A trio renowned for their energy, exuberance and obvious passion for creating, Philadelphia Grand Jury has evolved from two best friends and their love of music to a group that’s not only withstood the test of time, but various lineup changes and tumultuous moments along the way. However, since recruiting veteran drummer Calvin (who formerly session drummed for Earth, Wind and Fire), the band has established themselves as a capable and talented DIY act, earning respect and recognition for their self-sufficient strategy and attention-grabbing sound. Now in the midst of a season that will see them play countless dates across Britain (and two in Australia), The Philly Jays – as they’re known by their fans – took time to speak with us about the addition of Calvin, the nature of punk rock and what new acts need to know.
How has Calvin’s experience with Earth, Wind and Fire and Sonny Stitt influenced the way you approached music or the way you view it now? When Calvin first joined the group I basically freaked out. I didn't realise how important the chemistry that we had with our old drummer Dan Sweat was and all of the little things that we had taken for granted. I got really afraid that we would never be such a tight unit again. What became apparent over the coming months was that we would and in fact did, but with Calvin on drums we had this other new and exciting element of danger about our sound that all came from his approach. All of his jazzisms and funkisms, whilst initally scaring the hell out of me, have actually gone on to take us on a really fantastic sound adventure. What was it about Calvin’s drumming techniques that made him stand out? He's just freakin' mad, to be honest. He's flamboyant and a handful - he drives the sound engineers nuts with crazy requests, he does everything back to front, but in the end everybody just loves him and he has that whole old school entertainer thing about him which is a real asset. Having an undoubtedly punk rock sound, how do you think punk’s changed the most in recent years? Punk is a big piece of shit really. I mean it's a dumb term and a dumb idea. There are a lot of bands out there at the moment that are claiming to be punk when really they're a bunch of careerist vegans. For me punk is about danger and having an attitude. It's about risks and unfortunately we live in a world and work in an industry that can't afford to take risks. Little Richard is way more punk than any of these pierced motherfuckers you see wandering around on the High Street will ever be.
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Do you still think it has the clout or influence it once had? The Clash and MC5 and the Stooges will always be great bands and be very influential, musically, but I don't think punk culture really exists anymore. I suppose dance music is the new punk. Every 10-20 years or so the kids need to reinvent the whole DIY movement so that the old folks don't understand it and I think that is most prevalent in dance culture. You’re renowned for playing incredibly energetic and engaging performances, with critics saying that you’re a band “you must see before you die”. Why does it seem like it’s become a novelty for bands to play energetically on stage? It's a novelty because it's rare and fun. What is it about your audience reactions that surprise you the most? I guess that our bass player MC Bad Genius can throw things at them and accidentally hurt them with his bass and they just keep coming back. We have posed for so many photos with people sporting fresh wounds from that guy - they love it!
How has your 20-plus year friendship made for the ultimate creative duo? Because we shit each other to tears and there is nothing that we haven't said to one another, good or bad. I think once you have been everywhere with someone you can just be yourself and that is really good for being creative. At the end of the day we are business partners, too and it can be pretty hard to discuss money and stuff with your friend and creative partner. We have had to be really up front about what we want to do with our lives and our music and have disagreed so many times it's not funny. Eventually we all cool down though and as long as we keep talking we always manage to get back to an awesome place. How does your maturity assist you in the creative process or in the scheme of live performances? I don't know that we are mature, but I guess we have played a shitload of live shows and written a lot of songs in our time and I definitely have a cooler attitude to making music than I did when I started about 10 years ago. What are some suggestions you’d give newer acts if given the opportunity? Don't be shitheads and think you are awesome because you probably have a long way to go. Always satisfy yourselves creatively and put your heart in it because when everything goes pear shaped all you have is what you have made. It can be lonely out there on the road... What is about Philadelphia Grand Jury that makes it stand apart from other bands? We aren't going to stop doing this, regardless of what obstacles we encounter. You can visit the band by heading to www.myspace.com/philadelphiagrandjury