“A Journey From Good Homes”
|(conducted on May 7, 1997 at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C)
Every once in a while, a band comes along that seems to be playing music for all the right reasons.
I’m not talking about the cheesy rip-off bands who spout the old cliche of “We’re not in it for the money.” (Obviously, everyone wants success, and who can blame somebody for that?) I’m talking about a band where money and fame aren’t big motivating factors.
Every once in a rare while, a band comes along that is happy to be able to make a living playing music just enough to keep playing music. Instead of waiting for the ships of fame and fortune to come sailing over the horizon, they are very much happy with today…finding purpose in the journey, rather than in vague notions of arrival.
Every once in a while, an incredibly talented band comes along with music whose melodies and themes, from the opening note, seem to reach out to the listener like a lover in the darkness and gently lay its fingers upon the pulse of your soul.
And every once in a very rare while, this same band turns out to be the most genuine, down-to-earth, pleasant group of guys you’d ever have the priviledge of chatting with.
The band I’m speaking of is From Good Homes, an excellent quintet from Northern New Jersey made up of Todd Sheaffer (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica), Brady Rymer (bass, vocals), Patrick Fitzsimmons (drums and cardboard boxes!), Dan Myers (saxophones, melodica, vocals, percussion), and Jamie Coan (guitars, violin, mandolin, vocals).
My own personal odyssey with the band’s music started on May 29, 1993, when I stumbled across them playing at a small bar called Bogie’s in Albany, NY. I will never forget that show. These guys absolutely blew me away. They held the entire bar in the palm of their hands throughout the set, with their infectious melodies, incredible abilty to groove, and stirring lyrics. Oh yeah…not to go overboard with seriousness, they are also a very FUN band.
Four years and twenty-four FGH shows later, the band’s music still speaks to me as strongly as it did that night. Whether it’s opening for a major act in a 5,000 seat arena, or playing in a bar for 6 people (and I have seen them in both settings), they play their hearts out every time they take the stage.
I had the opportunity to catch up with the band after their recent fiery performance at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. on May 7, 1997 (where they opened for the wacky and excellent Toronto band Barenaked Ladies), and they were kind enough to take time out of their rigourous road schedule to chat with me for a while about current projects, their experiences in the demanding business of music, and the band’s hopes and dreams for the future. I was only expecting to get about 10 minutes with Todd, but I ended up getting an hour with the whole band! Needless to say: it was an incredible experience.
I have known the band casually (as a fan) for a few years now, so attempting to actually interview them felt a bit awkward to me at first. To be honest, it was my first time interviewing anybody, and I was nervous. Thankfully, FGH is not a band that is easy to be nervous around for long, and my uneasiness quickly turned into laughter, hysterical stories, and the most pleasant hour-long first interview that one could ask for…
<The interview starts out with the band good-naturedly teasing me as I struggle to figure out the intricacies of my portable tape deck…>
Dan: You’ve been doing this [interviewing bands] for a long time?
SD: Yeah…about three minutes now.
SD: You guys have been hard at work for the better part of the last year on a new album…Do you have a title for the project yet?
Todd: Yeah. It’s self-titled. Just “From Good Homes.”
SD: When is it due out?
Todd: Sometime this Summer. There have been a few delays with the record company.
SD: Are there any basic underlying themes behind this album?
Todd: Yeah…there are…<pause> Can I think about that one and get back to you? I think there are things that hold this group of songs together.
SD: I remember hearing a couple of months ago that you were thinking of using “The Giving Tree” as a kind of “theme” for this album.
Todd: Yeah…well, I wouldn’t really say that song would be a “theme” for the album.
SD: Well, we can come back to it…
Todd: Yeah, I want to answer that one, but I want to answer it right because I think that’s a great question.
SD: Thanks…I was just curious about it because I know that, in the past, you’ve had certain songs that leapt but, but I wasn’t sure if maybe
Todd: Well, right now, we’re tentatively ending the album with “The Ferris Wheel Waltz”, and the ideas in that song…there’s moments in that
SD: That song always really spoke to me…it’s like you’re kinda putting the world “on hold” for a moment…it really comes through both
Todd: Yeah. There’s moments where…like the moment at the top where you see clearly how blessed you are to be alive and there’s a sort of
SD: Well that seems like a certain “theme” to me.
