Posted by: – Oct 15, 2012
Their name Proverbial is an ambiguous one; the word is defined as “well known” and “stereotypical,” but commits itself to nothing in particular. However, despite the fact that the name is not one that easily indicates what genre the band belongs to, Proverbial is, in the end, a fitting moniker for this seven-piece RVA band, whose members pride themselves on their musical diversity. Phil Walker (Keys/Vocals), Thomas Whitesell (Sax/Rhymes), Stephen Holicky (Lead Guitar/Vocals), Michael Keeter (Lead Vocals/Rhythm Guitar), Scott Gerry (Bass), Ryan Harlowe (Drums), and Kevin Condrey (Percussion) come together to form this rock/funk/rap/reggae/etc. hybrid that’s been packing venues and confusing industry professionals for the past three years.
Proverbial is a well-rounded and talented group. Their business sense and work ethic has afforded them the many spoils of an unconscious battle waged against knee-jerk assumptions and in favor of their broad sound spectrum and difficult-to-pigeonhole musical style. They pride themselves on their infectious rhythms and positive vibes, which radiate with every public performance. As a result, their many fans are dedicated to the cause. Those that know Proverbial know them well, and are willing to travel great distances to see them play. Those that don’t know them tend to discount them, possibly due to the lack of easy categorization that would be provided by a more defining name. However, more often, the opinions of the doubters tend to be shaped by those disturbed by a positive presence, who are unwilling to let go of their inhibitions and give in to Proverbial’s underlying message that everything’s gonna be alright.
Proverbial’s resumé boasts top honors from every competition and battle they’ve entered. They’ve signed a record deal with Spectra, while managing to book their own tours, traveling regularly out of state and performing at rock venues up and down the East Coast, all while facilitating an enthusiastic audience in what is arguably one of the most difficult cities in which to do so. While other local acts pick and choose their venues based on their fans’ willingness to cross rivers and enter into counties that lie outside the Richmond city limits, Proverbial transcends barriers and borders successfully. Against all odds, they’ve been league leaders in developing an organic sense of community in a music scene previously known for it’s cannibal tendencies. Richmond has embraced them as it would a cover band, but unlike cover bands, Proverbial has a catalogue of well written original tunes that win crowds over every time they play.
For their fans, Proverbial represents brotherhood and prosperity. But for Richmond, Proverbial represents the future. I sat down with Mike, Harlowe, and Scott to shed some light on the past, present, and future of Proverbial.
You all come from different musical backgrounds. How would you specifically classify Proverbial?
Scott: That’s a tough one.
How do other people classify Proverbial?
Scott: A lot of times, [as a] jam band.
Mike: Jam band, reggae/rock.
Do you guys think you’re a jam band?
Scott: We can jam.
Mike: I mean, there are different elements to us. Yes, we get considered a jam band, but I don’t think we’re in that classification. One thing that we try to do is make sure we fit in to every classification. That’s why we do the hip hop, rock, reggae... we take it all and mash it together like a bag of assholes. I don’t think we’re at all a jam band. I don’t know what other people think a jam band is, I guess. Unless they mean a band that puts a lot into their musicianship and can improvise. Which we do.
Harlowe: We do a little bit.
Mike: The music represents how the person feels about it when they listen to it. It doesn’t really matter what we meant when we wrote it. It doesn’t really matter what we were going for. It matters what each individual person feels, and what they take away from it. I don’t think we’re really a jam band, but I don’t think [being a jam band] is necessarily a bad thing, either.
What do guys think is the strongest element of Proverbial?
Scott: Harlowe’s right hand.
Harlowe: It’s all the different styles that we [represent].
Mike: It might be cliché but I definitely think it’s our chemistry. We get up [onstage] and we feed off each other. Every practice, there’s a new song, a new something. I feel like that’s our biggest strength. When we get onstage, you should be able to see it.
How does Proverbial stand out from other bands?
Harlowe: Different styles.
Scott: We don’t sound like other bands. If we do, it’s for a song, or a part of a song.
Harlowe: Two lead singers and a rapper.
Scott: Four part harmonies.
You guys have been doing your thing for over three years now. You’ve built a solid foundation underneath yourselves by amassing quite a following. Is there any advice you can give other bands that have had a problem doing this?
Scott: Make friends and support other bands.
