Portland rockers return to their Juneau roots

Duo to play from new CD 'Pisces' when it performs this weekend in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2001

With two members, Gravity and Henry is probably the world's smallest five-piece rock band.

Gravity and Henry is guitarist and singer Matt Sheehy and drummer Jarhid Brown. Based in Portland, Ore., the band has played the Pacific Northwest area for the past year and a half. Sheehy and Brown grew up in Juneau and return to play a hometown concert Friday night at the ANB Hall. The all-ages show starts about 8:30 p.m. with an opening set by the Juneau band Motivational Review.

Using a Line Six sampler, Sheehy is able to digitally record and then instantly replay guitar passages on stage, looping musical phrases to build layers of music to complement his vocal parts and Brown's drum rhythms.

"I can create a bass line, loop that, then put a guitar line on top of that, maybe four layers," he said. "And then we start jamming."

Sheehy uses footpedals to trigger the sampler.

"We do it so you can't really tell, but it sounds like a lot more than two people," he said.

Sheehy said the sampler records a passage up to 28 seconds long, but a 10-second loop is more typical. He plays an acoustic guitar, using effects to modify the tone. The sound ranges from lower-octave bass lines to the soprano highs of an electric guitar. There are other options as well.

"Since I play an acoustic electric, I can yell into the sound hole and it will sample that, and get like a weird choir sound."

Last Month Gravity and Henry released "Pisces," a CD of 10 songs by Brown and Sheehy. The concert Friday will feature the duo's new songs, recorded in Portland by another former Juneau musician, sound engineer George Bryson.

The songs are dynamic, dropping to near silence, then building in layers. Because sampling is so integral to the style, the melodic phrasing is distinct. Passages will stop on a dime, with tight guitar, vocal and drum punches. Brown gives a push-and-pull feel to the music, driving it with steady beats at times and playing conversational call-and-response fills with Sheehy.

The album features acoustic piano and bass on several tracks, but Brown and Sheehy have no plans to add members to the band.

"Every once in a while we'll see an amazing band and think it would be nice to have other players," Brown said. "But it would slow us down to bring another person. We have a pretty good system so far, we have complete control and it frees us up so much to do experimental stuff."

Sheehy said the band is named for a man he worked with in Portland.

"We do social work, the two of us, and one of my clients was named Henry," Sheehy said. "He died recently and it's a tribute to him."

Henry was wheelchair-bound with a degenerative muscle disease. As Henry's muscle power failed over time, Sheehy said, he watched Henry lose his battle with gravity.

Sheehy graduated from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1996, and Brown graduated a year later. They played in a few different bands in high school including Revolving Rudy, which recorded one CD. Revolving Rudy evolved into Gravity and Henry.

Brown watched the JDHS talent show tryouts last week to check out the Motivational Revue, a five-piece high school rock band that will open the Friday concert.

"They did great," he said. "They're emo-punk, kind of melodic, emotionally driven punk pop." Emo is short for emotion, Brown said.

The duo will return to Portland after Christmas.

"Things have been pretty happening so far," Brown said. "We'd like to do more shows, tour more and record more music."

Tickets for Friday's concert are $6.25 in advance at Capital Records and $7 at the door. More information on the band is available at www.gravityandhenry.com

Riley Woodford can be reached at rileyw@juneauempire.com.



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