Todd: But I want to think about that more and answer it better ‘cause that’s really just sort of touching on it.
SD: Which tracks on the upcoming release do you feel the strongest about?
Jamie: “Ride All Night” really gets me.
Brady: I think we’re really pretty pleased with the whole thing.
Todd: “Day Is Alive” came out really different from the way it started, but I kinda like it. There are some guys that played on it…he played
SD: I like the new ending you guys tacked onto “The Giving Tree” last Summer at Waterloo.
Todd: Yeah! That part sounds really nice on the album. We got Alex Acuna from Weather Report to play percussion on that one. He played
Brady: Jaco played good on that one too.
SD: I guess if he played at all he must have played pretty damn good!
Todd: The stuff that Liberace played was really nice too.
SD: What are the biggest lessons you learned during the making of “Open Up The Sky” (and to some extent “Hick-Pop Comin’ At Ya!”) that
Brady: Stick to your guns.
Jamie: Have a good idea of what you want to do before you get there.
SD: You mean more preparation in pre-production?
Fitz: Yeah, we demo’d up this album a lot more.
Brady: There’s a lot of lessons really…you’ve got to find a place you’re comfortable with. There’s a limited amount of time. You’ve got to be
SD: Lots of pressure huh?
Dan: Yeah…producers and anyone there with musical ears will be doing that.
SD: This actually touches a little bit on something else I wanted to ask. I saw you guys playing in bars years ago as an independant act, and
Fitz: The favorite quote of record companies nowadays is “I don’t hear a hit”…you know? I remember hearing about Pink Floyd when they
SD: It seems like back in the Sixties there was more of the “hit” mentality like we’re seeing today.
Fitz: Motown back in the Sixties was like that…for sure.
SD: Well, with the Seventies, bands really had to struggle to break that mentality…I can’t help but wonder if the cycle is coming around
Dan: I don’t think it’s gonna take the bands to break that…it’s gonna take the record companies…and the radio.
SD: Well, I guess I mean that it’s gonna take bands with a lot of perseverance to get through these times. I agree that it’s gonna take more
Dan: It let us take a year off the road. We could get together and play, rather than having to play every night.
SD: So it gave you a little breathing space and a fresh perspective?
Dan: Well, we could still make a living and be able to pay each other…and at the same time not have to play out every night. It gave us time to
SD: What were your expectations of the band’s previous releases? I know you guys have been slugging it out on the road full time since ‘89
Todd: Well, you know…it’s really about the journey. I mean, there are expectations that always come along…I think there’d probably be a
Dan: Well, there are sort of unspoken expectations…I mean, once you’ve got this huge record company behind you, there are expectations that
Todd: Well, distribution for one thing. You expect that. You expect your records to be in stores. Before, we just sold them at our shows.
SD: Here’s another loaded question for you guys: Are there any specific gigs that stand out in your memory as really amazing
Jamie: Yeah…Waterloo Village [in Stanhope, NJ]…the first time we played there.
SD: Was that ‘94?
Jamie: I think it was ‘93.
Todd: There were two back-to-back shows at Irving Plaza [in New York City] back in September of ‘95?…’96?…right before we stopped playing
SD: Yeah, I imagine it takes some time to feel like you’ve gotten the new songs “up to speed.”
Todd: And then there are some that just stand out in your mind as being so much fun! I remember we were playing last summer at the Rickey
SD: I’ve got that tape!
Todd: That one was really fun.
SD: You guys even busted out the Dylan tune that night…”You Ain’t Goin Nowhere”
Dan: There was one…I mean, I don’t think it’s the best we’ve ever played or anything, but it just sorta stands out…we opened up for David
Fitz: Yeah!…we had to do an acoustic set.
Dan: We had to do an acoustic set, so we did this set with like one microphone plugged in and these two amps…it just turned into like this
SD: I guess that’s called “adaptability!”
