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Metrograde: Not Afraid Of Change

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By Johnny Griffith

Change is not always the easiest thing to accomplish but let’s face it, if you don’t have the ability to change, sooner or later you will be left behind. This holds true in most things and certainly in music. The guys from Metrograde, a rock band out of East Texas, know this all too well as they have all came from different projects to end up in Metrograde, which even began life as a different band before settling on the current band lineup. Burning up stages all over Tyler, Dallas, and beyond, Metrograde has carved out their own brand of entertainment that is musically sound, relevant, and complex enough to keep even the most casual listeners engaged. Eager to get some background on these guys, I tracked them down to get more info.

Johnny: Give me some history on the band members so the readers get a sense of who you are.

Seth: I was born in Shreveport, LA. I grew up both in Shreveport and Jacksonville, Texas. I started playing piano as a kid, taught by my mom, then drums, then guitar as a teenager. I played the French horn and cello in school and grew up with a love for classical music, rock music, and folk music, [all while] being influenced by my widely-varied family. I was very influenced on the guitar by Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and later on things like Smashing Pumpkins and Incubus. Played in a band called Truffula Tree for several years that I loved, and now I love what we are doing with Metrograde. I’m very thankful to the other guys for bringing me in because I’ve learned a lot, and this is some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing music.

Joe: I grew up in Tyler and went to Robert E. Lee High School. My grandfather and dad were musicians and got me into playing violin and drum lessons when I was a kid. That was how I got into music. I always played with my neighbor, and [we] learned songs we liked. At 13 I decided I wanted to play music for the rest of my life.

Darriel: I was a military brat, so I grew up in a lot of different places. I was born in Maryland, started school in Hawaii, and would eventually grow up and finish school in Greenville, Texas. My grandfather was a alto saxophonist for the U.S. Navy Jazz Band, and when my family lived in Maryland, I would play the piano in his basement all the time as a kid. I eventually joined band in 7th grade and played the clarinet. During high school, I also played alto sax and drums in jazz band. I went to Trinity Valley Community College and started my music degree as a percussionist. During that time, I played keys (split keys and bass) for a band that meant a lot to me, called Blue Jean Harmonica. After getting tired of having to split all of my parts, I picked up the bass guitar, and I fell in love with that instrument. I later went to Tyler Junior College and was a member of the drumline there, where I met Joe and Boomer. I went to UT Arlington after that to finish my undergrad degree and got heavily involved with the jazz program there as a bassist. Much of the influence on my playing comes from what I’ve learned there.

Boomer: I grew up in Marshall. My first musical influence was my grandfather who would play old southern gospel songs on guitar while my grandmother sang. He always saw how much I enjoyed listening and learning some of those old hymns and would eventually encourage me to pursue music in life. I came to Tyler for school where I met Joe and Darriel. Being on the Apache Punch Drumline was an incredible experience and what gave me the drive to be the best musician I can be.

Johnny: Where does the name Metrograde come from?

Metrograde: It came around when we were deciding to rebrand the band after we learned that we shared names with another established band called Night Lights. Around that same time, our lead singer at the time was leaving as well, so it lent itself to a natural evolution of the band. Basically, we were sitting around a table having a meeting about that and new names, when Darriel (the bassist) came up with the name Metrograde, and it stuck.

Johnny: Whose idea was it to start the band?

Metrograde: It was Joe and Boomer’s idea to start the band. It grew out of the open mic that Joe, Boomer, and Darriel were playing that summer. The topic of bringing back some old music from an old band came up, and we ran with it. Shortly after we found Brandon and wrote some new music for a few months before recording.

Johnny: What was the original line-up?

Metrograde: The original line-up was Brandon Van Hoven on the vocals, Joe Snyder on guitar, Darriel (pronounced Dare-EEE-uhl) Montgomery on bass, and Austin “Boomer” Tackett on drums.

Johnny: What’s the current line-up of the band?

Metrograde: The line-up is the same, other than the lead singer. Seth Lord, who has the coolest last name ever, is now our lead singer, as well as our second guitarist.

