MUSIC BOX: Sneaky Pete & Secret Weapons debut album

By on December 16, 2014
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The Weapons will offer a free copy of Breakfast to all concertgoers Saturday PHOTO: THE WEAPONS

Jackson Hoe, Wyoming – The lead track, “Forgotten Lullabies,” from Sneaky Pete and The Secret Weapons’s debut studio album, Breakfast, opens with a deeply grooving funk melody akin to a Robert Walter’s 20th Congress cut. Amplified by the collaborative note play of a dominant low-end clavinet fused with an electric guitar, trumpet and a rumbling bass, the elements spell, P-A-R-T-Y. “I am a mountain, you are my muse/Carve me down with your fountain, reveal whatever you choose,” sings guitarist and songwriter Jack Tolan.

The Weapons – the sextet’s abbreviated namesake – will step onto the Pink Garter Stage this Saturday for their first headlining show at the theater, a well-deserved accomplishment to complement their album release party. The Weapons exceeded their goal of $5,000 through a crowd-funded campaign on Indiegogo.com, making the recording feasible. All concertgoers will receive a free CD of Breakfast. 

“We’re all living together now and have been practicing like five days a week for this show,” said Weapons drummer Zach Zimmerman when I sat down to chat with half of the band at Café Boheme.

Zimmerman co-founded The Weapons with bassist Sam Lowenthal in the winter of 2011-12, when the two friends informally jammed and spoke of forming a funk band. They rotated through a keyboard player and a couple of guitarists before meeting Tolan.   

“I was at a party and overheard Sam talking about how they were looking for a guitarist and my ears perked up,” Tolan laughed. “I tapped him on the shoulder, all nerdy, and was like ‘I play guitar and would like to audition.’”

Percussionist Greg Meyers and trumpet player/vocalist Bobby Griffith joined the following winter, while the final addition, keyboardist Galen Karnatz, rounded out the six-piece in August of 2013.

“For a while there, I had more gigs than practices … flying by the seat of my pants,” Karnatz joked, who brings a background in electronic music as well as an affinity for contemporary jambands Sound Tribe Sector 9 and The New Deal.

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There’s significance to Kelly Halpin’s cover art. PHOTO: THE WEAPONS

The musical influences of the rest of the Weapons varies from Lowenthal’s Zappa fix to the Red Hot Chili Peppers for Zimmerman, the acoustic slant of The Wood Brothers and Rodrigo y Gabriela via Tolan, and a common ground for the greatest generation of roots-rock bands – The Band, The Grateful Dead, and The Allman Brothers. Some of the melodies and rhythms on Breakfast also sound akin to Femi Kuti’s Afrobeat mixed with American rock, funk, trance, and the experimental grooves of a jamband frame of mind.

“For me, bringing all of these together is like dance-folk, but I don’t really know what to call it. I really hear [Afrobeat] in Sam’s bass playing, and in some sense, he is the musical leader,” Tolan said.

The Weapons recorded four of the 12 tracks for Breakfast in April at The Henhouse Studio in Victor, and then hit the road for a 15-show Northwest tour. A progression transpired.

“We really began focusing on the continuity of our sets during that tour, weaving songs in and out and creating medleys to keep the flow,” Tolan said. “It kind of felt like we were a different band after touring and playing all summer. It helps your musicality, your stage presence.”

“Yeah, we were playing at a different level once we went back into the studio to record the final eight tracks this last fall,” Zimmerman added.

The album name – complemented by a cover illustration depicting a chaotic, late-night diner scene by local artist Kelly Halpin – has an even better back-story.

“It started as a joke. Whenever we’re on tour, the one meal we always go out for is breakfast at the greasy spoon diner in town, but late night, after the show,” Karnatz explained.

“The running joke is that we were just playing music to fund the breakfast, and that we were actually on a ‘breakfast tour,’” Tolan said. “So we joked about writing reviews for these breakfast places, and that the music was just secondary. Now, with the album name, we can literally go on Breakfast tour.”

Songs written for Breakfast chronicle the band’s progression over the last three years, with contributions from all six members putting their stamp on the final product.

“A little less than half I wrote on acoustic guitar and had them arranged and then everyone added their parts,” Tolan said. “Galen wrote the music for a really cool reggae tune and then I put words on it, so that was a collaborative piece, and Sam also has a couple of instrumental songs that are his own. ”

“You can hear everyone’s different styles of writing and it makes it more of an eclectic mix of music,” Karnatz added. “Songs are really finalized once we’ve been able to play them live a few times and improvise on the song layouts.”

“We almost never play the same song twice. A lot of our compositions are cued by who is leading the tune, so if someone like Galen is killing it, it’s setup to accommodate that kind of improvisation.”

A full horn section, two back-up singers, and even dancers will accompany The Weapons for the show, upping the ante to a 10-piece band. But they didn’t stop there in terms of making the upcoming show special.

“We’ll have a handful of new covers and new originals that are not on the album to debut as well,” Zimmerman added.

Six mixed-medium artists – from glass-blown and woodworked pieces to items from Weapons’ percussionist Greg Meyers, a potter, and Halpin—will show their art in the lobby prior to the show.

Sneaky Pete and The Secret Weapons album release party, 9 p.m. on Saturday at Pink Garter Theatre. $10. DJ Cut La Whut at 8 p.m. in the lobby. PinkGarterTheatre.com.

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About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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