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band_collage.jpg (17335 bytes)The Puddle Jumpers
June 20th, 1999 - Gasworks Park, Seattle, WA
by HotBands Editor - Pat Ferris

I was introduced to the Puddle Jumpers by HotBands video director/producer, Jason Webb from Fog City Productions back in January of this year.  I was at his house, and he kept insisting that I check out some of the video work that he had produced recently for his nationally aired television show Rising Stars.  As I watched the video, I was more than suprised to see a  friend (Dave McGrath) on the video that I had not seen since I moved to Houston (about 2 yrs).

I ended up getting Dave's email address, told him that I was pursuing music in the promotion arena, and that I'd like to hear his band.  I met with Puddle Jumper co-founder Rick Vartian a few days later at our first Internet Conference in Seattle, and was given two of their CDs (Choices and Out of the Shadows) and promo packs to review and instantly was a fan of their music.  I wrote one of my first reviews on their OTS CD.

I get the opportunity to listen to LOTS of music being in this line of work, and although I hear a lot of good bands, there are only a handful of them that really stand out as being "Professional" to me.  The things I guess I look for are the basic structure of a song, hooks, arrangements, lyrics, and musicianship of the individuals in the band.  The Puddle Jumpers have it all, and although I didn't get the opportunity to see them live until last week, I already knew that their level of perfectionism and professionalism on the CD would be apparent live. At the Peace Concert, the rain kept a lot of people home, but a few hundred still braved the Seattle weather to get their enjoyment of the afternoon festivities.  The Puddle Jumpers were the third of four bands that day, and played for nearly two hours to the fans, doing select cuts from both CD's as well as an incredible cover from Jethro Tull's Aqualung.

The Puddle Jumpers' motto is Classic Rock for the 21st Century , and it seems that there is a HUGE void of this genre and quality of music on the mainstream market today.  My initial impression of their music was something like Jethro Tull meets Supertramp.  It has a Celtic  feel, influenced no doubt by Rick Vartian's mandolin, but with three strong songwriters (McGrath, Vartian, Michael) their music also has the lyrical quality that conjures up visual images that tell a story for each song. 

I was able to contact them to try our first "Live" interview over the internet on chat, and this is what they had to say:

HotBands - Hi Guys! First of all, I want to thank you for the performance last week It was outstanding I thought the sound of your band live was very impressive and sounded like your CD's which must be very hard to pull off live.

George M - It was our pleasure Pat
Rick V - Thanks Pat

Dave M -  I'm glad you got to see us live and liked the show, thanks a lot Pat. We originally thought the songs would sound thin live, without the Hammond organ, and other keyboard parts, but when we got out there, and started gigging after our first CD, we were surprised at how full the band sounded. It's not that hard when the sound system is decent, we just lean into the songs, and emphasize the dynamics.

HotBands - How long have you been together?

George M - Going into our (my) 5th year with the guys
Rick V - Yep...March 1995 was when the Band officially started

Dave M - It doesn't seem that long, time flew.

HotBands - You've had a few members come and go through the band, but your sound is solidified What would you say is the main thing that is keeping your band as an operating unit?

George M - The creative juices flow between us well.
Rick V - Right..The four of us currently in the band have always held those positions...Just bass players have come and gone. Similar goals and attitudes towards writing, performing and music in general I would say. I think we are fortunate in that the four of us think pretty much alike in terms of what we do in this group.

Dave M - The bass players that have been in the band went in different directions. The four of us have all had the same thing in mind since the beginning. We keep playing together because we all enjoy hanging out, recording, or jamming. It's a part of our life we would miss if it was gone.

HotBands - Is it hard to find a bass player that is suitable for your music?