Jamie: Then there was the first time at Irving Plaza [in New York City] when we opened for Hot Tuna.
Dan: Yeah…we had four microphones that night!
Fitz: Yeah!…that was actually a great night!
Dan: Fitz played this set-up of like different size cardboard boxes…we couldn’t use a drum set.
SD: Oh my God…
Fitz: There was a stipulation that we had to be an acoustic act to open up…it was fun! I got all these different size and different colored
Dan: There was a mic inside one of the boxes.
Fitz: Yeah! People loved that!
SD: That’s when Cal’s really pulling his hair out huh?!
Cal: Na…ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
Todd: What was that other one?…Portland, Oregon! I remember that gig.
Cal: Oh! That was hot!
Brady: Ya know…when you’re on the road, some nights you don’t know what to expect. There were a couple of nights on the last tour (note:
Fitz: Vail! Those two nights in Vail!
Todd: Yeah! That was really good!
Fitz: Just out of nowhere…just the best ever!
Brady: Yeah…out of nowhere…I mean, you could be draggin’ your ass around town and then “Bam!”
Dan: You walk into a place and you think “Wow…this place sucks!”, and then you get on stage and it just happens!
Fitz: You kinda know it from the first song too…on the great nights, it just happens from the first fuckin’ song! And then you know it:
Dan: It’s just like surfing after that…you just try to keep riding that wave for the rest of the show.
Todd: I thought that one place in Colorado…where was that?…somewhere in Colorado…we played two sets…it was just a little place…what’s
SD: Grand Junction?
Todd: No…not Grand Junction.
Dan: Crested Butte?
Cal: Fort Collins.
Todd: Yeah! Fort Collins!
Brady: Oh…that was a great one!…that was intense!
Todd: It was magical. There was just really a great vibe from the audience…really a beautiful mood in the room.
Brady: I think that’s what happens. It all kinda comes together! It’s not just “Wow! We played great that night.” It’s the crowd too. The crowd
Todd: Yeah…certain rooms…like, I remember at Granny Killam’s [in Portland, ME] we’ve had all these great shows. So much fun. The audience is
Dan: Bogie’s [in Albany, NY] is like that. We always walk away from Bogie’s with a great feeling.
Fitz: Yeah…that has to be one of the most consistent rooms for great shows for us.
SD: That was the first place I ever saw you guys! It was May of ‘93. I was taking a college course in Albany, and I went out with some friends
SD: Anyway, we ended up at Bogie’s and we were so early we missed the cover charge. We were the only people in the place. We shot pool
Dan: That’s a funny place too…’cause the dressing room is freezing, and all this shit sucks about it, and you’re like “Man, why do we keep
Jamie: Stone Church in New Market, New Hampshire is always like that…it’s always nice.
Todd: Those shows we did with…who was opening?…what’s her name?…
Todd: Janet. Those shows were really sweet!
Dan: One of those ones at the Great American Music Hall was killer too.
Brady: With Leftover Salmon!
Dan: Yeah. That was a really good show.
Brady: We’ve had just as many bad shows too!
Dan: We’re not like ‘tooting our horns’ or anything!…you remember the good ones more. It depends on your mood too. The ones where we
Fitz: That was crazy!
Dan: We were coming from San Diego to Tempe and our tour manager at the time was convinced that it was not an hour earlier, and we’re
SD: Oh shit…
Dan: Yeah…we realized that the time change is an hour earlier…we were playing Tom Jones and drinking warm champagne…
Brady: In the van!
Dan: So, we get there, and we just like threw it together in 20 minutes and then we just rocked…and that was it! We were done.
Fitz: ‘Cause we were an opening act. There were enough people in that town that knew of us that they waited for us to show up. We showed
Todd: <laughing> You were bleeding on the guy’s drum set?
Fitz: Yeah…there was blood all over his cymbals.
SD: I can picture the guy finding chunks of flesh on his drums…
Brady: I think I smacked something on that guy’s bass amp too…I remember like whacking my face on something.
SD: Ok…here’s another “loaded question”…what are your favorite From Good Homes songs…not just from what’s on the records. I
Dan: That’s a tough one.
