Imagine red vinyl booths, candlelit tabletops, and an Old Fashioned in your hand: that’s what you get when you turn on Andy & The GMP (Great Mouse Parade). Andy Leon and bandmates Dominique Carrieri, Marc Babcock, Jono Santos, and Michael Keehan’s music is smooth as top shelf whisky and just as potent.

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Natalie Durkin (TribeLA Magazine): Give yourself and your work a tagline and tell us why.

Andy Leon (lead vocals and songwriting in Andy & The GMP): For the music I think it would be: “looking for the longing”. Realistically, though, my personal tagline is probably: “looking for my keys”.

Dominique Carrieri (bass and backing vocals in Andy & The GMP): GMP, for sure, is: “Made with love”. Me, personally: “Made with spunk”.

Marc Babcock (drums and backing vocals in Andy & The GMP): For myself I’d say that I am always one second away from a good time. For Andy and the GMP I would say if you wanna dance and feel something, you’ve come to the right place. 

Jono Santos (saxophone in Andy & The GMP): Feel good f*ck music. Bajito y suavecito.

Michael Keehan (guitar, backing vocals, and songwriting in Andy & The GMP): For both: when you’re here you’re family.

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ND: What got you started in music? What is the reason you are here today?

AL: I grew up in a house that was constantly playing music. The most mundane tasks always had a soundtrack, I can remember few times that it was quiet in our home (I have my father to thank for this). In the third grade my dad put on Norah Jones’ album “Come Away With Me” as I was doing homework and it was a game changer. I remember thinking I could listen to that on loop forever. I got my first guitar in the fourth grade and started learning to play songs from that album/ writing songs then. I’m able to pursue this passion because of the people in my life who have given unconditional and endless love and support.

DC: My father was a drummer and a vocalist so I grew up listening to almost solely classic rock until I went to college. I taught myself multiple instruments from a young age and music was always something I had in my life. I got involved with the GMP after Andy saw me playing with a grunge band out here in LA.

MB: My parents got me started in music from exposing me to so much music at a young age. My mom showed me classic rock and hip hop and my dad showed me country and they both encouraged me to play when I showed interest. The reason I’m here today is because of my family, friends and all the amazing people who I have shared music and stages with over the years. Plus a deep rooted love for music and everything it does.

JS: Like everybody music has always been a big part of my life. My middle name, Santos, even comes from the Bay Area Afro-Cuban percussionist John Santos, so music was always important to my family whether it was listening to John Santos, my mom bumping Kanye West back when Late Registration dropped, my grandmother’s love of Snoop Dogg, or listening to all the Latin soul my cousin would throw on at every barbecue my family would have. I started playing guitar as a kid, listening to Santana I loved that electric sound he had. When I got to high school I got hooked up with Michael and it was probably around that time that I started playing more acoustic stuff. Michael’s family would have these parties with sessions that would go late into the morning. I think that’s where I cultivated a lot of my sound. To play there you needed to be able to jump in and feel the music, it created such a strong sense of community in the music that I think we still bring to our performances today. Community is such an important element of music and playing in such a vibrant community definitely sparked a passion in me. Then, moving to New York I saw that community shift from Irish folk/country music in San Francisco to jazz. That’s how i got started on saxophone and where I learned most of the theory that I know. Saxophone came somewhat naturally because I already had an ear and feel for the music, it’s just a matter of training my fingers to think differently, which is something I’m still working on now, every musician is. I took lessons from Ralph Lalama in New York, and going to see him play with his trio or the Village Vanguard Orchestra offered a similar inspiration to what I was feeling at the sessions in San Francisco. I always loved jazz, but New York brought that love to a new level, it was just nonstop music whether I was watching Ralph play or someone like Ed Cherry, both great players whose strong sense of the beat influenced me greatly, or going to the after hours sessions at Smalls and watching all these young musicians honing their chops. When I moved back to San Francisco I joined a Charanga orchestra playing saxophone which taught me a whole new way to play with others and to feel the music, playing with a rhythmic base rather than a harmonious one. I’ve maybe strayed a bit from how I got started in music, but I don’t remember a start, I just remember always playing.

