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"A well timed Punch"

Some nights, sex just isn't enough. What you need is the funk. Perhaps you're a little ashamed to admit it. Perhaps you're afraid you can't dance. Perhaps you simply don't know where to turn.
What you need is Pencilgrass .

On Saturday night, I hauled down to Bridgeport to watch Pencilgrass turn The Green Room into a steaming cauldron of dance. Or at least I thought I would watch. The way this seven-piece ensemble worked the room over, I had to put my notebook away and hit the dance floor myself. They play soulful, infectious music that borrows from acid jazz, funk and disco. There's even a bit of a ska-punk edge thrown in. It's dance music for people who don't usually dance. Glittery goth girls, mohawked punk-rock boys, and geeky-looking indie kids were just as at home on the floor as the collegiate crowd.

And why not? With their bombastic stage presence, Pencilgrass was setting a booty-shaking precedent themselves. Keyboardist Rob Katz bounces up and down like he's on amphetamines. The horn section holds its instruments aloft and strut around like possessed voodoo priests. And singer Eddie Pren, with his thick glasses and quirky movements, could pass for a mad scientist.

What's amazing is that with all the movement on stage, Pencilgrass manage to churn out astoundingly coordinated tunes. They're anchored by fat bass and keyboards, and the brass and guitar add complex and colorful punctuation. Their set ran the gamut from straightforward
- Hartford Advocate

"Shades of Pencilgrass"

It was either Miami's relentless sunshine or its retirement home comedians that jump-started Pencilgrass into being two years ago. The seven-piece, most of whom now call New Haven home, all attended University of Miami and all majored in music. Lead singer Eddie Pren (real last name: Prendergast) finished school first so he was left scouring the old folks circuit, bass in hand.

"I was playing in the pit for Fiddler on the Roof ," he recounts in his laid-back drawl, wearing a camouflage hat and orange-lens sunglasses at Paddy Mac's in Black Rock. "I played with a 70-year-old comedian for an audience in their 80s. I would be driving home thinking about the guys I'm playing with and think, 'I can't be doin' this.'" Pren lived in his own strange South Beach world while the other boys lived in the suburbs outside Miami. He spent his free time writing songs and recording them on his computer. Those songs would later become Pencilgrass' entire collection. "South Beach was not my scene," he says, "but it can inspire you; there's a lot of shady characters."

Pencilgrass' music reflects that edge in its undercurrent of smooth rhythm, its almost indistinguishable Latin pulse, its threads of funk, its groove. It's a big band but the sound is remarkably uncluttered. Bassist Tommy Harrokka, keyboard player Rob Katz, sax player Eric Elligers, trumpeter John Panos, drummer Beanhead and guitarist Bill Ready know their parts and stick to them. The horns blast a little melody, the keys shoot out and disappear, and the whole sound bounces along like a retro record with a vengeance. Pren's voice, with its deep Barry White growl, is the secret weapon, making every word come out buttery and sweet. They prefer to call their music "dance," as opposed to "funk." After all, "funk is a bloated word," says Pren. "And everyone in the band is white."

"All we do is songs that make you dance," adds Harrokka.

There's all sorts of buzz about this band, traveling mouth-to-ear from New Haven through Fairfield County. They moved there last August and credit their first cramped month together for developing the creative intimacy that only five guys wedged into a two-bedroom apartment in the heat of summer can provide. In a fortunate set of circumstances, they played a back yard party for a group of New Haven executives and caught the attention of their neighbor who books shows at café nine. Now Pencilgrass has their own night every other Wednesday at BAR, where they plan to bring in other regional danceable acts such as hip-hop group Spontaneous from Boston, and Pren's old salsa band from Richmond, Va. They may still have to work day jobs to keep the Pencilgrass ship afloat, but they're clearly ascending.

"'Pencil grass' is a type of asparagus," explains Harrokka, "so when you searched for us in Google, that's what would come up. I'm proud to say we're now on top in the pencilgrass search."

