Up until September, 2013 looked like a banner year for Grandpa’s Stash. Riding high after the release of an exceptional new record, Where Does It End?, at the end of 2012, the six-piece jam/alt-rock outfit parlayed a string of first-rate shows into a victory in the Preservation Pub’s inaugural Band Eat Band competition.
But then something happened, an unhappy phenomenon that has struck with bewildering regularity throughout the unit’s nine-year career. Which is: the moment the band picks up any speed, the wheels fly off the bus.
This time, it started when singer-guitarist Scott Faw moved to Nashville, with his wife, who is pregnant with the couple’s first child; then lead guitarist Andrew Sayne left to focus on his first band, local indie rockers Madre. “Finding out Scott was pregnant, that was a game changer,” says trombone player and co-founder John Colquitt. “With Andrew, we always understood that was a fluid situation. And he said he could fill in if we needed him. But it’s still hard.
“That’s been our Achilles Heel over the years. Every time we get some momentum going, it seems like something gets in the way.”
Colquitt and fellow founder/bassist Niles Haury are the only Stash members who’ve stayed the course through the band’s entire nine-year run. On the surface, they seem like polar opposites—Colquitt, the horn player, is burly and blonde; reserved; deliberate and plain spoken in those moments when he does hold forth.
String-man Haury is a reedy extrovert who speaks in mystic riddles, a sort of walking hippie Zen koan. “I realized at some point that I’m not a person who needs answers,” Haury says with a smile. “I love questions.”
But they have more in common than a first glance will tell. And they share a special bond through the energy, and synergy, of Grandpa’s Stash. “There’s been a lot of waxing and waning over the years, but one thing I’ve always had certainty about is that we’re having fun onstage. The stage seems to be the great equalizer, the crucible, if you will.
“There’s something that happens on stage with us, something where people want to listen. I’ve always said we’re like a dragon in the hallway. We want to let the dragon out of its cage.”
Stash’s music is a lively mash-up of indie, classic rock, roots music and jam, with a subtle whiff of funk. And a dollop of pop, too—for all its nods to good-time neo-hippie aesthetic, Where Does It End? has as many strong pop hooks as any local release in the last couple years. “We’re a jam-band with three-minute songs,” says Haury. “The music has this bigness like it’s going to explode forever. Then, it’s off to the next thing.”
The band came together in Fort Sanders in 2005, in a communal haze of hash smoke and skinny dipping and beer runs at 2 a.m. “We started as just a bunch of drunk dudes playing music,” Colquitt says.
“It was the random shit of running into each other all time, a dust-ball of arms and legs,” says Haury. “And the cartoonist forgot the musical notes. That’s what being in a rock ‘n’ roll band is like.”
By the end of their first summer, though, they were a fleshed-out band with growing cache of their own original songs. They honed their chops at the Preservation Pub’s weekly Tuesday singer-songwriter night—despite an alleged proscription against playing the open mic with a full set of drums. “We’d come in with a full band, carrying a drum kit, to play two songs,” Haury laughs.”
It paid off; within a few months, Grandpa’s Stash were penciled in for a monthly weekend gig at Preservation Pub. But for all the serendipity in the tangle of their mad, happy founding, there were equal portions of misadventure on the horizon—band members coming and going, life changes and job losses and assorted pratfalls.
“From the beginning, it’s always been an absolute fire pit,” says Haury. “So much for the yellow brick road. It’s been more like walking on hot coals. This is real-life rock ‘n’ roll.”
But Nietzsche said what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, and that’s held true for Grandpa’s Stash. Through sheer force of will, Haury and Colquitt have held a unit together through most of a decade, and every conceivable turn of fate.
Now they’re reemerging, having played Blankfest this spring, after a more than six-month hiatus. They even have a small collection of new songs—Haury says Faw has chipped in with a couple, despite his remove and his new paternal responsibilities.
“For myself, I’ve learned a world of new things in the meantime,” says Colquitt who’s gigged with the Jojax, Baseball, and the Cornbred Blues Band during his down time from GS. “I’m ready to bring all of that back to writing with Stash.”
“When we’ve struggled, I’ve never viewed it as failure,” Haury adds. “It’s an investment. And each time we start over, it’s a new investment with new potential and new hope. I feel like once it gets going again, it will go fast. That’s our fashion.”
Grandpa’s Stash will play Scruffy City Hall with Dixieghost on Saturday, July 12 at 10 p.m.