Exclusive Interview with Jeff Lloyd of The Heavy Pets

by Elise Olmstead

Whether jamming or crooning, funky or furious, The Heavy Pets always leave a lasting impression.  Experts at playing a crowd, their sets range over many genres and can morph the mood depending on the energy of their audience.  With an impressive repertoire of original written music, venue shows, and festival sets, these jam virtuosos have been tearing up the road for years and show no signs of stopping. Their momentum is at an all-time high and they’ve got surprises for us at every corner, as long as you’re brave enough to hold on and take the ride. 

When did you start playing the guitar and when did you discover that you wanted to be a musician?

Kind of around the same time. I didn’t start playing the guitar until I was around 14 years old, and I had grown up believing that I was going to grow big and strong and play for the New York Giants. My mother was high school music teacher and while I was growing up she taught lessons out of the house. I think naturally I wanted to play ball and do stuff with my dad instead of play music like my mom. Around that age OTHER kids started getting bigger and stronger, but I stayed the same size.  That was when I really discovered my love for music and started playing guitar. I grew up knowing how to read music and I had always played in concert band, I played the trumpet, but it never really stuck until I started playing guitar. I realized “Wow, I’m kind of okay at this,” and I dove in head first and it took over my life pretty quickly.

 What kind of music did you listen to growing up and what musicians ended up influencing your current style?

Our current style and the stuff I listened to growing up are kind of divergent. My parents were always really cool and exposed me to a lot of music. My dad fed me a healthy diet of classic rock when I was growing up, and my mother was more on the classical side and sensibility of learning how to play music. When I started really learning the instrument was when I discovered Nirvana and it really spoke to me,

I thought “This is different than the music I’ve listened to my whole life, this is my music.” It helped give me some sort of identity there when I was in my early teens. After that, I regressed back to the classic rock. I remember my father showing me this Jimi Hendrix video that just blew my mind. After a year or so of wearing Jimi T-shirts and loving everything like that in middle school, I got into Phish. Then that was a whole other dimension of music and guitar playing, which really affected my life for many years.

What I’m listening to now…I still love all the elements of the music that brought me to where I am now, but I’m focusing on songwriting and more singer/songwriter music. It’s a lot more vocally driven. I think voice is the instrument, probably one of the most dynamic instruments because you can speak to people on a different level than other instruments can.

Taco and I go back and forth with the whole singer/songwriter thing because that’s his type of music, that’s what he really gets down to, but if you think about it, all the most successful bands in history had lyrics. They were all songs you could sing along to.

There’s really nothing more powerful than communicating like that. It adds a whole other dimension to the music that wouldn’t be possible without lyrics. It speaks to people; it’s a little easier to hit people right in the heart when you’re singing about a subject that means something to them. It’s not to be overlooked. I know a lot of bands go the instrumental route, certainly not always, but sometimes out of a fear of singing or not knowing what they’re really trying to say.

 We definitely agree that lyrics are very powerful. Who is it that does most of the songwriting in the band?

 Basically everybody in this band writes. We’re playing songs written by all five of us now. Like last night we played at least one song by each member of the band. So that’s really cool. For the most part whoever wrote the song also wrote the lyrics to it.

 Okay, so when you guys write music, a member will come to the band with almost a complete song rather than everyone collaborating on a song?

 There’s actually a little bit of both, it kind of depends on the songwriter and depends on the song. Sometimes people bring music that’s completely worked out and even bring demos, which is really nice because then we can pull them apart and listen to each part. Jamie and Tony have been bringing songs to the table that are more complex, so that’s helpful. Sometimes I’ll bring a song that’s basically just some chord progressions and lyrics and we say “where can we go with this?” It’s all over the map with us, and it varies from song to song.

 I like that, I think that’s cool that each member contributes their own songs. A lot of times with bands you’ll have one or two members that kind of drive the songwriting while everyone else pitches in. I know that you’ve gone through some changes over the years and have changed band members, how do you think your sound has evolved through these changes? Obviously you are all meshing really well right now.