I just moved down to LA a few months ago from San Francisco. We lost the house I grew up in up in SF, so I figured it was time to go somewhere else. I knew some people down here playing music, which is what I wanted to be doing so I fixed up a camper I bought off Craigslist with my brother and my boogie baby and drove it down here. I got hooked up with the GMP through Michael. I’d played some stuff on guitar with him and Andy then I stepped into a rehearsal for the GMP playing saxophone and Andy asked if I wanted to be a mouse. I of course said yes, I loved the music they were making.

MK: My pops, VK, is an Irish musician from Galway so I grew up surrounded by singers and pickers. I’m here today because it’s all I’ve ever known to be true.

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ND: How do you hope to influence your audience?

photo via andyleonmusic.com/photos

AL: Really, at the end of the day, we want people feeling and groovin’. The aim, always, is to have an exposed underbelly in our music; to be vulnerable in public and hopefully connect with somebody listening. I used to write other artists’ lyrics in notebooks and on napkins when they struck something in me that made me feel a part of. The hope, I think, is that a napkin somewhere houses a lyric of ours. As far as the groovin’, if we can look out during a show and see hips swinging and hands holding, strangers meeting and swaying and dancing together, we’re doing something right.

DC: I personally hope I inspire women to feel comfortable playing music for an audience, that’s not easy when men tend to put women under a microscope, especially when they’re also musicians. Our songs all speak about the concept of feeling unapologetically and I can only hope we influence our audience to do the same.

MB: In my opinion if you made someone feel something as an artist you have done your job. So hopefully if you hear us or see a show you leave that experience feeling something you didn’t when you got there.

JS: I was walking around the Getty yesterday and there was this tapestry of a bird that had just caught a fish. The fish was in the air about to be swallowed by the bird and the ocean sat behind them. I didn’t like the tapestry. I know nothing about visual art, and I’m sure the piece had its own merit, but to me each element of the image existed in isolation of the other parts. The much more interesting moment to have captured would have been the moment the bird dove into the water and scooped the fish up. The water, the fish, and the bird would all need to react to each other, and each is listening to the other. The same can be said about music. There was a sculpture at the Getty which showed Venus embracing Mars, each piece of their bodies reacted to the other, Venus falling over Mars, and even Mars in his attempted stoicism couldn’t have existed without Venus falling into his lap. That is what I want to do with music. Each piece of a band doesn’t exist without the other, every note is a reaction to what everyone else is doing, and to what the audience is doing. The audience is then in turn influenced by us. They see the band reacting to them and react in turn, however that might be, through dancing or clapping, and we all exist together in that moment.

MK: I don’t intend on influencing anyone’s whole life, I wouldn’t be so bold. But the band can influence a night out the same way a strong drink and good friends can influence a night out.

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ND: What do you do when your creativity is blocked?

AL: My favorite discovery about being in a band, actually, has been the way creative blocks are tackled.  Before the band, hitting that wall was the most isolating moment of the songwriting process because it was a shutting down that started from the inside out. With the band though, the creative blocks end up being the moments where I feel most supported and inspired- It’s incredible to get to bring this skeleton of a song  and be met with minds ready to troubleshoot, workshop, practice and continue creating. If we hit a block as a band we’ll usually take a breather, go get a drink or some food and come back to it later or another day once we’ve had some space from it.

DC: We pull a lot of inspiration from each other and our own personal upbringings through music. We like to play around with tunes and I feel like it really helps us discover new opportunities in our sound.

MB: Anything but music most of the time. Forcing creativity can always be felt in the end product.

JS: I don’t feel like creativity is ever really blocked if you’re observant and can dig what’s happening around you. I try to practice as much as I can, I think that’s the big thing. If your chops aren’t up you might be feeling something but don’t know how to express it using your instrument because you haven’t put in the work. Instruments are tools that you need to learn how to use just like anything else, and once you learn to use that tool your only limit is your imagination, which has no limit.

