by Robert Brind
I first met Patrick, Kenny, and Daniel at a small show in Philly at The Fire in Northern Liberties. The band was the second act of a triple bill, and I was moderately impressed- impressed enough to grab their first album, at least. After the final act, which the band respectfully and appreciatively stayed for, I got a chance to discuss their performance and enjoy a few too many drinks with them. They’d only been together for a couple of months, but their devotion to each other and to the longevity they anticipated was impressive.
Fast forward almost four years, and I got the chance to see them again, opening for the bluegrass-oriented jam band Dangermuffin in DC. Their progression was impressive. Three-part harmonies, improved cohesiveness, and impressive lyrical and melodic guitar solos permeated the set. When I got the chance to interview Les Racquet, I immediately made the necessary arrangements.
The band is quick to describe themselves as a cohesive unit (which they are) in both playing together, and writing together. “Now when we recorded more recently, it’s been a very collaborative effort on everything.” Many of the songs on their eponymous debut, recorded shortly before I saw the band at The Fire, seemed to jump between genres within songs. I found the album a little disjointed, to be honest.
Now, Whale Hail has been receiving critical acclaim, and the band has improved their songwriting, recording quality, and general cohesiveness. I discussed this progression with Pat and Kenny. “We’re getting better. We were barely a band when we put together Les Racquet, the debut album, but we knew that if you’re going to get gigs you have to put something out. We went right into the studio to let people know where we’re at right away. I was even fantasizing the other day about going through all those old songs and rehashing them.” I would look forward to such a retrospective.
We discussed Pat’s change in guitar playing over the last few years. I pointed out that the guitar solo at the end of “Flight on Hold” in their first recording was a point of reference. There, you hear impressive technical playing- Pat shreds through the solo, but it lacks the melodic compulsion of his more recent work. As the recently departed and revered Doc Watson said, “I’m not so impressed by these guys who are great technically. You gotta keep a little of the melody in it.”
Pat was quick to agree. “Yeah, that comes with experience, and maturity, and playing a million shows a year, and realizing that the people you really respect are the ones that have the most restraint. The ones that are just tasty all the time, and never lose sight of what’s important with the song. Even though you want to be the best guitar player ever- you go so fast, your shredding, but really what’s most important is the emotional impact of that melody.”
This was a process, clearly. “There are a collection of a lot of moments. Even if I had that realization early on, it takes time to develop that in your playing. It’s not going to be a flip the switch kind of thing.”
Pat credits these moments to other bands and players. “One of them most recently was hearing Dangermuffin play. It’s like taking a deep breath. . .[Mike] doesn’t open it up until the last breath. The Heritage, who are similarly balancing jazz with other genres. They…play without ego.” Discussing influences, Pat brings up Bill Frisell, his favorite guitar player. “He is so reserved, but I just love every note.”
Les Racquet is excited about the future of their sound. As a band that is constantly getter better, I am unsurprised. “I can’t wait to get back into the studio. It’s going to be even more progress from the first to the third, that you [me] saw. I really believe that.” It had been a year between the recording of Whale Hail and the recent performance I caught, and the difference was almost as notable as that between their first album and their last.
The conversation moved from generalities to specifics, and we discussed some of the content of their lyrics. My favorite lyrics are those on “Palm Tree Night.” Lyrics such as, “I could care more about who you voted for, but I have bigger fish to fry, like does she really love me?” And “You can change the key and the time but you can’t change the blues.”
Pat describes the situational writing of such lyrics. “It was written out on this barrier island, a completely deserted palm tree island. Nobody lives there. And we went out [there] to party all weekend, and do a bunch of ‘extracurricular activities and whatnot’ and I had a pretty soul expanding experience out there. Go crazy for the night and wake up on the beach and write about it. We were all reaching for the moon with our party. And then to wake up on the beach- washed up- hungover- and wondering what really is important.”
We also discussed “Wasting Time” (Whale Hail, as well.) For one, its a terrific example of Pats melodic, jazz-oriented soloing, Dan’s pure rhythmic drumming, and the tonal quality Kenny brings to their tunes. “We are, we are, we are all wasting time” is repeated throughout the song. Given the optimistic nature or the bands other tunes, I was really curious about where that lyric came from. Pat and Kenny discussed the “wasted time” of themselves and others.
“Anybody could look at what you’re doing and say you’re wasting time. And you’re not getting things done. . . I have high hopes. I have dreams for the sky, I wanna fly. . .you can’t claim that somebody else is less than you.” Kenny added, “You look at me, and there are different ways to look at what I do. I don’t have a college education. I don’t have a real job. And I don’t have a home. But, you talk to any number of people and they know that we are doing something worthwhile, and that’s alright.”
Once again, the band emphasized that they ARE a band. That “We all have a really unique perspective on where we come from.” That they each contribute to songs that are ‘Les Racquet’, as opposed to anyone writing individually. Everybody has their say, everybody has, you know, 33% of every song that comes out.”
And what a band they are. They’re playing Philly on May 17th. It’s only a ten dollar cover, and worth every penny. So check out this little band from Brooklyn, and watch out for their new releases coming this fall.