“We’ve all evolved and grown up together, so without much discussion, our music is just kind of became a lot more cohesive,” says Jeff Lloyd, singer and guitarist of The Heavy Pets. “We’re writing songs that fit well together—it’s all rather unintentional but it’s happening.”
With bandmates Mike Garulli (guitar, harmonica, vocals), Jim Wuest (keyboard, vocals), Jamie Newitt (drums, vocals), and Tony D’Amato (bass), Lloyd says each member of The Heavy Pets had their varied musical interests when they came together in the mid-2000s. While Lloyd is mostly into jam-band music, Newitt and D’Amato are influenced by jazz, and Wuest takes a lot of cues from reggae. “We have a wide array of influences that affects the entire band,” he adds. “I think we all went through that phase of being really into jam bands like Phish, but I can’t say that’s the scene the band finds itself in anymore. Everybody in the band has a completely different outlook, or into completely different music at different times.”
The Heavy Pets blend rhythm and blues, jazz, funk, disco, and reggae throughout their core of rock. Their last body of work released was a three-part series of self-produced EPs on 7-inch vinyl: “Two Horses” (2013), “Rags and Aces” (2014) and “Stolen Smiles” (2014). Lloyd and company most recently debuted a few new songs at the beginning of June in Key West and will make their way to Wilmington’s Calico Room on June 10.
Though they are all northeast transplants, The Heavy Pets began in Fort Lauderdale and still live in Florida. So it was a fitting place to unleash their material.
“Pretty much since the start we’ve been going to the Green Parrot for these long, marathon sessions where we play all weekend,” Lloyd details. “It’s seen us grow a tremendous amount.”
Though it’s been awhile since they’ve had so many new songs—about seven or so ready for live shows—Lloyd’s hesitant to call the collection a full album yet. “We have decided we’re going to do a full-length record and we’re probably going to break ground on that this summer,” he says. “We have a couple of core songs that I’m fairly certain are going to make it on to the next recording.”
Every song has a life of its own. They are without a formula, but the process involves a lot of collaboration in and out of the studio. Oftentimes, Newitt and D’Amato will come up with demos of new instrumentals to shop around as songs are being written.
“We each have our own style of making a song come to fruition,” Lloyd adds, “but then each song can take its own path to get there.”
It’s what they did with their last three EPs; for this one, they plan on eventually taking it to Power Station Recording Studio in south Florida. The Heavy Pets are introducing the new material to live audiences while touring. Lloyd is excited to showcase new approaches and styles; they’ve incorporated more layered harmonies over “really funky, dirty music,” as well as sing in unison to add a more surreal and psychedelic effect.
“That’s been really exciting,” Lloyd says. “When it came to harmony, some of the guys in the band have a much more advanced knowledge than others—like with Newitt’s deep harmonic knowledge.”
Lloyd says finding time to write and practice new material was few and far between, as they were unexpectedly sidetracked by tribute projects that really took off. For a long time, the band steered clear of cover songs—save for maybe one or two a year. However, they came to realize their fanbase wanted more and more favorite tunes reimagined by The Heavy Pets. So, for their 10-year anniversary, they granted their Florida home base a night of The Beatles. “It was meant to be a one-time thing,” Lloyd tells, “but we had so much fun doing it and got offers to it elsewhere.”
Simultaneously, The Heavy Pets were approached to do a tribute set of ‘80s songs for a music festival. They took to the idea like a fish to water, reinventing Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” and Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” with special guest indie artist Natalie Cressman. “There’s some many different ways you can go with ‘80s because there was so much going on musically,” Lloyd says. “But we chose to go the dance-party route with the show.”
The Heavy Pets have been invited to do more ‘80s-inspired tribute sets for a Phish afterparty in Saratoga, as well as at the Catskill Chill Music Festival in Pennsylvania later on in the summer. “We have a ton of fun with it,” Lloyd continues. “It’s fun when audience knows every song, yet they don’t know what we’re going to do. When we start playing ‘I’m Coming Out,’ and they realize what we’re doing, it’s just super fun. We enjoy giving it to them.”
For the same reason cover bands in general are popular, familiarity yields an audience latching onto a show, and singing and dancing along to their heart’s desire. It creates a win-win for The Heavy Pets, too.
“As far as the jam scene, I think it’s just a chance for people to go see something different,” Lloyd says. “If you’re a big fan of the band already, it’s awesome because you get to see them step out of their comfort zones and do something different. If you’re not a big fan of that band already, you get to go hear this band play a bunch of songs you already like, and you might leave wanting to check out their music.”
Having a repertoire of tributes is a whole different exercise altogether. There’s a wide variety of artists, and so the band has to really get into someone else’s head to make it a successful cover.
“It can be challenging because people write lyrics in a way that I wouldn’t lyrics,” Lloyd confesses. “It can be hard to remember them for that reason, but I also put a lot more heart and soul and scrutiny into my own stuff.”
As of late The Heavy Pets have been incorporating covers and originals of past and present into live sets—with new originals getting a lot of stage time to come. See The Heavy Pets at The Calico Room on Friday, June 10.