RVA’s avant-garde jazz rock band, Groam and Joan son of Groam, talk the DIY scene, new album and unique sound

by | Dec 16, 2015 | MUSIC

The members of Groam & Joan son of Groam don’t sell merch at their shows when they play.

The members of Groam & Joan son of Groam don’t sell merch at their shows when they play.

Instead, the band passes out business cards that bassist Will Bollinger said he designed on his phone while working at Jimmy Johns. The green cards with bright yellow John Deere font show the band’s insignia, a clipart lawnmower in front of a field of freshly mowed grass, along with the repeated phrase, “groam.bandcamp.com, groam.bandcamp.com, groam.bandcamp.com.”

The band doesn’t follow the norm of most bands. They don’t use Facebook or Instagram to promote their music. They also don’t have lyrics. Until recently, band members said they didn’t even have any recordings other than a “three song shit demo” they recorded themselves in their practice space.

Their sets are short, never more than 20-25 minutes, and the band said they “never announce anything.”

“I tried that once when we were playing a show in Brooklyn, I introduced us…” said Garen Dorsey, the band’s saxophonist. “But it was so weird we never did it again…I thought, maybe we should tell people who we are. Actually, no, we shouldn’t. It’s fine.”

And yet the band has found much success in its short existence, releasing a full-length album called Henspeak this Halloween, getting an article about them published in Charlottesville’s Daily Progress, while successfully touring up and down the East Coast, playing house shows in Richmond, and performing at this past spring’s MACRoCk festival in Harrisonburg.

Even more impressive, the band has booked it all themselves through the DIY scene and word of mouth. This is especially interesting considering the band’s sound, which walks a unique line between experimental hard rock and free jazz: not the typical DIY fare. Yet, the band’s sound expands far beyond either of the aforementioned genres.

“We’re all really good musicians so we can have a solid confident sound, so people like that, but we don’t really fit into any genre…it’s not like a metal show, a punk show, or a jazz show,” Dorsey said.

Instead, the music takes from all of its members eclectic interests and creates a sound entirely its own. Their music sounds complex without necessarily being that, and does so without the aid of effects pedals or instrumentation outside of the alto saxophone, the electric bass guitar, and the drum kit.

“Most of the songs are pretty simple structures, so it’s good music for dancing and moshing,” Bollinger said.

Groam & Joan son of Groam began just over a year ago when Bollinger and drummer Alex Ha came together after a few years of bumping into each other playing the same bills as separate artists; Bollinger as a solo bass act which toured across Virginia and Maryland on bicycle, his acoustic bass on his back, and Ha, with his Northern Virginia based post-rock band Teen Sheep.

The two brought in Dorsey, a mutual acquaintance, to add some melody to the otherwise “repetitive” bass and drum duo.

“We wanted one other thing to play a lead part, kind of like a lead singer,” Bollinger said.

Ha agreed, “We were talking it over…we decided we didn’t like vocals, and decided not to add guitar…we never really thought we needed a guitar…and we had a lot of friends in the [VCU] jazz department.”

Once Dorsey, who has been playing jazz piano and saxophone since the age of 13, and notably, has sat in with established acts like Charlottesville’s D’earth, got involved, the band’s sound evolved and has been changing ever since.

“As we practiced more and played more shows, my parts began to have structures…I’m still improvising mostly, but I’m playing certain things at certain times now,” Dorsey said.

The band’s sound also took a turn when the tenor sax Dorsey had been playing broke.

“I had to relearn all the songs for the different fingerings it would be for the different key,” Dorsey said. “Going from tenor to alto, it cuts through a lot more, so the weird high squeaky screeching noises that I hit resonate a lot more…”

Moving forward, after a very busy year, the band is currently taking it easy.

“We’re definitely gonna try to keep playing…We don’t really take it too seriously,” Ha said.

He continued, “I admired Will’s music for so long…when I first started playing with him I was so stoked…and I just love playing with these guys…We all hang out with the same crew of people so it’s like hanging out and playing music with your friends.”

Dorsey agreed.

“There’s a big appeal to making music with people you like to be around and hang out with on a regular basis, it’s a lot of fun,” he said,

Here’s to hoping for another year of the same from one of Richmond’s most eclectic and interesting acts.

Amy David

Amy David

Amy David was the Web Editor for RVAMag.com from May 2015 until September 2018. She covered craft beer, food, music, art and more. She's been a journalist since 2010 and attended Radford University. She enjoys dogs, beer, tacos, and Bob's Burgers references.

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