DownBeat Keys
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DownBeat Keys

New York City, New York, United States

New York City, New York, United States
Band Hip Hop Funk

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Jul
30
DownBeat Keys @ The Bitter End

New York, New York, USA

New York, New York, USA

Apr
11
DownBeat Keys @ Colby Sawyer College

New London, New Hampshire, USA

New London, New Hampshire, USA

Apr
02
DownBeat Keys @ Drop Beats Not Bombs

Clinton, New York, USA

Clinton, New York, USA

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Press


So I went up to North Pomfret, Vermont a couple weekends back to check out a barn party (the 2nd Annual to be exact). At the “1st Annual,” I had found this killer place to pass out after a night of socializing with people I had never met. At some ungodly hour, I was awoken by a man in a kilt, who told me that my sleeping place was unacceptable. Thinking this man was William Wallace-and being half asleep and half twisted at the time-I didn’t put up a fight and found another place to lay my head. Fast forward a year and I meet the kilted man once again-this time unkilted-and he seems like a pretty cool dude. Not only that, but he plays bass guitar in a band called The Downbeat Keys.

I’ll be honest with all of you. I’ve been an advocate of independent music for as long as I’ve been able to form my own opinions (that’s about 15 years). However, whenever I get tossed a MySpace address from a dude in a local band, I usually immediately write them off. It’s not that I dislike a particular band’s sound, but then again it is. I dig just about any band-local or otherwise-that has something original to say. It’s too bad for those original local bands that they usually translate poorly to tape, or MySpace, or whatever medium is trendy these days. Things changed for me this past weekend though.

Picture this: A cheese farm in Vermont. Me and one of my best friends drive up to meet another one of my best friends. I encounter this William Wallace look-alike and he’s not William Wallace. Not at all. He plays bass. Beyond that, he plays bass in a local band. So one thing leads to another and we get to talking and he’s telling me about his band called “The Downbeat Keys.” While we’re talking, I flashback to the previous summer, where I remember a bunch of people-myself included-standing in a circle talking about how this dude’s band’s newest CD is “eclectic.” I immediately decide that he has found a way to attract people to his band that otherwise sucks. I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong. Write this one down, because I rarely admit anything. I was wrong.

One thing leads to another, and here I am: The passenger seat of this bass player’s car about to hear this “eclectic” band. Not expecting much, the first track I hear is “I Don’t Remember.” The song title is fitting. One, because I don’t remember the songs he played after this one and two because I don’t remember listening to a local band with a sound as fresh as his band. Feel free to correct me, but I found this band to be a comfortable mix between 311, Gym Class Heores and Dispatch. When he described his band a year ago as eclectic, I thought he was co vering up his band’s lack of originality or his way of saying that people wouldn’t like his band. Again, I was wrong.

After the first second of “I Don’t Remember” I heard something from this band that many local bands lack-the quality of their recordings. There are tons of local bands with styles that reach far beyond that of many “famous” bands. However, the quality of their demos or whatever they put on their MySpace pages makes it almost impossible to listen to. The Downbeat Keys seem to have taken this into consideration and conquered the dilemma. Although the recording quality of bands is another topic for another time (expect a post later on about this), DBK has offered their listeners a comfortable audio quality. Their production qualities have far transcended that of their other unsigned counterparts.

I find their music refreshing. Find their influences where you will, but to me they find the difference between Gym Class Heroes and 311. On top of their front man rapping and their jam-band esque backing, they offer a sound that doesn’t sound like many other bands around. Decide for yourself here. These guys deserve an honest shot. They offer a decent mix between a hip-hop act and a funk act that seems to be something that other bands performing in this style do not offer. It’s new and interesting. Give these guys a year or so and I’ll bet my bottom dollar that they’ll explode beyond the local scene. Check them out. I did and they’ve found their place in a playlist on my iPod. Take two and call me in the morning.

PEACE - The Record Crate


It’s probably harder these days for a new band to become successful than ever before. One reason may be attributed to the economy and austere record company budgets for undiscovered or unknown artists. Furthermore, bands not signed to major labels typically have a difficult time getting their music heard due to limitations at commercial radio stations.

Those limitations notwithstanding, the Internet affords young musicians an outlet to strut their stuff. That vehicle has helped a group of musicians, who use the Canarsie home of one of its members as their base, get their first major professional engagement this December in New York City.

