The perennial funk collective Greyboy Allstars bring new tunes to the Casbah for two nights
The Greyboy Allstars are a San Diego fixture. Despite members moving away, or spending large chunks of time focusing on other projects and raising families, they always return to the project that started it all.
No one, including the band or namesake DJ Greyboy (who invited the quintet to play a one-time record release show nearly two decades ago), could have imagined it turning out this way.
But Karl Denson, Robert Walter, Chris Stillwell, Elgin Park and Zak Najor (replaced by drummer Aaron Redfield the last few years) have made an indelible mark both locally and nationally.
The Allstars are celebrating their impending 20th anniversary with a new album, Inland Emperor (released in April) and two nights of shows at the Casbah this weekend.
Guitarist Elgin Park, a.k.a. Mike Andrews, has gone on to scoring the TV shows Freaks and Geeks and The New Girl) and movies (Donnie Darko and Bridesmaids) but says the Allstars are an entity he hopes continues forever.
I recently spoke with Andrews from his Los Angeles home.
SM: Cool to see you guys back at the Casbah.
MA: Yeah, on this initial run of the tour for this record, we really wanted to get back to knowing what it felt like to play a small room. We want to get excited about playing new music again and I think it feels best in a smaller place. It just has more of a communal spirit that way.
SM: You recorded Inland Emperor at your home studio?
MA: Yeah. You just get to the point where you just want freedom with this kind of music when you record because it is improvised. There is a little overdubbing on the record, but that’s not the thing with this record or this music. You want to get a performance that requires people not being stressed out about how much they’re paying for studio time. So, it’s fortunate that I have this studio where we can record. But ever since we worked on the movie Zero Effect I’ve pretty much made a living by scoring films, so I feel like it’s the least I can do to give back to the band by providing a studio.
SM: The record just flies by, right?
MA: We tried to make a pretty concise record this time. And we had a lot of material. The album is not even half of what we recorded. We tried to whittle it down to something that we really wanted to listen to and felt appropriate for where we were at right now.
SM: Crazy to think that you guys are hitting your 20th anniversary.
MA: It’s nuts. And all for something that we never thought would last. It’s pretty awesome. But it felt really good -- for all the right reasons from the very beginning. It’s never felt like our intentions were about anything but the music. And when you do things for the right reasons, things turn out and they last. You’re never going to hear it on 91X and it’s never going to be pop music, but it feels so good to play and people enjoy listening to it. There’s so much music in the world and I think we all like playing a bunch of different kinds -- we really love this. And together, this is the music we make.
SM: It’s also nice that, for the most part, the band has remained intact.
MA: I think it works because we’ve all developed our own sort of thing as well. So this is really a treat for us when we get together especially for me. It’s just so different than my day-to-day. It’s incredibly liberating. I really can’t imagine ever stopping.
SM: So what’s next?
MA: We have our New York run. We’re doing a few festivals this summer and we’ll probably do some more recording after that. Then we’re going to take a break because I’m going to have a second kid in August.
SM: San Diego has definitely embraced the band, but it’s never been the crazy response that you get in other cities like New York. Is that weird?
No. It’s great. It’s really healthy for the band. We’ve never come and gone. We’ve just stayed. We aren’t looking to get famous or whatever. That’s not a part of our priorities. And it’s hard because people have this philosophy that things have to get bigger and bigger.
But I have to say with Karl and Robert continuing to pound the pavement in the groove world, it’s really helped us to sustain our place. It’s built this mystique around us so people ask, “Well, when is the whole band going to play?” And we owe that, in large part, to their continual enmeshment in the jam family. And our little impact on that scene by initially bringing funk into a bluegrass-dominated thing has really invigorated it.
SM: Why you think the Allstars are a permanent fixture in San Diego's music scene?
MA: It’s interesting. When we play San Diego, there is a pretty good-sized group of people who I only see at shows. And now, after 20 years, it’s like, “Pat, hey man, I f---ing know you now!” And it’s just a conversation here, a conversation there. It’s something more than just a person you see at a show -- you look out and see people growing, getting married, having kids. And some of those kids are coming to our shows now. There’s some second-generation stuff happening. It’s really cool to see. You end up realizing, in an old-folky, Pete-Seeger-way, bringing music to the people and trying make the community feel good -- the music will grows as a result. Time goes by and you realize that you’ve created something really positive which has absolutely nothing to do with commerciality. And I had an instinct about this band when I first joined. I came from being a lead singer in a band but knew that this was what I need to do instead. And it’s been one of the most positive decisions I’ve ever made in my life.