Shady Grove

Uncategorized 6 December 2019 | 4 Comments

Well hello there, it’s been awhile since we’ve been over here at our website. Do people still visit band websites? Who knows…
Anyway, this has been a busy year for us. We released our new triple record “Shady Grove” in September. We apologize to all of the people still waiting for the vinyl. We were told by the plant that we would have them in mid October and here it is, December 6th, and we still do not have them. Frustration is a polite adjective for what we are going through trying to get these records. As soon as they get here, we will start shipping them out to you so thanks for your patience with this situation and A huge thanks to everyone that participated in our Indigogo campaign. It was a huge success and meant a lot to us that our fans would help us raise the money needed for this ambitious record. Once we get into the new year, we will have the LP/CD/Digital available here on the site to purchase in case you didn’t make it over to the IGG site.
Our Shady Grove 2019-2020 Tour will continue early next year and we hope to hit the west coast, Texas, and some other places that we haven’t been to in awhile (Canada?). Stay tuned for new tour info coming soon.
Until then, we are finishing up this decade and playing New Years Eve in Saratoga Springs, NY as part of their First Night celebrations. More info here
Here’s a nice review of the new record along with an interview Mike did with legendary Boston music critic and columnist Brett Milano.

Dig! Mike, Pete, & Hayes

The Figgs
Shady Grove
by Brett Milano

How many indispensable triple albums are there anyway? All Things Must Pass was a great double album with a bonus disc nobody ever plays. Some of us love Sandinista!, but it’s still got a sixth side that nobody ever plays. Frank Zappa filled a niche with Thing-Fish, an entire triple album that nobody but the most obsessed ever play. Prince’s original Crystal Ball would probably have been a classic, but he canceled that and ultimately gave us the less spectacular Emancipation. Then there’s Godley & Creme’s Consequences, which is beloved by about a dozen record geeks, half of whom I’m probably friends with.

At the end of the day we’re left with a bunch of live albums and Lucinda Williams’ When the Spirit Meets the Bone, the rare triple album that was made because that large a canvas was absolutely necessary. Which brings us to the Figgs’ new triple disc, Shady Grove. On the surface it’s got a few things in common with Lucinda’s album– longer tracks, slower tempos, darker feelings.
The main difference is that it’s a Figgs album– which means that however deep or experimental things get, there’s always a kick of energy and a sublime pop hook lurking around the corner. But you can’t fill three LP’s unless you have a lot to get out of your system, and the Figgs did this time around. The album is informed by loss, conceived during a time when three friends of the band passed from the world– starting with Ted Collins, the multi-instrumentalist who was a major part of the band over the past few years. With Collins manning the keyboards, the band explored some heady territory on its last two albums, Other Planes of Here and On the Slide.

Shady Grove completes that trilogy, but uses the extra space to explore much further. The straight-ahead Figgs material is there but given my own proggy tendencies, I find myself gravitating to the two most experimental sides, two and four. The latter sets a Mellotron-enhanced instrumental (“E.H. is Here,” one of three specific invocations to the band’s lost friends) between a moody pair of Donnelly and Gent songs. Taken together they’ve got the sonic adventure of a pop epic and the emotional kick of a three-minute pop song.

In this candid talk, Mike Gent sheds light on the album and the events leading up to it.

Brett: There’s a lot going on in this album– lots of musical ideas, and a lot of emotions to process as well. I assume those two things go along with each other?

Mike: Yeah, it seems a lot heavier just due to the circumstances of making it. We still wanted to be sure there was enough of the kind of music that the fanbase might expect. But when I’m in a sadder mood I don’t want to be listening to a lot of loud, fast rock and roll, and in the last couple years we’ve been in the mood of not rocking out all the time. I was a little worried, because we know that’s what attracted the fanbase to begin with, but I’m feeling that a lot of people are coming along with us, in terms of enjoying what we’re doing now.

Brett: When I heard you were doing a triple album, my first reaction was that coming up with enough songs probably wouldn’t be a problem– but sequencing it was going to be a nightmare.

Mike: We really built it as a six-side listening experience; nobody has to go from side one to side six all at once. Instead, you can start on any side and it should work. My original idea was to map out the sides and record the songs all in sequence for each one, but that went out the window early on—Nobody could or wanted to follow that kind of strict guideline besides myself. One side did survive that concept and that’s side four, one of the sides that each have three songs on them. On those we wanted the songs to work together as a piece.

Brett: Those two sides (2 &4) probably get the furthest from the characteristic Figgs sound. Lots of instrumental stretches, a pretty spacey feel, and I’m pretty sure I hear some prog influence.

Mike: Yes! I actually sent a message to Roger Dean [of Yes cover fame] asking to do the artwork for Other Planes Of Here, but we never heard back. For this one we went back to Holly who’s done a bunch of work for us over the years. Far as the music goes, it was really a matter of giving ourselves some space, not feeling like we have to cram 12 three-minute songs onto a record– We’ve been doing that for a long time. If it’s going to be a long piece, we’d hopefully make it interesting enough that we don’t lose too many ears. Nothing is us just jamming and putting that onto a record, everything is pretty much arranged. And some of the tracks, like the instrumental on side four, started out way longer than what you hear on the side.