Brady: Probably [The] “Butterfly” [& The Tree].
SD: Wow!…a consensus?
Fitz: Yeah…actually, that’s the one I was going to say too. I like “Bang That Drum” a lot too.
Dan: It depends almost night-to-night.
Dan: You don’t really know until you get there…and then it’s just like “This song is fucking great!”
Todd: I like “Seasons Of The Soul”…That’s my favorite.
Dan: I’ve always liked “Forgiveness”…I always thought that, for some reason, that song’s one of those ones that just takes it somewhere else.
SD: Yeah…I’ve always liked “Boulevard Of Dreams.”
Jamie: We did that recently.
SD: Really?! It’s funny that you mentioned that Waterloo’94 show earlier…I was at that show, and I would have to rate it as one of the top
Dan: Was that when “Hick-Pop” was released?
Dan: That was a good show.
SD: If nothing else, I thank you all for that! Anyway, here’s another question for you: Do you guys enjoy interacting with your fans, or do
Todd: It’s great, I think.
Jamie: It’s always nice to hear a compliment.
Dan: You know, it’s a weird thing, because sometimes we’ll come off stage and, as a band, we’ll be like “We sucked!…This show just wasn’t
Brady: I mean, we’re out there to communicate and have an experience with these people.
Jamie: We love fans!
Todd: Our fans are generally pretty nice folks.
Brady: [with funny cockeyed expression on his face] …Except that person camped out on my yard!
SD: That was me.
Brady: That was you?!
Dan: Brady, you don’t have a yard! You live in New York!
Brady: Well, ok…camped out on my terrace.
Todd: It’s really good being out playing again too, ‘cause you sorta get to hear what people have to say. Everybody has a different opinion
Fitz: Yeah, some are so passionate about it too…like “No!, I don’t like that song at all, and I love this song!”
Brady: That’s why we try to change things up a lot too…to try to keep things fresh for ourselves, and also to keep other people excited.
SD: Yeah! I’ve seen you guys back-to-back nights before, in addition to last night and tonight, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you play the
Fitz: When we were showcasing for record companies, we’d usually play pretty much the same set.
SD: I guess when you’re doing something like that, you want to pick the songs that really feel the strongest and then rehearse them until
Todd: There have been a lot of fans that have come up to me and gotten really mad that we’d played the same kind of shows…they’ve voiced
Fitz: [to Todd] Especially your girlfriend!
Fitz: Erin was always the harshest!
SD: Yeah!…I guess the ones that HAVE to keep seeing you guys over and over want some variety!
Dan: Todd’s girlfriend and my girlfriend would team-up!
Brady: Yeah…one night, we let Dan’s girlfriend write the set. We were so sick of hearing about it…we were backstage, and we didn’t know what
Fitz: That was at Bogie’s right?
Brady: Na…that was at 7 Willow Street…so, anyway she wrote the set.
Fitz: I worked my ass off that night! It was a workout. We were like “You’re a fucking SLAVEDRIVER!!!” It was all super upbeat
Brady: …And Todd’s [stepbrother??] wrote up one down South a couple of months ago…so hey…ya know, if anybody has a set suggestion…
SD: Well, hey…I requested “Bang That Drum” last night…but no! No…you play it TONIGHT!
Fitz: That would be cool actually to have fans write up a set!…you know? Just tell’em that we’ve got an hour and a half set…come up with a
Jamie: We should have a contest and award that as a prize.
Fitz: Of course we’d have veto power over it.
SD: That would be bizarre to catch you guys playing some really old tunes…I remember on the last big tour, when you played Philadelphia
Todd: Yeah! I remember that!
Brady: Yeah! That was a great night.
Fitz: You know what’s really funny about that night?…right before we played, I was downstairs talking to Scott Karuso [?]…[to Todd]
Todd: Oh yeah!
Fitz: And he knew all of that early stuff, and he said “How about this one?”, and I said “We haven’t played any of the stuff you just mentioned
Todd: It’s great though ‘cause sometimes…like a while ago…some guy was so passionate. He came up to me and was just like “You’ve gotta
SD: …how it GOES?!
