Big Fish in a Small Pond
On my way to crash a practice with local funk band 1oz. Jig, I noticed a green van outside on the curb. “Is that your tour van?” I asked Jeff Kearney, the vocalist, guitarist and overall backbone of the group.
“Yeah, it’s the Prime Time,” he said of the 1997 Dodge conversion van. The van, which no longer serves Kearney’s family, will soon be carrying six members of the band — and their equipment — over four states.
1 oz. Jig will kick off the 11-day tour on April 11 with a show at Rogue, and will culminate on April 21 at Webby D’s in Fort Smith.
Dubbed the “Perfect Crime Tour,” the show was named to express the band’s enthusiasm for playing music, “We get paid to go and do something that is totally fun,” Kearney said.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a job.
In a basement once used as a bank (evidenced by the open vault in the middle of the room), the six band members gathered to discuss their upcoming plans before their Tuesday night practice.
Jeff Gray, the trumpet player, quickly chimed in. Gray is one of two members who is not a full-time musician. “I’ve been performing for 15 years, but squeezing every single dollar out of music can sometimes dampen your spirits,” he said. “Being a full-time musician is just not feasible for everyone. Music can become a chore, but this is not a work band, this is a fun band.”
1 oz. Jig, which is well-known in the area for leading high-energy dance parties, is hoping the tour will aid them in developing a wider fan base.
The three goals of the tour are interdependent according to Kearney: Extend the fan base, make more money and have fun.
“It’s time to make a bold expansion,” said Gray, in agreement.
Matt Jenkins, who plays keyboards, continued, saying that the band has grown in popularity over the years and that it’s time to branch out. “Live in a small pond and become a big fish. People around here enjoy us, and we have high hopes that others will too.”
One of the unique aspects of the band and the funk genre is the element of musical improvisation. This balance of written music and on-the-fly discovery is part of what makes the 1oz. Jig dynamic unique.
Though Kearney writes most of the lyrics and music, the creative process is very collaborative.
“It’s not about any one musician,” said Kearney.
The funk band considers itself a creator of living music. Unlike most bands, which learn songs, perfect notes, and “regurgitate it” on-stage, 1 oz. Jig exhibits an awareness and connection between each other and the crowd. “We’ll play a song differently based on the crowd, and the feeling the song has captured,” explained Gray.
“We’re not shoe-gazers. We connect,” said Kearney.
The creative process evolves on stage, influenced by the crowd, personal preferences and even the venue. “We never know what canvas we’re going to have to work with,” said Jenkins, who has been nicknamed “The Kid” because of his enthusiasm.
“We offer something palatable, accessible and very crowd engaging,” he continued, “What we do wouldn’t be possible without the crowd.”
The musicians strive to be like their music, versatile and adaptable.
1 oz. Jig has undergone many incarnations in its four years, and the current lineup has been together since July when Kevin Smith joined the band as drummer. As a group that utilizes improv regularly, a cohesive unit is imperative.
Practicing and playing together allows for each to learn the others’ styles and to develop a dynamic that is unique to the group.
“This group of musicians offers a dynamic that offers controlled forms that speak to the audience,” said Smith. “In a lot of other funk bands, lyrics are inconsequential, but this music is driven off vocals.”
The vocals, written by Kearney, are influenced by spoken work and hip-hop. Matt Beach, on trombone, as well as Jenkins and Drew Packard join in for harmonies and back-up vocals.
Kearney explained the band’s overall message, saying, “In our day-to-day lives, we can begin to dwell on our individual situations, but being in a group of people at a 1 oz. Jig show hopefully makes people remember that we are all human, and our situations all have that in common. Our show is, quite simply, about having a good time together.”
And having fun is hard to avoid at a 1oz. Jig show, like the one at Smoke and Barrel last weekend where the house was packed and jumping until the very last song. Drew Packard, who plays bass, jokingly said they have developed a foolproof dance formula.
Packard, Smith and Jenkins are a part of the rhythm section, which, in addition to the horns, is key to getting people moving on the dance floor.
“The secret is not overplaying, to leave some space,” said Gray. “We try not to kill by horn. We could blow lines all over it, but sometimes it’s smarter to put one or two notes in the right places.”
After the tour, the band will head to Chris Moore’s East Hall studio to record their first album in three years. Inspired by what Packard called “the old rules,” the band will be recording the album on analog equipment.
“What we play is ideal for analog.” Packard said.
As a band that feeds largely off the audience for creative cues, the challenge for the album, which has been temporarily named the Brown Bag EP, will be to capture the intensity of a live 1oz. Jig performance.
Kearney explained that during a live show, the band can look out into the audience and know, “We got them in our grips.”
“There’s no muse in the studio,” said Kearney.
After 11 days on the road, the band should be well-rehearsed and ready to record, which is necessary when recording analog, in which one mistake can ruin an entire take.
“It’s tricky,” said Smith, “to record live and on the spot.”
The band is up to the challenge — to continue spreading the fun and funk.