The Hippo – From the Stereo to the Stage

Boston band records and performs in New Hampshire

by Cory Francer


Maybe it was the day of skiing the band put in before the show. Or, maybe it was just the laid back vibe of the White Mountains venue. But when The Gravel Project plugged in at the Red Parka Pub in Glen to record a live album, the process was remarkably stress-free.


Guitarist and singer Andrew Gravel said that the band has recorded some of its live shows before, and when he’s listened back, he often finds himself critical of how the show went. Even though he knew this show was going to be released to the public, that worry wasn’t there.


“It was so cool, and I never thought about that we were recording it,” he said. “It really captured us being in the zone.”


Live at the Red Parka Pub is a selection of eight tracks; five of the songs are Gravel Project originals, and the others are renditions of the Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree,” The Allman Brothers Band’s “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and Muddy Waters’ “Big Legged Woman.”


The band incorporates elements of blues, funk and rock and takes on a jam mentality of never playing a song the same way twice. When The Gravel Project returns to the Granite State for a show at Manchester’s Strange Brew Tavern on Friday, Dec. 28, Gravel said those familiar with the band’s recorded material shouldn’t expect it to sound exactly the same as the CD. “One of the cornerstones of the band is improvisation,” Gravel said. “We play things differently every night.”


slide_4 That philosophy goes for the band’s cover songs as well, Gravel said. During their shows, the band may bring its blues, funk and rock influences to everything from The Beatles “I’ll Cry Again” to their own take on some classic Bob Marley tunes.


When the band plays at Strange Brew, Gravel said usually it’s asked to play from 9 p.m. to around 12:30 a.m. The show is split into two 75-minute sets, and being able to mix in a wide array of covers helps to keep the show fresh and the audience engaged throughout the night.


“Having long sets gives us the opportunity to play an eclectic mix of different songs and different styles,” Gravel said. “When we’re playing for so long, it gives us a chance to really show what we can do.” Gravel said the band also takes the long sets to recognize what song styles and volume level the crowd is reacting best to and then tries to tailor its sets to the audience.


Depending on the reactions the band receives from the stage, Gravel said that fluid approach can improve the experience for the audience members.


“It gives us a chance to craft the sets and move the sets to the room,” he said. “If the room is not as full as it could be then maybe we’ll choose songs that are less rocking. We want to do what’s better for the crowd.”


The Salem News – Fresh Gravel

August 30th, 2012

Improvisation gives Marblehead band new sound every night

By Will Broaddus
Staff Writer

—- — “Gritty” and “sophisticated” are two terms you wouldn’t normally use to describe the same thing.

But that’s how Marblehead native Andrew Gravel, 30, guitarist and lead singer of The Gravel Project, characterizes his band’s bass player, Vaughn Brathwaite.

“He’s just absolutely fantastic,” Gravel said, “one of the best bass players I’ve heard. He’s got more of a sophisticated and more gritty, funky sound. But he also has an incredible knowledge of harmony.”

“Gritty and sophisticated” would also be a fair description of The Gravel Project’s sound on their second CD, “Live at the Red Parka Pub,” which appeared this March.

The album mixes blues, funk and jazz in a musical range that includes Muddy Waters and the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers and Israel Tolbert, in addition to several original songs.

Brathwaite has been playing with Gravel and drummer Dave Fox for about a year and a half now. These three, who will play tonight on Mahi Mahi Cruises in Salem Harbor, usually appear as a power trio but are sometimes joined by guitarist Brad Barrett.

When he started his band in 2010 and recorded his first CD, Gravel, who graduated from Marblehead High School in 2000, was using a different lineup. But as the musicians have changed, the band’s sound has evolved, and Gravel likes what he hears.

“I think we have a fresh, new sound,” he said. “I think the cornerstone of who we are as a band is improvisation. We might not be playing bebop, but the mentality is to create something different every night.”

This is evident on “Live at the Red Parka Pub,” which draws from two nights’ performances in Glen, N.H., and features a number of energetic guitar solos.

“It’s never the same solo every night,” Gravel said. “Even with cover songs, they are platforms for improvisations.”

The three Gravel originals on the CD, one of which was written with fellow Marbleheader Caleb Warren, also make room for some extended guitar work.

But the lyrics of “Dollar Bill,” in addition, express Gravel’s alarm over some current events: the economic meltdown of 2008 and the recession that followed.

“I joke sometimes during gigs that I thought it would be irrelevant some years later,” he said. “It was just written out of frustration for everything going on around us. Everybody was getting greedy. What are people’s priorities really about?”

If “Dollar Bill” has a clear message, “Blues for LA” sometimes misleads listeners into thinking that Gravel must really love Los Angeles.

“Everybody asks that, but it’s not about California. It’s about a girl whose initials are L.A.,” he said.

Gravel has traveled far from the North Shore for extended periods of time, but his longest trips were in the other direction from the West Coast.

“I spent two years in London,” from 2004 to 2006, he said. “There’s a really good blues scene over there, where I honed my blues repertoire and sound. I did a blues festival in the south of France and toured around Sicily with a band.”

Gravel has also studied guitar privately, with Bruce Bartlett, a professor at Berklee College of Music.

“He’s a North Shore guy,” Gravel said. “He’s an encyclopedia.”

The Gravel Project is working on another studio album now, which should be ready in early 2013. In the meantime, the band will appear in Salem, around the North Shore and in Glen, N.H., over the next few months.

“There’s definitely a crowd out there,” Gravel said, “that likes to listen to a bluesy, funky kind of thing.”

Strange Brew Tavern


Kicking back today on this snowy day after a productive and fun couple weekend with the band.. Strange Brew on Friday night was a blast, and thanks to everyone for coming out and showing support!

And yesterday was an extremely productive day of mixing the first 3 tracks from the upcoming album. We cranked out final mixes of “In the Moonlight,” “Blues for LA,” and “Not the One,” and it is sounding killin’!! Metronome Studio is the real deal too.. They’ve got some of the best mixing gear in New England at their gem of a studio, tucked away in Brookline, NH.

Pete Peloquin who frequently works with Government Mule, Robben Ford, and John Scofield mixed the tracks, and it was a pleasure working with Pete. We’ll be mastering the tracks tomorrow and throwing them up on Soundcloud this week, so stay tuned!!