Matt Carter @m_j_c73
When Jeff Patch retired from his teaching career, he knew exactly what he wanted to do – dedicate more time to playing music. An enthusiastic musician and a regular performer at city jam sessions, Patch has been writing music for years and over time he’s accumulated quite a collection. After almost a year spent working with various musicians in hopes of establishing an ensemble to record and perform his compositions, he eventually found some like-minded folks who could not only bring his songs to life, but also contribute to his vision of what a band could be.
In November 2014, Free To Grow released a 12-track album, highlighting both Patch’s songwriting and the collective strength of this eight member ensemble. Ranging in sound from folk to prog-rock, the self-titled debut from Free To Grow is one that perfectly positions the band to live up to its name as they move forward together.
Jeff Patch explains how the group came to be.
Can you tell us a bit about the band and how you came together?
Jeff Patch:The group has roots in an idea formed at least a decade ago, if not longer. I had been contemplating forming a band that could provide a vehicle to record and perform a number of songs that I had written over the years. I had dabbled a bit in performing and home recording but didn’t make the time to pursue it more vigorously. After retiring from teaching at Forestry College in 2012, it was time to act on a dream set aside for many years.
It took until the spring of 2014 to complete recruitment of the members to get the project off the ground. You need people who like the music, have the chops to sing and play it, can commit to a band, and are mutually supportive and fun to work with. We are lucky in that there is a lot of talent in the Fredericton area, but many players are already in three or four bands and have family and work commitments on top of that. It can be a bit of a jungle out there, particularly if you haven’t been part of the scene.
What does the name mean to you?
Just to be clear, the name Free To Grow has nothing to do with cultivation of plants of any kind. On the other hand, it is ambiguous enough to mean whatever you might want it to. That is attractive in a name.
We have a variety of influences and, although our music can range across these genres, we maintain that we are “free to grow” and take music in different directions.
I hear a lot of Jethro Tull when I listen to FTG. Who is the principal songwriter in the band and is it fair to say there is a classic rock/prog influence happening?
I wrote or co-wrote the songs on the album and, yes, I grew up with Jethro Tull as a favourite band. This includes the albums from 1968 into the 80’s and I saw them four times when they were a big deal in the 70’s. We have a couple of tracks that incorporate bamboo flute but, beyond the Tull / flute thing, my acoustic guitar style can be very “Tullish” and that should shine through to the discerning Tull familiar listener.
The end product was a group effort with contributions from everyone. In pre-production and recording, every band member added elements and accents to the end product. A final important element of our sound, and one the producers at 2 Dogs understood and helped us achieve, is that we wanted to emulate a live-ish and unprocessed feel like classic rock music from about 1968-1979.
What do you feel are the biggest challenges in Fredericton for a group playing your brand of music?
I think the biggest challenge to any band here is finding enough venues and crowds to play for. It is not that big of a city and there are a limited number of places to play. We filled Dolan’s for a CD release event but we didn’t quite fit on the stage. If we add a guest we are nine on stage and so we don’t fit most places. That’s an incremental challenge for us.
We have yet to develop a committed following and being new to the scene is also a challenge with respect to not having established relationships with venues / owners etc. We have much work to do from the marketing end. We have to prove that we can fill a place with hungry and thirsty people and have them want to see us fairly regularly. We want that opportunity and I assume, until we have proven ourselves, that we are viewed as a risk. Understandable but silly of course in our case. Insert nervous laughter.
Not many acts have three back-up singers adding to the flavour of the music. Venues can be very reluctant with respect to the prospect of paying for more personnel. Some are used to a plan like paying $100 per player plus a proportion of door. We don’t fit into that equation as they are used to four or five players in a band. Some clearly have a concern when it comes to original music. We can cover a range of classic rock music when we play and have fun doing it, but we do not intend to morph into your everyday touring cover band. We are new and not yet established, we are too big, we play originals. In talking with one venue owner I got a distinct impression that those were strikes one, two and three. On the other hand there are indeed some other larger local bands that have made the scene. It is possible.
Our style is, by design, somewhat retro. Presumably that puts us into a niche category in the minds of many. I do believe there is a market for a classic rock sound, but with originals, and that is us. As for Fredericton success time will tell, but part of our strategy will be to play elsewhere provincially and even regionally. Then we can return to a triumphant reception. That is Plan A. Insert maniacal laughter.
How has the response been to the band and what do you have on tap for the spring?
We are pleased and grateful for the positive response to the album and our live shows. We have had airplay locally, regionally, and even internationally. Community radio at CHSR has been very good to us. We had great critical reviews from Adam Bowie of the Daily Gleaner and also from CBC in Fredericton, Saint John and Halifax. On top of his favourable review, Adam Bowie listed Free To Grow in the top 10 NB homegrown albums for 2014. Considering it was a debut album released late in the year, and all the great artists / releases that didn’t make his list, that blew me away.
We have consistently received great feedback for our live shows. Starting with our first live gig at The Hollywood Star Room in September, we have also played at The Cellar Pub, Dolan’s and unplugged at the Buskers Stage at Harvest Jazz and Blues (Hospice House Benefit). We just finished a number of unplugged sets at Winterfesthiver and that was a ball. This month we will do a live session in the CHSR studio on March 20. We are knocking on real and virtual doors now and hoping for a Fredericton based gig in April (venue TBD). In June we are booked to play at the Saint John Ribfest. We have a couple of summer Festival opportunities elsewhere in the Province that look very promising. The new-on-the-scene, not being part of who-knows-who yet is also an understandable barrier for festivals, but after contacting just about every one, at least a couple of them look positive.
In the interim we will continue to do our best to be heard and to develop an audience. Exposure via Grid City is great contribution toward that goal and we are thankful you wanted to talk Free To Grow.
[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=38232010 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small]
Free to Grow | Live Session | CHSR FM | Friday March 20, 2015 | 7:00pm | View Event