By Megan Callahan

On Sept. 20, The Westcott was overloaded with funk, synthesized keyboard, and a jam band sound that made the entire crowd sway and dance in whatever way their heart desired. Upstate, the opener, filled the shadowy venue with a garage sound that enticed everyone to casually commit to some nonchalant hair whipping. The Heavy Pets, the headliner, gripped the audience from the beginning of their set and left viewers begging for an encore when they finally meandered offstage. The way they connected emotionally with the audience and entranced them into a place where all reality melted away was truly exceptional. From hula-hoop dancers to lumberjack-bearded men, everyone in the audience was connected through the truly “fonkay” sound produced.

Before the show, we found ourselves upstairs chatting with vocalist, guitarist, and Syracuse University alumnus Jeff Lloyd. The other band members, including Mike Garulli, guitarist; Jim Wuest, keyboardist; Justin Carney, bassist; and Jamie Newitt, drummer, chowed down on some Alto Cinco jerk chicken burritos while Jeff gave us the lowdown on what it truly means to be a part of The Heavy Pets.

20 Watts’ Megan Callahan: Are you stoked to be back playing at the Westcott?

Jeff: Of course. I love getting back to this town. I have family here and stuff. None of them are coming out tonight — I forgot to tell them. It is just so easy to forget; the dates just kind of sneak up on you. And you are focusing on the one you are playing. Then it’s like WOW we are driving through North Hampton or Greenville, Massachusetts and my cousins live in North Hampton.

MC: I feel like it’s almost a blur. How’s touring?

Jeff: It is, a little bit. We have been out on this portion of the tour since the 27th or 28th of last month. We originally were calling the tour “The Fall Tour.” Then we realized fall doesn’t even start ’til like Saturday. We can’t really call it “The Fall Tour,” so we are calling it “The End of Summer Tour.” It started in Colorado, where we played some pre-parties for the Low-High Music Festival and a secret show, and now we are here.

MC: So you are an alum of Syracuse. How was adjusting to college life for you?

Jeff: I was not well adjusted at Syracuse my first few months.

MC: But where are you from?

Jeff: I have family up in Syracuse, but I am actually from a little town called Kosher, NY. I grew up with Mike, our guitar player. And when I first came here I had family and I hung out with my cousins, and it was very odd for me to go from a small town, small school to a big school, and it took me a while to find my friends. And of course, it was music that helped me find friends. I met my core of friends within a few days of each other. I was actually playing guitar out in front of Flint Hall — that is where I lived, floor 2 wing C — and my bestest bud Andrew comes up and is wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt. So I started playing a Grateful Dead song and he invited me out to South Campus, and I pretty much met all of my best friends that day.

MC: So how is playing back at The Westcott?

Jeff: I lived here for some formative years; it is very nostalgic to play here. The keyboardist went to Syracuse, and we formed the band My Friends Band and we played every Wednesday at Harry’s and some Saturdays at a bar called Darwin’s. We played there constantly, and that is where I first had an audience. Crushed my GPA, but I graduated!

MC: That’s ok, the key to college is to graduate! You play a lot of festivals now, though, don’t you?

Jeff: Yeah, we played over the years basically every festival you can think of. We have the workout in Ohio this weekend and Bear Creek Festival next week in Live Oak, Florida.

MC: I definitely think that a big part of this lifestyle is to love it. How crucial is that to your band?

Jeff: People need to do things for different reasons, and we are just lucky we get to do what we love for work.  It isn’t always fun, but it feels right. The playing part is always fun.

MC: How different is playing festivals from little gigs?

Jeff: The playing part is the same but the cool thing about festivals is the different fan base. You can spread your music to other bands fans.

MC: What is the weirdest question you have ever been asked?

Jeff: “What is your favorite breakfast cereal?” And I think we said Count Chocula. But now we basically just live off whatever cereal is in those little turny things at the hotels. The generic cereals that they make you think are real Fruit Loops.

MC: Did you ever guess that you would be where you are?

Jeff: In school I didn’t pretend, I studied things that I cared about. I studied economics to make sure the playing field was fair.  But I never really felt in my heart that I would be doing anything else but playing music. It is hard for me to relate to people who don’t know what they want to do with their lives. I had two dreams: to play for the New York Giants and to be a musician, and when everyone got bigger and I didn’t, I started playing guitar. I realized this was easy and I got far less bruises playing music.

MC: So being from Syracuse, were the frats the raging places to be back when you went to college?

Jeff: I was in a frat — ZBT. It was fun. I liked it. It was where I met my audience; I met kids who liked the same music as I did. The first time I hung out in the house, I ended up playing guitar in some kid’s room and eventually all these kids were gathered around and that changed my life. I pledged, then just played the parties. I got paid instead of paying dues.

MC: So do you guys have a pregame ritual, like before every show?

Jeff: Eat food. I don’t like to eat right before we go out. And a fridge full of light beer. We hang out, try to relax, and everyone warms up. Jamie, the drummer, the most physically demanding instrument, puts on his headphones and jams out. It is a good bunch of guys — very chill. It helps a lot. We spend a lot of time together.

MC: Does it ever get old?

Jeff: No, we get tired and cranky, but it never gets old. Hopefully we do really well tonight, you never know. My dad said once, and he really pushed this mantra, “it is never as good as it seems and it is never as bad as it seems.”  And I think if you can focus on that, it really helps you get through and not get too high up on yourself, so you aren’t so hard on yourself when you play a bad show. We have learned to enjoy and not take for granted that we are doing what we love to do.

MC: Where do you think this will go?

Jeff: New releases are few and far between with touring so much, but being able to balance touring and putting out new stuff would be great. We have five songwriters; everybody writes. The only outlet we have for our new material is our side projects, and we don’t have time to all pitch our stuff and work it out in three days.

MC: This album is a lot different. Acoustic. You guys seem to change up your music a lot.

Jeff: The stuff we are doing tonight is even more different; it is super duper “fonkay.” We will probably play “Jackie Bones” tonight, which is about chasing my dog through Thornton Park.

MC: Anything new? Are you working on something currently?

Jeff: Yeah, we recorded twenty songs, but it is just hard to finish them and get the album perfect. It is just about working hard enough to have time to manage your time. We took July off this year, and it was really nice to take that time off.

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