Live & Listen's 'Bands You Should Know': Backup Planet June 30, 2016 23:54
Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
Live & Listen is pleased to introduce a brand new weekly feature known as Bands You Should Know. This new concept will highlight a different band each Friday with an interview, general background information, current happenings, as well as videos and audio from each band. After nearly two years of various interviews and artist spotlights, we feel that installing a consistent weekly feature is the best next step for Live & Listen.
For our first edition of Bands You Should Know, we sat down with Ben Cooper (keys/vocals) and Gavin Donati (guitar/vocals) of Backup Planet, a band we simply can't stop listening to. This band's sound is truly infectious and compelling - and for all of the right reasons. We had the pleasure of catching their set earlier this year at AURA Music & Arts Festival, and we haven't turned back since. Backup Planet's eclectic sound will lock you in from the moment you press play, and we can't wait to watch the future unfold for this explosive young four-piece.
Ben Cooper (left) and Gavin Donati (right) of Backup Planet // aLive Coverage
Backup Planet has made quite a name for itself in just under four years. Tell me a little bit about how this thing came together back in 2012.
Ben: Totally…Gavin and I actually met at a Phish show back in 2009 through a mutual friend who introduced us. Our friend just said, “Hey, you play keys, and he plays guitar. You should probably play together.” I guess the following January we started playing at this house called “The Hell House,” and it was basically just a party two nights a week. They just kind of said, “If you guys want to be the house band, you got it.” So we played just about every weekend for a while and cut our teeth a little bit. So, we started playing a long time ago, but we played with different bassists and drummers. We started the actual band in 2012. Then, we moved to Nashville in 2013 and just kind of hit the ground running.
So at what point did Blake (Gallant) and Chris (Potocik) get up with you guys?
Ben: Well it was just Gavin and I playing around for a while. Chris has been playing with us since we formed in 2012. We went through a bunch of different bassists at the time…to the point that we couldn’t really stick with one. I started playing left hand bass with the Moog, which is really fun, but it was somewhat limiting, as far as being able to play what we do with harmonized licks. I’ll do stuff with Gavin where we do some harmonized stuff with guitar and Moog. So, we decided we needed a bass player. That’s when Blake joined in the summer of 2014.
Gotcha. So the Nashville music scene is obviously a world of it’s own. There is live music on nearly every street corner. How has being a part of such a rich music culture impacted you guys as a band?
Ben: Well, honestly when we first got to town, it really made us get our act together. You know? Just for that reason. Nashville has such an appeal in the southeast, just because it is "The Music City.” For us, when we moved here we kind of had that expectation, but when we actually got here, we saw it for real and realized that everybody is good at music, and if not just music, something else like production and engineering. It really made us get our act together; practicing for hours and getting out on the road…figuring out how to do things the right way and learning to stay competitive. It’s also been a lot of other markets, you know? Just because we’ve been able to take it on the road with us and learn from a lot of people that are a lot better than us.
Ben Cooper of Backup Planet // Shot Stalker Photography
That makes sense. Nashville clearly presents plenty of opportunities to play, but I’m sure it presents it’s challenges with the amount of options people have when looking to get out and see live music.
Ben: Yeah absolutely. It’s cool because lately our crowd in Nashville has really started to grow. It’s great to develop a little bit of a following. We’ve been able to play in front of 350-400 people lately, and when we first moved here we had about six people in a dive bar. Little bars would finally give us a chance to play…and it felt like you might get stabbed or get a staph infection (laughs). They weren’t the nicest places. Then all of the sudden, we have a little bit of a following. It’s really cool to see it develop and start to move throughout the Southeast. We’re really trying to hit it hard this fall.
Right on...I’m always amazed to hear how different bands approach the songwriting process, You guys have Incredibly unique sound - mixing elements of old school funk, progressive rock, with just the right amount of pop. How do you guys go about your songwriting and building on your sound.