The Downbeat Keys (DBK) choose to write, record and perform totally live, which gives their music a distinctive energy that is unmatched in the contemporary rap genre that typically relies on electronics and computer-generated sounds.


DBK in performance at a bar near Hamilton College.
DBK is a sextet made up of four current Hamilton College students and two alumni. The group formed last year when four musicians teamed up with two rappers.

The musicians — Canarsien Baldwin Tang (keyboards), Ryan Calabrese (drums), Andrew Root

bass) and Jared Schneider (guitar, saxophone) — were about to try out for a college concert when two rappers — Kadahj Bennett (aka Simile) and Will Preston (aka Ill Will) — approached them. After a brief meeting the six agreed to audition as group, though they had never worked together.

Root, who also serves as the band’s manager and spokesperson, said the sextet “blew away the competition and the judges” to earn the headlining spot in the upcoming concert. And DBK was born.

Within a few months DBK conquered the Hamilton College music scene after performing at large parties and winning the annual Battle of the Bands. As a result, the college awarded the group a financial grant to record their first album.

Tang (Class of 2010), who attended Public School 272, had been a practicing musician for years, so, to support his son’s aspirations, Tang and his father spent a year and thousands of dollars converting the family home’s basement into a recording studio. After learning of the band’s success at college, the elder Tang invited the group to record their debut album there over last year’s holiday season.

After days and weeks honing the material they wrote, DBK had enough material to record their first album, Invisible Ink, which was released last April. Root said the recording received a lot of attention “for its eclecticism and seamless blend of hip-hop, funk, rock and reggae.”

In the wake of the album’s release and after performing in and around Hamilton College last spring, the band spent last summer recording and rehearsing, using the Canarsie studio as its base. The musicians compose the music and the two rappers write the lyrics.

Root, who is related to Elihu Root, the Secretary of State for President Theodore Roosevelt before serving as Secretary of War under presidents William McKinley and Roosevelt, and the winner of the 1912 Nobel Peace Prize, said he markets the band via Facebook and other Internet outlets. That strategy worked because after hearing DBK’s recording, bookers for a popular Greenwich Village night spot contacted the group and signed them to perform at The Bitter End on December 18.

To find out more about DBK go to: myspace.com/downbeatkeys.
- The Canarsie Courier


Will Preston '11 (Ill Will) - MC
Kadahj Bennett '12 (Simile) -
Vocals/MC
Baldwin Tang '10 -
Keyboards/ DJ
Ryan Calabrese' 09 - Drums
Andrew Root '09 - Bass
Jared Schneider '11 - Guitar/Sax
Does DBK have a general message to Hamilton?
Ill Will: This project is really cool because you rarely see professional "rap bands." You usually have a rapper and a producer and no affiliation between the instrumentalists and the lyricists. But in our case, we're a fully functioning rap/hip-hop group.
Root: Well it's "ghetto-funk."
Ill Will: In other words, it's experimental hip-hop funk.

Do you think you sound similar to The Roots?
Ill Will: We definitely pay homage to them because we both have a "live" sound.
Root: Our vibe , or our philosophy on how we play our music, is very similar to The Roots. When people hear our music, they tend to think that we sound like Gym Class Heroes or The Roots; they immediately point to established "live-sounding" hip-hop groups. But I really like to think that our sound is pretty distinct.

What other artists have influenced you?
Kadahj: I feel like a lot of our music reminds me of Lupe Fiasco. He's always trying to push the boundaries between hip-hop and rock music, especially live music. I get a lot of inspiration from Musiq Soulchild, Raheem Devaughn, Kanye West and Common.
Ill Will: I like old Nas, but I hardly listen to rap music. This sounds strange, but there's a band called the Mountain Goats. Their singer is one the greatest lyricists that I've heard. I try to incorporate his style in my rap.

What do you think hip-hop will sound like in 10 years?
Ill Will: Hopefully where we are taking it. We play all of our music live and with no computer-generated beats. Also, our lyrics are reflective of everyday life from our generation's perspective. Our songs are about something that is not just bulls**t about hoes and f**king chicks.

