An explosive quartet from Austin,Texas, GNAPPY combines the driving funk sensibilities of Galactic with the trip-jazz moodiness of Medeski, Martin & Wood and the hip-hop vibe of Groove Collective. The result - an enigmatic mixture of psychedelia, be-bop, and James Brown -influenced funk that has been described as "acid blazz and junk."
Several weeks after the release of GNAPPY's first album in March 2001, the group nearly filed for bankruptcy. It wasn't for lack of momentum. To the contrary, they had been selected as a "Featured Artist" on then-dominant Internet site Napster, and held-over for an unprecedented three weeks due to listener demand - longer than any other artist including Prince. However, that success came with a price. "Everything was fine until we got a bill from our web-server for extra bandwidth charges." says guitarist Buck McKinney. "Evidently, a lot of people were clicking-through from Napster and downloading our stuff. It was cool - we had over a half million hits to our website - but the charges were brutal. I don't see how the porn-sites stay in business!"
Meanwhile, critics were embracing the album, but no two writers seemed to agree on WHAT the music was. "Some were calling us a jazz band, while others characterized us as a funk band or a rock band with jazz influences." says McKinney. "Then we started getting all this interest from the jam-band scene, and it was like - hey - if you dig our music, we don't care what you call us."
If the critics disagreed over what GNAPPY was all about, it was for good reason. Describing GNAPPY's music can be an exercise in futility. Although it ranges from frenetic funk to hauntingly psychedelic jazz, GNAPPY hits so many spots in between that it is hard to pick a vantage point. "We call it 'Acid Blazz and Junk,'" says McKinney. "because it sounds like we threw parts of jazz, blues, funk and acid rock into a blender and set it for frappè." Jam-band magazine Relix calls Gnappy "an intriguing sound that crosses musical boundaries with ease and finesse . . . jazz is the foundation, but other influences creep in - including hip-hop, rock, funk, looping and [other] rhythmic textures." The Lafayette Daily Advertiser claims "[Gnappy] may hail from Austin, but this band is pure New Orleans jazz-funk . . . using funk and jazz as springboards for their own personalities, creating music that is at once smokey and ebullient." Music Revue notes "Gnappy's self-titled debut has all the down-and-dirty funk sensibilities of George Clinton [with] a spacy, acid-jazz edge . . . this is exciting, listener-involved music, with hooks that keep you on the tip of your toes."
Ironically, the group's first album might never have happened. Recorded over the period of a few days in McKinney's studio, the masters were more "sketch-pads" than finished pieces. "We had no intention of releasing those recordings." McKinney says. "We weren't even really a band - we only performed sporadically, and we really hadn't figured out what we were supposed to be playing. But the recordings taught us something about ourselves - that we're mentally disturbed! No really, we learned that we do best when we play stuff for our own amusement - that as long as we do that, we sound OK, and maybe even original."
After the recordings were finished, local indie label Harlequin Records expressed interest in releasing them. Local producer, Lars Goransson (Fastball, Cotton Mather, Cardigans) was hired to mix the masters, which were then taken to Oceanway Studios in Los Angeles for mastering by Alan Yoshida (Tupac Shakur, Miles Davis, Chick Corea). The album has since drawn near-unanimous critical praise, and has received airplay on over 125 radio stations across the globe, including stations in Russia, Germany and Italy.
But to every "yin," there seems to be a "yang." Just as things began to roll at radio and press, the wheels nearly fell off the Gnappy wagon. "We went through a really challenging period this last summer." remarks saxophonist Marcus Cardwell. "We lost our original drummer and bassist just when things were heating-up. Through the summer, when we were doing the majority of our touring, those positions were a revolving door - we used three different bassists and three drummers in a two-month period. We were always working someone in - the pressure was insane!"
There were other hurdles as well. In September 2001, while on an extended 26-city tour, Cardwell was involved in a freak accident during the Music Harvest Festival in Northern Florida. "Marcus was doing his Tarzan impersonation." recalls McKinney. "We had just finished our set, and headed down to the Suwannee River for a swim to cool-off before Bunny Wailer's performance. Marcus went off this rope swing, and somehow fractured his right ring finger in the process. It was totally freaky - sort of karma-like, and we were wondering - what next, and why?"
By the end of September 2001, Cardwell and McKinney were unsure if the project would survive. "There is only so much crisis management that you can handle, and still be creative." comments McKinney. "If something hadn't changed at that moment, Marcus and I would have probably moved on to something else." Luckily, something did change. Shortly after returning from their aborted tour, original bassist Brad Bradburn and drummer Kevin Pearson returned to the fold. Almost immediately, the band embarked on a marathon songwriting binge, returned to a full performance schedule, and began preparations to record a new album. DISASTER AVERTED!
"It is impossible to overstate the redemptive quality of music, particularly as it relates to being in a band." states McKinney. "When Bradburn and Pearson rejoined the group, it was like pulling on an old pair of boots. Everything felt right again - in fact, we have a greater appreciation for who we are and what makes this group work."
At this point, GNAPPY adheres to the adage that "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger." In January, 2002, they reenter the studio to record their second album, to be produced again by Lars Goransson. If GNAPPY's first album was any indication, expect the unexpected.