By Mark Anthony Brennan
You have a band with eleven members. We are not talking about five central members with a bunch of rotating guest musicians. No, this is a band with eleven full-time, permanent members. A logistical nightmare? Don’t even get Reuven Sussman started.
“It’s a huge challenge,” admits Sussman, who is the drummer, but also the founder of the band. “We are fortunate because all eleven are awesome people. They are all dedicated, and really excited to be playing the music. It makes it a lot easier. Everyone is helpful; they all pitch in and do different aspects of organizing. The hardest thing is just getting eleven people on the same page, schedule-wise.”
The behemoth we are talking about is The New Groovement, a Victoria funk/R&B/hip-hop band that features the following: one female lead singer, two sax players, two brass players, a guitarist, a bass player, three percussionists, and a rapper. That’s a heck of a lot of people to try and get into one room.
“Rarely do we get everyone to a practice at any one time,” says Sussman. “So it’s been a rule that the last practice before a show everyone must attend. Even shorthanded, we still have more people at a practice than most bands. So, yeah, it’s a challenge for sure. But, there are payoffs too. It’s very rewarding to celebrate and enjoy successes with ten other people. Also, when you go out on the road you have a whole party of people that are awesome to hang out with. That’s what keeps us all going.”
Hang on. They take this circus on the road? That’s eleven musicians and all their instruments and gear. And don’t forget, we live on an island.
“The biggest difficulty is not how many rides we need or how to pay for gas and ferries and so on. The biggest difficulty is coordinating eleven individuals’ schedules. We do what we can. When we do [tour] it’s a special treat for us and for our fans. It works best when we have ‘anchors’ in certain spots. For example, we’ve been to Revelstoke a couple of times. It’s a fantastic city for a band like ours. So one day they’ll say they’ll pay us this much to play there. That allows us to get over to the Mainland, and then we can tour a few cities.”
One thing about getting away from the larger centres, such as Victoria and Vancouver, is that there is some resistance to the hip-hop element in the band’s repertoire. Local organizers often warn Sussman, that the ‘rap’ element will not go down so well in their communities.
“We always tell them not to worry about it. We show up, we play and everybody loves it. They don’t even realize they were listening to hip-hop. First and foremost, we are a fun band that plays dancing music. We are not a rap group. It’s a funk band, with a rapper.”
Adding a rapper to some of their songs is something that sets TNG apart from most bands in Victoria. It is not unusual, however, in Sussman’s hometown of Toronto, where he says dozens of bands incorporate hip-hop as an element in their overall sound.
“When I moved here I wanted to start the kind of band that I always loved listening to back in Toronto. But also, the musicians I’ve met in Victoria have heavily influenced what the band sounds like. I can’t say that I dictate exactly what the band is going to sound like. It’s a communal effort and everyone brings their own influences. Most of the band members have been brought up here on Vancouver Island, and that comes through in the music. It’s not a pure groove-based funk band like I grew up with. We play touchy songs that are fun to listen to, and that comes through as a West Coast sound.”
How does that work, exactly? With an eleven-member group, with eleven distinct ideas, how does one go about bringing it together and composing music? Although there are some songs that are brought to the group by individual members, Sussman tells us that most of the music is created through a “ground up, organic process.”
“When you play in larger groups you learn how to jam. It’s a real art form. It’s not about when to play, it’s about when to listen. We make it work because we’ve learned when not to play.”
But every band has its trials. For one thing, there is never a time that all eleven members of TNG agree on something 100%. And yet they all stick with it.
“The people in this band have a real desire to make it work. Frankly, there is too little money split too many ways, and so the reason we all do it is because we love the music. We love to get people dancing. We really live for those times when the audience responds to us and we get to play with them.”
Sussman laughs. “So, yeah, we’re having as much fun as it looks like we’re having.”
* * * * *
The New Groovement will be performing at the third annual Garden City Grooves Music Festival, “A Celebration of Funk, Soul and Groove,” taking place in Victoria from October 1-3rd. For more info visit http://www.gardencitygrooves.com. They have just completed recording their first full-length album with producer Joby Baker and are looking for a fall release date.