What's the progress on your debut album?
Baldwin: It's almost done. The tentative release date is March 1st. I think we only have 1-2 songs left to track. The remaining work will be completed this week, we'll mix it at a studio in Syracuse this weekend, and then send it out to get the CDs made.
Ill Will: "Regular People," "Lyricist" and "Slow Down" are the big tracks so far. But I think any song on the album can be anyone's favorite. I think there is something for everyone.

Do you have an album title?
Kadahj: When I distributed some early versions of the album's tracks to people, a possible name that surfaced is "The Invisible Ink Mixtapes." Don't hold us to that, though.

What was the first song that set the tone for DBK?
Root: We played it at one of our first shows and then got to see our live performance on DVD, and we were all blown away by the song's energy. From that point forward, we knew we wanted to try to make this band happen.

Do you have shows planned?
Root: We are doing Febfest's Battle of the Bands this Friday and an all-campus band festival the day before May Day. I think we are also looking into a couple of shows at Colgate, Amherst, Dartmouth and Cornell.
Ill Will: While we want to play some more Hamilton shows in the near future, the album is our top priority right now. We'll be busy for the next few months.

I saw you guys performing at AD's infamous Deansboro party two weeks ago. How was the audience's reception?
Ill Will: It was the most energetic fun concert we've played. It was the best crowd response we've had for each song.
Jared: It was pretty wild. I kept getting knocked to the wall.
Root: I had to hit people with my bass headstock to keep them away. Apparently people were breaking things and stealing stuff. I am just proud to create that vibe. It was so raucous that we're not allowed to play there again.

What are your plans?
Root: I think our music has a good shot. Most hit songs today are made for the pop market, like cotton candy. A song comes out, you hear it immediately and like it, and then get sick of it in a period of a month. I feel we've spent a lot of time with the beats and the grooves on this album and trying to get at something deeper.

Any final comments?
Root: There is this vibe at Hamilton that any band that comes from campus is just a bunch of dudes who get together and play music, and it's not real. Yet, when other bands come in and play, people look at them in awe and think they are legitimate. I ask Hamilton kids to realize that there are talented musicians right under their noses who have the potential to actually go somewhere.
- The Spectator


If you’re an avid all-campus party goer, love live music, or just keep up with the Hamilton music scene, you’ve probably heard or heard of DownBeat Keys, a new band that was birthed first semester and has been growing in popularity since. If not, this is your chance to become acquainted with a musical phenomenon happening right here at Hamilton. I first heard DownBeat Keys at an annex party, but knowing them as nothing more than an infectious sound that brought out the best in my white-boy dance, decided to have a chat with bassist Andrew Root ’09 for a more in depth look at the band that’s quickly becoming a campus favorite.

Who:
Down Beat Keys is composed of Ryan Calabrese ’09 (percussion), Andrew Root ’09 (bass), Baldwin Tang ’10 (keyboard), Will “Ill Will” Preston ’11 (vocals), Jared Schneider ’11 (saxophone & guitar) and Kadahj Bennett ’12 (vocals).

What:
DownBeat Keys (DBK is, essentially, hip-hop vocals on a funk/jazz inspired backdrop. The resulting combination makes for an original, high energy sound that leaves listeners with no choice but to throw their hands up and succumb to the beat. The band members come from many different musical and cultural backgrounds (MC’s Will Preston and Kadahj Bennett are from Kansas City and Boston, respectively), which both adds to the originality of the sound and facilitates incorporation of different musical genres. DBK is willing to mesh with different sounds around campus and have collaborated with members of the Buffers and others. “There are so many good musicians at the school,” exclaims Root, an aspect of Hamilton of which DBK has taken advantage.

The How:
DownBeat Keys started when Calabrese ’09, Root ’09, and Tang ’10 met Preston (“Ill Will”) at Hamilton College’s RHymelab. Impressed with his quick lyricizing, they asked if Will would be interested in the formation of a campus band. He accepted, and the concept snowballed from there. Bennett was later picked up at an audition for Drop Beats Not Bombs with the fledgling band nailed, securing their first major campus performance. Only a couple of weeks were allotted before Drop Beats Not Bombs, but their preparation was solid and the performance was a hit. Soon after, Schneider ’11 jumped in to provide sax and guitar.
Since then, DownBeat Keys have been a huge hit at some full Annex parties and rocked the Village Tavern on two occasions, no to mention being the first hip-hop group ever to perform in Wellin Hall for Andrew Root’s senior recital.

