The Heavy Pets are Jeff Lloyd, Mike Garulli, Jim Wuest, Jamie Newitt and Justin Carney, a five-piece rock n’ roll jam band out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The band began in 2005, and now have two LPs under their belts: 2007′s debut double-disc Whale and 2010′s The Heavy Pets. This all seems simple enough, with the exception that they have received critical acclaim from almost everywhere, including The Huffington Post, for their danceable and infectious live performances, have a massive discography, and are festival favorites.
I talked to guitarist and vocalist Jeff Lloyd before the band embarks on their 19-date U.S. Tour, including stops in Florida’s Orange Blossom Jamboree and upstate New York’s 4-day camping fest, Mountain Jam.
Kristina Villarini: Nearly every time I hear or read about The Heavy Pets, you’re called an “American rock’n roll” band, but your sound is incredibly eclectic. Do you think rock’n roll is the appropriate foundation for what you do?
Jeff Lloyd: Yeah, I do. That’s the approach we took when we started. I’ve been doing this with Mike (Garulli) for 15 years now, and when we began it was that ‘kids in the basement’ kind of thing. We really haven’t strayed too far from the dream of rocking out, manipulating our instruments and enjoying the audience. The original goal was always to just jam and kick ass, and that hasn’t really changed.
KV: Who are some of your artistic and musical inspirations?
JL: My mother, for one. She is a choir director at my high school now, but she wasn’t when I was attending, thank god. (Laughs) I wouldn’t have made it. I grew up in a musical household. There was able music or instruments around me. She had lessons out of the house, so I had to be quiet. I picked up so much as a kid, and I didn’t see it then, but I see how powerful it was now. My mother is huge influence.
My father, while not a musician, had an amazing vinyl collection. While I was growing up–and trying to be quiet–I grew bored with the artists I was listening to at the time. I was probably too young to just realize what an amazing guitar player someone like Kurt Cobain was, but I ended up finding guitar players like Leslie West, Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix through those records.
KV: Sirius (satellite radio) had a positive impact on The Heavy Pets. Did you ever suspect that was how you would start building momentum?
JL: No, it really wasn’t. We originally got Sirius in my house for my dad, who wanted to listen to Howard Stern. Next thing you know, one day the old man calls me up and says, “Your song is on the radio.” Our old manager had sent them a package and about three months later, they put us into the rotation. We kind of waited for it to end, but it didn’t. They played it over and over and then they picked up another song. It was this tremendous, unexpected thing.
KV: Where did the decision to come out with a debut double-disc come from?
JL: That was just a crime of not knowing when to stop. We had tons of material and we felt like it belonged somewhere. It was self-produced and self-funded. We recorded and we were only able to afford about five to ten hours a week of the studio time, so we made the most of it. It grew from five or ten songs to twenty, and when we realized what a whopper we had on our hands, we named it Whale. Funny thing, the original name was Wail and we were going to use a picture of a whale, but we scrapped that for the real thing.
KV: You guys are about to head on the road for a big tour. Why is it called “The Illumination Tour”?
JL: Oh, we feel like we’re going out there to illuminate, and we’re ready to be illuminated. It ties in with the tune “Lantern,” which is available for free on our website. We wanted to release this song and do this tour, and I felt like the song meant a lot. You know, you can still make people dance with sticks and strings. Like they used to.
KV: The band has played some festival dates, but still continue to play clubs and smaller shows across the country. Do you think there are differences between a festival audience and one at a club or concert hall?
JL: No fundamental difference. I think it has to do with time of a day, like 5pm or 11pm versus the major acts who start at 8pm. People have a natural flow of energy throughout the day. We don’t play bars or clubs in the middle of day. Obviously, when you get to play in front of an audience of thousands of people at 3pm, it’s going to be an amazing experience and rivals a club that’s jumping off at night.
We feel so lucky to be doing this, and to have this opportunity. We just try to relish in that moment every time we play. On stage, we feed off of the energy of one another. I love those guys and we are all great friends. So that’s the first part of the energy we tap into. Everything else comes naturally.
KV: Going back to the work ethic of the band, you now have this incredible discography for a relatively young band. Do you think you work quickly or is everyone else in the industry just working slowly?
JL: We are just not smart enough to take anyone’s advice, in that regard. In this business, people are really quick to tell you when you’re failing, and no one ever steps forward to acknowledge if you’re doing something right. So, we just released what we wanted to release the way we wanted to release it. We’re kind of stubborn in that way. I feel like time is precious.
But we do have a fantastic label now called 102º, out of South Florida, and they’ve been very accommodating. They have allowed us to pursue all of our goals, and they have been there, backing us up every step of the way. It’s been a beneficial alliance.
KV: Do you have personal goals as a singer or lyricist, and what are some of your band goals? Are they one in the same?
JL: I think they’re indelibly linked. As a singer/guitar player/lyricist, I’m always trying to get better. I’m trying to become more visceral or child-like. Maybe I’m not trying to become ‘technically’ better, but I want to tap into the vibe of what makes people love music. My goal is to tap into the things that I love about music. I’m trying to be a vessel for all of that.
It took a while but I did realize, that I wasn’t going to be the best singer/guitar player/lyricist, but it wasn’t all bad. In in coming to terms with that, I can still become the best “me,” and we can still make the greatest music in this band.
KV: You guys have received a great deal of critical acclaim. So is that how you know you’re doing it right? What defines making it?
JL: On one level, it’s the opportunity to keep creating music with my best friends for however many years later. We just keep on making the show better, keep rocking together and keep kicking ass. On another level, one of my favorite things is to hear from a new fan after a show, and it’s flattering. We hear it a lot. Maybe they weren’t sure what to expect, or maybe jam bands or the instrumental music wasn’t their thing before, but now they’re going home and giving us a chance.
KV: How did creating the self-titled record differ from creating Whale?
JL: It was made in two completely different ways. On Whale we recorded most of the music live, but we re-dubbed, overdubbed and produced it ourselves. It was a lot more random. Whatever we wanted to work on that day, in as many takes as we wanted or it took, etc. On The Heavy Pets, we worked with a great producer, Scott Matthews (Eric Clapton, Joey Ramone) and while we’re not new to the studio experience at all, we had never worked with a producer before. It was a refreshing change. Scott was looking at the smaller picture and coordinating a lot of the pieces that made up the album, which removed a big part of the stress and allowed us to focus on the music.
We burnt our ears out in the self-producing process, which happens a lot, whether musicians admit it or not. (Laughs) The second time around, we had a fantastic engineer and a great engineer. I wouldn’t say either of them is more or less ‘us.’ It’s as much ‘us’ as the previous one, just a different side of the same coin.
KV: What’s the ideal scenario for you with a fan after a show? Does someone run up to you and say “your band changed my life,” or do they buy all of your merch or what?
JL: Somebody comes up, and says something flattering, or they go home and listen to your records, or they start tracking you down via road map. They start calling Super 8 motels and stuff. (Laughs) One of the other things that I really love about doing this, is that people become friends at our shows. As far as the overall experience? I hope people feel refreshed about their life and the next day. I’m always trying to think about it in turns of how I want to feel after a show: usually I’m beat or I’m inspired. I hope our music makes people want to achieve the best and get the most out of their lives.
You can catch The Heavy Pets on tour starting on February 23rd, in Savannah GA. Check out the schedule HERE to find them when they head your way.