Johnny: How would you describe your sound?

Metrograde: As pretentious as this may sound, what we go for is music that is very accessible and engaging to both musicians and the common listener.

Johnny: What are your influences musically?

Metrograde: A few of our many influences are Kings of Leon, Minus the Bear, The Killers, Incubus, and Two Door Cinema Club.

Johnny: When and where was your first gig?

Metrograde: Our first gig was on St. Patrick’s Day in 2014 at The Chuggin’ Monk in Arlington.

Johnny: What’s been your favorite memory so far as a band?

Metrograde: It’s kind of a tie between opening up for P.O.D. a few years ago and the process of recording our new album.

Johnny: Obviously you guys play the Tyler/Dallas areas, but how far outside those markets do you book shows?

Metrograde: We don’t really play outside of those areas, but that’s a strategic choice. We’re really focused on building up a more regional following so that when we eventually push outside of Tyler/DFW, we can do so with more success.

Johnny: What are some of the highlights of this fall for Metrograde?

Metrograde: A few weeks ago, we got to play for an engagement! We played Eric Clapton’s “Baby I Love Your Way” as our friend proposed to his girlfriend of nearly three years. She said yes, and it made for a really cool moment for all of us!

Johnny: How about the next year, what are the goals for the group?

Metrograde: We’re looking to finish our album and try to get ourselves signed to a reputable label. We all feel pretty strongly that we have the drive, the talent, and the product to make that happen.

Johnny: What has been your biggest success so far as a band?

Metrograde: Over the past year or so, we’ve been meeting more and more people who seem to have a genuine interest not only in our music, but in our ambitions. It’s been really cool to see so many people come out of the woodwork to help us attain our goal of performing our music as a career.

Johnny: What do you hope that people hearing you for the first time take away from the show?

Metrograde: This is kind of cliche, too, but we really hope that the passion for making and performing music for others really shines through when we’re on stage and that it encourages others to do the same.

Metrograde on the web:

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Stefan Cotter: A Little Out Of The Ordinary

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By Johnny Griffith

It’s the weekend. You want to get out of your home and enjoy some time out. Maybe some dinner and afterwards, a bit of live music at one of the venues around town but you want something a little different than the usual. Not that the usual isn’t good, but you’re just marching to the beat of a different drum today and want a soundtrack to accompany your mood. If that is the case, then you need to find where Stefan Cotter is playing and make your way to one of his shows.

Originally a product of Morgantown, West Virginia, the unique singer/songwriter eventually found his way to East Texas with his wife about 8 years ago and has been doing things a little differently ever since. With the ability to be comfortable playing multiple and disparate genres, Cotter has contributed to many local groups and continues to entertain audiences all over the region with his eclectic brand of musicianship that is definitely not the ordinary.

We tracked Stefan down to get a better perspective on what he’s doing and how he’s doing it:

Johnny: What were your earliest musical memories and what got you interested in being a musician initially?

Stefan: My dad is a trumpet player/teacher, who is finally retiring this year, and I remember him writing out “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and teaching me how to read music on the trumpet. As I recall, that was about 4th grade. He also did a lot of musical theater gigs in the summer when I was little and I used to go sit in the orchestra pit with all of the musicians and I thought it was awesome fun. Those people were great musicians, some of whom I still know to this day. I also got to experience him as my high school band director, which made for a lot of great fun! One memory that sticks out was probably around second grade when he let me march with the high school marching band and play cymbals in the small town we lived in during that time.

Johnny: Your bio on ReverbNation cites your genre as reggae, rockabilly, bluegrass, and rock. That’s an unique mix, especially in this neck of the woods. What are some of your staple cover tunes that really highlight a Stefan Cotter show?

Stefan: I have a lot of “favorite” cover songs but some that have stuck with me are: “Don’t Let Me Down” by the Beatles, “Valerie” by The Zutons, “Could You Be Loved and Waiting in Vain” by Bob Marley, plenty of 50’s country and rock ‘n roll, Chuck Berry’s “Roll over Beethoven,” and lots of old traditional bluegrass as well. Coming from West Virginia, bluegrass and old time music is everywhere.

