Philly’s The Groove Merchants are here to throw down and breakout.
Fueled with howling vocals from frontman Tye Vallone, driven by Luke Ferracone’s guitar work, and insured through focused horn sounds and a hustling backbeat from bassist John Evin Groome and Peter Snyder on drums, the band twists in elements of blues, funk and soul.
The Groove Merchants recently released their new EP, “Live at Morgan Creek,” after the release of their third, full-length album, “The Throne,” released last March, got lost in the shuffle with the onset of COVID. The new, live EP is a selection of three songs off of “The Throne” as well as a cover of the Dylan classic, “I Shall Be Released,” which was released as a single in December with an accompanying video.
PW recently sat down with Vallone and Ferracone to talk about the band’s new music and career.
The roots of The Groove Merchants reach back to 2012 and Kutztown University. Can you talk a little about how you first got together? Was there chemistry right off the bat or did it take awhile to realize that this was a great fit?
Tye: So, the short version is basically I met John Evin and our original drummer, Anthony, and formed a group with them, and Luke formed a separate group with them, unbeknownst to me. Once we realized that, we all decided to basically join forces and just play together. I think the chemistry was definitely apparent right away, even in the early days at Kutztown, and when Peter came on as our drummer in late 2018, everything clicked right away and has been full steam ahead since then, the culmination being this new EP.
Luke: Around that time, Anthony and I were trying to put a group together, so we were jamming with other bass players and musicians, which was always cool, but it wasn’t quite clicking yet for what we had in mind. I remember he suggested a different bass player that he knew and the first time we played together, it was immediate that this was going to work. We all shared a similar approach that worked for what we were doing. This man is who we now know as John Evin! Then, when we linked up with Tye, it all came together because, as he said, he had already been playing and had a group with the two of them at the time. Pete went to KU with all of us so we had been playing with him some too during that time, so that was a great move that felt natural when he joined in 2018.
Why did you decide to move ahead with “Live at Morgan Creek,” and how did it all come together? What’s been the reaction of your fans?
Tye: This was one of those rare silver linings that’s come out of the pandemic. Since playing live shows basically shut down for us, except for one or two outdoor events in the summer, we decided to use the time to put content out rather than sit and wait for this all to be over or just do a couple live streams. Live shows have always been where we feel the band shines the most, so we wanted to capture that vibe and energy as much as possible while still being safe. So, we arranged a live recording session at Morgan Creek Farms in Quakertown thanks to our good friends Adam and Steph Kline, who own the farm and actually had us play at their wedding there a few years ago, and we were lucky enough to be able to come back and record the EP there.
We were thankfully also able to recruit some additional musicians, including Mark Brown of Hambone Relay to play organ, as well as engineer, mix and master the record, and even feature background vocalists for the first time in a live setting. We were also able to have our good friends and fellow Kutztown alums Josh Munson and Mike Gialoretto film the session as well. The reaction so far has been outstanding, and we’re super thankful for all the support from everyone who’s listened to the EP. The energy and musicianship just all came together perfectly – which I’m sure you know is super rare – and I think it shows on the record and our fans have responded to that, which has been amazing.
Luke: I think this band feels most comfortable and is at its best in a live setting, which we haven’t been able to capture yet for any kind of release but had wanted to do it for some time. This was an opportunity to do that while there was so much down time. It wasn’t a live show per se, because we couldn’t have a large audience or anything due to COVID, but I do think we captured elements that represent who we are as a live band well. We played live and approached it like it was a show; just it was played in front of very few people. It was great to have all the people Tye just mentioned be a part of it, and we are thankful for everyone’s efforts in making it happen. Huge ‘thank you’ to Adam Klein, who, for hours, helped me troubleshoot a terrible sound emanating from my guitar amp which, after much, much trial and error, turned out to be caused by the current from the farm’s electric fence!
Your music is described as elements of blues, funk and soul. Has your sound changed over the years? How would you describe a typical Groove Merchants song?
Tye: I don’t know if there is a “typical” Groove Merchants song because we’re always pulling from different influences (what we’re all listening to, different genres, etc.) but I think the key hallmarks are always vocals and strong, blues-influenced guitar work that play off of each other. I think in the early days, our sound was a lot more “jam” oriented, and we were kind of just figuring out songs that we could work guitar solos around. Over time, the songwriting has evolved greatly. Plus, we’ve been able to add horns and keys. Our latest full-length studio album, “The Throne,” is the first project we did where every song really had something to say, and I think that’s reflected musically, too.
Luke: When we first started playing, I’d say the music was more wide open. There were big sections of songs that were open for solos and improvisation that made for some rawer and sometimes wilder shows. The song was often centered around that. That’s definitely still part of what we do, but over the years, we have gotten more songwriting and arranging focused. It’s also a big change to have the added instrumentation we’ve been playing with. Writing songs with keys, horns, backup singers, percussionists, etc. in mind, as opposed to two guitars, bass, drums and vox, opens up a lot of new songwriting avenues to pursue. I think our latest record, “The Throne,” which the songs of this Live EP are from, is a reflection of that.
Who are you listening to right now? Are there any Philly artists you’d like to share the stage with?
Tye: I’ve been really digging Nathaniel Rateliff’s solo stuff lately – especially his older, more folk-oriented records. He’s such a raw force of nature both vocally and performance-wise and I just love his song writing. Philly-wise, we always love sharing the stage with Hambone Relay and fellow Kutztown alum Kirby Sybert. I’d also love to work with Nik Greeley and the Operators and maybe even Low Cut Connie. It’s awesome to see them blowing up coming out of Philly.
Luke: I just listened to The Wood Brothers “One Drop of Truth” again and that record is inspiring. The production, songwriting, lyrics, guitar playing, bass playing…The whole thing is awesome. For a Philly band, I want to do a show with…The War on Drugs. Let’s make it happen!
Live performances have been a big part of The Groove Merchants over the years. What have been some of your most memorable performances? I assume you’re looking forward to getting back on stage after the pandemic passes, right?
Tye: I think the one that stands out the most was our performance at the iHeart Radio 104.5 Summer Block Party in 2017 at Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing when we opened up for Judah and the Lion, Portugal the Man, and Vance Joy. It was such a surreal experience playing in front of that many people on a stage like that, and I hope we get the opportunity to do something of that magnitude again after all of this stuff is behind us. Other shows that stand out to me are our appearances at Musikfest in Bethlehem, Dogfish Head Brew Pub in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and our short run in Nashville in 2018 with our friends Johnny Hayes and The Loveseats. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention some of our great nights at local spots The Funhouse and The Wooden Match in Bethlehem.
Luke: Tye definitely hit a lot of them there. There’s something special about playing more intimate rooms like The Funhouse, Kennett Brewing Company, Dawson Street Pub, places like that. The playing approach you take is a bit different and there is also an amazing shared connection to the people in there that doesn’t quite translate to bigger stages as readily, in my experience. We also did a live stream show at The Sellersville Theatre in October. It’s a great room and the people who work behind the scenes really are top notch and great to work with. Definitely looking forward to playing again.
Any plans for a fourth full-length album?
Tye: We don’t currently have anything new that we’re working on right now, but we’d definitely love to record another studio album once COVID is behind us and we can safely get back in a studio and work out some new stuff.
Luke: We just finished this EP, so nothing currently in the works, but I think another live recording would be good to do. Hopefully, some of the festivals that were canceled last year will be able to happen and recording one of those shows would be a good next step.
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