The instrumental idea actually goes back a few years, Pete used to mention that it would be cool to do an album where we could shut up and just play. Not that this is even mostly instrumental, there’s tons of singing on it, but it’s revisiting the idea that we don’t need to be singing all the time. That goes back to when we were young, we could spend hours in the rehearsal space just jamming. Plus, a lot of what I’ve been listening to lately is instrumental, I’ve been listening to a lot of AIR and jazz trio LPs that feature vibes or guitar. This kind of stuff influences my writing and production. You can hear a little of that sound in “Sleeping Dogs.”

Brett: We can’t go very far without talking about Ted Collins. Obviously he’s a big part of this album.

Mike: Yeah, I keep telling people he left us a great gift of all the stuff that we cut with him before he passed. Losing him was obviously a shock, and after that, the last thing we wanted to do was go back in and work on the record. It took the wind out of our sails, and after awhile we were able to go back and evaluate the stuff we’d done with him. There was already enough we’d cut together to make a whole single or possibly double album, and I found another album’s worth of things we’d started working on with him during the last two records as well. Then a few more people passed away when we continued work on this new record. Our good friend Eric Harmon (drummer w/ Chainsaw Kittens), and (songwriter and NRBQ associate) P.J. O’Connell, who were both huge supporters of ours along with other people associated with the band over the years. At some point I started thinking ‘Oh God, this is going to be a big bummer of a record’, but as we moved through it, we thought we could structure it so that it became more a celebration of these people.

Brett: The Figgs have played a lot of covers live, but Kate Bush’s “Suspended in Gaffa” was a real surprise. I love the song, and was pretty sure it was impossible to cover.

Mike: That was another song we recorded with Ted. Before all this death started happening around us, it was just this beautiful Kate Bush song. Hearing her original version always sparks a memory of starting our tour for “Palais”.We were staying at a promoter’s house in Buffalo, New York. I woke up one morning and VH1 was playing that video which I’d never seen it before. So now the song always takes me back to that day and that house. Listening to our version is really emotional thing because we recorded the basic track during the Other Planes sessions along with anther Kate song “Hounds Of Love”. We then put both recordings aside. When we started the intial sessions for Shady Grove, I asked Ted to learn the piano part for Gaffa and then we pulled out the session and he put it on there. Once we mixed it, the song instantly had a place on this record. It was a no brainer. Im so glad we finished it with Ted because when I hear it, I think of him sitting at his keyboard playing the song.

Brett: Speaking of emotions, the title song is really the emotional center of the record. I assume the title has a few different meanings, including a reference to the old Quicksilver song.

Mike: Ted was a huge Nicky Hopkins fan, it was always him and Ian McLagan. He was also a big fan of The Grateful Dead– and yes, we know there was also a Jerry Garcia album (with David Grisman) called Shady Grove. I’ve already had people writing to us saying, “You know, this title has already been done.” So I write back saying “Yeah, we know– same title, different record” and I send them a link to the Replacements’ Let It Be.

“Shady Grove” was part of the last session we did with Ted. We were about to be snowed in in upstate New York where we recorded a big chunk of the record and I decided we were going to try and get a bunch of basic tracks done before this storm hit. It was a great, fun session—People were in the studio having drinks, everyone was in a great mood and into it and it was really easy to cut. We asked Ted to put on an acoustic guitar solo, and he played this beautiful one right there in the control room. I was going to put that song on the “save for next session” list, but we got it that night. I kept the guide vocal I sang that night so we could keep the track just as it was that night. It took a long time before I could go back and listen to it, and you can imagine how much I was sobbing the first time I was able to go play it. I think it’s the last song we recorded with him as a full band in the studio. After we recorded it, he did some overdubs on other songs that evening , but this was the last song he recorded.

Brett: The other side of all this is a song like “Grab Your Pack” which is punk and topical, along with the other upbeat songs that lead off the record.

Mike: Yeah, I was thinking, “Let’s throw in some dry cowbell rock here.” Wouldn’t say it’s anything like a new direction, but it satisfied a need for some faster paced songs on this thing. And that’s the kind of song people are going to enjoy when you go into a club situation. I think there’ll be more of that upbeat stuff on the next record– Believe it or not, we have things we left off this album, and it’s not B-level material.

Gent dropped a few hints of things to come but isn’t ready to reveal it all just yet; suffice to say there’ll be even more new music and possibly an archival project or two. Meanwhile spend some time in Shady Grove, there’s a lot of good things to explore in there.

4 Responses on “Shady Grove”

  1. john says:

    Thanks, Brett
    Thanks, Mike

  2. Scott Roman says:

    You left out Joe Jackson’s epic “Big World.”

  3. Chris N says:

    Awesome stuff as always from a lifelong Figgs supporter! Keep up the great work and hope to see you guys live sometime after this pandemic ends!

    • management says:

      Thanks for your message and for being a supporter of the band for so long! New tour will be announced shortly.

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