’s most recent release, -Alone At Last-, captures the band’s renowned in concert spontaneity. Unlike most live recordings which cherry pick selected tracks from a variety of performances, the album is an entire, uncut Lake Trout show. And that’s saying a lot. Part techno, part industrial, with a hint of jazz and a dash of funk, their loopish, layered approach is at times ethereal, understated and dreamy, others hyped up and manic. In short, everything you’d expect from a band that’s built a heavy rep for killer shows. Pre-production for the next CD is currently underway. Rather than repeat themselves with another live recording, Lake Trout plans to release a studio album. Even so, their new music continues to develop onstage.

"The material comes about as very loose structures live and then when go into the studio, we take a more organized approach to them, we try to trim things down and tailor them using the advantage of being able to listen back to ourselves. We definitely realize that the studio is different than playing live, but we want to represent what we do live as much as possible in the studio... so we’re trying to balance those two aspects."

"We’ve gone through a lot of different changes. I think the basic core and tastes in music have always been the same with us, but we’ve just kind of explored a lot of different things. We always knew that the combination of what us five individuals were into in general was going to produce something really good... I don’t think that it’s really until now that we’ve found something completely as a unit."

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