Greasy, Dynamic, Hard Hitting Grooves: An Interview with Jazz Band FORQ

01/23/2016

It’s easy to compartmentalize music. There’s crazy rock bands. There’s laid back, sit still-and-reflect jazz bands. There’s hip-hop, there’s jam. There’s a million “distinct” categories.

But every once and a while you find a band that’s something else.  Music that can satisfy the rocker and jazz snob in all of us. And if you’re in the Bay Area on Sunday, prepare to be satisfied, as New York City-based FORQ will be rolling through the beautiful SF Jazz Center, where they’ll be playing three sets (5:30 pm, 7 pm and 9 pm) at the Joe Henderson Lab.

Many of you might know Snarky Puppy. They’re that crazy electric / power jazz / fusion band with a rotating roster of over forty folks in the band. They’re regulars at the SF Jazz Center, and I can speak from experience that they put on one hell of a show. They’re the home-team of two of FORQ’s founders.

But there’s something important to know about FORQ: it isn’t a Snarky Puppy spinoff band. While bassist Mike League and guitarist Chris McQueen are founding members of Snarky Puppy, FORQ is an entirely different beast. With only four touring members (Mike League on Bass, Chris McQueen on guitar, Henry Hey on keys and Jason “JT” Thomas on drums), the band is smaller, more concise. But this doesn’t mean the sound is scaled back – in fact it’s quite the contrary.

“It’s really it’s own thing,” said League. “FORQ is a much harder-hitting band than Snarky Puppy – it’s more dynamic. With Snarky Puppy, I try to stay away from anything that sounds like rock, because that’s not the identity of that band. But with FORQ everyone embraces that… there’s a very heavy presence of rock.”

And after speaking with League and Hey, it sounds like everyone in attendance on Sunday is in for something truly special. A group of highly skilled professionals experimenting with something new and unique. And with the group being a mixture of New York and Texas styles – League, McQueen and Hey all went to University of North Texas, while Thomas went to school at Weatherford about an hour away – their sound is a mixture of New York exploration and classic Texas grit.

“FORQ is this weird combination of hard-hitting, industrial, sonically explorative elements, which is not typical of Texas,” said League. “The sound is more New York-style experimental soundscapes, but then with this really greasy, laid-back groove undertone that comes from Texas. It’s really a marriage of New York and Texas.”

And, as I mentioned before, the band is made up of some of the best musicians in the country. League and McQueen both have numerous projects (League will be producing a new album for David Crosby later this year), and Hey – along with performing in a number of outfits – also served as the musical director for Lazarus, David Bowie’s musical production. Not to mention the drummer, JT, “is one of those drummers that can swing, groove and rock. He’s the trifecta,” said League.

The band got it’s official start when Hey, who was in Rudder at the time, played with Snarky Puppy in Texas. “Mike hosted us while down there, and opened a lot of doors down there in Texas,” he said. “We started to formulate the idea of this band, did a couple gigs in New York and said ‘well we should really record this.’ Once we recorded, we felt the push to make it something larger than just a bar band in New York City and thought, ‘wow, it would be refreshing to have a band that actually wanted to go on the road.”

As for what’s in store for the show, it might be worth your time to catch all three performances. “We’re going to mix it up for the three sets. The music is so open, so rather than just blowing through a bunch of tunes, we’ll see which tunes need to stay there and just stay there,” said Hey. “There won’t be many repeats, if any.”

Where so many jazz bands have a huge rotating cast (Snarky Puppy, for instance), FORQ is entirely it’s own band. “Especially in the jazz scene, it can be like musical chairs with band members,” said League. “And when you see a band like that, it sounds like it. It sounds like the guitar player did one practice and jumped in, and is reading music.”

“FORQ isn’t just side acts that came together, to tour or just record,” said Hey. “It feels like a band.”

And a band where everyone is contributing their own songs, FORQ is bringing it’s own DNA to the studio and stage. “We joke about musical allergies that we have, certain things drive everyone crazy,” said League. “When you add up all those allergies and remove them, what you have left is the sound of your band.”

So for those of you, whether you’re into jazz, rock or really just like beautifully constructed sounds, stop by the SF Jazz Center tomorrow night for just that – some beautifully constructed, heavy hitting sounds in a truly intimate space. Get your tickets before they sell out, I have a feeling they just might.