-A Mutated Musical Evolution of Ominous Proportions
by Lee Abraham
"In the start we just kind of got drunk a lot, fucked up and just did whatever we did," laughs Dana Monteith, guitarist, vocalist and founding member of the Ominous Seapods.
Bass player Tom Pirozzi agrees that in the beginning things were a lot different than today. "It's been a totally mutated evolution over the past seven years for the band," says Pirozzi. "We've gotten to be better musicians for one thing. We used to do a lot more of the humorous stuff, the masks, the ceremonial chicken sacrifices, you know, the performance art kind of thing. We almost had to do that stuff at first because we didn't have enough songs or the chops at that point to really pull off a whole night of music."
Whether or not the music itself was an artistic success in the early years, the 'Pods onstage antics were fun and weird. The band was having a great time and in spite of any musical limitations they might have been saddled with early on, the attendance to their shows kept increasing.
After seven years of playing together, and more than 200 shows each of the past few years, the 'Pods have blossomed into skillful musicians through their hard work. At his point the interplay among the instruments during extended improvisational jams is telepathic.
"Max (Verna, the other guitar player/vocalist) and I have been playing together for so long we're like an old married couple," says Monteith, who started jamming with Verna in high school.
The band came together while Monteith and Verna were college students at Plattsburgh State University in upstate New York. Fellow students Pirozzi and Brian Mangini on keyboards, as well as a drummer that's no longer in the band, joined the duo playing at parties around the university.
It didn't take long for the gigs to become "happenings," as more and more kids showed up to see that "absolutely sick" band their friends were talking about. Traveling down the road to the State University in Albany, the 'Pods were again successful in attracting crowds to their shows.
Things went so well in the State Capitol the band ultimately would end up moving there, renting a house down the block from their jam band comrades "moe." The groups played together at parties and college bars around Albany during that period and even though the band's momentum was picking up steam, they stayed in school.
"It was like two worlds pulling at us in those days," chuckles Monteith. "We actually still thought about classes and school stuff."
Relationships with other popular regional bands including God Street Wine and the Disco Biscuits led to more gigs and a rapidly increasing fan base. In '91 the 'Pods dropped out of school and went after their musical dreams with a full time effort.
"I was just sitting around playing guitar all the time anyway," explains Monteith, "school just wasn't happening for me. Everybody else felt the same way, so we finally just decided to see what we could really do with it."
Ted Marotta took over the drums in '93 and "that's when our sound just clicked," remembers Monteith. "Ted has a very colorful personality. He's an animated sort of character and he brings a lot of his Hollywood style slickness to the band."
The danceable in-the-pocket grooves that pulse from Marotta's drum kit interlock with Pirozzi's rockin'-space-funk bass creating a rhythm foundation that the two guitars and keyboard can either join, or fly off from in a solo direction. Stylistically, comparisons to 2nd generation psychedelic jam gurus Phish are inevitable and in fact, well founded.
"We grew up listening to the Dead and then Phish," agrees Monteith, "but we listen to a lot of other stuff too. Whether it be jazz, funkadelic, classical, death metal, whatever. If its got something that goes "boing" in our brain we find a way to work it in."
"We've worked really hard on our songwriting over the years," says Monteith when asked about being named "the best" of the New Renaissance of Jam Bands by Spin magazine. "We've tried to get insightful lyrics that are really coming from our souls. We try to get to the heart of emotions and life's situations. Plus we just like to jam our asses off!"
Last year the 'Pods were signed to Hydrophonics Records, a division of Megaforce Records, the same small label that jump started the careers of heavy metal legends Metallica, Anthrax and Ministry over a decade ago. The new label was started to develop the rabid "jam band" genre that is spreading across the country from its mecca in upstate New York.
Along with Hydrophonics label mates Juggling Suns and The Disco Biscuits, the 'Pods are touring in support of their debut CD for the young record company. The new disc, "Matinee Idols," includes a selection of live cuts culled from four recent shows at home- turf New York area venues, showcasing the band where it feels most at home, on stage.
The onstage swagger comes as the result of relentless touring, an often-grueling proposition for an unsigned band without the support and deep pockets of a big label sugar daddy. The 'Pods road wars have taught them the value of having a venue so far from home that is receptive to the their brand of improvisational, funky and spacey hippie-vibe jams. A music form that thrives on the energy of its fans and the ambience of the room.
But even at the best clubs, quitting time is usually no later than 1am, just about the time the vibe is getting thick and the buzz strong. Worse, if there's another band on the bill there's only time for one full set. So the when opportunity to play a three night run in a warm and fuzzy bar, not to mention a 24 hour, musician-friendly room like Legends, things get giddy.
"All the touring bands now know that Legends is a cool place to play in Vegas," says Pirozzi looking forward to the upcoming weekend run. "Word like that travels fast. The three day format is going to give us a chance to stretch out quite a bit, besides doing some of the songs that we haven't done in a long time, I'm sure there'll be plenty of time to get a little bit wacky."
"We might have to break out a few masks or something," laughs the bass player. "There'll probably be some "belly-bucking" going on, that sort of thing. We may also do some acoustic stuff on one of the nights, we're just going to do as much as we possibly can."
"We are really excited to be returning to Vegas, the 'city of sin'," continues Pirozzi. "The absurdity factor of us in Vegas with Elvis impersonators everywhere you turn and 24-hour partying is made to order for us! The lights, glitz and debauchery are amazing!"
"The Vegas shows come at the end of our tour, so we thought it would be a cool time to do something like that. There's going to be some people from the east coast flying in and some folks driving in from California, so we're basically throwing a big party for three days and what better place than Vegas!"