Gary Backstrom: In It Again with Jiggle
Jiggle was coming up at a very interesting time for the scene. Looking specifically at New England and the Northeast, do you still see a supportive scene like you did then?
I think yeah, in some ways. In other ways, it has changed. There is a ton of new people, but at the same time, it feels smaller. The late 90s and the early 2000s – that was a very big wave, and we were lucky to be part of it. It ebbs and flows, and maybe there are different styles now – more singer/songwriters in the mix. But a lot of people are still around: Max Creek, AOD and some of the folks out there. Some of us have hung out. It’s hard to pin down.
Is the Gary Backstrom Band still a priority?
The GBB has been kind of casual lately. We did do a live CD, but since the members have changed that’s now dated. Hopefully we’ll have another CD this year – it’s going to have some of the older songs of mine that I never recorded with Jiggle, plus a bunch of new ones.
It’s an interesting band. Right now, it’s a two-keyboard, drums and bass lineup, so that’s five of us. We might be adding some percussion and horns in the next year as well. I’ve really gotten into soul music and R&B recently so a lot of the newer stuff I’m doing has a bit of that slant. I’ve spent a lot of time really working on my voice so I can put a product out that’s very vocally strong as well as guitar strong. I’ve done voice lessons and been practicing like crazy.
I don’t see the [GBB] as a totally separate entity from Jiggle and you do hear some past material at Gary Backstrom Band shows. When you write a body of music, you take it with you.
And you have another group you’re working on.
Yes, a Paul Simon tribute we call Rhythm of the Saints. My two keyboard players, Chris Nemitz and Dave Osoff, are in there, and Greg is on drums and Yahuba [Garcia] from Ryan Montbleau Band is on percussion. We also have John Vanderpool from the Heavy Metal Horns and Justin Kleya from Grass Gypsies on bass. For this one we want to take it to small theaters and maybe some more mature audiences. It has a lot of appeal – it’s going really well.
That’s right, I remembered hearing very good things about the Paul Simon show in Arlington [Mass.] a few months ago. How did this come about?
Man, I think the Paul Simon tribute goes all the way back to something we did at, maybe Berkfest? We did a Graceland tribute at one point. I’d been doing a Todd Rundgren tribute a few years ago – I haven’t done that for a while – and my friend Dave Brunyak from the Phreaks was the one who suggested a Paul Simon tribute. I hadn’t thought of that, and I was like, “OK, let’s try it.”
We started as a four piece, and then I was like, I need a big band, and let’s try it at the Regent [in Arlington]. That music is just so, so amazing, and people know it, so they will come out. When you try something like that it’s really hard to find an artist who hasn’t been overdone. There are a lot of Grateful Dead cover bands, and by that I mean, there are enough: I’m not sure I want to add one more when so many people already do an amazing job of it. There are a lot of Allmans cover bands. But I thought Paul Simon was really cool and not being done – it was a fit, and everyone in the band has such a blast doing it. We’re working on some more dates right now.
And your Piano Men project?
It’s a tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel. We’ve been doing this show nationally with a 60-piece orchestra and use the symphony that is in the city that hosts the show. We’ll be doing it in California, Pennsylvania, Maine and Chicago this year.