The hyper-talented 10-piece Groove Spoon rocks the 'U'

Jake Fromm/Daily
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Daily Arts Writer
Published April 6, 2010

Ten distinct musicians stream into a dingy basement crowded with instruments and sound equipment on a sleepy Tuesday night. Yet the somber walls begin to buzz as the collective energy reaches a crescendo.
And the band hasn’t even started jamming.

This might be your typical band practice space, but Groove Spoon is certainly not your typical band.
Drummer Jack Stratton, a Music, Theatre & Dance senior, started the band about two years ago, but this year Groove Spoon went through an overhaul.

The band sculpted its self-described funk music with the addition of eight members, including Engineering senior Nathan Zukoff, who books the band’s gigs.

LSA senior Antwaun Stanley joined as lead vocalist after he took a sound recording class with Stratton and Zukoff, in which they collaborated on a class project that would become one of the band’s singles, “Simple Step.”

After adding Stanley, Stratton filled out the band with people he admired both musically and as personalities.
“It came down to who we want to play with, but it also came down to who we want to be around,” Stratton explained. “There are some musicians who are very emotional. They’re amazing to play with, but you don’t really want to be in a basement with them once a week.”

The band, made up exclusively of University students, is now a 10-piece ensemble with vocals, horns and a rhythm section including guitar and bass. Stratton said 10 members is the minimum to produce “that big, live sound.”
The key to “staying tight,” Stratton said, has been committing to weekly rehearsals this year.

“Because everyone has such expertise and creativity, the musical innovation that’s happening is unbelievable — everyone feeds off each other,” Zukoff said of rehearsals. “It’s the best group dynamic of 10 people I’ve ever seen.”
“This is almost always the best part of my week,” said high brass player Andy Warren, a senior in Engineering and Music, Theatre & Dance, of the rehearsals.

“Everyone gets along so well; everyone’s laughing and smiling all the time,” he added.

Each member feels lucky to be in a 10-piece band, a size rare in itself, that has such high quality and a collaborative atmosphere.

“It’s like working with some of the best musicians on campus,” LSA senior and backup vocalist Hannah Winkler said.
“You feel like you should pay to get into Groove Spoon,” added Music, Theatre & Dance junior and backup vocalist Emily Berman.

Indeed, Groove Spoon is a creative and social outlet for its members, who come from various departments at the University.

The vibe only intensifies during the band’s stage performances. The band usually plays two to three shows a month, including one in the basement of Elmo’s Main Street T-Shirts. Band members surprise the audience as well as each other when they improvise on stage, Winkler said.

“We’re kind of like flipping out at the cool things that each person is doing,” she said.

“I’m just constantly amazed at the musicianship that’s happening around me,” added keyboardist Michael Malis, a School of Music, Theatre & Dance senior.

“It’s way better than a 10-piece bucket of chicken,” Stanley said as the room erupted into laughter.

And Stratton feels the audience generally loves what Groove Spoon does just as much as the members do.

“This is the first band I’ve been in where I’m pretty confident that anyone who gets a glimpse is going to dig it,” he said. “That’s just based on the (other) performers on stage, and has nothing to do with my drumming.

“I always feel like, ‘Wow, if I saw any of these cats (performing), that’d be crazy.’ And I’ve felt that from the crowds too,” he said.

For Groove Spoon, the process of song creation and interpretation is as collaborative as practice and performance.
When the band reworks popular music for a cover, one person starts by arranging sheet music and from there the interpretation begins. Each section — rhythm, horns and vocals — develops its own sound in collaboration with the whole group.

“There’s a reference to the original recording as well as a reference to the fluidity of it, the fact that we can mess with it,” Malis said.

Groove Spoon’s covers include Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Getaway,” The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”

The band writes original music too, “generally by taking a little nugget and trying to make a tune out of it,” Stratton said.

Groove Spoon has written six to eight original songs, four of which have been recorded in a student-run sound booth on campus and put online. Most of the songs have been spontaneous, free-form and highly based on feeling.

As lead vocalist, Stanley contributes greatly to the songwriting dynamic.

“'Twan will just come in with whole tunes in his head, MJ style,” Stratton enthused about Stanley’s musical resemblance to Michael Jackson.

“MJ experience, right here,” Stanley jokingly agreed.

Groove Spoon’s original single “I Love You” was based off an audience-influenced concert improvisation. The song, like their music, changes and evolves constantly as the band gets new bursts of inspiration.

Band members polished “I Love You” at a recent rehearsal. After practicing the punchy electric guitar and soft keyboard, the entire band jumped into an a capella rendition of the chorus in order to harmonize the vocals. The room was buoyant with unity and exuberance.

The band’s name is one feature that has stuck through more than two years and up to 30 revolving members. Groove Spoon was originally called A New Universal Sound, which Stratton loved but clubs hated, so he went on an online name generator and found the name Groove Spoon.

“I don’t really like the name,” he added. “But that’s what it is, and it’s grown on me.”

Another constant — one looked at with more enthusiasm — is the band’s home at the University. Groove Spoon has pockets of fans from groups and programs in which the members are active. It thrives on the experimental environment the student atmosphere generates.

“This vibe you could really only find on a college campus,” said guitarist Justin Douglas, who graduated from LSA in December. “Just a bunch of musicians who are coming together without the pressure to get gigs and make tons on money.”

But Stratton feels no trepidation about advertising the band’s events, which was not always the case for his previous bands.

“With other bands, I would feel weird about promoting,” he said. “But this one, it’s just like, ‘Your loss if you don’t go.’ ”