Inside the GravyBrain
The fun and freaky creativity of Chico funk-fusion four-piece
When the keyboardist in the jam band starts the set wearing an astronaut helmet, chances are you’re in for a long, groovy trip.
“How many times have you thought, ‘Man, I’d like to play with my band in space?’” asked Glenn “Dr. Galaxo” Tucker, keyboardist/vocalist for Chico’s GravyBrain. “Well … we were playing circling the moon!”
Yes, thanks to some impressive green-screen special effects, a streaming video that the band posted online a few weeks ago features GravyBrain playing on the deck of a spaceship with the glowing moon spinning in the background. The four-piece is then transported to the creek bed under Honey Run Covered Bridge, before continuing making stops on its psychedelic journey: at the base of a pyramid, atop a giant flying magic carpet, and beyond.
The hour-long performance—archived on the band’s Facebook page—is also broken up with prerecorded spoof commercials featuring the members playing characters in invented shows like Detective Squad, a 1970s-style cop show, and for GravyBrain products, like 12-Hour Gravy Energy (“We packed 62 bowls of gravy power in every two-ounce bottle!”).
And all that work was just for a regular Monday night rehearsal.
The response to its livestream was impressive, with 1,200 views in its first week online. “[That’s] way more than you’d get at a local Chico show,” said bassist/vocalist Kevin “Danger” McAllister. “It’s basically like we’re playing a gig. We’re in on Monday nights playing anyway.”
“And we don’t have to move anything!” added Tucker.
Sitting in the band space to talk with its four members before another Monday practice, it’s obvious GravyBrain—which played its 150th show last week and in November celebrated its first decade as a band—has been gearing up for this kind of production for a while. There’s a pro video camera on a tripod, a couple of giant computer monitors featuring a real-time chroma key program in progress and, covering the entire back wall and most of the floor in the room, a huge and pristine green screen.
The GravyBrain guys—Tucker, McAllister, drummer Dale “The Scorpion” Price, and the band’s spiritual leader, guitarist/vocalist Brian “Gravy” Asher—have been performing in Chico for a very long time. Collectively, they’ve put in nearly 100 years in local bands, playing with the likes of Swamp Zen, Trip Ship, Electric Canyon Convergence, Cornerstone and Inner Sun.
Throughout its tenure, in addition to the music—a split-personality of groovy funk and spacey/psychedelic fusion explorations (a new album, Goes to Your Head, is soon to be released)—the group has been known for wild visual antics. Most notable is the giant rolling stage/art car named Beau Le’Phant—an old church van converted into a glowing pink elephant, complete with a stage on top—that the band has taken to Burning Man and used as a roaming concert venue.
The art, they say, is a complement, not a separate venture.
“It’s definitely symbiotic. It’s all part of the whole package,” said McAllister.
The band began adding video components to its creative output two years ago, making online promos for shows and spoof commercials. But the turning point to the sort of all-involved, green-screen fantasies came with the Nibiru Chronicles, a 10-episode original sci-fi series in which “Team GravyBrain blasts off on a space adventure to seek and claim the planet Nibiru for GravyBrain and all the folks on Earth that love to party.”
Against a variety of cheesy royalty-free backdrops, the series features the band/crew in various space predicaments and encountering fellow travelers (Space Dog, Jean-Claude Van Damme and “evil” local funk band Black Fong), and of course jamming out on spacey tunes.
“We’re all creators. We’re all sort of Renaissance men, where we can work a little bit in all these different disciplines and have fun with it,” said drummer Price, the well-known local sound engineer who joined the band in 2014. “We just have a lot of different, very creative things besides, ‘Let’s just go play a show at a Chico place.’ Because we’ve all done that a million times, and we like that, but [the question is], ‘How else do you fulfill your insatiable creative appetite?’”
The answer, for now, can be found on the online stage, on Facebook, YouTube and the band’s new website (gravybrain.com) under the umbrella of the GravyBrain Network. So far, the band’s most popular release has been last year’s hilarious faux news broadcast featuring the four band members as “daredevil tubers” superimposed over footage of water crashing down the damaged Oroville Dam spillway, floating and jumping the breach to a GravyBrain soundtrack. So far, the video has more than 8,000 views on YouTube.
“I think it was the tubing video when we realized GravyBrain Network is sort of a ’hood for any creative idea,” said Price. “It’s just, sky’s the limit.”