When Proverbial entered the Y101 Rock-Off last September, the last piece of the band's puzzle had just fallen into place. The newly minted septet took a risk and won, earning the opportunity to open for Switchfoot and Cartel at The National. This week, they claim their own headlining spot, proving the crowd response to their blend of rock, hip-hop, and reggae was no fluke.
Tell us about That One Song…
Mike Keeter: It started when Scott (Gerry), the bassist, came over one day when we were jamming in the basement. It's where we do all of our stuff. He was like, “Hey guys, I have a bass line. Let's try it out and see how it goes.” So, he started playing it and we started freestyling lyrics. I did the verse and Phil (Walker) sings the chorus. We switched off back and forth and it magically just sort of happened that way when we were freestyling.
The title actually started out as “Round Here.” (We kept the) same melody but it went to “Down Here” once we heard some of the lyrics I had and we talked about it a little more. But most of it was “I have a bass line, let's kick a jam.” That's how a lot of the originals that we play started out.
“Down Here” is about always knowing the cup is half-full, that you gotta pick yourself up, that things will always get better in the end.
Why did “Down Here” fit better as a title?
Stephen Holicky: Counting Crows have a song called “Round Here.” I brought that up, no Counting Crows.
Keeter: And that was the turning point. This song was on the fly. We have a little 8-track digital recorder we record everything on. We listened back to (the initial jam) and were like, “Alright, we have a good melody.” Scott had in mind a little more punk-ish, ska sound. It did turn out having a hard rhythm and driving chorus, but then it comes in as reggae. It was different than what he'd imagined for it, but we kicked in with the freestyles and it worked.
Thomas Whitesell: Also, “Down Here” means that when you're down, when you're at that spot down there or down here, to get up there, you have to believe in yourself and keep persevering. That's the premise of the song. It's the first song we collectively wrote and recorded.
Your songs have a strong hip-hop element to them. Is that what you mean when you say “freestyling?”
Holicky: Freestyling is the essence of being unscripted.
Keeter: I can't write down lyrics, I'm the worst at that. So having a recorder (is a big help). What I've been doing with all of my (new) stuff is I'll sit there and freestyle while we're jamming it. “Down Here” had 5 different vocal melodies in it. And I picked the best one and took phrases from that and pieced them together.
Whitesell: Just like Jay-Z.
Keeter: It's me coming up with stuff off the top of my head. That's how I've always done music. I can't write it. I can't sit down and do it.
Whitesell: We do spoken-word hip-hop freestyling, too, what you think of when you hear the word today, as it's used in pop culture. The bass and drums will light it up and we'll start jamming and it goes from there. Mike sings, Phil will sing something. We listen to each other on stage and come up with an idea right there. We've actually taken a jam off-stage and went home with it and made a song.
What did the band bring to the stage that helped you win the Y101 Rock Off?
Whitesell: We had a lot of support from our friends and family. We have a lot of people that believe in us, for their own reasons, and they've shown their support since we've been together over this short time. I think a lot of the other fans there were like “Who are these guys?” (Maybe it was) the newness, the freshness of some of our songs. We played all originals and some of the other bands played covers in there, too. I think the crowd was shocked to see a band they'd never heard of, from around the region, that played a full set of originals.
What is your most outrageous moment as a band?
Whitesell: It was before all seven guys were together, but the most outrageous thing for me was when we played at Longwood for Springfest. It was the last song right before we were about to take a set break. In the middle of the song, the entire crowd, and I'm talking about at least 1000 people and a U-haul full of cases of beer, they all started up opening their beers and throwing them straight it the air. I was playing bass at the time and I looked up from my bass and it was like comets flying. This one girl got hit in the face and was bleeding ridiculously. I got hit in my shoulder by a full beer flying at me. I came up to the mic and I said, “Kill the music. Look, we're not gonna get pelted here. If you guys can't stop and chill out, we're gonna take a break now rather than later. We'll come back and play another set if you can calm down.”
Keeter: I was there, but I wasn't a part of the band at the time. We all grew up together, so I always went to all of their concerts with the other (lineup).
Holicky: Also, when we went to New York, it was the first time six of us got to leave the Richmond area to play. It was also the first time we got to spend a good amount of time with each other away from home. Sometimes when you spend that much time with someone, you might realize how much you hate them, but it was a great experience. We played the Dublin Pub in Morristown, New Jersey and we opened up for a band that plays around that area called Universal Rebel.
How did your recent Red Cross benefit come about?
Whitesell: It's another time to enjoy being able to help others. We have played countless benefit shows. The first gigs we had as a band were for philanthropies at JMU. We were never paid, but we were able to play for a good cause. We've raised thousands and thousands of dollars for American Cancer Society, Big Brothers Big Sisters, AIDS benefits, Relay for Life. When we first got down here, we played the Monument 10K and Stride Through Time.