Johnny: What drew you to those styles of music as your genres of choice?

Stefan: I have no logical explanation, but I assume the excitement. If the music is good, I get excited and the feet start stompin’. You know it when you hear it. That goes for reggae, jazz…anything. Also, I think punk rock/ska was my first love I reckon and there is something very punk rock about Chuck Berry, early Beatles, and early rockabilly. There’s just tons of energy. To add to that, the guy that taught me how to run a real sound system, Paul Vallett, also introduced me to REAL roots reggae, “Rock Steady,” and reggae dub. There is nothing better than testing a full on sound system when there is nobody there and just pounding that low and slow reggae. So that’s where the reggae came in I suppose.

Johnny: Who would you say your biggest musical influences were when you were discovering your “sound?”

Stefan: It’s constantly evolving, and that includes my sound too I guess. Sublime was my favorite band for a long time in Junior High and High School. Reel Big Fish was what band I wanted to be in. I was in Jazz band and the orchestra in high school so that brought in a lot of new music. Then I got into jazz/ classical music in college. I was obviously exposed to a ton of different ideas and I loved it. Again, the reggae sound system, then I found Django Reinhardt, who is my all time favorite guitarist. Bob Wills and John Prine and suddenly I get lost again on an entirely different rabbit hole. I’m also constantly influenced by the bands that I’ve played with, both as a college credit or rock bands that I played around with in Morgantown, most notably The Greens. You should check them out, those guys absolutely rock!

Johnny: Are you primarily a solo act or do you work with a stage band?

Stefan: Actually I try not to play solo any more. Its too much fun to play with other people. We’ve got Big Funky Cloud (BFC) at Stanley’s every Wednesday with Keith (“Grease”) Jones on bass, Nick Pencis on drums, Gary Freeman on keys, and myself.

Then we’ve got a string band that we call The Thing Band for lack of a better name. It is with Gary Freeman (keys), Jake Ham (drums) and myself play as a trio sometimes, and we throw in Jopi Drew (bass) for good measure when we can. Jake Ham and Jopi Drew and I have been playing music for the past 8 years or more and love it.

Johnny: About how many shows a month are you currently playing?

Stefan: I play about four shows a week. I play with BFC every Wednesday at Stanley’s BBQ and every Saturday with my old time/bluegrass band at The Grove and others thrown in there depending on the week.

Johnny: How many originals do you usually try to work into an average set?

Stefan: I try to work in about 10-12 but it just depends on the crowd and the night. Sometimes people are in the mood to dance to songs they know, but every now and then you can slip some originals in and the crowd will respond positively. Those are the nights you know it’ll be a fun time.

Johnny: Are you primarily playing in this area or are you traveling to other markets to play gigs?

Stefan: I’m currently just sticking around town. I’d like to get into Dallas but you’ve got to have some momentum to make money there and right now I’m trying to build that locally to be able to parlay that into some attention in the Dallas scene.

Johnny: How would you describe a typical set for a new listener?

Stefan: I call it “Rastabilly”which is lots of fun party-type reggae and old fashioned rockabilly/country/bluegrass all mixed with gypsy jazz. Be ready to dance!

Johnny: What’s on your radar for the rest of the year and beyond?

Stefan: Right now, just keeping busy playing shows mainly. Playing on my fellow bandmates records and hopefully being able to compile an album myself.

Be sure to check out Stefan Cotter online at facebook.com/stefancottermusic or stefancotter.com.

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Chris Oliver & Company: Making The Connection

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By Johnny Griffith

If you’ve been to The Grove in Tyler recently on a Sunday morning for brunch, chances are you’ve been listening to the solid grooves of Chris Oliver & Company whether you realized it or not. Originally born in Tyler, Chris attended both Robert E Lee and John Tyler high schools before finishing at North Garland High School in 1995. Eventually moving back to Tyler, Oliver has been a mainstay in the music scene for several years. An accomplished drummer, Chris now fronts the eponymous Chris Oliver & Company and their mission is to make sure you walk away from a show with a smile on your face and the beat in your heart.

