"It's therapy, it's relaxing, it's fun, and it surrounds us." This is what music means to guitarist Mike Welch and his band Grand Oversoul. Music has indeed surrounded them of late. After a recent gig opening for nationals Rusted Root, as well as a 2004 CEA nomination for best "Jam Band" in the category's inaugural year, Grand Oversoul has grown rapidly with one thing in mind. "Music is everything we do and the only thing we want to do," says guitarist/vocalist Todd Clayton.
True to their Jam band nature, the guys are the result of a chance meeting at the yearly Jam mecca, Bonnaroo. Welch and Clayton's musical encounters became more regular, with each bringing to the table the songs they knew, be they Grateful Dead renderings or Widespread Panic Southern jams. Clayton brought in Mike Putman on bass, providing playing that is said to be, according to the band's Web site, "a driving backdoor force to Grand Oversoul," Then the trio tried out several drummers before sticking with Welch's brother, Scott.
Rapid became the key word early in the quartet's history, as the first demo CD was recorded on Scott Welch's fourth rehearsal with his brother's new project. In May 2003, the group played to their first audience as a warm-up for the now defunct Alias Jones, where they met keyboardist Andy Lenihan.
Having an important gig coming up in West Virginia with Athens, Ohio, jammers Guest, the band sought Lenihan out to do the gig with them. After the show, Lenihan stuck around and became the permanent ivory tickler. According to Welch, "Andy took our music in a new direction. He's a tremendous musician, and it added a whole new element to our music."
A year-and-a-half later, Jamie Ritchie filled out the band's sound more with added percussion. "I had known Jamie for a long time, and he had always been a drummer," Mike Welch says. "He actually shared the practice space we rent, and we asked if he wanted to play percussion. He went out and bought all these instruments and instantly fit right in. And that was that — we were a six-piece."
Just as the band's lineup rapidly grew, so too did their crowd.
"We try to play out as much as we can without playing too much," says Welch. "It's nice to play in front of decent-size crowds, especially when you notice a lot of new faces coming to hear us."
With those fans has come success, including the aforementioned opening gig with Rusted Root, of which Welch says, "It was a good night for us. We played a short 50-minute set that started out with the crowd just kind of staring and bobbing their heads trying to figure out who we were. By the time our set was up, the crowd really was into it and gave us a great response, and when the lights came on it was cool to see that the place was packed."
But big gigs aside, it's the music that shines through. With the completed lineup, Welch says, "I think we finally have the sound we want. We're all continually getting to be better musicians and, as a band, we have a pretty good understanding of each other's style and so forth. We're starting to react to each other much better onstage now than before."
As their Web site maintains, GO's sound is indeed Southern-slanted, especially in the vocal department. "Dancin' with My Emotions," the sample track from the upcoming album recorded when the group took over Oakley's 20th Century Theater in May, is a raw, dirty guitar ditty, heated up in the choruses with organ sounds and with a middle-section improvisational spree that ends with the song's powerful Rock & Roll crescendo.
As for writing, Clayton says the collective contributions of the band members is key. "When I look at our list of originals, there are many I have written on my own and many that someone in the band has helped me write. But ... the song really comes to life in arrangement and onstage."
It's doubtful that Grand Oversoul is overdoing anything, let alone soul. But with the success the sextet of jammers has had so far, it seems the future will keep true to the first part of their name and indeed be quite grand.
GRAND OVERSOUL (grandoversoul.com) plays the MidPoint Music Festival on Thursday at RBC.