 Oh thank you. Well, we’ve had a number of bass player changes over the years and each one brought a very distinctive sound to the group. Besides our three core bassists that stuck around for a long time, Felix Pastorious (Yellowjackets, Jeff Coffin Mu’tet) and Mark White (Spin Doctors) were only filling in the for a short time, basically helping us get to another permanent player. Although we knew their time with the band would not be permanent, it was awesome experience playing with them both and we learned and grew a lot during those periods.

But for the three different players that have had longer tenures in the band we had kind of modeled our songwriting around the new sound that each brought. For Tony, he grew up playing with Jamie and they’re so funky and tight, so that’s been a whole new sound that’s been fun for us to work with. It’s definitely the boldest we’ve ever sounded.

 I think it’s working really well for you guys. Now I know you probably get asked this a lot, but how did you come up with the name “The Heavy Pets”?

 “The Strokes” was already taken.

 (Laughter) That’s good. I had to ask.

 I don’t really remember how it came about. I think it’s a common pastime for people in bands to sit around and think of silly band names. That was one that was just stuck.

 So you guys have been really busy on the road and you’ve been on a pretty extensive festival tour this year. What was your favorite festival this summer?

 Mad Tea Party, and it’s too bad because we weren’t even there.

 Ha! Wow it must have been good (laughter).

 (Laughter) No, that’s a tough question. Catskill Chill is always such an amazing festival, that was really fun. That’s also where Mike and I are from, up in that area, so we have sort of a family and hometown vibe there. The Lohi festival up in Denver, that was really fun, and Aura Music Festival, even though that was much earlier in the year, that’s always a highlight. That was tremendous fun. We’ve got Hulaween coming up, too, that I’m really excited about. We’ve played Spirit of Suwannee Park so many times, and each festival brings a new flavor, so I’m really interested to see what Hulaween has to offer.

 Yeah, Hulaween looks really cool, I’ve heard that they decorate with a lot of crazy decorations and stuff for Halloween.

 Yeah, and there’s a lot of performers…there’s more of an emphasis on performance art as well. I’m excited to experience all that.

 Now during your busy tour you somehow found time to record your latest EP “Rags and Aces,” can you tell me a little about that?

 Sure. “Rags and Aces” is actually the second installment in this EP series thing that we’re doing. We’re recording short little records, just two or three songs, and releasing them very quickly, about every three or four months. We’re actually about ready to release another one, “Stolen Smiles,” which will be the third installment and available for digital download, CD & vinyl. This came about for a number of reasons, the first being that it’s hard for us to set aside a large amount of time to record. After doing a couple of really lengthy albums, I like getting in there and finishing the project and not shelving it while we go on tour. I think things start to get stale and you start to second guess yourself. It’s really a matter of efficiency and working with what time we have between tours. The most important reason is artistic, it’s nice to think in our heads that if we were to write a song right now, it could end up on our next EP. It’s a very short period of time where we are going straight from concept to recorded product. That’s really exciting and drives us to be more creative, to know that anything we do and create could end up recorded real soon. From a commercial standpoint, it’s really helpful for us as well. It’s only a three song album, so you’re going to listen to the whole thing. Especially with the shortening attention span of people these days, it’s hard to get people to sit down and listen to a whole record, so I feel like it’s working for us on so many levels.

 I definitely cherish my copy that I have, it’s a nice addition to a vinyl collection. So with all of this hard work that you guys do, what drives you to keep plugging away and making music?

 It’s just so fun! I think we’re all a little crazy and we’ve been doing this so long that we can’t picture doing anything else. We’re having a great time with it. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the years, but I think we’re in the midst of a big upswing for this band right now in every aspect imaginable, but especially creatively. It’s tremendously satisfying, and it is nice to be able to travel a lot and see people that we love all over the country and make new friendships.

 Cheers to that, I can definitely relate to that!

 We are about to have our thousandth show as a band together coming up in November. The exact date and location of that show is to be announced. It will certainly be nice to reminisce about what we’ve done, and most importantly look forward to our future.

 Yeah, definitely! And take some time to celebrate.

 Absolutely. Halloween we’re playing South Florida with our buddies The Main Squeeze, then heading up to Hulaween after that.

That’s exciting! Keep me posted and I hope to see you guys soon.