Holicky: We try to help people away, but we want to help people here at home too. So, I think we're also going to try doing something for the Richmond homeless shelter. There's plenty of people out there that can use some assistance. Every little bit helps.
If you could change one thing about the Richmond music scene, what would it be?
Whitesell: I've read your previous interviews and I also say “places to play.” Putting seven guys on a stage in the Fan? We could squeeze on there, but I'd be piggy-backing the bassist. If you got a band that's not Green Day, like a three-piece, it's really hard to put them up on a small stage. The seven of us feel comfortable enough to play on a stage like the National, the biggest stage you can play on. But, we are tight anywhere else. I didn't think we had that much stuff, but we do.
Holicky: And we have people that move around…
Whitesell: …trying to be lively and getting the crowd into it. With me doing hip-hop on a small stage, I can't even move around. I'm rapping right here, throwing my hand up.
Holicky: And I'm knocking out a couple of people out with my guitar.
Keeter: He's been known to be careless and close his eyes when he's walking around. I'm talking twenty square feet with his wireless (guitar).
Whitesell: He's even knocked his guitar out of tune in such tight quarters, hitting the head stock, knocking a string off. He has to play a whole half step up the rest of the night.
Speaking of a lot of band members, is it difficult to coordinate schedules?
Whitesell: Four of us live together, but it is tough. When you have seven people, you have seven different schedules. We all work the nine to five and everybody has personal things in our lives we have to take care of. But, we still figure it out. Those crucial three or four hours of practice, two or three times a week. Plus, every time we gig is another practice. So, every time we gig, we learn. We have a lot of recordings where people have come with video recorders. Film doesn't lie. If you screw up, you can't blame it on someone else. It's been a great learning experience.
Keeter: And to try and do it as a business at the same time. We wear 2 hats. We're a band when you see us and when you don't, it's a business. We're actually an LLC. We were just doing taxes before we came to meet you. With all of those elements, it really gets complicated. All seven of us have the jobs of booking, marketing, taking care of copywriting, trademarking our products, all of the stuff we need to take care of. Sometimes the lives bump into each other.
What is the band's proudest moment?
Keeter: When we were on The National stage for winning the Y101 Rock Off. That was the first thing where all seven of us set a goal.
Kevin Condrey: That was 1200 people staring us in the face. No one knows you and you have to perform in front of that.
Keeter: We've all been to plenty of concerts. A lot of times with four bands, the opening band doesn't get a lot of people there. But the floor was filled, the balcony was filled, it was completely packed. We had our pockets of fans and friends that have been to all of our shows, but then it was a mass of young teenagers we'd never seen before, people staring at us not knowing what to expect.
Whitesell: I was asking myself, “Am I nervous?” Phil just looked at me and said “Man, this is what we've been working for right here, so we should be exited.” And brother, he was right. I got on stage without a worry at all, it was just fun.
Keeter: Right when Sludge called us out, I think we all felt the same.
Whitesell: It was like playing basketball in high school. I was trying to give people high-fives like I was running out of a locker room.
And now you have a headlining gig coming up.
Whitesell: Yeah, we have space to move. Steve won't hit me!
Holicky: Nah, I still might.
What does the future hold for Proverbial?
Whitesell: A full-length is the next step and then we'll try to tour behind it. We have three songs that are still raw that will on the LP. We're shooting for anywhere between twelve to fifteen songs. We're going in a different direction from the EP (Begin the Countdown) in terms of recording. We did some stuff on the Southside with Martinez Kelly. Now we're doing Pro-Tools in the basement. We're taking cubicle walls and making a booth and getting it done down there. It's turning out real well and I think we're satisfied enough with it, as raw as it still is, to record down there and take it back to Martinez and have him mix it and master it.
Finish this statement. Proverbial…(blank).
Whitesell: Proverbial band, boom.
Holciky: Proverbial truth.
Whitesell: Right, it's always been an adjective.
Keeter: It means “often referred to as,” because that's what we want to be. Everywhere, we want to be often referred to as, to everybody.
Whitesell: We looked up Webster's version of what the word means and it said “a commonality, a household name.” We wanted proverbial something, but then we thought just one name (would be better). A one word name is easy to say, easy to remember, easy to write, and plus it's an adjective. That's different.
If you could play with any musician, living or dead, who would it be?
Whitesell: Mine's Frank Sinatra, I'll throw it out there.
Condrey: For me, the Grateful Dead.
Keeter: For me, it would definitely be Bob Marley. Ever since I was little, reggae always lightened me up.
Holicky: I think I would like to play music with Jesus.
Proverbial headlines The National on March 19th, along with openers Downbeat Switch, Lastic, Destined Nation, and Force of Habit. Doors are at 6pm and tickets are $10 in advance through the band or $13 at the door.