George M - It's hard to find a bass player that can PLAY our music! Richard is one.
Rick V- As Dave and George are saying...Finding a fifth member that fits into that scheme has never been successful. Richard Evans has the dedication and is detailed oriented like we are so he learns the parts and plays them right the first time out. It's refreshing to have someone who says they are going to learn our music and at the next practice, they actually have done just that!
Dave M - It has been difficult finding bass players that have the chops to play our music, plus there is a lot to remember. We have had some good players in the band, but Richard Evans is the best we have worked with.
George M - And once Rick puts a stamp on it the player has got to have the chops to learn what's been written.
Rick V -  We find it helps to lay down a keyboard bass track first since I am closely involved with the song from the beginning, I have a good handle on what kind of bass line will work with the foundation tracks.

HotBands - Who would you say that you are most influenced by musically?

George M - We all like Quality stuff and recognize it when we hear it. I grew up on Beatles, Stones , Pure Prarie League, Eagles CSN Then moved into Police and Elvis Costello. Also instrumental jazz.
Rick V - Anything that is quality. We all like practically all styles... I myself really enjoy listening to Classical music and Jazz....Mozart, Ellington, Beethoven Progressive rock was a big influence in my teens.. Got me off drums and onto keyboards...Actually Hammond Organ at age 16. Influences there for me were YES, ELP, Genesis and Jethro Tull.
Dave M - I loved classic, and progressive rock growing up, some of the first songs I learned on guitar were off of Rush 2112. Now I love music from any style, that sounds good to me. Lately I have been listening to a lot of Jazz.

HotBands - You've had a lot of success overseas in the European arena. What would you contribute this to?

George M - People over there must be less inundated by the musical stranglehold the big five have over the airwaves here in the states therefore opening them selves up to other music with fresh ears.
Rick V - Europe is also a lot more open minded and are less likely to follow the fads of the US market. Quality in actual musicianship still counts for a lot with European fans.
Dave M - I think they are used to hearing a wider spectrum of bands, because radio stations are not as homogenized as they are in the U.S. I think we would do just as well in the states if we got some commercial exposure. The U.S, and Canadian fans that have found us on college radio, or the net, are as enthusiastic as our European fans.

HotBands - It seems that you have a very "British" rock sound to your band. Have you done better in the UK than most European markets, or would you say that it is pretty even.

George M - No more in any specific country that I can spot
Rick V - Jazz is really big over in France and UK. Way bigger than it is here and most of the artists are from the USA. And I agree with George ...No real patterns...We also see a lot of web traffic to our MPS section from the old Soviet Block such as Minsk. Also, Poland, Turkey , Greece, Portugal, and recently much attention from South America...specifically Rio.
Dave M - A radio station in Bath England, URB 960, got an incredible response to our first album, and we made the top ten list for three weeks. It seems evenly positive from Europe so far though.

HotBands - Do you feel that your band is more jazz influenced, or progressive rock?

George M - Progressive definitely
Rick V - At this moment, we are more progressive rock influenced, but since we are going to let the Hammond be more of a main axe in upcoming songs, you may see more of a Jazz influence in the future. Dave and I have been doing a lot of listening to Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery!!! We need George's chord brain to allow us to venture forth into that VERY theory oriented genre!
Dave M - Rock, some progressive, some folk, a touch of Jazz here and there. I think a jazz influence will be more present in the future.
George M - I can't wait to dive into jazzier stuff!

HotBands - At this point, you've completely produced, engineered, recorded, distributed...all by yourself. Do you have any aversions to working with a major record label?

George M - YES! But I feel if things keep going the way they are we won't have to worry about a ML deal.
Rick V - We kinda like the "apple cart" the way it is at the moment...A major offer might really upset that little cart of ours!
Dave M - Major labels tend to exploit artist's, and make millions off of them before the band ever makes a dime.

HotBands - What do you have a problem with as far as the major labels go? And if one were to approach you, what would it take for you to work with them?

George M - If we have to we can present them with some very real ideas about what kind of contract we'd sign.
Rick V - A VERY VERY supportive and long term contract. No one or two album deals, and none of this we do everything and bill you for it after the fact stuff. We would have to be allowed to be involved in the planning of our major label debut and not be forced to sit on the sidelines. I think we have a pretty good handle on what works for The Puddle Jumpers and it would be a mistake to relinquish that responsibility to a newcomer.
Dave M - We would entertain an offer from a label that presented a chance to develop the career of The Puddle Jumpers over several albums, with a fair financial agreement. We have proven we know what we are doing, so we demand the respect of being involved in all aspects of our music. Except for lifting amps, the label can do that all by themselves!