The CD:
DBK has already recorded and begun distributing their first album titled “Invisible Ink.” After their first few performances, the band was awarded the Stephen Daniels Smallen Fund for Student Creativity. With this funding, the band members took some time off live performances to begin recording the album. Recording and technical projects were tackled by Baldwin Tang ’10 whose skills on the keyboard are matched by his knowledge of recording and editing hardware. Recording was split between the Hamilton recording studio and Tang’s home in Brooklyn, which band members visited during their spring breaks. Recording was finished in early March and the CD was officially released April first.
When I asked Root ’09 how the recording went and how songs come together, he was eager to reply that the writing is a unified process. Composition of a new song usually starts with a bassline, keyboard or other new small aspect of the song. DBK then gets together and each contributes their own parts, finishing with Preston and Bennett’s addition of lyrics.

The Future:
As for where the band is going next, things are looking up for DownBeat Keys. On the Hill, they continue to add a jolt to any party and you can look out to performances at DKE’s Gin & Juice party and a Class and Charter Day performance as well as a CD release party to be announced soon. Off-campus, the DBK sound is searching for more professional recognition and band members have been networking with record label representatives. According to Root, the biggest difficulty facing the band’s future is that it has members from each Hamilton graduating class. With two seniors graduating this year, it makes it difficult for the members to be as unified as they have been so far. However, the seniors Root and Calabrese are far from giving up. Their post-grad plans are to live in Syracuse to keep with DBK, and are optimistic that a record deal is the best thing to ensure the structure of the band. They have plans to pitch to Interscope records, Jive records, and Warner Brothers records and have already heard positive feedback from the Warner Bros. Label. In addition, Baldwin and Bennett have been recording part of a documentary soundtrack for National Geographic, making it clear that DownBeat Keys is well on its way to becoming much more than a campus band.

Become a Fan:
There are lots of ways to get involved with DownBeat Keys. You can find them on myspace at myspace.com/downbeatkeys, join their facebook group, as well as find lots of media on youtube. If you’re looking to get your hands on their CD “Invisible Ink,” you can order it off digstation.com, contact a band member, or pick it up in Beineke where copies are sold from time to time. If that’s too much work for you, you’ll be able to download them from the iTunes store in mid-May.

- The Continental


On the eve of the Rocky Horror party, six student bands competed in the Annex for one coveted prize: the title of victor of FebFest's Battle of the Bands. An acoustic set from two freshmen playing guitar and djembe kicked off the evening.
Next up was the funk motley crew Space Copter, featuring Wes Hughes on saxophone, Mike "The F**K" Kranz on electric guitar, and Bennett Wilson on keyboards. The band took the inebriated audience on a musical odyssey through symphonic jam band material, funk tunes and hardcore polka. Of course, no one could forget Winston Cook-Wilson's original set that featured intimate piano ballads under his pseudonym Captain Clothing. Supposedly, Wilson's music has already generated a cult following at Kenyon College.
Nevertheless, the subtle, quiet nature of Captain Clothing's musical landscape was shattered by the triumphant return of Apple Wagon. The band welcomed back Brett Morrell (lead guitar) after his semester abroad in Prague. Apple Wagon debuted four originals and rocked out to their renowned originals "100 Rabbit Groove," "Icarus" and "PLB." The audience exploded into insanity and uncontrollable ecstasy when the band ended their set with their cover of The Clash's "Rock the Casbah." An electric storm then descended upon the Annex from the hard rock trio Kid Charlemagne, who played a few original rock tunes and a couple classics, including "The Bends."
Finally, DBK, Hamilton's acclaimed hip-hop group, exploded onto the stage with their originals "Slow Down," "Lyricist," "My Pen" and "Regular People." The Downbeat Keys also performed South Park's classic "California Love." When the dust had cleared, the ill "ghetto-funk" lyricists of DBK stood on top of the Hill as champion of Battle of the Bands. - The Spectator


The Downbeat Keys have this one in the bag.