We talked with Chris recently to get more info on what they’ve got going:

Johnny: Who makes up the “& Company” portion of Chris Oliver & Company?

Chris: Chris Oliver & Company is myself, Josh Brock, Calvin Sheffield, and Dr. George Faber. That’s been the lineup since we started.

Johnny: How did you guys all meet?

Chris: I grew up with Calvin pretty much all my life and he’s been one of my best friends. We’ve played in church as well as playing in several other bands around the area including being the rhythm section for Wesley Pruitt. Dr. Faber has pretty much been a mentor to both of us since we were both young and has been playing forever. I met Josh Brock about 4 years ago and he was one of those guys that came in and fit like he’d been with us for years.

Johnny: How did Chris Oliver & Company form?

Chris: About 2 years ago, from another gig I was doing, I was asked to do a Sunday brunch show over at The Grove. I had to put together a band specifically for that and, you know, it’s not easy getting a bunch of musicians to do a mid-morning gig on Sunday after playing out till 2am the night before. That first bunch I put together is still Chris Oliver & Company today.

Johnny: You guys play a superb mix of songs…what genre would you consider your wheelhouse?

Chris: That’s a hard question. Everything has a season and I can look back and see where my musical life has been a steady progression with different styles and preferences each taking their turn. If I had to pick one singular style, I’d have to say blues-ish, but it’s really not that simple.

Johnny: You guys were invited to play down in Austin at the Heart of Texas Blues Challenge last year. How was that experience and what do you feel you learned as a band?

Chris: Yeah, we got the invite down there so Josh, myself, and another bass player went down due to Calvin not being able to make it, and we auditioned. They were impressed enough that we were invited to actually participate. We went back down in August and won the preliminary round which got us to the finals. While we were eventually beat out, it was a great experience. The finals were at Antone’s in Austin which has had some legendary players on stage over the years. That atmosphere, on that stage, you could feel the vibe and the history and we grew a lot from that.

Johnny: How far are you traveling to play shows at this point?

Chris: Right now we’re staying local until our album is finished. We will be getting ready to do a tour after that, which will take us out of state but until then it’s home.

Johnny: About how many shows are you playing a month these days?

Chris: We’re mainly hitting about four shows a month, really focusing on the album, and playing the standing brunch gig at The Grove.

Johnny: How have local crowds reacted to a band that doesn’t really fit the mold for this region?

Chris: Every time we hit the stage, I don’t care where it is, if they call us to play and you see this band and our show, I want you to have an experience. If you’re down, we’re going to hit a point in the set where we’re going to lift you up. But we’re not really there playing for the masses…we’re there for that individual and when you connect with lots of people on an individual level, something special happens.

Johnny: Are you working originals into your set list or is it primarily cover tunes?

Chris: It really depends on how we’re feeling that day. Some people who have heard our originals will ask for them but it really depends on the vibe. Sometimes we will throw some out and see what kind of reaction we get.

Johnny: How would you describe a typical Chris Oliver & Company show?

Chris: We try to get your attention, make you listen, make you have fun…we might take you to church, it just depends, but we always end with thank you and an appreciation for the audience.

Johnny: Any big plans on the horizon for the rest of the year?

Chris: Our main priority right now is finishing the album and putting together a tour to get the word out.

Johnny: So after two years of Chris Oliver & Company, what would you say has been your most memorable gig to this point?

Chris: That Antone’s gig for the Blues Challenge was easily most memorable. Everyone brought their “A” game and was on point. Again, that combined with the history of that place and the players that have graced that stage…it was unforgettable.

Johnny: Who would you say you’re listening to right now that gets you excited?

Chris: I’d say right now I’ve been listening to a lot of Donnie Hathaway vocally, but I’m just a fan of music in general.

You can catch Chris Oliver & Company at facebook.com/chrisoliverandcompany. You can also catch Chris Oliver & Company most Sundays during brunch at The Grove in Tyler.

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