Funkadelic band plans to expand musical horizons

by Raychel Johnson

Although they never planned on playing in a funk band, the members of Durango-based rock outfit Elder Grown have a knack for getting the floor hot with danceable beats and an electric energy. The three brothers who founded the band have come to recognize the importance of letting the groove guide the tunes.

For John Hoffman, bassist and founder member of the band, funk music wasn’t on his radar until Elder Grown’s sound shifted from folk to funk. He never listened to funk music until he started playing it, he said.

“Living in Durango opened us up to that genre, and whether we liked it or not, we were going to be playing it at some point,” he said. “It was more subconscious.”

Less subconscious was the obvious influence of alto saxophone player Sam Kelly. Elder Grown guitarist and front man Josh Hoffman said that before Kelly, the band’s aura smelled like campfire, and the sound had an acoustic feel.

“Having Sam show up and showing us what can happen when you add some groove to your songs really took the band to another level and evolved us from this folky, campfire scene to a ‘Holy cow, we’re going to rage the face off this club,’” Josh Hoffman said.

Kelly laughed as he expressed a similar sentiment.

“People are going to think we’re a funk band because we have a sax player,” he said. “Automatically, you’re going to see a sax player and think funk band.”

The sound into which Elder Grown continues to mature, whether it’s classified as funk, psychedelic roots rock or even hip hop, is backed by an undeniable positive energy Josh Hoffman says is inherent.

“It starts at the very beginning; it starts when we practice,” Josh Hoffman said, adding that the music, lyrics and stage presence of Elder Grown are heavily influenced by the brothers’ grandmother, for whom the band is named.

“They’re not just fun or shake-your-butt kind of tunes. They’re not chauvinistic. We’re really going for a balanced, good message,” he said. “That’s what we were raised on, and it would be unnatural for us to do otherwise. So, it’s inherent in the lyrics themselves, but I think it’s really inherent in the feel the band brings with it.”

For a band whose members range from the core group to up to 11 musicians on certain occasions, the music part comes easy. Wrangling schedules and working around school and other musical projects is the difficult part. Also, giving each member ample room to express their own music voice is becoming easier with the establishment of Elder Grown’s own voice, its sound.

“The element of everyone having their individual voices, it’s kind of a stage for everyone to express those voices,” Josh Hoffman said. “So it can be hard, yes, in such a large group, but inevitably we all know that we’re really linked to one voice – the song – more so than everybody’s individual voices.”

Josh Hoffman compared the band to a small village and cited the band’s communal aspect as one reason the band has such a large roster of musicians. Looking up to their musician father, the Hoffman brothers were raised under the wings of musicians who took any opportunity to jam. Whether a wedding or funeral, music was a necessary component.

“It wasn’t more like, ‘OK, we’re a secret club called band,’ it was more like, ‘Holy cow, who’s here, what instruments do you have? Let’s do this,’” Josh Hoffman explained. “So it created a communal, very open energy. It was very accepting. It was all about having a good time and expressing yourself in a healthy and safe place, and I think that’s what blossomed into having so many more members come in.”

Offstage, the band is spending its time practicing, working on the business aspect of running a band and getting creative with visuals. Kelly said Elder Grown is working on a series of acoustic music videos to ring in the new album, with the release date still undecided.

“My idea is just simple, but with nice backdrop and acoustic versions of everything,” Kelly said. “I want them to be a few takes, roughly cut, like a nice raw setting. So when people hear the studio versions, it will be two different experiences.”

With the new album, music videos and growing popularity of Elder Grown, one question remains: Can Durango continue to contain and foster such a band? Making major strides in the music scene here, the band is setting its sights on getting out of this mountain town and seriously pursuing music as a career.

After Elder Grown’s last member graduates from college in January, John Hoffman said, anything is possible.

“We’re going to start expanding into Northern Colorado – Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins – that’s our next step and going to be our catalyst for exploring what is probably (one of) the largest growing music scenes in the United States,” John Hoffman said. “I think we’re all throwing in the chips and are willing to go to wherever music is taking us.”

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