The Grateful Dead and Particle? At first glance this combo may seem a bit odd, but upon further investigation and interesting conversations with members of both bands, we find plenty of common ground between these two groups.
While it may be difficult to unearth, one has to assume there is a tie that binds – especially considering not only that Mickey Hart has linked up with Particle to form Hydra, but also that Phil Lesh recently invited Particle keyboardist Steve Molitz to join his “Friends” for a few shows in the Bay Area.
So what is it exactly that links these two bands? As Darren Pujalet, drummer for Particle and Hydra, explained over the phone from his Los Angeles home, “My personal take on it is that when a band has reached the 40 year status and has broken as many boundaries as the Grateful Dead has, they’re looking back and looking really at who some of the bands are. And I’m not saying Particle is ‘the’ band, I mean there are so many out there that are doing it right now, but in a more modern version trying to cover some of the same territory in the sense of being groundbreaking . . .
And I think the element of Particle without vocals, and the ease of someone like Mickey being able to come and be part of it. And then also just sort of the high-energy end of it and what Particle tries to bring to the audience visually is part of their [Grateful Dead] attraction. And I think there’s just a lot of respect, and I really feel that much like the Grateful Dead did in their day, I just feel like Particle is trying to step out of the box – and again, I’m not saying we are the only ones that are doing that, but I do feel like we are trying to step out of the box and not be the typical jam band.”
In addition to Particle striving to “cover some of the same territory in the sense of being groundbreaking,” Pujalet elaborates, “I think the general philosophy of Particle is to try to give the audience that [feeling where] they never really know what to expect when they come to the show. Just taking people on these amazing journeys. So I think that’s kind of the goal, and in stepping out of the box and doing stuff with Mickey we’re really trying to capture that.”
As Pujalet explains his side of the link, we also find Grateful Dead drummer and all around percussion master Mickey Hart simply expressing, “This [Hydra] is really powerful. And it’s fun, we like to have fun. And they’re young. I like to know what they’re doing, and it keeps me plugged into the young pulse.”
So we have the young instrumental quartet Particle, which has experienced a meteoric rise since their humble beginnings doing after-gig parties starting back in 2000, linking up with a member of one of rock’s most influential and important bands – the Grateful Dead.
But both parties are quick to point out that while there may be trace elements from these bands, this five-headed Hydra is a completely separate entity.
Pujalet noted, “Hydra’s music is a departure from both Particle and the Grateful Dead, but it’s a collaborative effort with inflections of both. And I would say as a whole it’s a completely different animal.”
When asked how it’s so different Pujalet responds, “It is a different vehicle altogether. You know in the sense that we [Hydra] are creating a little bit more of a world flavor of music where as Particle really has been sort of a high-energy dance format. And that’s what the people who do like Particle like about it – it just takes you into that direction.
But I think Hydra, for all of us, was an attempt to go into a different zone really. And to kind of capture a different mentality when you are at the show and to allow people to kind of slip away to a different voyage than they are normally used to with Particle. And with Mickey creating the coloring it just adds such a different element to the music. And I think the goal with both bands is that if we can just take people away from their everyday responsibilities and worries, for even a moment, we’ve done our job.”
Hart cuts to the chase and lays it out, “It [Hydra] went way beyond the boundaries of most music that I play, and that’s why I called it ‘extreme music.’ I can only relate it to my own personal experience. For me it was extreme. And one of the things that I felt was extreme were the tempos. They were really rapid. Just the sheer power of the music and the tempos took it a little bit further than I’m used to speed-wise. But of course the Grateful Dead is more of a loping kind of easy rock ‘n roll band and jazz-oriented compared to this very hard-driving… it’s a stone cold dance band. But the speeds are just really exhilarating. So that’s why I came up with that ‘extreme music for extreme people’ thing [in the press release].”
In speaking with Hart and Pujalet, one theme seemed to reoccur throughout our conversations. Both men kept coming back to this notion of “taking people away” or finding the “spiritual” aspect of music.
That intense experience which, if you’ve ever had it, can cause a shift in your life. As Hart explains, “It’s such a powerful, magical, life-giving experience, you swim upstream underwater to get it – you do anything to get it. And then when you get it, you don’t wanna let it go. But you have to go to sleep and the music has to stop and then you just pray you can get it again the next day.”
Or as Pujalet expresses, “I think music is an escape, a place where you can kind of see your own soul without the everyday attachments. And I think the zones we are getting into are really deep, and the space you are talking about is what is going to allow our audience to actually get there.”
Perhaps this is the tie that binds this whole thing together. This “life-giving experience” or this “zone” seems to be at the core of Hydra, and in turn at the center of what both Particle and Mickey Hart strive to achieve in their other projects.
Sure, it doesn’t always get there, but for anyone familiar with the Grateful Dead circa 1967 – 1985 or Particle’s all-night marathon sessions, there is something that links these bands in their ability to “take us away.”
While we continue to dig at the essence of Hydra, Hart describes the band as, “A bit of structure and a lot of improvising. Just like the Grateful Dead. It’s just classic jam band form – you’re making a lot of shit up as you go along, that’s why they call it a jam band.”
