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"New Sound From the County"

Many guys have stories of garage bands in their past. Maybe they learned some cover songs and played the local bar as a way to meet girls. Maybe they even wrote some of their own songs fashioned to sound just like those of their favorite bands, and maybe they even still have their guitar, collecting dust in the garage, though they'd like to take it out and strum a bit for you.

Lespecial is nothing like those bands. The trio of refreshingly talented and educated young musicians from Falls Village has a world view on music and its sights set on creating a musical community among a wide range of people. Their (mostly) instrumental repertoire infuses a jazz-rock-jam base with world music influences from places as far-flung as Africa and Latin America, while incorporating traditions from dub, funk and psychedelica.
Band members are spellbound by the primal instincts that move them to create music and it's something they regularly discuss and embrace. Drummer Rory Dolan likes to incorporate complex African rhythms into his drumming and describes some of the patterns as "rubbing against the beat" when they get into a deep groove at a live show. He references bands such as King Crimson as masters of this drum technique.
Guitarist and singer Jonathan Grusauskas, bassist Luke Bemand and Mr. Dolan joined forces as a trio of freethinking, experimental musicians at Housatonic Valley Regional High School in Falls Village a few years ago to stage a surprise first-place coup at the school's Battle of the Bands.
Since those auspicious beginnings the winds have scattered them. The guitarist is at Bennington College in Vermont (but currently doing a study semester in Manhattan), the bassist is at Long Island University and the drummer just started at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Though separated, they remain a strong unit, meeting up many weekends to play shows throughout the tri-state area.
Their proficiency at music theory, practice and improvisation is in direct opposition to their youth. Mr. Grusauskas is the oldest member of the band, and its de-facto leader, at just 20 years old. Mr. Bemand is 18 and Mr. Dolan, hailed by the others as the most naturally gifted of the group, is also 18.
They play regular, crowded gigs at Bohemian Pizza in Litchfield, their unofficial home base. The hipster crowd is young, stylish and seems to know every song. A few of them were even written about friends who regularly pop up in the audience to accept their eminence.
A scant three years after its debut at Housy, lespecial has brought a unique fusion of serious music study with wild innovation and improvisation to crowds as large as 5,000 at music festivals along the East Coast.
This past summer they played the long-running Harvest Festival in Hancock, N.Y., alongside seminal bands such as Fishbone and Murphy's Law. They also played University of New Hampshire's Solar Festival, which ran completely on solar energy. They have taken the stage at Northhampton, Mass.'s Pearl Street, Hartford's Webster Theater and Manhattan's Symphony Space. They have shared the bill with acts as noted and diverse at The Wailers, Max Creek, The Wood Brothers (a side project of Modeski, Martin & Wood) and Ryan Montbleau.
This winter they began gigging in New York City. They played at venerable city venues such as the Lion's Den (recently rechristened Sullivan Hall) and The Knitting Factory.
Not too shabby for a band whose members can't even buy a drink at any of the venues they play.
"It's really big, we feel, to play New York City. What we are searching for right now is a launching point," said Mr. Bemand, who everyone calls "Beam," the chattiest member of the group. "It's a great opportunity to get ourselves out there. We're a little intimidated by it though," said the bassist after a gig at Bohemian in mid-December.
A conversation a month later with Mr. Grusauskas revealed that the New York shows were crowded and successful with several cars full of fans from Connecticut making the trip to the city to cheer on their local heroes.
"When we come here and play in front of our friends," said Mr. Bemand, gesturing at the small clumps of 20-somethings saying goodbye over the lingering smell of pizza back in Litchfield. "It's a totally different experience than when we go and play a show where we are trying to prove something or establish ourselves."
No matter where lespecial plays, "We establish a groove for the audience but they also establish a groove for us," said the bassist of the group's interpretive, free-flowing sets. "We feed off each other," he said of the symbiotic relationship between the crowd and the band. "The more they feel it, the more we feel it."