While they're known for sly humor and silly lyrics, Pencilgrass takes the music seriously, and they keep it crafted. One of their biggest crowd-pleasers is "Beautiful Thing," which celebrates big-bottomed girls with its chorus "Girl, you got too much booty for your pants / it's overflowing out of your pants (like water)," Pren's little spoken asides sound like some street hustler whose suggestive winks the girls don't really mind. While that's the sing-a-long single, other tracks have more darkness, like they strapped on rocket boosters or morphed into digital mode. They can spin relentlessly and mix jazz with just about anything, including a cover of Fugazi's "Waiting Room." The first track, "Bubble Gum," moves with buzzed-up speed, telling a story about a heroic "DJ South Beach, and the Courageous One." It goes: "DJ South Beach is his nomenclature, and he rock a house party with his roman patois / he understands the concept, he moves along / DJ South Beach plays the hottest damn songs." Anything short of jumping up and down with one's hands in the air seems impossible.

Part of what draws Pencilgrass to the smooth, groove-based music they do is that, as Pren says, "It has no age restrictions. So much about rock 'n' roll and punk is about being young. Once I was 22 or 23, I'd feel like an idiot. African, salsa, soul, blues are all about the joy of music and life." (He admits to still listening to Minor Threat while cleaning.) "It's an attitude," Harrokka muses, "there's a universal thing in particular types of music."

Partying is also universal and it's the vibe that Pencilgrass' live shows are known for creating. They want to move people, they want audiences to feel the beats coming up through the floor and shake it. "We play better when the audience gives something back," says Harrokka. Usually, Pencilgrass gets what they want. - Fairfield County Weekly 5/20/04

"All this Useless Booty"

If you mention the name Pencilgrass just about anywhere in town, people freak out and shout: "I love them! They're my new favorite band!"

Take Steve Rodgers . A chat outside Toad's Place when his band Mighty Purple played there last month ended abruptly when Pencilgrass was heard taking the stage:"Oh-I gotta go see my favorite band," and off he went. It was the same story a few steps away at Ashley's Ice Cream, with Doug Slawin from The Secret Ink and his girlfriend KT . They saw Pencilgrass play at City-Wide Open Studios a few months back. They love them. Even in the middle of getting a haircut last month, the scissors stopped above my head as I was asked about the band:"Have you seen Pencilgrass yet? I love them!"

What is it about the eight-piece (mostly) white-boy funk band from Miami that's wow-ing New Haven? Are there subliminal messages in their music? Are they hypnotizing us? Are they drugging us? Why is everybody so damn high on Pencilgrass?

"Pencilgrass is so popular because Eddy [the deep-voiced vocalist] is so damn sexy," suggests Sean from The Battlecats . "And I mean that in the most heterosexual way possible!" It's true there is a seductive hint of Barry White in Eddy's vocal style. Combine that with flirtatious Fender Rhodes keyboards and the come-hither horn section, and it sounds like an 8-track Dirk Diggler pops in just before filming a scene. Lyrics to "Beautiful Thing" sum it up well:

Girl, you got too much booty for your pants.
Its overflowing out of your pants. (Like water.)
Girl, you got too much booty for your pants,
And it's a beautiful thing. ...

The ground shakes when you walk in the room;
The earthquakes follow your moves,
And it's a beautiful thing. ...

"They make grandma wanna shake her can-cans," adds Battlecat frontman and Pencilgrass junkie Jimmy Jude . "Sexy Eddy had the nerve to ask [Battlecats drummer] Kelley Kat to dance! He has quite a set of balls--most rock dudes are afraid of the goddess. He is funky fresh and I love their sassy sound."

The secret to the Pencilgrass magic (mania?) can't easily be pinpointed, or even found on their CD. You have to see the band live, jumping around on stage, to get it. The energy is like at a ska show--some of these guys must have been in ska bands before. This should make for a good match on the 17th when Pencilgrass shares a cafe nine bill with New York's Cenzo , featuring Vinny Noble , formerly of Bim Skala Bim . - New Haven Advocate 1/15/04

"White Punks on Funk"

Pencilgrass played a twisted mixture of funk, jazz, Latin, reggae and soul to a small, yet appreciative crowd at the Zen Bar last Thursday. I know what you're thinking -- "Another hyphenated-style band, big deal! We already have a lot of those in this area." Yes, we do, but this band has something to separate them from the pack. What separates Pencilgrass from other bands is their intent. They come off as the proverbial "white punks on funk" imbuing their music with a wildly anarchic streak which is more Fishbone than Dave Matthews Band. One has to look no farther than their choice of covers to get where they're coming from.

