Wise Monkey Orchestra

-Weeding Out the Weash

-Gettin' Groovy With the Seven Headed Rhythm Monster From Ocean Beach

by Lee Abraham


The sun is out and so are the beautiful people. Ocean Beach pier, a huge 't-shaped' walkway jutting out over the coastline, bustles with Sunday afternoon activity. Jogging Barbie and Ken hardbodies weave in and around the slower, ameba-like patterns of young families strolling en masse. Pairs of entwined lovers deep into each other's lungs lean as one against the pier's wood railing while surfer dudes and dudettes ride the waves below. A boisterous chorus of laughter erupts from one of the concrete benches facing the ocean. There's a group interview in progress and a serious point has just been made. Welcome to the business offices of Wise Monkey Orchestra.

Swaying palms, blue sky and time bleached pastel buildings are the perfect backdrop for hanging out with WMO. Like most highly creative types, this is a band that absolutely thrives on the vibe around them. -Unlike- most bands, rather than sit around and whine about how their local scene sucks, WMO picked up and headed someplace they -wanted- to be. Drawn to the spiritual magnetism of the ocean, WMO moved to the refried hippie coastal town of Ocean Beach in San Diego -as a group- five years ago.

"When I joined the band, our whole intention was to get out of Arizona and move to Ocean Beach," says Alley, lead singer and lyricist for San Diego's premier "kind" ensemble. "Moving like that really brought us together. It brought the people that were going to be closer, closer, and the people that -weren't gonna be-, out."

"Moving weeded out the weash," agrees Sean Hart, WMO's founding member, keyboard player and longtime proponent of a Budweiser and waffles breakfast. "Weash is anything weak or harsh. We don't tolerate weash."

Another thunderclap of laughter from the bench ripples through the salty sea air. The members of WMO have no problem cracking each other up. These days joviality comes easily. Over the past eight years, WMO has built a loyal following on the strength of their deeply grooved, horn driven rhythms and powerful female vocals. Word of WMO's unique sound and intense live performances have been winning the happy feet of dance-crazed fans wherever they go.

Fronting the band, Alley is an intoxicating Mae West meets Acid Queen cocktail. Her seductively hypnotic voice, onstage swagger and blissful smile make it impossible to do anything but get into the groove and smile along with her. On bass, Chad Stewart is the resident funkologist and together with Ed "31 Flavors" Fletcher on drums, the two wise groove monkeys lock-in and bust out highly danceable concrete jungle beats which swing from tribal-tech to swamp-waltz. Andy //// G//b is the slide-master of WMO's "Slippery Banana" horn section, sporting syncopated, honey-dripped trombone phrasings with a swanky sort of decadent elegance. As a lead player, AG blows out-of-this-world solos that'll make you wonder why John Coltrane never picked up the trombone.

Sean Hart is a mad tone scientist and WMO's sonic visionary. Whether he's buried behind his stacked multiple keyboards or producing ambient textures through his bank of synthesizers and high-tech gadgetry, Hart is Oz-like, behind the scenes yet omnipresent.

Less than a year ago, Tim /////// a fiery percussionist that also plays trumpet and sings, came knocking on WMO's door. Longtime pal and bandmate, Scott Holman, a jazz-funk guitar master was also looking for a regular gig. The mixture proved potent. WMO's multi-ingredient alchemy finally yielded gold. WMO had found the Midas touch.

Older material became instantly revitalized and the new stuff absolutely glimmers. Most of the kind nuggets on WMO's new CD, -Make Believe-, were refined and then polished during nearly constant cross-country touring over the past year. The hard working monkeys have been playing an average of over twenty gigs a month, and in the process they've reached a sense of collective telepathy, both onstage and off. Sometimes the extent of the "group-mind" gets so intense it's a little scary.

"We can either be a seven headed monster or seven different monsters," quips Hart.

"The good thing about the road is that we get to be together all of the time," explains the //// Pachecko///. "The music gets tighter just for the simple fact that you spend all that time together on tour, so when it finally comes down to that hour or two we get to play, we're so excited. Plus we love all the new people."

Interacting with new audiences between songs is a role that Pacheko// has filled since joining the band. Funny, deeply spirited and ultimately an old-fashioned people person, Pachecko's// onstage repore with the audience has been a huge plus for the traveling band.

"Onstage it's a vibe and you can feel it," says Pacheko, smiling from behind his long dreadlocks, midday sun reflecting off his dark sunglasses. "When you get a thousand eyes looking at you saying, 'what's up?' That kind of energy focused on one point, I can just feel it. I like it."

And so do an increasing number of WMO fans. After several tours of the western states, WMO completed their first East Coast swing this summer. The highlight was a blowout date at New York City's legendary hippie Mecca, the Wetlands.

"There were a lot of people there that knew of us," says Alley. "We were overwhelmed by the love we felt through a lot of new friends. We didn't realize that we had so many fans in New York. It's so cool when people at a place we've never played are singing along and really getting into it!"

In addition to hanging out with friends they didn't know they had, the monkeys also made a ton of new connections. "We planted some good Wise Monkey seeds," says bassman Stewart. "We've been playing a lot and people seem to be getting off on what we're doing."

Just exactly -what- WMO is doing is easier to enjoy than explain. "What we're doing isn't blues, it isn't reggae, it isn't jazz," says Pacheck??. "It isn't anything that you can pigeonhole into any one category. One thing about making our original music is that nobody knows what to expect, there's no preconceived notions of what we're gonna do."

Regardless of -what- they do, WMO does it with passion. The new material on their 3rd independently produced CD, -Make Believe-, is easily their most inspired. Now the goal is to get back on the road in support of the new release.

Reed Stewart, Chad's brother and WMO's manager, has been just as important offstage to WMO's recent success as anything that happens onstage. He's already planned a return to the East Coast and even though the new CD is just being released, the -next- CD is already in the works. Better gigs and bigger audiences have been coming WMO's way with increasing frequency in no small part to his efforts. The monkeys have shared the stage with the likes of Maceo Parker, Merl Saunders, and JGB, in recent months.

Playing the high-profile gigs has only made the monkeys more enthusiastic about hittin' the road and playing the small clubs in places they've never been. They've been around long enough to know that it takes time and persistence to build a following.

"We've seen Vegas come a long way," reflects "bone-daddy" G//b. "We've been playing there for almost four years, but it was mainly on the strip. It's only in the last year or so that we've found the cool local clubs and really connected with the good side of Las Vegas. It just keeps getting better every time we come back."

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