Gavin: I don't know...I guess I've grown up seeing "jam bands" and southern rock bands my entire life. Southern rock has always been my favorite type of music. I really want us to be one of the frontier bands in the jam scene who is able to cross over into different genres and appeal to way bigger markets. A lot of bands fall into the "jam band" category, and it can be hard to get out of that scene. I'd like to be in both of them. There aren't too many bands that really do that. We're currently working on our next album, and we're gonna start recording at the end of next month. The plan is to release it sometime in early fall. I think this album is really going to show a lot of that diversity. I'm really excited about it.
Listen to Backup Planet's "Revival" from the 2014 release 'Element' here:
So when it comes to the writing process, are different band members bringing different things to the table and just building it up from there?
Gavin: Oh yeah...the best songs, ideally, come about when we're all together and start to develop them. That's rarely the case though. I'll record what I have, and we'll demo it out, you know? Then we'll rehearse it and add different parts to it. Then we'll practice it live, and if it works live, then we might try to make it something even better. There are a lot of bands out there who record songs on an album, but they don't end up playing them live, because they don't hit that well live. They're great album songs, but they don't really translate. I really want to specialize in making everything that's on our next album extremely, extremely well received live. I'm all about the studio and doing all the tricks you can...adding all of the fancy harmonies and effects to make it the best you can. But it's gotta be able to come across live just as well as it does in the studio.
That's a great point. There are so many albums that I've listened to over the years with songs that are never played live. You forget that the song even exists until you circle back to that album.
Gavin: Yeah...I think with the jam scene there are a lot of people who don't care quite as much about studio albums as they do the jams and seeing them playing live. I want to focus on having really good songs in the studio and making those songs even better. That way you can leave a show really content, and then you can put the album on and not feel like you've lost out, if that makes sense.
Gavin Donati of Backup Planet // Phil Thach Photography
Do you find that you guys will introduce new material live, before ever doing any recording?
Gavin: Oh yeah, definitely. Right now, we're trying to record every show we play, then go back and listen. Even some of the material we recorded on Element, we don't play some of that stuff live today, because it doesn't come across that well live. We recorded it thinking that it would, and over we time we learned that some of it just doesn't translate that well. A big part of it is making up some new things live and and in the moment. We're not going to be a band that has 45-minute long improv sections, but we do like to have some extended improv sections. In the recording, if we hear something in there that we like, I wouldn't be against putting elements of it into the studio album. I think that's a great way to do it too. Whatever you're going to put on the record came up spontaneously.
Definitely...the song builds on itself and comes to life. That gives you a chance to see how the crowd reacts right away.
Gavin: Yeah, that's huge for me. One of my biggest things is how the crowd reacts to the songs.
So you guys recorded your first album, Element, in 2014. I would imagine there was plenty of songs to choose from at this point. What was it like getting in the studio and formally recording some of this material?
Ben: Yeah, most definitely. It's always a fun process. It's like a double-edged sword, because you feel like you have so much material that you want people to hear, but you have to decide what you feel works best. It's a blessing and a curse, because it's a really fun process, but there is also that bittersweet aspect that you don't get to include all of it, you know? If we could, we'd probably stay in the studio for weeks at a time. It's always a blast to go into the studio.
Gavin: It is. It is. I don't know though. The first album we ever did was kind of a learning curve, because it was all tracked separately. We recorded it at Holmes Studio in Knoxville, so we didn't all track live, which is what we want to do. That was our first time ever doing something like that, so it was a learning experience. That's why I'm excited for the new record to be a real example of what we sound like.
Ben: We're really excited. We've been shopping around with several different producers, but we're pretty sure we've found the guy. We are really excited about his involvement.
Gavin: We're hoping to record in late July / early August for a few weeks...kind of going nonstop for about 14 days. Hopefully we'll have it mastered and get it released sometime around late September.
