Hometown heroes: The Heavy Pets’ jam band sound brings life to Syracuse music scene
From a makeshift stage at Harry’s Bar to one of the premier venues in upstate New York, one local band, The Heavy Pets, has made its mark on Syracuse.
At Syracuse University, the band, then named My Friend’s Band, was the catalyst in bringing live music to Marshall Street.
Before the band convinced Darwin’s — a local bar now long gone — and Harry’s on Marshall Street, there was no live music around campus. The boys made a makeshift stage, which they hauled from venue to venue, racking up as much playing time as possible.
“Those were some of the best years of my life,” said singer and guitarist Jeff Lloyd.
Now the boys are back in town on a familiar stage. The remaining members of this band and SU alumni Lloyd and Jim Wuest return to play the Westcott Theater on Thursday. Tickets are still available for the 9 p.m. show for $12 online and $15 at the door.
The Heavy Pets has played the Westcott six times since 2010. Although the Westcott has only been around since 2008, it wasn’t there during Lloyd and Wuest’s days on campus.
“It’s a great room with a great staff,” Lloyd said.
Despite having multiple performances in a short amount of time, Lloyd said the band’s crowd grew every time, along with the amount of people who actually sang along with its songs.
The current lineup of the band, formed in 2006, is based out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Alongside Lloyd and keyboardist Wuest are band members Mike Garulli, also on guitar and vocals, Tony D’Amato on bass and Jamie Newitt on drums.
The rock ‘n’ roll jam band is a national force, playing festivals and selling out venues all over the country.
The group has become a staple at music festivals, playing the Bear Creek Music Festival four times and taking the stage at Wakarusa and Bonnaroo. The band has even had a festival named after it called PetZoo.
Although it was a seemingly haphazard touring schedule at the beginning of the group’s career, after leaving Florida, Lloyd said festivals were how the band accessed an audience base outside its hometown.
The Heavy Pets has been hailed as “Extraordinary” by jam-band website JamBase, and its self-titled album received a Top 10 Albums of 2010 nod from Dan Sweeney at The Huffington Post. By combining roots in funk, the blues, bluegrass and reggae, the band creates a distinctive sound.
“Don’t think of us as a bunch of hippies.” Lloyd said. “We don’t rely on improvisation, we just use it.”
The group’s sound can most readily be described as subdued chaos — sharp, practiced riffs, creative verses and catchy hooks, giving way to a flowing jam of heavily invested, well-learned instrumentalists.
The band has released four studio albums: “Whale” (2007), “Slow Motion Conduction” (2008), the self-titled “The Heavy Pets” (2010) and “Swim Out Past The Sun” (2011). Creating a repertoire of more than 70 songs, each album gets increasingly more polished and refined as the members grow as songwriters and musicians.
Along with its studio releases, the band has released four live sessions cataloging its famous live shows, with three from 2009 and one from 2011.
The SU campus has had just as big of an effect on the band as it has had on the Syracuse music scene. A song off its most recent album, titled “Too See Forever,” is about Lloyd’s time living in room 2C up on the Mount in Flint Hall.
Aside from the group’s Syracuse influences, Lloyd and the band find inspiration everywhere.
“Our music tastes are always changing. You could ask all five guys and get five different answers.”
The band’s playing isn’t even confined to the name, The Heavy Pets, though. It has many side projects of varying genre. There is Spaghetti Warhol, the full band performing covers of other artists, DuBBle James, a live dubstep duo, and others.
The future of The Heavy Pets looks bright since its album release in 2011 and, since then, the band has been working on new material, focusing on some new sounds and growing as a group. Over the years, The Heavy Pets has developed a sizable following in upstate New York, Colorado and Philadelphia — according to the band, its biggest growing market is its popularity in Southern states, the Carolinas and Georgia.
Looking back, the band’s performances at SU were a time when Lloyd and Wuest learned how to really read an audience, such as knowing when and when not to “jam.”
Said Lloyd: “I was a terrible student. I just played music.”
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