Busted House Parties, Theater Troupes and Dark Evil Gravy: Talking with Eldridge Gravy & The Court SupremeSeptember 29, 2017
Eldridge Gravy & The Court Supreme is a funk juggernaut. Backed by the hot, gritty orchestration of the 11 member Court Supreme, front man Eldridge Gravy (aka Joe Simpson) easily works dance floors to a fever pitch with his full-bore performance and smooth rapport with the audience. The funky parade returns to Nectar Lounge on Saturday, September 30 in celebration of a brand new album, titled “Gravy.” We sat down with Joe Simpson to learn more about the navigation of a 12-person band, and the inspirations for such a talented and theatrical group.
Nectar Lounge: I read in your bio that Eldridge Gravy & The Court Supreme is the result of a “wonderful accident”. Can you tell me more about that?
Eldridge Gravy: Yes! It was probably…10 years ago when we started the band. A bunch of the people actually wanted to have more of a math rock, sci-fi, far-out, experimental sound. So I started messing around with some of those guys, but then they decided for a house party they wanted to have a band that did funk music covers. It was a Cinco de Mayo party in Queen Anne and the cops came quickly and ousted everyone. We were all like “fuck it,” and went to a different house that some of us had just moved out of, this old Victorian place in Queen Anne. It was sparsely furnished. Everyone brought their drinks in a parade down the street!
NL: Did it just click when you played those funk songs versus math rock?
EG: Yes, absolutely. One of the musicians in that original math rock band played old clavinet. He knew how to tune it up himself and so it was always vaguely out of tune. It was so good to do old funky tunes with old funky instruments, so that’s another way it started. We were a cover band for like a year, year and a half, and the idea was that once we wrote original material we would change the band name. That’s when we came up with Eldridge Gravy and the Court Supreme.
NL: How was the persona of Eldridge Gravy born?
EG: I could wax philosophic about that all day! Well they wanted me to be the frontman of the band, and I personally thought the band should be called “Gravy.” I thought that’d be a very funky name. And since my actual name is so mundane, I didn’t think it’d be a good funk name.
My wife, Lady Gravy, and I have always been really big theater nerds. We wanted to bring a theatrical element to the band as well, so we encouraged everyone in the band to choose character names. I chose “Eldridge,” which is an H.P. Lovecraft word. “Eldritch” was the word that he created, but I didn’t know it wasn’t spelled Eldridge, so I just stuck with that. It’s a word for dark and foreboding. Cause I always had an idea that it’d be great to have a party band that was actually always talking about the end of the world, how it’s all falling apart, but in a fun, vain and make you feel good way. Dark evil gravy.
So everyone has their own character. People have actually changed their names or come up with new names as they’ve gone on. Like our bassist right now started out as Skizz, and then later became Buffalo Blue. People kind of change it up as they feel their character evolves, and that’s a fun part of it. It helps them get dressed up for the show and not feel like a fool, or maybe feel like a fool if they need to.
NL: Your band is massive, 12 members in it currently (Eldridge Gravy, Lady Gravy, Donnie Doller$tack, Zelphina, The Colonel, Yeargers, Kalamazoo Kidd, Pastor Peas, J.P. Swiff, Skye Weight, Papa Ghanoosh and Ol’Pollina) How did you all meet? What is it like navigating a group that large?
EG: Everybody just kind of knew each other from teaching at different preschools! That’s how the core of the band sort of started. And then we added people through Craigslist.
It’s been magical…not stress free, but there’s a natural ebb and flow of stress in the band because we’ve always been a true democracy. We vote on everything, every decision that’s made, or we at least have a forum on all decisions made in the band. The proceeds from every show go into a bank account that we all share as an LLC, we’re a legit business. So that way we’ve been able to fund our albums, and we do retreats sometimes where we write material. That’s been really helpful, having a good structure. We’re a business and a community organization.
We’ve always met on Monday and Thursday nights for the last eight or nine years, which is pretty unheard of. But that’s what helps with our cohesiveness as well. People always ask how we pull it off and we say…it’s kind of like church.
