As a guitarist for more than a decade, I consider music to be one of my major passions, secretly (well, I guess not so much anymore) imagining what it’d be like to make it to the big leagues. Growing up, I frequented local shows around New Haven as often as my allowance would permit. As such, I grew up with a deep appreciation of Connecticut’s music scene, which my time at the Arts Council has only deepened—especially in this year’s United Arts Campaign.
Every year, we commission local musicians to release an exclusive EP or small album of songs for donors who contribute $100 or more to our Campaign. This year, String Theorie, an instrumental World Fusion trio composed of guitarist Joel Weik, bassist Karl Messerschmidt and percussionist Jordan Critchley from central CT, agreed to be our featured band. To learn more about the band’s inspirations, motivations and, well, music, I asked them a few questions. Here’s what they said:
You guys had quite the 2012! Winner of the Best Folk / Traditional Band at Connecticut’s Grand Band Slam, a new CD, Little Elephant, tons of gigs across the region… But let’s start at the beginning. How did String Theorie come about? How did you guys all meet and start making music together?
Well, String Theorie was formed in the summer of 2009 due to a happy accident! Fingerstyle Guitarist Joel Weik was casually invited to attend a friend’s-friend’s-birthday-party, which entailed an evening of open-mic jamming at a dive bar in New Britain. This friend’s-friend turned out to be Karl Messerschmidt, our virtuoso bass player! Joel approached Karl after being dazzled by his bass technique. A jam was arranged… Joel had a concept brewing in his mind for a while to put together a group based on the collaborations of Michael Hedges and Michael Manring, so Joel and Karl started working out some tunes over the summer of 2009 and in late August invited Southington native/DIY Drummer Jordan Critchley Jordan to join them on percussion at an open mic at Hartford’s La Paloma Sabanera. String Theorie played as a trio for the very first time that night and got a standing ovation with an offer to come back for a full show… and we’ve stayed together ever since.
Browsing your website, I noticed you characterize your music as embodying a “sound that can’t really be described in words.” Excuse the irony of my question, but how would you describe your style for people who are unfamiliar with your music?
Haha, what a tricky question! We find that words fall short because, no matter what, we can’t possible express with words the visual, audible and palpable effect of our music – especially during live shows, which is why we are particularly excited about our upcoming CD Release Party at Arch Street Tavern on Friday, April 12th. We held a live recording concert at La Paloma back in December of 2012, which is the first time we’ve created a live recording; this soon to be released album definitely provides the closest thing to a genuine “String Theorie experience.” By the way, the exclusive GHAC download card features a song from that live recording session, “April Showers,” which will only be available to eligible Arts Council donors – Let’s GO Arts!
Tell us a little about the exclusive String Theorie EP you guys have created for those who donate $100 or more to our United Arts Campaign. What were your thoughts behind the EP’s songs, themes, etc. Let us into your musical minds!
We’ve picked out some of our favorite songs from our self-titled EP and from our album Little Elephant that are mostly staples of our live shows. “The Middle” has become our new go-to opening tune; it helps us get warmed up quickly. “Inchworm” is the first song we ever learned together and it may have been played at every String Theorie show thereafter, although we’re not really sure. “E Minor” was the first song Joel ever wrote and it became the subject of a music video filmed and edited by Stone Gate Studios in 2011. “Lily Lake” and “Woe” both make regular appearances in our live sets. “While You Were Upstairs” is a different story entirely; it’s a piece that Karl wrote that features Karl on electric guitar and Jordan on cello. We’ve performed it live a few times but the recording, as you’ll hear, is kind of impossible for us to ever pull off on stage without more musicians. Finally, the live version of “April Showers” is an outtake from our upcoming album “Live at La Paloma.” We held it back as an exclusive track JUST for this compilation – United Arts donors are the only ones who will have it!
Does each band member have a favorite song from the EP? If so, which ones and why?
Karl: You mean besides the one that I wrote? I would say “Inchworm,” which is kind of tragic in that it implies our music hasn’t gotten any better since our very first song, but that’s not the case of course. I just think the whole thing is very well put together. The bass line is inspired by a Block Party tune and I feel like it kind of serves as the lead at the same time, at least that’s how I hear it. We’ve made some changes to the piece over time, so it’s kind of grown along with us as a band, which is why we decided to re-record it as part of our Live at La Paloma album, to show how far the song and the band have come since it was the first track on our debut EP.
Joel: For me it’s a toss-up between Lily Lake and April Showers… I think they both have a similar vibe, and I guess it’s a vibe I particularly enjoy! I think this mix of songs on String Theorie’s Let’s GO Arts! download gives us a chance to share a broad spectrum of sounds and styles.
Besides the EP, how will String Theorie be a part of our 2013 United Arts Campaign? Are you guys excited to take pART?
Totally excited! We are already booking gigs at workplace campaigns, and we are looking forward to the Arts Council’s Annual Meeting in July. We hope that the 2013 United Arts Campaign brings us many opportunities to bring our music to new listeners!
Performing at The Mark Twain House & Museum, The Studio at Billings Forge and other cultural institutions in Greater Hartford, String Theorie seems very much tapped into our local arts scene. How has our local arts and heritage community helped to shape String Theorie into the band it is today?
You can’t separate us from Hartford like you can’t separate Nirvana from Seattle or the Chili Peppers from LA. It’s our home in every sense and we’re proud to be a part of its sound track. It was really Hartford’s cultural institutions that supported us most and gave us the opportunity to succeed, which is why it makes so much sense for us to partner up with the Arts Council. I mean, we do play bars and are a part of the regular music scene here in Hartford, but we’re kind of a novelty. We don’t get asked to headline anything because we’re unorthodox and we don’t have vocals. And we don’t get asked to play any of the big clubs near Union Place because we don’t have a loud radio sound. But the cultural centers like the Wadsworth, the Mark Twain House, etc. have always come looking for us, and that’s kind of what we’ve developed our sound for; places where you can really pay attention hear the music for everything it is. We work a lot of little musical Easter Eggs into our tunes that you can find if you’re paying attention in good listening environment.
Now to the future! What can we expect out of String Theorie in 2013?
We are very excited about our Live at La Paloma release party, which is taking place at Arch Street Tavern on April 12th. We’ll be joined by two other local bands, Post-Modern Panic and a SECRET BAND…!
Many thanks to String Theorie for taking the time to answer my questions. To learn even more about String Theorie, check out www.stringtheorie.com, or www.facebook.com/stringtheorie.