He goes on to say that, “Everybody has their own cosmology and their own musical topography, and if there is a philosophy, it’s keep it loose and play your heart out. That’s my philosophy. And play with everything you’ve got, just let it all hang out. Don’t take anything with ya… It’s a basic philosophy for me and many others, I would hope. But it’s not for everybody. It’s a seat-of-the-pants kind of experience that I’m looking for. I’m not looking to re-create anything; I’ll leave that to others.”
So by leaving his comfort zone and engaging with these young cats from Particle, Hart is able to engage in a fresh, exhilarating musical experience. And by turning to an almost mythic figure in music, Particle is able to extend past their youthful exuberance and find a new set of wings as well.
Pujalet comments, “He [Hart] brings a certain magic to the music that comes with 40 years of experience. Our vibe is really good. We listen well to each other, and we try to compliment one another rather than compete or play over each other. It’s just been really good working with him, and I think there’s been a lot of respect given both ways.”
When speaking to Hart about Pujalet, this notion of equal respect is not only apparent, it’s overwhelming. “Darren is young and energetic. He’s a pile-driving, jackhammer groove drummer. And he makes it really easy for me to fly in and out. I’m more like Rococo. I’m an ornamental guy, I like the colors, that’s my specialty – that’s where I live, in that filigree. That’s what interests me, I can keep a good groove too, but when you have somebody like Darren or Billy [Kreutzmann], somebody like that, they fulfill the roll perfectly. And Darren and I really play well together, surprisingly well. Other than Billy, he and I play the best. I have more fun with him than any other drummer! And I’ve played with some really good drummers, so it’s not about good, it’s about a sensibility, and he just happens to have that sensibility where we sound great together. I noticed that right away.”
As Mickey Hart and I begin to wrap back towards the origins of Hydra he explains the name, “So my new instrument is part RAMU which is my electronic samples and all that, the Beam, and all the acoustic drums – kind of a giant horseshoe. It’s a new creation I made from my collection for this musical experience. I called it ‘Hydra’ because it has so many heads, and it has that hydra-ness to it. And those guys liked it and somebody said, ‘Hey, let’s call it Hydra.’ And that’s how we got the name.” When asked to elaborate on RAMU (which is a key component to Hydra) Hart’s voice speeds up and his excitement is tangible through the phone lines. “Random Access Musical Universe, that’s what it stands for. RAMU is a sound droid. It’s a robot with a giant memory bank that contains all of my database, my samples, all of the instruments in my collection. Over the years I have put them into the database, and I access it through pads. And it’s a MIDI so I can combine instruments from all over the world, so it’s a unique instrument.”
All this talk about electronic samples, robots, and RAMU, coupled with my familiarity with Particle’s penchant for somewhat repetitive late night excursions, had me wondering if this band really could reach that “zone” where the music takes over and life starts to stand still… or speed up… or dip into what Hart called the “spiritual dimension.”
And knowing that Mickey Hart has done extensive research into how the brain reacts to music, I decided to simply ask him if he thought Hydra could heal?
“Absolutely. It’s about trance. There are numerous ways to get trance. The basis of trance is a certain kind of redundancy. And this band has that ability to trance, it’s a trance band. And there’s auditory driving, it’s quite loud. And it’s not headed in the direction of entertainment necessarily, although it does entertain, but that’s not its primary mission. Its primary mission is to take you into the zone – all of us: me, you, and anybody who gets near that force-field. You get sucked into that force-field, and all of a sudden your reality is quite different, and that is the first stage of trance. In simple terms it’s about neurotic function. It’s about how the brain reacts to certain rhythmic or vibratory stimuli. And each different kind of vibration gets a different reaction in the brain. The synapses fire, send a signal to the mid-brain, then the mid-brain sends that signal to the rest of the body. And it’s sort of like a rush of adrenalin, like an adrenalin cocktail in a way. What it’s really doing is connecting you to another parallel reality, another universe that lives inside of you. Some people call it the soul, the spiritual center, spiritual dimension, sacred, all that kind of stuff, but it really puts you in the moment. What it does is, it puts you in the now, in the flow, in sync. See, you are made of vibrations, and so when you get these kinds of vibrations your brain wave is altered in certain ways. Now science is trying to find out exactly how to re-create this on a daily basis and make it medicine, and that’s what we’ll be seeing in the next few years. See, musicians know it works.”
And again we are back to the thread that ties this beast together, that notion that music can take us to that “parallel reality,” that “spiritual dimension,” or in Pujalet’s words as opposed to Hart’s, “that place where you can kind of see your own soul without the everyday attachments.” Or more simply, “the zone.”
When thoughts turn to the future, both Hart and Pujalet are excited and optimistic. Pujalet says, “In true Particle fashion, it all just came together so fast. And it’s tough to say what the future will hold, but I would expect to see some kind of recording, and when you do, I think it will be one of our best pieces of work – something we’ll be really proud of. I know this project is going to record very well.” While Darren talks about a record, Mickey looks at the road. “This is a unique union of sensibilities. I think it’s very powerful… If it goes well, which I assume it will, gosh yeah, I’d like to take this f*cker around the world.”
This article originally appeared on www.JamBase.com, an online chronicle of jam music and its off-shoots.