News

The Road To AURA: Jeff Lloyd of The Heavy Pets March 02, 2016 12:43

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Photo by Nick Sonsini: Sonsini Media
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The 7th Annual AURA Music & Arts Festival is right around the corner, taking place at The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida from Thursday, March 3rd to Saturday, March 5th.  As a part of our coverage of the festival, we are sitting down with a handful of this year's performers for a series of interviews called "The Road To AURA".  Next up is Jeff Lloyd (guitar/vocals) of The Heavy Pets.
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Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
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Last year marked the 10th year anniversary for The Heavy Pets.  I recall from our last interview that that band played it's 1000th show at Hulaween in 2014.  There are also numerous side projects within the band.  How have you guys gone about planning the schedule for 2016?
 
Jeff:  Well we are kind of in transition right now.  We changed booking agencies around the middle of last year.  We kind of went independent, and we started booking on our own, but we knew that wasn't going to be a permanent solution.  That was just a temporary thing.  We started working with this new agency.  We had a plan going into it with them that I think has been really successfully implemented thus far, and I look forward to seeing where that ends up.  We knew that we wanted to get out on the road just as often as we normally do.  Maybe group it up a little more together, so we're not touring all year long, but doing a couple of extended tours and as many festival plays as you have seen us do in the past.  
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What we really tried to do differently moving into 2016 was to focus on these different tribute sets.  One that we had decided to do, which was The Beatles thing, and we're starting to see that getting attention all over the country.  That's been really fun to bring that out and show that to people.  But also the 80's tribute wasn't even conceived by us.  It was conceived by AURA, and it's something that they do every year.  They pick an artist to either cover another artist or do this kind of tribute thing that we're doing this year.  We're tributing an entire decade of music.  That was definitely a big part of the plan for 2016; to get out there and show the scene that we can do all of these different things.
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I've heard really great things about that Beatles' tribute.  When did you guys debut that set, and how much are you guys thinking about doing that moving forward?
 