They do Fugazi's "Waiting Room." But instead of giving it the standard treatment, they jazz it up a bit, turning this explosive post-hardcore tune into a swinging, funked-up slightly psychedelic Latin-tinged, concoction complete with horns and a slight dub feel rendering it almost unidentifiable. What's even more surprising, is the fact that it works magnificently.

But while their cover choice was excellent, their originals took a wide range of influences, tipped them on their head and then gave them a good kick in the ass. "Laser Lady" was just your typical psychedelic-mariachi-funk-reggae tune, which is to say it's not typical at all. While "I Want To Do It With You" was warped disco complete with squonking horns and lead singer Eddie Pren's laconic, lounge lizard come ons. "You Can't Tell Me What To Do" was a more straightforward funk tune with a slight Latin feel. I get the feeling that to Pencilgrass straightforward is just a matter of perspective, because based on what I saw, this band is anything but, and they're all the better for it.

The band, which, along with Pren, consists of bassist Tom Harrokka, keyboard player Rob Katz, saxophone player Eric Elligers, trumpet player John Panos, drummer Beanhead and guitarist Bill Ready plays a refreshing blend of music for people out there who are getting bored with sub-par genre-mixing bands who play it a little too close to the vest. It's nice to see a band willing to rip the vest to shreds. - Hartford Advocate 4/22/04


1. Miami's Champions of Soul- 5 song demo
2. International Cork Symmetry Sound Sampler Vol.
3. Bubblegum E.P.- 7 songs
4. Touch Your Dance - full length - Horizon Music Group 2006

Selected tracks from the Bubblegum E.P are in rotation on WVUM Miami and various commercial and college stations in and around the USA and Canada.


Feeling a bit camera shy


Who the Hell is Pencilgrass?
The Bio:
Where have you seen them lately? Maybe on festival billing with or opening for bands like the Flaming Lips, Drive By Truckers, Ozomatli, Antibalas, SCI, De La Soul, Les Claypool and Umphrey's Mcgee to name a few. If you're lucky, you've seen them on the road at one of the hottest clubs in town-(insert yours here) or maybe you've been hiding out and missed the boat all together. If the latter applies.. read on.

Starting in November of 2002, Pencilgrass fought their way up the ranks of pretenders and contenders to become Miami's undisputed champions of soul. This seven man party machine creates sounds that fuel dance floor heroics by even those most stoic. Pencilgrass left Miami for the northeast in August of 2003. With their jaws set and their eyes on the prize, the Fellows of Pencilgrass stand poised to claim what they feel is their birthright: The United State's Championship of Soul.

"Punk-Funk?" "Prog-R&B?" "Glam-Soul?" Pencilgrass just calls what they do "Dance Music." And that's exactly what they deliver. It is through the head-bobbing, rump-shaking melodies and beats, the introspectacular lyrics and Sly Stone-esque crooning of Eddie Pren, and their live hi-jinx that these "white punks on funk" generate the party and invite in all takers. Pencilgrass like to consider themselves a sort of dance music compendium, referencing such experts as Sly and The Family Stone, the soul-disco artists of the 1970's, and Bad Brains. All the while, they wear their Miami roots on their sleeves, brandishing latin rhythms and electronic noise.

Pencilgrass's formative years were spent training at the esteemed University of Miami School of Music and, upon completion of their scholarly duties; they began their true mission in earnest. In the last couple of years the band has built up a loyal and ever-growing group of fans up and down the East Coast. Their tunes have hit the airwaves and are being charted on college stations as far away as the Pacific Northwest and Europe. Pencilgrass rocks the people and gets your dances floors filled with anyone and everyone. "This band is addictive" and they show no signs of slowing down. Pencilgrass are currently hitting the studio and will release their new (yet-to-be-named) full length sometime this winter. In addition to new recordings, the band is slated to begin work on their new video as well. Expect to see them touring clubs and festivals all over this great land of ours in 2005.

Contact: Josh Kroop @ 203-214-2364 or at -