MK: Try not to think too damn hard and remember how it feels when your creativity is flowing.

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ND: What fires you up and gives you energy?

AL: Seeing the people I love do what they love. Watching my preschool students get stoked about learning something new. My family.  A really good salsa song. This band.

DC: People caring about things that make them happy.

MB: People and music. Music to me is the most powerful art in the world.

JS: I love a live sound, I think that’s when a musician can best showcase their talents. So playing live shows gives me energy, especially when the audience is digging what we’re doing, then we start working together, we give the audience energy and they send it right back up to us and everyone is better off for it.

MK: Sometimes it’s the sight of goal that seems close by. Sometimes it’s something simple like a nice afternoon. Sometimes it’s desperation.

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ND: Can you tell us a little known fact?

AL: The first band I was ever in was actually called Click 29 and it was in middle school. We headlined the winter show and our middle school graduation. Our hit song, “Best Friends” can be found exclusively in my middle school diary. [Also] I can lick my elbow.

DC: Corn and ketchup in a bowl is the perfect snack.

MB: African elephants wait by the African Marula Tree for the fruit to drop and ferment. Once fermented they eat the fruits to get drunk.

JS: Any infinite bounded sequence always has a sub sequence which is convergent.

MK: Again, when you’re here you’re family.

 

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ND: Where is your favorite place in Los Angeles and why?

AL: Everett Park near chinatown. It’s a very very small park that overlooks the downtown skyline and is surrounded by homes (if I’m being honest it’s more like a large patch of grass with a handful of trees on a hill). It’s tucked away and very quiet, usually pretty empty and still. I also really love the CA-2 South freeway coming back from Pasadena.

DC: Probably the dog park so I can hang out with my dog, but honestly otherwise jamming with these mice for sure.

MB: Anywhere with good food and good beer. I’m not too hard to make happy.

JS: Probably El Tapatio in Glendale. They’re making big moves in the taco game. Or highway 2, since that’s Andy’s and I think that’s goofy.

MK: My basement practice space cause I practice there.

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ND: How do you make music? Briefly chronicle your creative process.

AL: It always starts with a feeling. When writing music alone, that feeling will then spill over into a word or a sentence which will turn into a phrase and then, eventually, the music and the words are finding each other as I go, taking the feeling and giving it a form you can hum.

When writing with the band, it still starts with feeling but will turn into a melody or a story first. Usually Michael and I will bring in something we wrote together or separately and then as a band we arrange and work on it from the ground up. For some songs we look at each other and ask, “okay, so how does the story end?” “Where does the feeling go?” “How do we want this to move?” And go from there.   

DC: I’m a poet so a lot of my music comes from mantras, one liners, little verses I can’t get out of my head. In the GMP I love providing harmonic tones and melodies on the bass you don’t hear very often. It’s how I connect to the feeling of each song.

MB: It depends. Sometimes you just sit down and it comes out immediately. Other times you have this riff and you sit on it for months until it builds into something more, but sometimes it will only ever be that riff. With the GMP, a lot of times Andy or Michael (or both) will come to the rest of us with something and we build it from the ground up until we’ve reached where we want to be. It’s really a team effort.

JS: I’ve never considered myself much of a songwriter, making music is about interpretation for me. I love playing through a song and hearing all the different ways the harmonies stretch out, and how they move throughout the song.Making music for me is about noticing that and reproducing it on my instrument. An obvious example is on a song like Suave, the chords move up from D to E, so a whole step, but that E becomes the major third of C, so that follows very naturally. From C I like to move up a half step to C sharp, while the rest of the band plays an A, because C sharp is the major third of A, but also the major seventh of D, so it leads back to the D walking up chromatically and the pattern repeats.

MK: I try to always keep myself close to an instrument so that I can keep my hands warm. My writing process is random at times but I’ve always found hallways to be helpful.

