If you ask Gnarlemagne's Stuart Dias to explain what kind of music the band plays, he turns to the words of MC Hammer. “If you can't move to this, you're probably dead.” Dias quotes. And from the first notes of a Gnarlemagne song it's clear right away: this music is pure fun.
The seven man band has been playing in the Seacoast and beyond since they formed the group back in their college days at UNH. The guys of Gnarlemagne all have day jobs now, but their passion is still getting people moving.
Trombone player Ian Katz says that Gnarlemange's music is part rock, part “get-up-and-dance-music” and part soul. Most of all, Gnarlemagne's music draws on the contributions and influences of the band members.
“I think the music is a great representation of us as people, because no two members of the band listen to the same music, and because of that, we can make stuff we've never heard before.” Dias said.
Some influences that most members of the band agree on are Sly and the Family Stone, The Black Keys, Queens of the Stone Age, Otis Redding, and Gnarls Barkley.
“I like to tell people we're somewhere between Jimi Hendrix and James Brown.” said drummer Jed Allen. “That usually tricks them into going to a show.”
The band evolved out of a casual collaboration between Dias and drummer Jed Allen, who were forming a blues band as part of a college course they were taking called “The Blues.” A few friends—Katz, trumpet players Alex Brenneman and Mike Kulik, Matt Francoeur on saxophone and bassist Alex Koffler— joined in, and the group began to play together. The music that came out of this collaboration wasn't exactly the blues.
“It was a lot more upbeat,” Dias said, “and instead of trying to control what was naturally happening we just went with it.”
When they formed the band, the members all had varying levels of experience as musicians, but they say that they really found what they love in Gnarlemagne. When they first began to play together during the school year of 2005-2006, Koffler says it was exactly what he'd been looking for.
“I just remember being so hungry to play music again,” Koffler said, “and walking over with my crappy bass and amp to jam with these funky, funky dudes.”
Allen says that he first saw something special in the band after their first show.
“We were pretty terrible for a long time...[but] even though we clearly weren’t the most talented band, we had a lot of energy, and a lot of fun, and I think the crowd picked up on that.” he said.
The audience is a big part of the the infectious energy at a Gnarlemagne show.
“They dance, we play harder, it gets a little sweaty, and everyone leaves happy.” Katz said.
Gnarlemagne has come a long way since they started jamming outside the dorm.
“I feel that we’ve gotten a feel for the scene.” said Koffler. “Playing music was the easy part, figuring out the logistics of being a band was really the hardest thing to accomplish.”
“I’m proud of so much that we have done.” said Allen. “ I love some of the venues we have gotten to play, and I especially love some of the bands that we have played with. If you can judge a band by the company they keep I think we are doing pretty well.”
The band's first album, Run for Shelter debuted in October of 2009. Dias said that the record release show was one of his proudest moments.
“We had the Stone Church at capacity, and before we came out, the lights were off and people were chanting our name—it was one of the best feelings I've ever experienced.” Dias said.
The five years Gnarlemagne has been playing together haven't been without mishaps, or good stories. Dias recalled a time when the band had traveled several hours to a gig, only to find that they'd forgotten Koffler's bass.
“We stood outside on the street asking everyone that passed by if they had a bass we could borrow.” Dias said.
“After half an hour we found one and the show went off without a hitch.” said Allen.
“And then one of the girls who tried to help us ended up dating Koof.” Dias added, meaning Koffler.
One of Katz's favorite stories comes from a time when the band was stretching their legs in a parking lot en route to a show in Northhampton, MA.
“This girl leans out of her car and yells, 'hey, are you guys in a band?' 'Yeah,' we said. I mean, we look and act like a band, plus the cars are full of equipment. 'Are you guys in Gnarlemagne?' she says, and holds up our CD! We were all pretty blown away to be recognized so far from our hometown, and it really put us in a good mood for the show that night. We all signed her CD too.”
The band now has a catalog of around 16 original songs, and an arsenal of covers that range from Queens of the Stone Age to Sly and the Family Stone. Gnarlemagne's covers are almost as creative as their original songs.
“I like to cover songs and bands that people might not expect to hear from us.” said Allen. “A lot of the time fans will suggest we cover a song because it would be right up our alley. I prefer to cover songs that don’t sound like they are in the same genre, and make it our own.”
“One of my favorite covers that we do is 'Crazy' by Gnarls Barkely.” said Dias. “It's heavy, dark and beautiful.”
The band is working on a new album that they hope to put out at some point later this year or ealy next year, in addition to a live album recorded at the Stone Church that is already recorded and they hope to press soon.
But what about that name? The band doesn't quite want to say—just that it's the right fit for who they are.
“When someone said it I remember thinking it was the perfect name: unique, epic, and funky, which is usually how I feel when we're ripping it up on stage.” said Koffler. “Now I think its almost perfect, the only downside being the endless number of ways you can misspell it.”
Gnarlemagne plays the Stone Church on July 9 and July 16.
Stuart Dias' Playlist:
Radiohead: 15 Steps
Earthless: Sonic Prayer
C.W. Stoneking: Jungle Blues
Erykah Badu: In Love With You
Queens of the Stone Age: 3's and 7's
Estelle: Come Over
Ian Katz's Playlist:
Jabberloop: Fly With the Wind
Michael Franti and Spearhead: Say Hey
No Doubt: Excuse Me Mister
Soil & Pimp Sessions: Storm
Alex Koeffler's Playlist:
The Magical Mystery Chambers: Uh Huh
Raphael Saadiq: Let's Take a Walk
Kraftwerk: Computer Love
Soil & Pimp Sessions: Pluto
PizzaPastaTime-8 bit remix of Ke$ha's Tik Tok
Jed Allen's Playlist:
I Wanna Make it Wit Chu: Queens of the Stone Age
Thickfreakness: The Black Keys
Lord: Apollo Sunshine
Hey Bulldog: The Beatles
Toxic: Britney Spears