It’s really the most magical and it goes back to the theater thing again. We all treat it more like a local theater group than a touring band. Because there are so many of us we learned early on, when we did a tour to San Francisco, that touring was fun but uncomfortable and not a money maker. Essentially we decided to keep it within the range of Washington, Oregon and sometimes Northern California if there’s a good-paying gig down there. That’s helped us a lot with not stressing anybody out and not overfilling anybody’s plate. All of us have dedicated day jobs for the most part.
It’s been a really natural process and everyone’s been really respectful. There’s not a lot of drama, which is funny because our blueprints are of a drama company. But we’re all there to have fun essentially.
NL: Can you talk a little more about what the experience of being an exclusively local band has been like?
EG: We have a really dedicated following, that’s been the main benefit. We were surprised at first that people kept coming back to the party, but then we heard from them the same thing I said about our rehearsal process: It’s like church. You go because you always have a good time.
A big motivator for me early on was wanting to have a band that encouraged people to dance. And now we’ve gotten to open for so many awesome touring bands, which has been great to meet people and get respect from them. I once heard from a wonderful human, a Seattle promoter, that because we’re playing this type of music here in town, other bands from the middle of nowhere can tour here now. I’ve always kept that compliment close to my heart.
NL: You’ve had the opportunity to play in so many Seattle venues. What do you like about performing at Nectar Lounge?
EG: I think it’s the crowd at Nectar. The cool thing about playing in different neighborhoods is that you get a different crowd in every club you play in. And the Nectar crowd is always here to get down and really party. They sardine into the club and it feels like a better scene when that happens. The levels of Nectar, the balcony, that huge stage and the outside creates different spheres of things happening all the time. It keeps this fluid vibe, rather than a club where it feels like you’re in a hallway staring at one end of the hall. Nectar’s also always had pretty impeccable sound. And there are just really nice people on staff there, really solid folks. It’s a smaller venue, but we like smaller venues, we want to pack the house! We want it to feel like Minneapolis back in the 80s. Rather than being in a cavernous space watching the cool hip thing right now, we really want to sweat with you.
NL: Your upcoming show celebrates a new album release, called “Gravy”! What can you tell me about the new music? What was the recording experience like?
EG: Well, we started this record two years ago. And we usually play the album tracks out and develop them live with a crowd. But with this we intentionally held some back.
Also, our last three albums we recorded at Avast! Recording Co. in Greenwood. We’ve always recorded to analog and to tape to make it sound classic 70s style, but we realized we were spending all this money when we could just record with shitty mics in our basement, put some filters on it and make it sound shitty! And that’s what we did, and it was way more laid back in the process. We were able to throw out tracks we didn’t like, which we were never able to do before because we paid like…$1000 per track.
At the beginning of every rehearsal, we’re in the round as a band, looking at each other and we play a jam session which we record. Then we listen back to it and create music from it. So every song is literally written by and recorded by the band in its entirety.
We decided to record this record in our basement and give it that hyper local feel. We had Jason Gray, who plays bass in Polyrhythmics, help record it for us. And then we took it right across the street (from Nectar) to Studio Litho and had Floyd Reitsma do the mixing for us. He’s a fucking pro.
When we started two years ago we were going to put out a video every quarter of a single on the album. We put out two videos…so close! We actually did put out a third one but we decided not to put that song on this album. It’s called Orange Man and it’s a tribute to Trump and his stupidness. We wrote and recorded that in a week, because after the election…it was a reaction track. It didn’t go on the record though because we didn’t want it to taint the feel of this album which has been a labor of love.
NL: You play Nectar Lounge this Saturday. What can people expect from this show? Why should they come out?
EG: Well we’re all gonna look super swass. Colors are gonna be black and yellow, not as a tribute to Pittsburgh of course, but to the album. We always try to have a nice cohesive theme on stage. Our openers are both from Portland ‘cause they have an amazing soul and funk scene there as well. That’ll be fun, you always try to have really good openers and not let people down. You should see something cool before us! And then we’re going to probably play all of our new songs, some of which people have never heard before!
Eldridge Gravy & The Court Supreme play Nectar Lounge this Saturday, September 30! Buy tickets now!