Jam Chops

Former Grateful Dead keyboard player Vince Welnick and mood food cook up a seven course audio feast

by Lee Abraham

There are two ways for bands to showcase musical diversity. Most go the route of pop chameleon Lenny Kravitz, changing styles faster than a runway fashion model, with little or no continuity from one song to the next. Pop chameleons look sharp but never create anything new, simply crafting what has already been done to derive their own material.

And then there’s the audio alchemists. Musical pioneers and creative purists who boldly go where no man has gone before, mixing and blending a variety of musical influences into their own distinctive -sound-. In concert, audio alchemists don’t -perform- their music, they -explore- it. And recordings of their shows are more like postcards from the road than a letter from home - you know where the sender has been but can only speculate as to where they may be right now.

mood food, a six piece jamjazz-rock-fusion combo from San Francisco fits the description perfectly. "We consider our CD to be pretty true to who we were at that point in time," says guitarist/vocalist Tom Lattanand about last year’s self titled debut. "Our music constantly evolves. At this point in time the band’s sound has branched out in a bunch of directions beyond what has been recorded... we kind of make it a point at each show to see where else we can go and where the audience wants to push us."

Originally from St. Louis, Lattanand and his bass playin’ buddy, Andrew ‘thump nugget’ McIntyre, cut their chops in college bands. Both played in a group called ‘Fielding,’ named after their landlord. "I’ve had obsessions with landlords ever since I’ve been in a band, they’ve had a big part in my songwriting, channeling anger pretty much," laughs Lattanand. "I like to take it all out on them. Just in general, I think they’re really good to pick on." After the two angry young tenants got in their licks, they gave notice and moved to the Bay area. "It was gravity... we were definitely just drawn here," says Lattanand. "We have some friends here and within that first month or so, the band pretty much flowed together."

Multi-instrumentalist Mitch Marcus (sax, keyboards) was the mood food recipe’s third ingredient -and- its audio alchemy -X factor-. "Mitch has an intensity," says Lattanand. "He’s constantly pushing the envelope and exploring where we can go." Along with Parker Daggett on drums and percussionist John Merrill, the group began gigging in early ‘99. But it wasn’t until Marcus recruited another multitalented player, longtime bandmate Sylvain Carlton (sax, guitar, flute), that mood food was finally ready for mass consumption. "They’ve been playing together forever in various different bands," says Lattanand of Marcus and Carlton. "The two of them share a brain on stage... they have a telepathy that is really pretty alien!"

With the band’s lineup solidified, mood food booked studio time to record their debut album. As it turned out, Vince Welnick, a founding member of legendary glamband, the Tubes, and later day keyboard for the Grateful Dead, was also recording at same studio. "Vince already knew Mitch from playing at some function in the Bay area," explains Lattanand. "We were actually doing recording sessions at the same time at the studio. We had back to back time slots for our sessions and then one day we just decided to do it all together, jam out the whole time."

The double session produced an unexpected windfall. Not only did Welnick wind up on two of the album tracks, the veteran rocker was so impressed he agreed to play a few shows locally with the much younger, relatively unknown band. And although mood food was comfortable with their sound, they had no problem blending with Welnick. "There’s always certain adjustments made when you’re adding an element, but at the same time it couldn’t be a more complimentary fit," says Lattanand. "It’s the one instrument that can really happen with us that way. Mitch plays more saxophone, and they do the two keyboard thing sometimes which is a very cool sound."

Welnick apparently agrees. After a handful of shows together, he opted to quit nibbling and make a meal of mood food, joining their current nine city, west coast swing. The collaboration makes sense. For Welnick, playing improv based material in small clubs is a refreshing change of pace and an opportunity to stretch out musically. For mood food, entraining wavelengths with Welnick has not only influenced their sound, it’s raised their awareness. "There’s no point even starting to talk about what he’s accomplished in music," says Lattanand. "Vince definitely brings a certain air to him that makes us step up."

"Music, as well as any other art, is input and output," continues Lattanand. "Our music, and especially our shows are an interactive experience... we’re just filtering whatever is happening around us and crafting it however we want to bring it back out. The more intense the situation, the more intense what comes out."