Better living through grooves

The North Carolina electro-psych-tribal quintet deals a two-night stand at the Fox

Aaron Lingenfelter

The term “offshoring” has a lot of negative connotations these days, but not necessarily if you’re a tribogroove band.

In the midst of a pitiless winter, while a lot of their peers are dodging ice storms and emergency-cone zones in North America, the North Carolina-based outfit Papadosio is just back from a rumble in the Costa Rican jungle called Envision, where they were second (right behind Tipper) on a lengthy bill of bands, some imported and some locally grown.

Mind expansion and velvety synth grooves in the tropics sounds like the kind of offshoring we need more of.

Papadosio drummer Mike Healy talked about the fest a bit when we caught up with them earlier this week.

“It’s refreshing to get out of our comfort zone and the day-today in the States and immerse ourselves in a new environment,” he says. “Everything from language barriers to differences in food choices — it really puts performing into a different perspective. … It was really cool to check out some of the local acts that made the bill and tap in with what they’ve got going on.”

But, Healy insists, Envision was a lot more than just slacker time on the beach — the event is a self-aware exercise in melding sustainability and art, tapping gently into local culture while overlaying some of the groove scene’s aesthetics.

“Envision was pretty unique in that it demands your attention to some of the more disposable sides of festival life stateside … [like] the way everything was built from bamboo and local materials, and the absence of corporate sponsorship was really conducive to people finding a space to absorb art with a more open mind. They also had running filtered water on site as well as a deposit system for reusable dishes if you didn’t bring your own or take one of the workshops to make your own silverware and dishware out of bamboo.

“Not to mention, equatorial tropical beach life is so dope.”

And Papadosio was a natural fit for the scene. Unabashedly prog in some of their musical ambitions — fiendish time signatures, spacious synth-draped chill passages, abstract and evocative lyrical meditations on self-awareness — the band (which formed originally in southern Ohio and moved to North Carolina a few years back) deals in a kind of post-jam, third-generation Gaia-rock aesthetic. Half instrumental and half lyric-driven tunes, with poetic flourishes that might elicit a smile of approval from a late-’60s Jon Anderson, Papadosio’s creations nonetheless carry a formidable onstage heft, anchored decisively by Healy’s aggressive, athletic drumming and bassist Rob McConnell’s nimble bass lines. At times, you get the feeling that the psychedelia is a velvet glove over an iron fist.

If Papadosio is forgiving about being associated with the groove scene, and this is likely where they draw a lot of their audience, they’re also a little reluctant to sign up as charter members.

“I’d like to think we have fostered something rare if not unique,” says singer/lyricist/guitarist Anthony Thogmartin, “that we didn’t decide early to be solely an electronic project or subscribe to any musical constrictions.

“Perhaps that stems from the fact that our influences span such a wide variety of styles that it would be impossible and not quite feasible to list them all. … I’d say we are probably way more influenced by prog greats such as Yes, Floyd and Tool and pop greats like Radiohead, Fleet Foxes and Beck than groove scene bands which get little to zero playtime in the bus.”

Many years now into the evolution of the groove scene, the best bands have learned the right lessons. Make the songs matter in the studio, make sure they have substance, and then take them out and play them hard. Papadosio’s last proper studio release, T.E.T.I.O.S. (To End the Illusion of Separation), a two-CD magnum opus released about a year and a half ago, has sustained them well on their 100-plus-gig-per-year road schedule, and it will have to last a little longer.

“T.E.T.I.O.S. took about three years to complete in the end,” says Healy, “and [the album] was a collection of a lot of material that was composed on and off the road. … When looking to the horizon, taking a more traditional approach might be something we want to consider to see what kind of music comes forth without as much influence from life on the road.”

That horizon may yet be a ways off. “Hopefully within the next couple years,” Healy says about the band’s next trip into the studio. “We’re constantly writing songs and everyone is deepening their craft. … Once we do, though, it will be a comprehensive process looking at how to really release a record in this day and age that will leave a mark, and we will want to make it count.”