Never heard of them? Read my post about them here. A couple things worth noting about this band. First and foremost, bass player Andrew Root is sporting JAQK in the picture above. Second, their rhythm section is tighter than … you can finish that sentence. Lastly, their music makes you wanna shake what cha mamma gave ya, you dig? Check out this live video of DBK in action and you’ll get the picture. - The Record Crate


When stuck in the stagnant depths of Vermont winter with no ski boots, one begins to think summer. There are several things I’m going to do right away when it warms to above 45º or so. Jump in the river, bonfires, camping missions, the usual. The first move on my agenda, however, is to book the DownBeat Keys for an energy-packed, rowdy, live show in my back yard. It being January, I suppose I’ll have to settle for an indoor venue, and dance my face off to funky hip-hop beats and entertaining, party-oriented rap lyrics in a sold-out club. Whatever the season, this 6-man up-and-coming kills the live scene. With one studio album out and a second on the way, DBK is bound for the big leagues.

I recently met up with bearded, eccentric DownBeat Keys bassist Andrew Root, who spoke with me about the origins of the DBK, provided prospective on the music industry, and explained his first boner.

WG: What genre would you say DBK falls into?

AR: The genre discrepancy has been a real challenge for us when we’re trying to market the band. I think of DBK as hip-hop, but when hip-hop guys hear us, they think we sound like a rock or funk band. When rock or funk people hear us, they think we sound like hip-hop. Since we’re sort of in the middle, people don’t really know what to do with us. My response is usually, “Who cares what we are? If you book us, we will rock the living shit out of your party.”

The real advantage to our music is that it combines the energy, groove, and spontaneity of a live band with the vocals and vibe of hip-hop. Everyone loves hip-hop, but the live shows usually aren’t that great. That’s why it’s considered a major achievement for Jay-Z to sell out Madison Square Garden (20,000 people), but Phish has no problem bringing 70,000 people to Coventry.

WG: Who makes up the band? Where are you based now?

AR: The DBK are Ill Will (vocals), Kadahj (vocals), Jared (guitar and sax), Cal (drums), Baldwin (keyboards), and Root (bass).

We all went/go to Hamilton College, where we rehearse during the school year. In the summer we spend a fair amount of time at Baldwin’s house in Canarsie, Brooklyn.



WG: How did you guys start playing? What initially inspired the music?

AR: It was kind of an accident that we all got together. Every year at Hamilton there’s a big benefit concert called “Drop Beats, Not Bombs.” Baldwin, Cal, and I were in a little trio together and were auditioning for the headline spot. Kadahj and Will were also auditioning individually. We had never met before, but we started talking and realized we shared some common musical ground. Since none of us had anything special planned, we all decided to do the audition together. Nobody really knew what to expect, but Cal, Baldwin, and I laid down some funk/hip-hop grooves, Will freestyled, and Kadahj came up with hooks on the spot. The judges loved it and we ended up headlining the show about a month later. After the concert, we recruited Jared to add some solos and fill out the sound a little bit more.

WG: Are you on a label? If not, are you trying to break into that scene?

AR: We actually got some looks from Warner Bros. and Interscope right after we released the first CD. Their response was positive, but the industry is garbage right now and nobody is getting signed. The system is going to be totally different in a few years. Some people are predicting that record labels won’t even exist after 2013. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen; we’re just trying to keep making music, touring, and getting better so we can come out on top when things settle down.

WG: Where have you performed so far? Any shows that stand out?

AR: We’ve played a lot of college shows and a few in NYC, most notably Sullivan Hall and the Bitter End. College shows are definitely the best; they get completely out of control. We’ve played six shows that have been broken up by the cops. One specific show, Amherst, was a milestone for us because it was the first show where we had bras thrown onstage. The cops showed up midway through our last song and were just sort of standing there awkwardly in uniform with topless girls all around them.

The Bitter End was also incredible. It’s a pretty major club, so we were a little nervous, but we practiced hard and it was about the best we’ve ever played. The NYC crowd is great because a lot of people are there to listen, not just booze their faces off. They take our music a little more seriously than just something to party to. Not that the college scene isn’t great, it’s just cool to have people appreciate the more subtle elements of what we do.



WG: Any upcoming shows or tour plans?