Watch Backup Planet's official music video for "The Road" here:
Recording this new album is obviously a big moment for the band. Aside from the production, how do you feel this experience will differ from the last?
Ben: Well, this will be the first album that we record as a Red Light artist. Their involvement, as far as helping us with networking, distribution, marketing, and finding the right producer has really allowed us to shop around. It's cool, because Phish, My Morning Jacket, and all of these other artists we listen to have so much history with Red Light. They have the ability to help us talk to the right people and get to know them. It's really helped us figure out how we want to record and follow in the footsteps of so many bands that we really dig. I think that's one major difference, as well as just getting into a bigger studio with a producer who has done a lot of records.
I can only imagine. So, playing the festival circuit and touring the country gives you guys a chance to see so many different bands. Is there anyone in particular that you guys have recently been turned onto? What’s been playing in the Backup Planet van recently?
Gavin: Well, one thing we always do when we're loading out from a show...is we crank up Pantera. That's just great load-out music. We're big Pantera fans. I listen to a lot of southern classic rock, hard rock, and funk.
Ben: I'm real big into funk, but I like hard rock too. You've probably heard of the band Turkuaz. I've really been digging them lately. Then there is a group called Polyphia, and they don't have any keyboards, so it's kind of weird that I listen to them. I really dig them, and they've got some really melodic stuff. I look to bands like ZAPP and Juno What when it comes to the talk box. I've been listening to a lot of Allen Stone and Donny Hathaway and some of the older jazz players too.
Gavin: Dopapod is really great too. They did an orchestra thing recently where they played with a bunch of horns. I don't know if you saw that. I thought that was really cool; hearing them with horns. It was definitely different, but I really like Rob Compa's guitar playing.
Ben: Yeah...and Dopapod just signed with Red Light as well, so we're really hoping to work with them at again some point in the future.
Gavin: We're playing a festival this weekend called The Great Outdoors Jam. A lot of the AURA family is involved. You've got bands like Aqueous, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, The Fritz...a bunch of really good bands are on it. We're playing two sets, one of which will be all covers from all of the artists who have died this year.
Gavin Donati (left) and Ben Cooper (right) of Backup Planet // aLive Coverage
That sounds like a big weekend ahead. I couldn't agree more about Turkuaz and Dopapod. Those two bands are really blowing up, and once you see them live, it's obvious why. So, before we wrap this up, tell me about how the 2nd half of 2016 is shaping up. What can we expect from you guys?
Gavin: Yeah...hell yeah. Obviously we're dropping this new album, so I'm really looking forward to having our first really big album release. More or less, we're looking to be playing pretty much all of the fall. We should be booked up for three or four months, then maybe take a break around January.
Ben: We have a bunch of stuff coming up in mid to late fall that we're really excited to announce. We're really excited and getting a great strategy together. There are definitely some cool things in the works.
Backup Planet is a progressive funk-rock band based out of Nashville, Tennessee. To see Backup Planet perform live is to simultaneously travel back in time and forward into the future. Their truly unique sound emanates from a place that seems familiar, yet unchartered.
Elements of jazz, funk, roots, blues, electronic, and progressive rock all emerge during the course of their shows. Their sound draws from so much you’ve heard before—‘70s rock and funk, high-energy improv, a touch of pop, and a sliver of metal. But the members of Backup Planet mix and match those elements—with just a hint of modern tech to burnish a sturdy nucleus of retro-minded organ and guitar—in ways that never fail to astonish. With a fantastic repertoire of original songs, they’re able to build fluid sets interspersed with extended improvisation.
Incorporating some degree of uncertainty into live performances is innate to the improvisational, or ‘jam band,’ music scene. Audiences can sense when a group takes major risks onstage; the elements of surprise and unpredictability foster a level of joy unparalleled in other types of musical performances. Masters of this process, Ben Cooper, Gavin Donati, Blake Gallant, and Chris Potocik, are doing all of the above while their rapidly growing fan base nods in approval and shouts for more.