Mike: Go see other bands. We were very fortunate, at first, to have seven guys who brought out a lot of friends. Put yourself out there, and go meet other people who enjoy live music. Meet people who enjoy playing music.
Five of the seven members of Proverbial grew up in the Richmond area. Has Richmond changed for the better or worse?
Harlowe: For the better, but I do miss the old punk scene.
Mike: For the better. There wasn’t a lot of diversity when it came to the music scene. It was punk and metal when it came to your main forefronts. People still [assume], when they talk about Richmond. They think there's mainly a lot of punk and metal kids. I think that we as a city have branched out into everything.
Harlowe: VCU is helping. The bigger that school gets, it brings in more artistic kids.
Scott: The Internet is helping too. There’s even more bands now because of the Internet. [Back in the day], you could be at one show, while a hundred other shows are going on, and you’d never know about it unless someone tells you. Because of the Internet, I know about at least ten shows going on every Friday/Saturday night. It used to be very competitive, but I’m seeing a lot of bands helping each other instead of trying to beat each other out.
Do you think think that Proverbial would have a shot at being as successful in Richmond ten years ago?
Harlowe: Why not?
Scott: One of our weaknesses--it’s a perceived weakness, but when we talk to industry professionals, [they say things like]: “How do I market you?” We’re a live band that plays something that you can move to. That’s strength, and if you put us in front of people, they find something they can latch onto. It’s fun, and it gets people moving. So yes, in any decade, I think if you’re drawing people in with diverse music, you have a good chance of being successful.
Since we’re still talking about strengths, one of your strengths that I perceive as a key to your success is that you have so many hot girls come out to your shows. How do you make that happen?
Mike: You’re not the first person to say that. We’ve been blessed. Having seven guys in a band who know a lot of hot girls who have hot friends makes it easy. I love getting [onstage] and playing for a crowd of hot girls.
Scott: It helps that Mike gets on stage and starts singing like a banshee.
You guys have seven members. Is there any room for another member in Proverbial?
Harlowe: I don’t think so.
Scott: We’ll jam with anybody, anytime.
Mike: For someone to be a full time member, I don’t think so. Before we had Kevin, I didn’t think [there was room for him]. But when Kevin came to the table, he knew all of our songs. Him and Harlowe work [well] together because he fills in Harlowe's dead space, making each song a little more intricate. Anyone can sit in on an album or show, but for a full time member, no.
What’s the most entertaining part of Proverbial?
Scott: The chemistry. I can’t even tell you what’s going on stage. It’s better than sex, to me. It’s an ear-fuck. It’s like chasing the dragon. It’s the most addictive part.
Harlowe: Playing and traveling. It’s going on the road.
You guys drink a lot. Does Proverbial have a preferred beverage?
Harlowe: They all like Jager. I fucking hate it.
Mike: It would be the medicine. Thomas’ dad makes this wine we call the medicine.
Tell me about your last album.
Scott: Fourteen tracks of deliciousness.
Harlowe: Fourteen tracks that were recorded in a month’s time. Recorded in the basement of the original band house at 101 S. Addison.
Mike: A lot of people don’t know this but we booked our album release party before we had any details about what was going to go on the album. Being our first album, we definitely rushed it. We had some people put their ear to it and give us good feedback. Next time, we’ll definitely not book a record release party before we have an album finished.
“The End is Never” is one of my favorite songs, ever. Can you tell me what inspired that song?
Mike: Back in ‘07, one of my good friends passed away. One of his sayings was “Live life to the fullest.” We’d be sitting around bullshitting and he’d say, “Look, we’ve got no time. Let’s go out. Let’s do this. The end is never.” Randomly, right when Thomas and Steve moved downtown, I was at a party over off Main St. and Steve started playing the riff, on the guitar. I wrote the chorus freestyle right then and there. This was like a year and a week from when he passed away. The party was with a bunch of people who had come back from a memorial. It’s [about] always thinking that it’s never going to end; everything’s always going to keep on going. I wrote it because he always thought that. I’m not telling a story that is true in the lyrics. Its just metaphors for the different situations in people’s lives. He lived never worrying about the end. He was just doing it and being happy doing it.
How far along are you on the next album?
Mike: We have sixteen tracks that are contenders. We actually have plans to start recording in August. We plan on putting out an EP first. Our friends and fans have been begging us to let them learn the words to the new songs.
By Dan Anderson, Photos by Joe Opyt