AR: We have a few gigs coming up this month. We’re playing Syracuse, Colgate, George Washington University and Hamilton. After that, we’re taking a little time off to finish up our second album, “Instant Gratification”. In March we’re doing a spring break tour in Florida. The plan is to hit NYC and DC on the way down then play for a few weeks in Tampa, Daytona Beach, and St. Augustine. This summer is still up in the air, but we’re looking to be on the road throughout June, July, and August.

WG: What should we expect with “Instant Gratification”?

AR: It’s going to be so much better than “Invisible Ink.” We’re so stoked on the new songs, I really think this is going to be our breakthrough. “Invisible Ink” was us figuring out who we are and what we’re doing; “Instant Gratification” is us hitting our stride. The grooves are much tighter, the hooks are catchier, and the songs are ridiculously eclectic. You can really hear all of those influences I mentioned before. There’s even a track with a salsa-based groove. Look out for it in February.

This interview has been edited and condensed. The viewpoints expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the editor, JAQK Apparel, or jaqkapparel.com. - JAQK Apparel


If you're trying to sell your band on MySpace, billing it as a "George Clinton/Biggie lovechild" can't hurt. The DownBeat Keys, a new hip-hop/R&B act formed at Hamilton College, will perform at The Montage Music Hall on Saturday, March 6, opening for local reggae band Nevergreen. And Rochester music fans are in for a treat.

The group fuses elements of hip-hop, R&B and funk with relative ease. A good comparison is to that of popular local act Filthy Funk. However, The DownBeat Keys are geared more toward mainstream audiences. Do they sound like the love child of George Clinton and The Notorious B.I.G.?

Not exactly (I'm not sure that would actually sound all that great). But those influences are clearly present. The DownBeat Keys have a similar mindset to national hip-hop acts like Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco and Gym Class Heroes, all of which are pushing the genre to new heights. The band is versatile as well. On songs like "Mr. Blue" and "Monsta," rap and R&B take the spotlight. However, on a track like "Slow Down," rhymes and vocals serve as a mere complement to raw jazz.

If this is where hip-hop music is going, on a national level, The Downbeat Keys may be in for quite a ride. For more, check out www.myspace.com/downbeatkeys. (7 p.m. Saturday, March 6 at 50 Chestnut St. Tickets are $8 at the door). - The Rochester Insider


Discography

Invisible Ink (EP)-- April 2009
Mr. Blue (Single) -- December 2009
Instant Gratification (LP) -- (February 2010)

Photos

Bio

Throughout most of popular music’s history, it meant something to score a hit single. If a song was on the radio, you could bet it had been thoughtfully crafted and artfully performed. Unfortunately for music fans, those days seem to have passed. We now live in a time when the soundtrack to “Alvin and the Chipmunks 2: The Squeakuel” can spend twenty-one weeks on the Billboard Charts.

Enter the DownBeat Keys. With their latest release, “Instant Gratification,” this dynamic group of musicians effectively answers the music industry’s plea for help. Rejecting the status quo of static, electronic beats, the DownBeat Keys record and perform all of their songs with live instruments, imparting their sound with an explosive energy unparalleled in contemporary music. Spitfire MCs Similie and Ill Will ride the band’s crashing sonic wave with incendiary flow, deft word play, and intricate story lines. Combined, these musical forces create everything from raging party anthems to poignant portraits of life and love.

The talents of this young group have not gone unnoticed. In just three years of existence, the DownBeat Keys have attracted looks from several major record labels, opened for Talib Kweli, Soulive, and Matt and Kim, and performed at top-tier NYC venues The Bitter End and Sullivan Hall. They have also been featured by dozens of venerable music blogs including The Record Crate who saw fit to name DBK, “2009’s Unsigned Artist of the Year.” Additionally, their single “Addiction” reached number 57 on the Hype Machine Popular Chart, ahead of artists such as Beyonce and the Game. Following an extensive tour of the East Coast college circuit, the band has attracted a young, loyal following, addicted to the raucous energy that is a live DBK show.

In short, this is not a band to be missed. The DownBeat Keys have been tearing it up since their inception and are only going to get better. Currently, they’re looking to bring their one-of-a-kind fusion of hip-hop, funk, and R&B directly to your ear canal, so check out their latest album “Instant Gratification,” and get a look at where popular music is headed. For booking, email Andrew at rootbass@gmail.com or call at (603)-748-3877.