Todd: Well, to remember what that song means, and the feelings that it can tap into. Sometimes you forget, and the fans can really remind you
SD: I’ll put in my personal plug here…but you guys can’t play it tomorrow night when you’re out of town. You’ve got to play it the next time
Brady: Which one?
SD: One and two, but if I had to pick, I really like two. Anyway, I’ll stop with the plugs…here’s another question: Is it difficult for you as
Jamie: It works better as a goat.
SD: What’s that?
Jamie: It works better as a goat.
SD: As a GOAT?!
Brady: He says that once in a while…we don’t know what it means.
Jamie: [to the other guys:] No…he said “you, as people”…
SD: Ah! I see. I get it…I guess I walked into that one.
Paul: (laughing, sarcastically quoting Brady) “He says that once in a while. We don’t know what it means.”
Brady: It’s a completely different thing you know? You get on the road, and you get lost in this capsule. It’s nothing to do with the outside
Jamie: Totally different head spaces…
SD: Is it hard to balance the two?…I mean, when you guys go home…you obviously all have some sort of “normal” family life…
Jamie: There’s a period of decompression.
Todd: <laughing> “decompression”…
Brady: I think so. Anytime you’re traveling, it’s different.
Dan: Especially time schedules too, ya know? When you’re out on the road, you’re staying up really late…
SD: …doing stupid-ass interviews?!
Jamie: Also, just staying in one spot for a length of time is an adjustment.
Dan: Yeah! I remember a couple of years ago, when we were out on the road constantly, I guess we were off for Thanksgiving, and I went over
Brady: I like being on the road…but sometimes it is really hard.
SD: I imagine it’s difficult during the transition period…when you’re getting used to being back out on the road or just getting home. I guess
Brady: Yeah. You lose touch with your girlfriend or your wife. But, I hope that maybe as we get a little bit more popular, things might be easier.
SD: When you get to the point where you can take more breaks?
Brady: Well, not so much that…
Dan: [in mock British accent, a la Spinal Tap:] When we each get our own fuckin’ bus!
Brady: Even a tour bus would be nice.
SD: That’s when you guys don’t have to talk to each other any more, right?! You can just be friends on stage, right?!
Dan: [again, in mock British accent:] I’ll be on my bus if ya need me!
SD: We’ll be reading the stories about you guys in the tabloids at that point!
SD: Ok, we’re coming to the end…I swear! From Good Homes appears to have a very dedicated, almost cult-like fan following. What is the
Cal: Ten year overnight success?
SD: It sounds like you really draw from the FAN vibe though. Do you have good morale coming into this upcoming album and tour?
Dan: Yeah, once it’s released we’ll have great morale!
Todd: Yeah, I think so. We just had a good break.
Brady: Plus, we’ve been playing with some good bands too.
Jamie: Like tonight…I mean we’re playing to a full house in D.C.
SD: I was talking to Mylee recently, as well as Paul over there, and I was just saying how, as a fan, it’s almost painful to see you guys as an
Paul: Hey…shut up!
Jamie: It’s Paul’s fault mostly.
Dan: We’d be able to play for longer if he didn’t piss people off.
SD: Well, this is my last question…and Dan and I were talking about this downstairs earlier. It seems like a lot of the bands in the music
Jamie: I think as long as we get a lot of good fan response at the shows, we’ll probably keep going no matter what.
Dan: We’ve been able to make a living this far along. I mean, nobody’s a “spring chicken” here.
Brady: Maybe a goat!…
Jamie: When we were recording “Open Up The Sky”, we went to see Townes Van Zandt at the Maple Room in New Orleans, and there was
SD: That’s refreshing to hear!
Dan: No matter how feeble Jamie gets…
Jamie: Shut up!
Brady: You old goat!!
Jamie: I can’t wait until you guys are my age.
Brady: You’re still going to be older!
SD: Well, I won’t bug you guys any longer. I just want to say “thanks” and I really appreciate you taking the time!
From Good Homes: Thanks! Take care Skip…