Garcia Peoples is a young Brooklyn-via-New Jersey band that plays virtuosic, frequently improvisational rock music that hearkens back to the days of acid tests and psychedelic ballrooms. If this evokes notions of jam band, well, yes and no: Garcia Peoples is a jam band inasmuch as Television, the Meat Puppets or the Mothers of Invention were jam bands. In fact, the group’s sound is closer in sound and spirit to its New Jersey forebears, the Feelies, than to any band currently working the hacky-sack circuit.
The group — guitarists and vocalists Tom Malach and Danny Arikaki, drummer Cesar Arikaki, bassists Derek Spaldo and Andy Kush, and multi-instrumentalist Pat “PG Six” Gubler—was founded in 2011 by Malach and the Arikaki brothers, high school friends who grew up in the same neighborhood.
“It started with me and Danny writing together and kind of patchworking songs,” Malach explains. “Any time he had a good idea or I had an idea, we’d just jigsaw the parts together.” Recently, the two principal songwriters have been writing independently. “That’s equally interesting,” Malach says, “because you get to see how people’s parts fill out the sound.”
Though the band’s name nods to admitted hero Jerry Garcia, the group’s moniker is an oblique reference to New Jersey rap producer Brian “Peoples” Garcia, though “people seem to like the Grateful Dead answer a little more,” Malach admits.
The band’s latest album, “One Step Behind,” consists of only two songs, but don’t call it an EP: The epic title track, at over a half hour in length, contains enough ideas to fill a triple LP set. The album is capped off with the rousing “Heart and Soul,” a soul ballad that would make Rick Danko proud.
The album title might be a bit of an in joke. The band’s release schedule is only now catching up with its material.
“A lot of the stuff we’re playing is really old,” Malach says. “The first time we played ‘One Step Behind’ was in 2014, and a lot of the songs on the first two albums go back to 2009. We have a lot of back material, but now we’re finally getting to the point where we’re writing new stuff.”
Despite close ties, the group’s membership is often in flux, with Malach and the Arakaki brothers the band’s only constant members: “One Step Behind” features as many bassists as it does songs, and auxiliary member Gubler, of fellow psychedelic travelers Wet Tuna, comes and goes as his schedule allows. Surprisingly, this hasn’t been an issue.
“I don’t view it as a problem at all,” Malach says. “I think it’s pretty cool. In terms of membership, it’s definitely an expanding thing. We’re pretty flexible.”
“One Step Behind” also features a scene-stealing guest spot by saxophonist Bob Malach — Tom’s dad — whose own formidable discography includes session work with people as varied as Miles Davis and Madonna.
“Obviously, I’ve looked up to him my whole life,” says a proud Malach of his studio veteran father, “and when we were talking about what ‘One Step Behind’ should be, I was thinking about the songs on De La Soul’s ‘Buhloone Mindstate’ album with Maceo Parker, and I thought it’d be cool if we did something like that. So I came up with the guitar part, and I thought ‘sax would go pretty good over this.’ And, obviously, I wasn’t going to call someone else to play it.”
The band has been busy touring and playing locally, including well-attended residencies at various New York hot spots.
“We just finished up a five-week residency at [hip New York club] Nublu,” says Malach, “and it was pretty great. We didn’t repeat anything for any of the five shows because we wanted to give people five separate looks. And there were people who were at every single show.”
Later this month, Garcia Peoples will visit Richmond on a tour over the dead of winter, traditionally no-go zone for touring bands. Malach isn’t worried.
“I’ve never done [a winter tour], so I don’t know, but I’m assuming it’s going to be pretty good,” he says. Aware, perhaps, of Richmond’s reputation, Malach is characteristically optimistic.
“I’m assuming if it’s not packed with a lot of people,” he says, “it’ll at least be packed with cool people.”
Garcia Peoples performs with Twin Brothers Band at the Camel on Dec 11 at 9 p.m. $8-$10.