When the guys of Fletcher’s Grove originally formed in high school in their hometown of Morgantown, WV, they started off by bringing together unlikely musical bedfellows: the sounds of Appalachia and jam rock. Since forming in 2006, the group has undergone changes in the lineup. They went through a few drummers before Tommy Bailey joined, and percussionist Matt Marion most recently parted ways this year.
Now the group will remain a four-piece with Bailey, Ryan Krofcheck (rhythm guitar, vocals), Wes Hager (lead guitar, flute), and Taylor Pratt on bass. Fletcher’s Grove has settled into a groove touring across festival circuits and venues, with an upcoming stop in ILM at The Calico Room (107 S. Front St.) on April 29.
Their most current album, “Appalachian Reaction,” was released back in January 2013. One of the songs, “Pepperoni Pizza,” was recorded in Tommy Bailey’s Riot City Studios in Morgantown, WV, where they all met. Bailey unofficially started Riot City with his brother in high school but have been operating seriously for almost a decade now. They’ve recorded most top-tier West Virginia bands, including Baltimore/DC jam band Litz.
Now Fletcher’s Grove is working on new material in Riot City and testing some songs out on the road. encore had a chance to chat with Bailey about their brand of Appalachian jam rock, tracksuits and country Western attire, as well as what’s to come.
encore (e): First, let’s start off with your definition of “Appalachian jam rock.” What are the influences and inspirations you guys draw from in your music?
Tommy Bailey (TB): We’re all from the mountain state, and our singer Ryan loves folk music as well as Appalachian culture. He’s very into history and writes a lot of songs about West Virginia culture, such as “Faces of the Mine” about the West Virginia mine disaster that took several lives (including a young man I went to school with and knew), as well as “Deckers Creek” about someone making moonshine out of a polluted creek in Morgantown.
On the other hand, our guitarist, Wes, got his masters in jazz guitar and brings jazz, funk [and] hip-hop influences to the table.
e: What are the rest of your musical backgrounds?
TB: I played drums and sax at a young age, toured with a punk-rock Celtics band (The Gentlemen), played bass in college, and marched in the [West Virginia University] drum line.
Matt excelled in show choir along with Ryan in high school. Taylor has just played bass with the group.
e: Tracksuits and old-time Western outfits are not what folks typically think of when they think jam bands. Tell us about Fletcher’s overall personality and how it’s reflected in the music and onstage?
TB: [laughs] So, Wes (our jazzy guitarist) wears tracksuits when we play. Not sure if anyone really knows why, but he has quite the collection and really enjoys them. Ryan is the guy that lives Appalachian stuff and folk music in the band. He bought that shirt [main photo] at a store on tour in Colorado!
e: Songs like “Top of the Hill” and “Faces of the Mine” sound like the Grateful Dead in overdrive. The tempo is much faster. Then, as we get into tunes like “Push,” there’s a slower funk beat. What’s the process like coming up with overall rhythms and beats? Is there a lot of improvisation traditional of “jam bands” or is it more calculated?
TB: We have different songwriters in the band. . . . Ryan [and] Wes mostly for the folk and disco respectively. Taylor writes some as well. Taylor wrote “Push” and is a huge Les Claypool fanatic. “Faces” and Top of the Hill” was written by Ryan, who has a huge Grateful Dead and folk influence. Usually, our songwriters bring the riffs to the table and direct how that song will be played entirely. It’s a good time to check your ego at the door.
e: How does the music change, grow or develop on the road? As you play more festivals and shows with other seasoned bands, what are you taking away musically or personally from each experience?
TB: This is huge, for me at least. Seeing all the great bands we play with from all over the East Coast is a great learning tool. I don’t think our songs change much but it changes my drumming and how I look and act onstage as well.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I visually look while I play, technique-wise. Great drummers look effortless and smooth, so I’ve been changing my technique to match. Playing less notes and with better dynamics.
Evan Lintz [of the Jenny Wilson Trio] definitely rubs off on me, and I’ve been watching a lot of Adam Deitch [of bands Lettuce and Break Science]. I love Lettuce and he’s one of my favorite drummers right now. I met him when we played “the Ville” [music festival] in Ohio and he was a cool guy as well.
e: “Gator Tales” has a very specific vibe from the music, lyrics and tone that paint a picture. How do the lyrics and instrumentals come together to tell the story in a song?
TB: Usually, our songwriters bring the lyrics to the table already, but it can be a collaborative effort as well. We’ve been sending lyrics back and forth . . . for one of our new songs we’re writing, “Tree Thugger.” It’s about the lifestyle of a lot of our friends and festival-goers, and the lifestyle that is associated with our genre. We’re not judging, we love to party. But how deep will you take it? I think the song poses the honest question: Is it OK? Is it the best thing to do?
e: “Appalachian Reaction” came out in 2013; have you been working on a new album or project? If so, what can you tell us about it? When can folks expect it to come out?
TB: We have! We’re actually fighting the trend and working on a concept album right now. We’ll be playing some songs on tour and hopefully will start recording at my studio, Riot City Studios, soon. Due out in 2016. We’re taking our time with this one and I know we’re going to be very proud of it. [Along with] “Tree Thugger,” there’s another called “Straight to the Moon.” We hope a side-effect of this project will raise awareness of the drug epidemic, which is especially prevalent in our home state of West Virginia. This album poses questions about that lifestyle that I think everyone, no matter how much experience you have with drug use, will be able to relate to.
The album is not specifically about drug use, though. It is somewhat open to interpretation and can mean a lot of things and really digs down to the most fundamental question: Is it good or bad? Ask that question about the decisions you make, about your habits, about your life.
Now we just need to tweak some of these chord progressions and we hope to have a powerful message.
Catch Fletcher’s Grove at The Calico Room in downtown Wilmington on April 29. Find more of the band’s Appalachian jam rock at www.fletchersgrove.com.