“People used to make records, as in the record of an event — the event of people playing music in a room.”
- Ani DiFranco, “Fuel”
The Pocket Co. is a funky collective known for high-calibre songwriting and musicianship. Descendent from The Band, Van Morrison, Sly & The Family Stone, and Bill Withers, they perform ’60s/’70s rock and soul with a dash of folk-rock and country. Essentially, The Pocket Co. plays real rock and roll music. Good rock and roll music.
Singer/songwriter Jason Chesworth fronts the band, laying down scorching guitar riffs and wry blues-inflected vocals over the heavy groove of Mike Meusel (bass) and Graydon James (drums). Added to this is the funked-up keyboards of Logan Medland and Danny Bucko, the smoking B-3 sounds of Jim Chesworth, and the ethereal backing vocals of the talented Kim Sneath and Leah Oster.
The band’s six-song EP garnered radio play in Canada, Europe, and as far away as Tasmania, but folks are most excited about their upcoming full-length album and film.
Saturday Night at Morley Gibson's (SN@MG), the album, was recorded while the band was holed up in a barn studio for days. The film, by producing team Jason Chesworth and Grahame Wood (Awake Productions) and documentary film-maker Todd Witham, captures The Pocket Co. playing, arguing, finding inspiration, getting lost, and passing out over five days at the barn, culminating in an all-day, all-night concert/party with eight other bands.
The guiding principle for the CD was to record all the bed tracks (bass, drum, guitar, and both keys) live off the floor. Says Jason, “I told [producer] Steve Pitkin I wanted to hear the musicians looking at each other on this album.”
SN@MG is in the vein of great rock and roll albums of the ’60s and ’70s — a time when albums were entities, not padding for one hit single; were about music, not bare midriffs; and were bought from local record stores, not Starbucks.
The Pocket Co. has had many adjectives attached to it, but Jason describes the ‘feel’ rather than the ‘sound’ of the band. “It’s that feel of what I imagine the ’60s and ’70s were like, the circumstances in which they created. I get inspired by listening to music of that era. Today we’re offered music that is about sales, marketing, publicity, personas.
“If I am going to put the time, energy, and money into a project with a band, it’s going to be about making great records.”
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JASON CHESWORTH, singer, songwriter, lead guitarist, and band leader, is also an actor and writer. He cites his dad, who played boogie-woogie and blues on piano, as his first musical influence. His dad also worked in radio and had a “wicked” album collection that is responsible in part for Jason’s unparalleled grasp of rock and roll history. The rest comes from spending days in the music section of the library.
Although Jason has studied music and music theory formally, he is essentially a self-taught guitarist. His performing career began while attending school for music theatre. He took the acting path for about ten years (five of them at Shaw Festival) before finally getting his songs out on an EP produced by Steve Pitkin.
At the EP release, six months after its recording, the band had grown by five and the sound had changed fundamentally. “It was my idea from the beginning to have a big band,” says Jason. “There is a real sound that I’m trying to create. Actually, The Pocket Co. is well on its way to becoming the super group I dreamt up when I was about twelve called Jacob Two-Two, where there would be two of everybody!”
KIM SNEATH, one of the original back-up singers (and Jason’s wife), grew up without a lot of music in the house, but credits Barbara Streisand and Ella Fitzgerald for ‘teaching’ her to sing. “I would sing into a hair brush, trying to match them.” Kim obtained degrees in Education and Classical Voice from Mount Allison University, but didn’t enjoy performing classical and subsequently attended Sheridan College for musical theatre.
LOGAN MEDLAND (keys) met Jason when he was associate music director at Shaw Festival. Aside from being a talented musician, Logan is also a novelist and a great cook. Jason says, “I wanted Logan the improvisational writer/jazz musician, not Logan the classically trained music-theatre pianist. For the solo section in ‘Fine Looking Woman’ I said to him, ‘Just think about the dirty, raw act of sex and put it on the keys.’ And he did.” Currently Logan is music director for the American touring production of Cats.
MIKE MEUSEL (bass) is a Stratford local who started music lessons when he was four and went through violin, clarinet, and saxophone before landing on bass and moving to Toronto to study at Humber College. Proficient on bass violin and bass guitar, he has performed with Stratford Festival, The Stratford Concert Band, and many more quartets and small ensembles. Mike recalls showing up at a rank jam space to rehearse with Jason, whom he’d never met. “But Jason had beer and charts,” he says, “so I was happy.”
JIM CHESWORTH is the B3 player (and Jason’s uncle). As a child Jason and Uncle Jim would ‘jam’, playing the same song over and over, and Jim never tired of it. Born in Scarborough, Jim started playing piano when he was 13. Self-taught, he plays with an impeccable ear, performs in several bands, and making his living from music. Touring North America and abroad has taught Jim many skills, including how to find an AC outlet behind a wall of black curtain and how to ask non-intrusively if beer is in the rider.
LEAH OSTER is the second back-up vocalist and has a similar background to Kim’s: “I also studied Classical in university and have an Education degree, and my parents never played music in our house either.” Leah attended University of Windsor, first for Vocal Performance before switching to Music Theatre. One of Leah’s first gigs was at the Shaw Festival where she met Jason and Kim. “When The Pocket Co. lost their other back-up singers Jason asked if I wanted to join,” she explains. “I said, ‘Yes please!’”
GRAYDON JAMES (drums) joined the band after Jason saw him perform. “He had this wild mop of hair, a hand drum, and a little tambourine in his crotch,” says Jason (Graydon calls it the “crotch-bourine”). Culling his sound from influences Levon Helm (The Band), Darren Jesse (Ben Folds Five), Matt Cameron and Jack Irons (Pearl Jam), and Dennis Wilson (the Beach Boys), Graydon is known from many projects, including Random Piece, The Friendless Youngsters, The 6ixty8ights, Hill, and Clare Love & the Sweethearts. Graydon also performs solo and acts in a musical/comedy improv troupe.
DANNY BUCKO is the third keyboardist in the band, whom Jason met while working in catering. Jason heard Danny tinkling on the piano one night after a wedding and thought, ‘Oh shit, this boy can play!’ When Logan got the opportunity to tour with Cats, Jason asked Danny to join the band. “I told him we’re not looking for a sub; we’re looking for a guy to join. And if it happens that all three keyboardists can make it on the same night, then so be it.” And it did happen, during the studio recording of “Swear to God”.