 

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ND: What is coming up?

AL: More gigs! More new music! Now that the EP is out the goal is to be out-and-about dancing with y’all as much as possible. After spending so much time in the studio, we’re itching to boogie.

DC: MORE tunes! MORE bumps! MORE songs to sing along to and get stuck in your heads 🙂

MB: More music! We have some songs already that have not been recorded and we are starting to write more now. Now that the EP is out I think we are all ready to get out and start gigging again and playing as much as possible.

JS: I like to keep it a mystery.

MK: Gigs, gigs, gigs. Get on the dancefloor.

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ND: Describe your style – musically and otherwise.

AL: Musically, this band’s style is Norah Jones out to dinner with Lake Street Dive—Soft and dancey. Personally, I’m a sucker for anything with flowers on it.

DC: Musically, the GMP is Norah Jones out to dinner with Lake Street Dive for sure. Personally, I’m the daughter of a classic rockstar and that’s all I want to be.

MB: My style musically has routes in all forms of rock: classic rock, folk, country, desert rock, blues it comes from everywhere. My style otherwise isn’t much of a style at all haha. I like tshirts and blue jeans and vans and a good baseball hat. Andy and the GMP’s style is a little taste of jazz, a little bit of folk, a little bit of lounge dance. We all come from different musical backgrounds and I feel it all finds its way into the music.

JS: Musically, I try to pull from a little bit of everything. I love the harmonies and voice leading in jazz, a lot of what i try to do with my sound comes from those guys as well, Sonny Rollins is big for me of course, but I also love Dexter Gordon’s sound, and Eddie Lockjaw Davis. I have an album of Davis’ where he talks about his faith in the musicians in the liner notes, the engineer was blown away by how quickly they recorded the album, with no rehearsals, Davis just knew these guys could play and wanted to keep the sound fresh. Getting away from horn players I love Monk. He played slower than a lot of those other players and left space everywhere, it was amazing. Everything he did almost seemed to stumble perfectly onto itself. Other than jazz I love a lot of the rhythm in Afro Cuban music and funk, the way the horns pull off the beat in some of those bands is great. Any of those guys could feel the music on a whole other level, Beny More, Joe Cuba, Willie Colon then over to funk players like James Brown or Bootsy or Charlie Wilson. I also love the arrangements on all the Ohio Players tracks. Besides music I’m not sure what other style there is. I suppose I try to dress like Senor Chang in Community or Kramer.

MK: Andy Leon and the GMP is a full force eruption of raw energy, friendship, and cathartic unleash.

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ND: What is the best advice you’ve received and the best advice you can impart onto us?

AL: Lead with love. Always, always lead with love and the rest will follow.

DC: Rehearsal is a discovery process. Never rush your music, never think it’s as good as it gets, always work harder and harder every time you play.

MB: “Have fun and make a face” – Randy Leventhal. That’s what this is all about, having fun and loving the music you play and the people you play and share it with. Any day you get to play music is a lucky day. Be happy you woke up.

JS: I’ve already hinted at this a bit, but when I was working with Ralph he told me a story about when he was still coming up in New York. He was with Michael Brecker, another great tenor player, and running through licks over some major seventh chords. He looked over to Brecker and said “these chords are sounding tired man, how can I keep it fresh when I’m playing over chords like this?” (I’m of course paraphrasing). Brecker looked at him and said you can do so much with those chords, the only limit is your imagination. That stuck with Ralph for years, long enough for him to tell the story to me, and it’s stuck with me since then.

MK: Clean socks.

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ND: Any closing words?

AL: Thank you thank you thank you for listening, for coming to shows, for being a part of our music! We <3 you.

DC: Play music with your friends.

MB: Thank you to anyone who has taken time to listen to our music and show us love and support we appreciate you all so much. Come see us and dance with us sometime we’d love to see you!

JS: Come dance at our shows.

MK: Beware complacency. It can take hold of you.

 

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