Turn Me On: Southern California Jam Band Grampas Grass

Jackson TruaxCategories:Turn Me On

Rock Cellar Magazine

For twenty years, Grampas Grass has been a vital and beloved part of Southern California’s active jam band scene. In a local music ecosystem long-anchored by world-class cover bands Cubensis, WTFB (“What The Fuck Band”) and Jerry’s Middle Finger, Grampas Grass stands out alongside Groovesession as the scene’s two most prominent original music projects.

Grampas Grass’s most recent release is The Devil’s Inn, their outstanding fourth album and follow-up to 2017’s deeply satisfying Greener. In lieu of celebrating The Devil’s Inn with a live release show, Grampas Grass opted to produce and release their own movie on YouTube. The two-hour Devil’s Inn Release Party features new performances from Grampas Grass and Groovesession, music videos premieres, conversations among various band members and interviews conducted by photographer and noted jam band enthusiast Hal Masonberg.

Lisa and John Malsberger, lead singer and guitarist/main songwriter respectively, recently spoke over the phone with Rock Cellar about producing an innovative concert film and crafting The Devil’s Inn.

“They’re all kind of timepieces,” Lisa said, of the songs that make up The Devil’s Inn. “’This Time Around’” was the reason why we actually went into record,” John shared, referring to an audience favorite written in celebration of Steve Strom, a longtime friend and fan of the band who passed away last year. “We all miss Steve Strom a lot,” Lisa added. “That was a big one for me. I like them all. But yeah, that song stopped me in my tracks.”

“I played that for the guys in the band room,” John recalled of an enthusiastic response from drummer Rick Kaylor and bassist Chris Schmoke. “Rich said, ‘Oh man, we’ve got to record that.’ Chris said, ‘We should get into the studio.’ I said, ‘Okay. Let’s go record that. But if we’re going to go into the studio, and we’re going to take the time to set everything up and do all the sound, we’re not just going to go in for a day. Let’s do two days and see what we get. So we had a plan for, ‘Here’s the eight songs that we value the most. If we have more time, this will be number nine. This will be number ten.’ We even had eleven and twelve. We actually ended up getting thirteen songs.”

“The commonality, collectively is that they’re all songs everybody has morphed into enjoying playing together,” Lisa shared of the experience making the album. “So for periods of time, they’re like the family group of songs. ‘Woke Up In a Mood’ was a big one. That was one of those songs where even before hearing the notes, I really liked that one.”

“Hope We Don’t Die” is destined to be a singalong favorite, keeping with the band and album’s themes of embracing life in the face of mortality. “It was an acoustic campfire song,” John recalled of its inception. “When I brought it out in the studio, I think it was Rich who said, ‘Let’s do the New Orleans shuffle on that thing.’ That’s how it got that kind of vibe to it.”

Another standout in The Devil’s Inn is “Down With the Ship,” Grampas Grass’ socially-conscious jam band manifesto that offers limitless potential for slow-burn jams. “It’s very Trump-fueled,” John offered. “It’s all about the political climate that I was feeling two years in. I think he had just overturned some law to allow drilling in the Alaskan wildlife preserve. I’m like, ‘Motherfucker. Dude. Seriously. You’re going to go rape the wilderness for a bunch of oil so that a few people can get really rich and pollute the environment even more? Fuck you.’ I think it’s also very poignant to what’s going on right now. We’re all in this together.”

The Devil’s Inn Release Party concert film features a mosaic tapestry of new performances, music videos of “Something In the Story,” “Hope We Don’t Die” and “Woke Up In a Mood” alongside a cornucopia of interviews and other visual art, providing for a uniquely experiential concert film. “That is John’s brain, baby. He did such a good job,” shared Lisa. Grampas Grass got the idea to shoot new footage at DJE Studios in Foothill Ranch when DJE became the virtual host to this year’s Orange County Music Festival after it was cancelled in the wake of COVID-19.

As Lisa was recovering from foot surgery and unable to join the recording of the well-received Grampas Grass set, returning for their album release seemed like a natural progression. “That’s for us, I think, is the silver lining of all of this,” John reflected. “Because now we have this movie that would never have existed and will always be there. So that’s kind of cool.”

“We’re trying to build our YouTube channel,” John said of the band’s plans for the immediate future. “Because that’s where a lot of people go to find music these days. If I want to find a song, I go to Youtube. If I want to listen to band, I’ll go to Spotify. We are on Spotify. We’ve got all the albums up there. Same thing with iTunes music. It’s all on there. I think our fan interaction is mostly Facebook.”

To turn yourself to Grampas Grass, visit their YouTube channel/

Visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/GrampasGrass and visit their website at https://www.grampasgrass.org/ to listen to order the full Grampas Grass discography.


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