The guys in Fort Wayne-based jam band Gold Room are debating whether or not to climb a fire escape protruding from the east side of Columbia Street West. "It would make a cool picture, having us look down on the camera," says Dean Heckman, lead guitar and vocals. J.C. Stookey, rhythm guitar and vocals, and Todd Martz, drums and percussion, are hesitant, but the band's bassist, Greg Gsell, wants to give it a try.
Then he remembers something and says "that's what the Wailhounds did for their photo." The idea is dead in the water. Instead they settle for some tame shots alongside the building adjacent to Columbia Street West. They choose the spot because it's near where they were gigging at the Broadripple beer tent on a recent Friday evening.
They also like the decrepit look of the building's façade: You can see where a stairway or a fire escape was removed from the outside of the building and, in several spots, crumbling bricks emerge from gaping holes in the building's walls.
We're shooting photos of the band. It's not the first time I've met them. The band was at Sweetwater Sound a few days earlier, eagerly and diligently working on their second album. The as yet untitled sophomore effort will feature about 12 original songs, band members tell me during a break from mixing a new song. Sweetwater Sound studio engineer Matt Morris plays a track from Gold Room's new album for me.
Immediately I recognize a sound that is, as the band says, a unique fusion of blues, funk and psychedelic rock.
The band has four new songs finished for the album, which they've been working on since March. They plan to release it by Christmas. Songs from the second album show a snapshot of where the band is musically.
The new album, members say, is funkier and upbeat. Gold Room have added a saxophone player to broaden their musical scope. "We're going into a more funk direction," says Martz. "There are a lot of pockets in the songs where horns could fit in really well. It just seemed right."
"You can only go so far with guitars in funk music," adds Heckman. "You can get funky, but not like a horn player can." Gold Room's new musical direction has been, for the most part, a response to fans' request for the band to play funkier and more upbeat songs. "A small core of our fans would see us night after night and they'd get tired of hearing us play the same songs. We got the feeling that they were getting sick of us," says Martz.
"The change over gives our fans more variety so they don't feel like we're playing the same songs over and over again," says Heckman.
"We want to be more of a high energy band," says Martz.
Martz says the new album will contrast sharply from the first album in its overall sound and production qualities. "On the first album, we limited ourselves to what we could play live. With this album, we're more into making it a finished product, a studio album."
We're not afraid of having guest musicians play on the album or studio technology that will make the album sound better over all, despite whether or not we can pull it off live."
Gold Room's first album, which came out in the spring of 2000, initially sold well. "We sold a ton right off the bat. Then there was a lull," Martz says. "And now recently we've sold a whole bunch of them. We don't have any explanation for it."
"It's certainly encouraging," says J.C. of the sales.
The recently upsurge in album sales might be the result of the band's exhaustive grass roots self-promotion campaign. Mainly, Gold Room have made a point of giving away their albums at concerts and on trips. Martz took a trip to Colorado recently and handed out the album to everyone he met. One person who received a copy called the band and asked them to come west for a short tour. Gold Room are considering the trip and may possibly tour when the album comes out.
Gold Room plan to push the album heavily. They hope to earn some of the attention numerous other bands are receiving from record labels. "Hopefully this will be a gateway for us," says J.C. "We think the new CD will help us get some radio play. The songs are shorter and more radio-friendly."
Gold Room formed in 1998, when band members had finished college and were looking for a way to pass the time. Early on they discovered they "had a unique sound" and immediately "started to build on it," says Martz. They still practice in the same place they first got the idea to form a band a room they call the "gold room." Named for its gold shag carpet and gold furniture, the gold room, J.C. says, harkens to the late 60s and 70s, when bold colors and shag carpet were all the rage.
"We borrowed a lot of influences from that time period," he says. "But we put our own twist on them." They decided to name themselves in tribute to the practice space and to the period the band takes many of its influences from, J.C. says.
"Whenever we practice now we still go to the gold room to play," says Heckman. "It's still laid out in gold. It just made sense," Martz adds. "Every time we practice, we look around and we're in the gold room."
Gold Room's musical philosophy and style, J.C. says, follow in the footsteps of the jam and funk bands before them.
"We play the jam-band style of music because we want to play from our emotions and our hearts," he says. "We don't want to be defined to just a specific structured style. We want structure but we want room to put our own creative influences in our music. Our songs are never quite the same each time we play, but we like it that way."
Gold Room are gearing up for a July 3 show at Spike's Bar and Grill in Warsaw. The venue has a large stage and outdoor sand volleyball court. Gold Room will also play at The Patio in Indianapolis on July 6 and at Columbia Street West on July 9. On August 9, they will appear at the Grassroots Music Festival at The Waterbowl in Muncie. The band will open for ekoostic hookah, Might As Well, Ray's Music Exchange and the Vinyl Groove.
Visit Gold Room online at www.goldroom.net.
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