Our latest New Groove act is Turbine. Based in New York City, the group features Jeremy Hilliard on electric guitar, Ryan Rightmire on acoustic guitar and harmonica, bassist Justin Kimmel and drummer Octavio Salman. Earlier this year the band released its first live album Sounds in the Hall, which follows two studio recording. In the following interview Hilliard reflects on the band’s development and looks to the future.
Can you talk about the development of the group? How did you meet and how did the current line-up solidify?
Before answering any questions, let me start off by thanking the fans who voted for us!
Ryan and I met in the late 90’s, when I moved in next door to him in the Gramercy Park area of Manhattan. We shared a wall and heard each other playing. Next thing we know, we formed a songwriting partnership that carried on for many years in different incarnations until eventually we started Turbine. Looking back, we were really just exploring and expanding our various musical tastes and learning how to write songs and jam. Finally, we decided to put out a duo album in 2004, which was our first record, Don’t Mind If I Should. We toured for a while as a duo and by 2006 had a bass player, Justin Kimmel, and a drummer, and recorded our second album, Reward. We have changed drummers a couple of times but Ryan, Justin and I have remained constant. Our current drummer, Octavio Salmon joined in 2009.
In terms of your musical backgrounds and interests, what does each of you bring to bear?
I could answer this question for the next 3 days . . . In short, the one common trait we all share is an open mindedness to all music. That may sound generic, but finding musicians who feel like they can learn something from every kind of music is rare. That being said, we have all studied jazz to some degree and love improvised music, Miles Davis being a personal favorite. Octavio is a huge Elvin Jones and Jack Dejohnette fan. Justin, being a bass player, brings a knowledge of hip hop, afrobeat, reggae, funk and Motown among other things. The bass player’s job is to be a sort of groove master, and he has studied and played all those styles. Ryan actually started as a classically trained french horn player, then switched to harmonica and guitar. I was always a self taught guitar player and have been writing songs literally as long as I can remember. Since Ryan and I met we have been about the biggest Bob Dylan fans out there. We all love the greats throughout rock history, from the Beatles to the Band to Frank Zappa, Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, etc. on down the line. Roots music has been a huge influence on me particularly, starting with Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Mississippi John Hurt (the blues guys) as well as Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Woody Guthrie and the Carter Family among others in the country realm. We all stay pretty in touch with who is out there now. We are Radiohead fans, huge Bright Eyes fans, we like Ryan Adams, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Raconteurs, The White Stripes, and Phish over the course of the last 15/ 20 years.
And of course the Grateful Dead. I am not ashamed to say I am a huge Deadhead, and for me the reason is that I find a larger convergence of all these different musical influences in that one situation than anywhere else. It is where jazz meets country, blues, rock and roll, and wild experimentation. And as a songwriter I find it amazing that they were able to improvise and create spontaneously while having songs of such depth and character (largely thanks to Robert Hunter). That is something hard for young bands interested in improvising to do, especially when you have an hour or less at a festival set or something to do it in. How do you play enough of your songs, and improvise freely in so short a time? That’s something we are always trying to figure out. Of course the real trick is incorporating all of these influences without sounding like any of them in particular.
You’re based in New York City. Can you talk about the challenges of gigging out and building a fan base in this competitive market?
New York is challenging and it is pretty weird for a band that tours as much as we do to live here. Every time we hit the road we go out the Lincoln Tunnel, that’s pretty crazy considering we are always coming and going. But it is where we started the band and built the band and we are all making it work. The fact that when we are home we are able to see some of the best shows on the planet doesn’t hurt either. For example, most of us saw the Thom Yorke/Atoms for Peace shows at Roseland this year, and that is something that would have been hard to do living anywhere else, and that had to be the best band in the world that night, music right now doesn’t get much better than that. There are many wonderful venues in New York, and without listing them all, we just played the Bowery Ballroom and that was awesome. We also have the Rocks Off Boat Cruise coming up July 15th and that will be our Third Annual. There are not many cities that have such a cool show as that, a boat that takes you around the Statue of Liberty as you sing your songs. Also we just released our new live album, Sounds in the Hall at the Mercury Lounge, and had a full house and crowd of people ready to really get down Saturday night in downtown NYC. There is something about the energy of that that is absolutely unique.
Who writes the band’s music? How it is typically presented to the group and how does it then come together?
Well, first off let me say that we all write in the true sense of a band being made up of equal parts. That being said, since different people have been in the band longer, there are naturally more songs written by some than others. A lot of the earlier songs we have are collaborations between myself and Ryan. Then a lot of the songs are my songs. I probably write the most compulsively as far as the number of songs I have written. I write a lot of lyrics and end up singing many of the songs.
I think the first album I wrote almost every one. However, Ryan has written a lot as well.. Also, since Justin joined the band he has been part of that co-writing process. I think that in a band situation, the most fun stuff and the songs that everyone is always most excited about is the stuff we write together, hanging out. For example our songs “Special of the Day” and “Doin’ to Me” were written one night when Ryan and Justin and I had a night off in Chicago out by a gazebo near Lake Michigan. Ryan and I co-wrote our song “Quicksand” one day in his apartment. We all wrote the song “War of 9161 (The Pledge),” off our current album, jamming in rehearsal. We are currently working on a song called “Members Only” based around a bass line Justin improvised at a recent show in Boone, NC. The lyrics to a lot of those I will typically go home and finish, or sometimes we will have a lyric writing session together, but the music is written in a group situation and tends to be the stuff we love to play the most. There are other songs that people write and bring in such as “O’ Dawg Stomp,” Ryan wrote at a wedding a while back, and “Eddy the Sea” that I wrote on the beach in Florida one night. Leaving room for individual song expression is important as well.
What it comes down to is that there really are two kinds of songwriting. First: the kind where the song comes to the individual or the group naturally as they go through their life and you really need an antenna to pick up whether it happens when you are improvising in front of a crowd or when you are taking a walk in the woods by yourself. Second: The kind you write deliberately. This is where you would say to yourself, “we need a second set closer, let’s throw out some ideas,” or “we need a song that expresses a certain kind of mood, because we don’t have that mood represented in our catalog, so let’s try something.” I think both kinds of writing are necessary.
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