Happy Mondays Interview Series: Karmic Juggernaut

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Karmic Juggernaut is just that — a juggernaut. Their massively intricate, wild and intoxicating mix of psychedelia, funk, jazz, jam and everything in between grabs you by the musical throat and doesn’t let you go. And we mean that in the best way possible. It’s the type of music that disarms you of all your musical hang-ups and just weaves its way into your spirit…and it’s not subtle about it. Everything these guys do is electric and bold and they are a band you’ve got to experience in order to fully appreciate.

The guys, who’ll be performing tonight at Happy Mondays at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey, got together to give us a very thoughtful and in-depth look at their music as they prep for tonight’s show.

Photo Credit: Paul Sky
Photo Credit: Paul Sky

Karmic Juggernaut Is (Members of the Band & The Instruments They Play): James McCaffrey – Guitar, Vocals; Randy Preston – Guitar, Vocals; Kevin Grossman – Drums, Percussion; Cody McCorry – Bass, Saw

We’re Based Out Of: Asbury Park, NJ

The Story of Our Name Is: In high school, before we were even a band (or even knew Randy…) we signed up for the talent show.  We needed a name to enter, and so our friend Richard Breslin came up with one. I heard about it later that day, and thought it was appropriate, or at least suitable, or hard to pronounce. Either way, it stuck. –KG. Many years ago, a friend of the newly-formed group suggested the name after hearing the music for the first time.  It signifies a force of punishment or reward based on one’s actions. Dig? –JMcG

Any New Music Coming Out Soon: Yes! We recently recorded a live record on the roof of Langosta Lounge on the boardwalk in Asbury Park. We recorded it with our SunLab Studio, which is a mobile solar powered recording studio. It was also being filmed by the folks over at Driving Jersey (a television show on PBS), to be used as part of an episode they are doing on us, or at least we think it’s about us. It could be some sort of bizarre case study or something.

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You’ve Seen Us Before [In Other Bands]: Well, Cody leads a band I am in called “We Used to Cut the Grass”, which I am going to call our sister band, because we share a horn section (Ian Grey and Joe Gullace) and often have the other drummer (Seamus Leonhardt) sit in on percussion with us. Last year we had Ike Willis do a run of shows with us (in WUTCTG). He was Frank Zappa’s lead singer/front- man for something like 20 years.

Other groups or artists I play with include: Matt Wade Band, Kenny Stringbean, Anthony D’Amato and the Emancipation Congregation, Colton Kayser, Boyd USA, Emily Grove, and Charlotte Sometimes. If I missed any, I apologize!

Our Sound Has Been Likened to: Frank Zappa, Yes, Primus, just about anything else that is weird with lots of guitar solos.

Cool/Famous Bands We’ve Played With: Bernie Worrel, Umphrees McGee, Keller Williams, Kung Fu, Moe, Barbara Streisand.

You have such a unique and original sound can you talk about what bands inspired you and why you decided to take the musical direction you did with the band?

KG: We all listen to a wide variety of music. Our sound is a culmination of everything we hear and have studied as individuals. When we come together we find a middle ground, which is essentially everybody playing whatever the hell they want. Unless what someone else wrote for you is really great (which with these guys it generally is). One thing we all have in common is that we don’t want to make music that you can hear anywhere else, and we all want to challenge our musicianship.

JMcC: We’re all into a little bit of everything and find that the music that we enjoy most (and enjoy playing most) incorporates many different elements. It keeps things interesting for us and for the audience. Psychedelic rock, progressive rock, jazz & fusion, funk, Motown, classical, blues, metal, oldies, surf, and afro-beat are certainly on the KJ playlist. Inspirations include: The Beach Boys (SMiLE especially), Sly & The Family Stone, Yes, Gong, Stevie Wonder, The Zombies, The Rascals, The Beatles, The Temptations, Allan Holdsworth, Mr. Bungle, The Ventures, Chicago…

CMcC: It is very loud and abrupt, and very forward. and forces people to reconsider their surroundings for a moment. It is difficult music for the players, challenging to the listeners and not remotely what you would expect to hear in bars… but not altogether inappropriate for them.

