Fayetteville, West Virginia’s Groundhog Gravy met in a slightly unusual way – through their shared love of running whitewater. The group got its start jamming together after a day on the water, and soon realized their passion for the music they were making. Since those early days, they’ve developed a sound all their own and a serious love of touring.
The band, who swings through Savannah on Jan. 12 at the Wormhole, boasts some extremely varied influences that often are a common thread among members but sometimes aren’t. That diversity makes them an extremely unique offering in the current indie music climate.
Ahead of their Wormhole gig, we spoke to all four band members – singer Ed Lehrter, guitarist Berry Rainwater, bassist Matt Harrison, and drummer Scott Ferris - about everything from touring to writing.
First off, tell me about your band name. It’s really unique!
EL: It came out of an old Doc Watson song. It’s actually an old traditional Appalachian tune, but Doc Watson had the most famous version of it. “Here comes Sally with a snicker and a grin, and groundhog gravy all over her chin.”
Oh wow, that didn’t even occur to me. Doc was amazing. So how did this band start? What were some of the early influences that brought you guys together?
MH: We all met by way of running whitewater. We all were river guys, and we would hang out at the end of the day and play music on the porch. Front porch picking, bonfire style. That was about seven or eight years ago and it’s just kind of evolved into something completely different. We used to play kind of beatnik Appalachian funk-grass, we called it. One dude banging on a djembe and some cymbals, and then passing around an electric-acoustic and a banjo and a mandolin.
So it definitely started more bluegrassy.
Kind of rootsy stuff?
MH: Yeah! It’s evolved a lot. We’ve dropped some people and gathered new people along the way, but we all met in Fayetteville, West Virginia, because of our passion for running whitewater and music. So one thing led into another.
So were there bands that you all discovered you had in common? Or were you coming from varied backgrounds?
EL: It was pretty varied. Almost without exception, for everyone that likes one particular band there’s at least one person who isn’t fond of them [laughs]. We came from different parts of the country and ended up in Fayetteville, so we brought a lot of interests to the table in that way.
SF: We all kind of had a background in different flavors of classic rock. So that all kind of shines through – our sound is now very much rock and roll.
Having that sort of thing that happens a lot in bands, where one guy has one influence and the others might not always be into it – which happens a lot more than some artists would like to admit – how does the writing process work? How do you reconcile that sort of difference?
EL: I don’t think there’s any one person with veto power.
MH: It’s funny that you mention that, though. We were actually working on a tune yesterday, and now we all like it. But prior to, there were a few who were not so fond of it [laughs]. But we just decided to take a step back and try something else out. We’re all very happy with it now, so it’s funny that you bring that up.
BR: If there are aspects of certain songs we don’t like, we just talk it out and we’re good. We’re friends, nobody’s stepping on each other’s toes. We say, “What if you tried this maneuver or this tone?” and we go from there.
SF: Even if we don’t like the song the way it is, we can tweak it and make it something that we all agree is presentable.
EL: We all come from backgrounds where if we make something good, everyone knows it.
Tell me a bit about the touring side of things. What’s your favorite aspect of being on the road? What’s your least favorite?
SF: We all come from kind of a dirt bag background – rock climbing, river guiding, traveling around. We’ve all spent about a month on the Grand Canyon. One member even spent about three months on the Grand Canyon. So we’re used to living out of tents, living in uncomfortable situations, getting by with just a little bit of food, being in close-knit quarters. So we think that helps us to be prepared for this kind of environment.
EL: That, and we make sure to buy a bus with a lot of space in it [laughs].