Jeff:  I think it was toward the end of last year.  I think it was October, actually.  We did two shows right down here in South Florida.  We did it just one of those two nights.  It was so much fun to put together.  We had never done anything like it before.  Even in the last few years, we haven't played a whole lot of covers, period.  So to do an entire night of cover songs, and Beatles' songs no less, was really fun to put together.  Then we started realizing that there was no way in one that we could play all of The Beatles' songs that we would like to play.  
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There's definitely so much more that we could do with this.  So we booked it a few more times for different festivals, and we've been adding songs and changing up the setlist.  It's been a lot of fun, and now we have it booked for New Orleans Jazz Fest.  We're doing a late night thing there.  We're going to be doing this in Denver coming up next month.  Following that up, we're doing it up in the Northeast in cities like New York City, Philadelphia, and probably a few more.  We're also getting some looks from festivals to be doing it this Summer all over.  It's not something that we intend to do forever, but it is something that has been really fun to do right now.  We're certainly not even close to scratching the surface with the potential that it has.   
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Watch The Heavy Pets performing the Beatles Walrus Tribute Set at The Funky Biscuit here:
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The band has released several EP's in recent years, Stolen Smile  & Rags and Aces being the most recent in 2014.  Are there any plans for another studio recording this year?  How often do you guys try and add new originals into the rotation?
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Jeff:  Well that's a constant.  We're always trying to add new songs to the repertoire, and there is really no shortage with all of the songwriters in the band.  The one thing that we're getting better at is scheduling.  We've been scheduling and allotting our time a little bit better.  For years, we didn't really have much of a plan.  We just played and toured and played, practiced, and so on.  But now, we're a little bit better at scheduling here.  We know that we're gonna have some time in May.  We're looking at possibly getting back in the studio and throwing some new songs down in May, and we're definitely looking to stick with the format that we've been doing the last few times with the short EP thing.  I think that works really well with our schedule, and it allows us to put out stuff that is really fresh to us.  
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The Heavy Pets are obviously no strangers to AURA and Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.  I know Suwannee is extra special to you guys, being right in your backyard.   What is it that differentiates this venue from other major festival sites?   What are a few of your favorite Suwannee memories from over the years?
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Jeff:  Suwannee is just a magical place.  It's a permanent festival site.  So that right there means they have infrastructure, roads, and the way that the whole thing is set up is for throwing big musical events.  It makes it so great for the artists, and not only for us, but for the fans as well.  It's just such a great experience because of the way its set up, and then you add on top that the place is just so gorgeous.  It's just really full of natural beauty.  The main amphitheater itself is just such a sight with the big Florida oak trees and the Spanish moss hanging down.  There are hammocks everywhere, and it's just a beautiful, easy going place.  A perfect place to take in a weekend of music.
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I think that brings me to one of the first memories that comes to mind, which was playing Wannee on a Wednesday.  We've only done it once, and it was a couple of years ago.  We played that main amphitheater stage.  They refer to it The Mushroom Stage during Wannee.  Just seeing thousands and thousands of people out there was pretty special.  And of course, as you mentioned earlier, we played our 1000th show at Hulaween in 2014 on the big ole stage that they put in the field.  That was a huge experience for us, and the festival was great.  Everything was awesome about it.  They had champagne for us, and some nice things left in our dressing room.  I think left us a nice congratulatory card.  I forget exactly what it was but it was really nice.  You really couldn't plan your 1000th show any better than that.
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We obviously need to talk more about the big 80's tribute set from The Heavy Pets, scheduled for 5;15PM on Saturday night in the amphitheater.  You guys have called on Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman, as well as a few other guests for the special occasion.  How did the idea for this set come to life, and what can we expect on Saturday night?
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Jeff:  So the festival's founder, Daryl Wolff, has started a tradition for himself.  I believe it started with the Stevie Wonder set from a couple of years ago with Kung Fu and Nigel Hall.  He just had some sort of epiphany.  He came out on stage, and he gives his reasoning before the set.  He kind of emcee's the set, and he came out and said that he had a dream about that particular set.  So he made it happen.  He followed that up with a Hall & Oates tribute set that Stokeswood did, then last year The Main Squeeze did the Michael Jackson tribute.  Pretty much everyone we have seen do it thus far have called on a lot of the other musicians playing the festival.  We definitely have some big shoes to fill in terms of stepping up to the plate and knocking this one out of the park this year.  I think people are expecting to see something great, and we definitely intend to give it to them.
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Did you guys play any role in selecting the 80's theme?
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Jeff:  No...that's the thing.  We really didnt.  Daryl just hit us up about it.  He shot us a text saying, "I think I know what I want to do for the tribute set.  Why don't you guys do an 80's tribute?"  I will say that personally I wasn't jumping for joy initially.  It kind changed up the format, which I was fine with, but it had always been one band covering another band.  The 80's is just so open ended, and we started to realizing that there are so many directions that we can go here.  It just so happened that the day he texted us, we had a nice long drive ahead of us.  We had just landed at the Pittsburgh airport.  We picked up the rental car, turned on the radio, and what was playing was like "The 80's Show" on some local rock station.   So we just listened to like two and a half hours of 80's hits, and we got really excited about it.  During that drive, we were able to make of list of like 50 songs from the 80's that we had heard on the show, or that we were reminded of by other songs.  So now it has just been a process of whittling that down over the last few months, because there are really so many things that we wanted to do.  I think what we've decided on is really the best route.  But we'll see, you know?  I think people are gonna love it.
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This year's lineup features a notably diverse variety of the festival scene's most exciting groups. `What do you think this lineup says about the depth of this music scene in 2016? 
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Jeff:  I think AURA has always done a really great job of drawing bands from a pretty wide range, and that's important with a festival.  You don't want to draw from the same well with some of these bands, as far as style is concerned, as well as the demographic of who you want to get there.  So obviously the more diverse, the more fun the party is going to be.  I think AURA always knocks that out of the part.  Our set on Saturday is followed by Snarky Puppy and The Disco Biscuits, and we'll play around 20 songs that we have never played in front of anyone before.  But yeah, we're really looking forward to that opportunity.  We have quite a few surprise guests, as well, that are gonna be popping in.  So look out for that.  It's gonna be a blast!
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Watch The Heavy Pets perform "Bibbles" at AURA 2013 here:
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