Ladies and gentlemen, no need to Go Phish this weekend. Welcome the Heavy Pets.
The big-hearted, giant groove-making South Florida jam band returns to Savannah for a Congress Street Social Club show Friday, Aug. 29. Immediately afterwards, there are a couple of shared Southern dates with Umphrey’s McGee, followed by a run of late-summer festivals all over the damn place. The Heavy Pets have a well-deserved huge following.
On Halloween, the guys return to Live Oak, in Northern Florida, for yet another weekend jam-a-thon on their favorite stage, the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. It’s a green-grass natural amphitheater that holds thousands.
Guitarist Jeff Lloyd is one of the founders of this reggae-tinged, Little-Feat-inspired rock aggregation, most recently represented on vinyl and download with the fine and full-spirited EP Rags & Aces.
I really like the Rags & Aces track "Movie Star," which has these very cool '60s rock 'n' roll background vocals. I understand it started out as more of an acoustic song ... how do you settle on an arrangement? When do you know it's done?
Jeff Lloyd: There's definitely a lot of trial and error involved. That song originally started off as kind of like a newgrass, bluegrass kind of song, very upbeat. It was actually meant to be played acoustic. Mike, the songwriter for that tune, totally changed the arrangement. He wanted to go for more of an indie vibe. It's got a retro sound, but we kind of feel like it's got more of a today's attitude. We've got two completely different ways that we'll play that song.
So if you felt like it, you could play the bluegrass version in a show?
Jeff Lloyd: Yeah, and sometimes we do. Fans call us out on it pretty frequently. We generally play the recorded version, but we have an acoustic band and sometimes we play the old version. A good song is a good song; that's something that we try to concentrate on when we get to the studio. When we're writing, we try to not get too caught up on style because it's really more about the content. And we know enough that we're gonna play it well.
How much does the mood and energy of any particular audience affect each night's set list?
Jeff Lloyd: Our bass player, Tony, writes most of the set lists after we get to the venue. Very rarely do we show up with a set list. We might have a few songs in mind going into any given night, of course, but when it comes to the actual playlist and how the songs are gonna flow into each other, that's something that we wait to kind of catch the vibe of the venue, and the audience. It has a lot to do with the energy of the audience. Not that one is necessarily better than the other, but sometimes we'll have a more relaxed audience that's really paying attention to every single word that's coming out of our mouths. And then other times, they're just shaking their butts and having a good time. And we're gonna certainly tailor our set lists for either of those situations.
You're playing a club here in Savannah. How does that compare to a big, open venue like Live Oak? Is it a totally different kind of audience?
Jeff Lloyd: Well, I wouldn't say so. We've played so many different events at Suwannee, and each one has its own unique flavor. The audience is going to bring a different energy to the table. It's really hard not to get swept away by the beauty of the place. But it's really more just about the people, and our connection with them.
Because the world is now so small, everywhere you go do you find people who know you, and know your songs and sing along?
Jeff Lloyd: That's always a pleasant surprise, when we're playing a place that's relatively new or entirely new for us, and we'll have strangers yelling out songs that aren't even on our records. They've obviously checked us out on YouTube and heard material that they wouldn't have otherwise found unless they were digging for it. We try to give back as much as possible when that happens.
And there’s something I think you might only notice as a performer: There are people out there that will mouth words to songs they’ve never heard before! That they don’t know the words to. It’s hilarious. It’s pretty funny. It’s like those kids that are forced into choir, and they don’t really want to be in it, so they just pretend they’re singing.