When you’re recording is their a set plan on how songs are going to unfold or are you more inclined to improvise and see what happens in the studio?

KG: We generally wont record a song until we have played it way too much. By that point, we should have an idea of how it goes. But when we get into the studio, something is bound to change, and we are going to add a lot of sounds that you do not hear on stage. We try to be open to every idea, an organ here, some bells there, how bout the sound of buckets falling down the stairs… Now that we have our own studio, we do a lot of that. Falling down stairs, that is.

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Our songs are very composed but have sections of improvisation inside of them, that can go anywhere from one to forty minutes.  That being said, we always add something new to the parts we’ve played a million times, just to keep it interesting.

JMcC: Every time is different. We are fortunate to have our own studio so we have many different projects going at any given time with each one being approached in a unique manner.

CMcC: It depends on the composition and situation– sometimes we just start tracking without even a song in mind and seeing what undulates, other times we have the whole thing spelled out.

Same question applies to your live performance — how much improvisation do you guys inject into a show?

KG: As much as we can. It feels the best when we improvise well. It’s an out of body experience, and when the audience is right there with us, hanging on every note, it feels like the mothership is taking off.

JMcC: In a live setting, improvisation is the most effective way for us to connect with an audience considering we’re not a vocal-heavy group singing love songs. It’s a way to feel out the crowd, see what they enjoy, and go in that direction whilst maintaining the framework of what we do.

CMcC: It depends on the venue and who we’re playing for, but if we’re in a place where we have the time and feel comfortable, the improvised sections of a song will occupy about as much space as the composed parts. Some of the songs don’t have improvised sections, many of them do.

If someone read this interview and never heard you before, but decided to check you out, what song would you recommend they listen to in order to understand what Karmic Juggernaut is all about?

KG: “Krokodil Funk,” or “Robotnik.” Maybe “Be Careful Loading Camel.” Perhaps our most recent music video of “Transgressions”. I would say to come to a show. Because we are too wacky to sum up with one song.

JMcC: “Transgressions” is the newest video/tune that we put out and goes through a few drastic changes, so that would be a decent start. It was recorded using only solar power and documented in the form of a music video; but it is not a staged video – what you see is what you hear.

CMcC: Watch the Sun Lab stuff, or better off come see us. Then watch our upcoming PBS special.

A bit of more broad, sweeping question — what is it that you love about being in Karmic Juggernaut?

KG: Getting to play music with these insanely talented and just downright insane people.

JMcC: We love being able to do whatever the hell we want and for it to be acceptable as music. We don’t have to worry about sticking to anything so it allows us more wiggle room in writing and performing. We can get weiiiird. We’ve recently begun having a horn section (Ian Gray on trombone & Joe Gullace on trumpet primarily) with us thanks to Cody’s incredible arranging skills so that has been a blast to have. Various special guests are always welcome to join and they sure do.

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CMcC: We get to consider ourselves experimental and progressive while also selfishly and brutally whacking our rock cocks.

What can the people coming out to Happy Mondays expect to see from you guys in terms of a live experience?

KG: A lot of awkward staring, mixed with some strange facial expressions, all on top of loud fast and aggressive music.

JMcC: Well, it would be bias to say that they can expect a raucous group of go-getters making amazing noise for their enjoyment. But all-in-all, they’re going to have a good time as will we.

CMcC: More notes per beer than any other band in the area, more density for your dollar.

What do you have planned for the rest of 2014?

KG: Record an album and sell a million copies. Or at least twelve. We have the Souper Groove music festival next weekend, the Asbury Park  Zombie walk (we make noise on the boardwalk), as well as a Halloween show at Langosta Lounge. The PBS episode should be out before the end of the year…More music. More music. More music!

JMcC: Gigging, writing, and recording are the general plans.  That hasn’t changed.  We have some fun shows lined up so if you’re into it, stay tuned to the website (www.karmicjuggernaut.com) or the various social media outlets on these interwebs.

Karmic Juggernaut performs tonight at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, New Jersey along with Irate Primate and Stranger! Danger!

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites