Online performances have become a lifeline for bands, but they’re plagued by glitchy sound issues. So Grampas Grass (grampasgrass.org), a self-described “garagedelic soul rock” outfit, decided to celebrate the release of its fourth album, “Devil’s Inn,” with a virtual release show this Saturday built around a live show prerecorded in a professional soundspace.
“It was the only way we could guarantee the audio quality would go through,” explained bandleader/guitarist John Malsberger. “We looked into, like, if we were all linked together for the Zoom interview segments, could we broadcast through Zoom into Facebook Live? You can, but it sounds like a Zoom call. We have nice audio from the studio. So the audio drove us to do this. We decided the quality was more important than having it actually live in the moment. It’ll be released on YouTube and Facebook at the same time; we’ll have a live-stream Zoom call [beforehand], then the show will go on. It’s kind of like a movie release.”
It was a considered compromise for the Southland ensemble, whose members are stretched from Lakewood (where Malsberger and frontwoman/wife Lisa Blue live) to Anaheim (guitarist Brett Davis), Burbank (drummer Rich Kaylor), Canyon Country (keyboardist Eric Lockhart) and Pasadena (bassist Chris Schmoke). They prize the spontaneity of live club shows, and the connections forged with audiences in those shared physical spaces.
Grampas Grass’ sound is discernibly influenced by jam-friendly forebears such as The Band, Grateful Dead and Mother Hips. Listening to tracks such as the grooving “Can You Get Down” or “Ragged Soul” (“Music is a medicine that heals my ragged soul/ Mend me with your melody, hold me together with the groove”), it’s easy to imagine audiences bobbing heads and singing along as the band performs onstage—in the pre-pandemic past, before coronavirus case numbers started climbing again.
“I’m a big proponent of human interaction to keep us sane and connected. I know we’re more connected than ever, but I still feel like we’re very isolated,” Malsberger said, expressing concern about how people are increasingly relating through computer screens. Local musicians, he notes, are disadvantaged more than usual. “Drive-in concerts are happening in places, but those are gonna be the big dogs. Local bands in local scenes are gonna be hit the hardest because there’s nowhere to play anymore.”
He voices a “dark fear” that “we’re going to lose a lot of our independent venues as they sit dormant for a year or two years,” or that they’ll be hoovered up by corporate industry titans. He also harbors hope that music will bring people together.
“It’s hard to be super optimistic at this point [but] music always finds a way. It’s a language of the people. Music moves people regardless of political spectrum. It used to unite all the different economic groups because people just piled in together, rich and poor, because they could afford the tickets and were all moved by the same music. Hopefully that can continue. Or maybe the Wild Stallions will pop out of the sky [laughs], come out of their phone booths like they did in ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,’ and they’ll finally play that song that unites the world.”