"Most of our stuff is composed, and we do have prearranged songs, but we like to create a spontaneous connection with the audience," said Mr. Grusauskas. Percussion and interplay with the audience comes into play at live shows. "It blurs the line between performer and audience, it just becomes a party," he added.
"Lespecial is energy. If we are playing for a crowd that's bored, then we're bored," added Mr. Dolan.
One of fans' favorite songs is "Dirty Hal," about the only white man in the Angola, La., penitentiary. When Mr. Grusauskas's voice finally kicks in, it's not at all what you'd expect. Low, raspy and grinding, it sounds more like bluesman from the south than a New England college student. The singer describes these vocals as "more percussive and less melodic and a little Tom Waits-esque." He also noted that it's the only traditional chorus-verse-chorus song that the group's ever composed.
"Rabid, raw improvisation" is more what Mr. Grusauskas hopes the group will become known for. "A lot of what you hear at our shows was created on the spot, out of nowhere," said the group's frontman. "It could be a train wreck or it could be really beautiful," added Mr. Bemand of his band, which counts improv-heroes Modeski, Martin & Wood among their influences and idols. They are also huge fans of Primus, an admiration that shines through in their rhythm section.
"We can't pay them any higher compliment than, in some small way, trying to emulate what they do," said Mr. Dolan.
The singer's rare but well-placed vocals on other songs can be equally as experimental as his bluesman turn on "Dirty Hal." His mostly improvised vocalizations can have a primal or tribal sound that leans more toward using the voice as another instrument than forming words.
The three men feel very strongly about what they are doing. "Lespecial is the only form of communication I've found, in my 18 years of life, that's totally effective," said Mr. Dolan. "It's a way I can communicate my thoughts and feelings and how I am as a person," said the drummer.
"I don't think I have a chance to do that, to feel that, playing with any other two musicians," he said emphatically.
Mr. Bemand jumps in, saying, "I hide nothing from these two people emotionally, personally, musically. We know each other and can communicate verbally and musically. If we played with anyone else, it wouldn't be lespecial." The bandmates have been friends since grade school and, in fact, Mr. Bemand picked up his instrument because he wanted to be able to make music with Mr. Dolan.
Though they love to play to fans and friends that dance at local venues for the several-hour sets the band plays, they do their best work and find the most satisfaction in playing the music festival circuit. It is in these settings that they get to meet members of some of their favorite groups, such as Umphrey's McGee and the Disco Biscuits. What Mr. Bemand loves about this sort of situation is that band members are so willing to talk candidly about their experiences and what they love about making music. One of the most common answers he's found? They are trying to communicate with the audience.
Beyond communication, Mr. Bemand cedes that bands are trying to introduce or produce new ideas that are fresh and creative, while also being as effective as the established patterns. "That's not as easily done as said. That takes time. I don't think we are anywhere near discovering new concepts in music, but maybe someday," he said.
To find out more about lespecial, and to hear the band's songs, visit the band's Myspace page at www.myspace.com/lespecial. The band plays Bohemian Pizza Jan. 25, the Marbledale Pub in Washington Jan. 26 and New York City's OS Art House (www.originalsession.com) Feb. 16. - Litchfield County Times



the Bennington Sessions - 6 track demo professionally recorded at Bennington College. (all original songs)

Hundreds of live tracks archived as well. (see setlist section)



lespecial is a hardworking experimental groove trio from the Northwest corner of CT, whose unique improvisational psychedelia has earned them performance slots the Wood Brothers, RAQ, Bob Marley’s the Wailers, the Breakfast, Ryan Montbleau, Max Creek, and members of several acclaimed bands such as Medeski Martin and Wood, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Grateful Dead, and the Misfits.

They have presented their unique blend of funk/jazz/dub/hip-hop, and aptitude for both boundless improvisation and structured compositions, at venues like the Knitting Factory (NYC), the Lion's Den & Sullivan Hall (NYC), Pearl St. in North Hampton MA, the Webster Theater in Hartford CT, Symphony Space in NYC, NY Harvest Festival (organized by NY NORML), University of New Hampshire, Bennington College, Hampshire College, and numerous other venues and colleges.

"trio of refreshingly talented and educated young musicians" - Litchfield County Times