By Tom Charles
Jack Jarvis, drummer from the Syracuse “improg” band Steep, gives a firsthand account of how the city’s music scene has evolved over the past decade.
Syracuse quartet Steep will have a homecoming of sorts when they open for Jimkata at The Westcott Theater this Saturday (Mar. 23), returning to the venue that springboarded the band’s career. After beating 60 other bands in The Westcott Theater’s six-month-long Battle of the Bands in 2011, Steep was rewarded by Monster Energy with sponsored recording time at More Sound Studios in downtown Syracuse. The sessions yielded Steep’s debut album, Brain Fuel, which captured their unique, evolving sound: sprawling improvisational prog rock jams (or “improg,” as the band calls it) with sometimes-funky instrumental interludes and traces of fusion jazz influences. In other words, Brain Fuel is quite unlike anything to come out of Syracuse before — or perhaps it’s a product of it all. Central New York has a history in jazz and funk, and ever since the Westcott Theater opened its doors, Syracuse has been a central stop on the jam band circuit.
Regardless of whether the album is wholly original or consciously influenced, it’s certainly one of a kind, but drummer Jack Jarvis feels there’s a place for Steep in Syracuse. “I always really enjoy playing [at the Westcott Theater] because it attracts the type of people that like our style of music,” he said. “But at the same time, the unique nature of our music is a good fit for older crowds that attend some of the bars around here.”
Having lived in Syracuse his whole life, Jarvis, 26, has seen the progression that led Syracuse where it is today. “The first local show I went to was actually a ska show,” he recalled, reminiscing over a previous ska band of his own, Bursting Mosquitoes. “As I got older, I started going to many more classic and progressive rock shows. Lately I’ve discovered a lot of local talent in the jam scene. I’ll go out to support a lot of the bands we play with, like Lee Terrace or Woodworks.”
It’s not just Jarvis’s music tastes that have changed, but the dynamics of Syracuse music as a whole, which reflect broader moves in popular music. “The real difference is the rise in electronica music,” observes Jarvis. “I think it’s because the music and the instruments proliferate, so it just seeps into all genres. I see a lot more one- or two-person sets, a lot of DJs.”
Steep’s stage presence has shrunk since its last performance with Jimkata, parting ways with their female vocalist and second guitarist; the band’s ensemble this Saturday will consist only of those who recorded Brain Fuel. Keep an eye on their Facebook page over the next few weeks for an announcement on their summer tour.