HotBands - What plans do you have for upcoming CD's, how many, when, etc.? What types of plans do you have for touring? Are you going to tour in the NW for now, or are you planning something Nationally or in Europe?

George M
- No tour plans as yet. When some one comes up with some $ to support a tour we'll go.
Rick V - We are going to do some testing of the waters using MP3 files before we compile another actual CD (Full Length) We are thinking of a Christmas EP for our fan club, but that would not be the 3rd album. I would say at least a year from now if not longer...We have a lot of other things to do first like our video and other projects Nothing on the burner for a tour of Europe or the US for that matter. We are not willing to finance it ourselves and since we are kind of tired of the road show life. It would have to be a real high level tour opportunity to get us out of Seattle and onto the bus! The bottom line would be CREDIBILITY...The tour would have to be something that would gain us a good deal of exposure, sales etc. A lot of bands travel across the country playing the equivalent of the local bar and call that a tour. That is not going to get you anywhere.
Dave M - Recording is becoming our primary focus, so I think our releases will be more frequent in the future. We are going to utilize the internet, and MP3 files to help distribute our music. We are almost finished with three new songs, and plan to record three more by Fall. That could turn into a limited release EP, but they will be available online first.

HotBands - I think that your music is definitely studio oriented...real quality work, and obviously musically perfected. Do you ever see yourselves as a road band, or are you wanting to focus on recording projects?

Rick V - STUDIO!!! As you said yourself Pat and now that you have seen us...Our group kind of looks silly playing a low key gig. Our music and stage show would be far more effective under lights on a large professional stage.
Dave M - The studio is far more rewarding than a bogus gig, but if we get a chance to travel the world for a while with good accommodations, great concerts, and a paycheck count me in.

- Right....you are a stadium type band if you were to do any live shows to be sure.

George M
- I think the time is fast approaching when a musical act can gain exposure on the net with live performances recorded at studios like Fog City and be streaming to the world wide audiences just waiting for the next tech revolution. br>

- By the way George, speaking of streaming video, we just finished watching the film Fog city Productions shot at the Peace Concert. LOTS of great footage, and something we can turn into a promotional item.

Rick V - Cool! I can't wait to see the daily's!

HotBands - Finally, do you have any type of comments that you want to address to the readers, other bands, fans, etc. on what has created your success and what your visions are on the direction of internet music? I.E., what YOU want to do with internet music.

Rick V - I think our message to other bands would be to do everything the very best you can and don't settle for some half ass results. The bands that are remembered 20 years from now are the ones who paid attention to the details and didn't try to sound like the current BIG THING. They did what worked for them and the people could tell that they meant what they said and were dedicated to the MUSIC and not trying to be a Zillionaire. The most famous artists of all time died in poverty...Although I would prefer not to be in that situation, I wouldn't mind leaving a legacy like theirs when this thing is over and done with.
Dave M - I want the internet to circumvent corporate playlists, so that people can find new music from musicians all around the world. Let's get the pie out of the hands of a few good old boys, and share it with everyone, so there is room for thousands of artists to make a decent income.

HotBands - Well, thanks for the interview. You guys have been great. All very polite, intelligent and professional in your attitude.

Rick V - We have no plans to pack it in anytime soon. Sales on Amazon.com are getting bigger every month and our MP3 access stats are growing by about 25% a month too. Since we are not going to wear ourselves out on the low scale road thing, there is no reason to not keep recording music as long as we have power and a heartbeat!!
George M - This was really fun and I can't wait to do it again some time. Pat & Jason, hope to see you guys again soon, maybe at a PJs performance. Thanks Pat. Good luck with Hot Bands. Rock On Fog City!
Dave M - Thank you Pat, we appreciate the work you are doing to help independent bands like us.