April 2, 2009
Rewind to New Year's Day 2007. While most people were busy sleeping it off or nursing hangovers, the three guys behind Still Groove were holding their first rehearsal, discovering not only that they made some seriously good music together but that their personalities perfectly complemented each other as well. "It was really easy and natural," recalls lead singer and guitarist Hubie Ashcraft. "Right off the bat everything went great, and the camaraderie was there instantly. We knew it was the start of something good."
Two years later, Still Groove - who came in fourth for Best Rock Performer/Covers in this year's Best of 2008 whatzup Readers Poll - are making good at venues all over town, including Columbia Street, Buckets and Piere's. Their next show is Saturday, April 5 at 4Ds Bar and Grill.
Technically, when Ashcraft, along with bassist Timothy Sewell and drummer Scott Schwan, got together that New Year's Day it was Still Groove part two. The original band, which itself was a spin-off of the five-piece Finite Gray, consisted of Sewell on bass, Adam Strack on guitar and vocals and Anthony Wilson on drums. When Strack and Wilson decided to pursue other ventures, Sewell approached Ashcraft - formerly of Twelve and Two and the Matt Sturm Band - and Schwan, a journeyman who in his more than 15 years as a percussionist lent his sticks to acts like Tastes Like Chicken and Gypsy Circus.
Back in 2007, the band had a standing Thursday night gig at Columbia Street, and that meant frontman Ashcraft had to learn 40 songs in the span of a week. Loyal fans of Still Groove know that the guys pride themselves on putting on an eclectic show. A set that begins with a Chris Isaak tune could just as well end with something by Alice in Chains, Bob Marley or Johnny Cash.
"We play good music and we enjoy doing it," says the 27-year-old Sewell. "Our sets are usually pretty unpredictable. You never know what we're going to play next, but it's hard not to get into the groove when we're having such a good time."
They might make it look easy, but the members of Still Groove work hard. They played 93 shows last year, and that doesn't count Ashcraft's steady solo gigs every Tuesday at Buckets and the duets he plays with local singer/songwriter Sunny Taylor each Thursday evening at Woodland Lounge.
"Our goal is to put on the best show we possibly can every time," says Ashcraft. "There's a lot at stake. We don't want to let our fans down, and we want to make new fans at every show. We hope that when we take the stage we make some people laugh, some people dance, some people cry. To me, that's what art is all about."
By now, the 25-year-old Ashcraft should know his art. After all, he learned guitar at the knee of his father, Hubie Ashcraft Sr., for many years a guitarist with Spike and the Bulldogs.
"I started out playing the drums because I was young and rebellious," says Ashcraft, "but then I thought that the guitar looked like a lot more fun, and Dad and I started playing together. We had a duo for a while. It was a great learning experience. I had all the lessons I could ever want without even having to leave the house."
Music was also in the blood for Schwan whose father, Cal Collins, played with world-renowned jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman. At 35, Schwan is the senior member of Still Groove, but despite his years of experience he says he often is struck by how the energy of Ashcraft and Sewell bring out the boy in him.
"I think the guys see me as their older brother, but a lot of times I feel like I might be the one who's really young at heart," he said.
Sewell, the self-described reserved one of the group who currently works as a lab technician for the visual communication and design department at IPFW, said Still Groove is a no-drama, no-nonsense group that, in addition to giving their all every time they take the stage, enjoy their weekly rehearsals in Ashcraft's basement where they rock out their covers of everything from Prince to Tom Petty, as well as the Americana-style originals Ashcraft is becoming known for.
"We're professional about what we do," Sewell said. "There's no in-fighting or tension, just a lot of fun and really good sound."
The future's looking bright for this local band. They're halfway through their first CD, which they hope to release this summer, and in July they're slated to open for nationally known acts Gym Class Heroes and The Plain White Tees, a gig they secured after a booking agent saw them open for Sublime tribute band, Badfish, at Piere's.
Perhaps even more importantly, all the members have solid support systems. Sewell, who has six-year-old son, Jonathan, is expecting his second child with his fiancé, Amber. Schwan recently married Donnie, his girlfriend of five years, and together they're raising a family of seven, and Ashcraft credits the support of his girlfriend, Stephanie, with helping him become the musician he is today. In other words, there is no Yoko in this Ono.
"We're just three guys doing what we love, night after night," said Ashcraft.