Particle explores fresh, unpredictable grooves
August 30, 2005
Look at the recent past for Particle, and it’s hard to get a grasp on just what kind of band the California quartet is.Particle – whose first gig was an after-show party on a cruise ship following a 2000 Phish concert – spent the summer as part of Hydra, a collaboration with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. That affords a take on Particle that puts them firmly among the jam bands.But their current tour has the all-instrumental band – bassist Eric Gould, guitarist Charlie Hitchcock, keyboardist Steve Molitz and drummer Darren Pujalet – teaming with singer and multi-instrumentalist Gabby LaLa. LaLa’s music is impossible to describe, other than to say it features her cartoonishly high voice, and such offbeat instruments as theremin and ukulele.And at Bonnaroo, the massive jam-oriented Tennessee gathering, Particle did a medley of Sly & the Family Stone hits, with the 12-voice Fresh Oil Gospel Choir joining in. Fresh Oil is one of several gospel choirs that have performed with Particle, and the band has also collaborated with rappers, singers of all kinds, Doors keyboardist Robbie Krieger, masked avant-garde guitarist Buckethead and numerous others.
To understand Particle, however, it is probably better not to look at past projects, but to look toward the future. That’s what the band has done from the beginning.”It isn’t a band that was going for anything. The only thing we were going for was an instrumental groove, and that’s the most specific we got,” said Gould, a Massachusetts native and film school graduate who moved to Los Angeles to pursue one of his two loves, movies or music. “People would just throw some idea out and we were all open to it.”The band has called its sound “funktronic,” which comes reasonably close to describing the music. Particle splits the lines between jams and electronica, the feel of spontaneity and the sounds of heavy production. But there’s a good difference between a live performance from mid-2002 and last year’s “Launchpad,” their studio debut.”What we started out as isn’t what it’s going to become,” said Gould. “There’s a lot of room for growth. We expected to evolve. There’s a lot of room for us to shift, whether it’s altering the sound or adding vocals. I can see Particle becoming something much different than it is now.”
The current shows are something different than they’ve done before. Dubbed Calilicious, the tour has Particle playing songs by the widest variety of bands that have come from their home state. That means Particle putting their stamp on tunes by the Doors, the Grateful Dead, Guns ‘n’ Roses, surf-rock classics and more. Throw Californian Gabby LaLa – who is opening the shows and is expected to join Particle onstage – into the mix, and Particle is once again entering a realm they haven’t seen before.The band’s exploratory nature has made them a good fit among the jam bands. But that fit need not be so tight as to constrain Particle’s open-ended vision.”That genre is very broad,” said the 30-year-old Gould. “It’s not like post-modern rock, or whatever, where it’s all in the same boat. With jam bands, you can have an acoustic bluegrass band or a hard-hitting electronic band. The only it all has in common is how they like to improvise.”It’s like how broad jazz is. There are so many different kinds of jazz.”
An indication of how expansive the jam scene has become is Particle’s union with Mickey Hart. In the Dead, Hart came from a band whose cornerstones were folk, blues, early rock and jazz.”He was interested in a project with an electronic pulse,” said Gould, “and was interested in what we were doing.” When Hart couldn’t make Particle’s anniversary gig a year ago, he invited the band up the coast for a jam at his house. “It was magic, some amazing grooves, which became Hydra songs. We looked at each other and said we’ve got to continue this.”Particle is looking to record its second album before the end of the year. What they will come up with by then, even they don’t know.”We don’t have any boundaries for it,” said Gould. “If we’re feeling it, it’s OK.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org