As the use of software, samples, and midi packs in songwriting and music production increases, Groovy Shirt Club creates original, modern songs with a vintage vibe and a retro aesthetic. The performances are captured live on tape by actual people using actual instruments. It is indelible to honor the character and personality of the musicians and the music when scrapes, scrapes, knock, and bumps in the road are all included in the mix.
The Groovy Shirt Club are proudly retro. Their music offers a philosophical perspective on life. Thinking about experience, love, and real life. They are a team of musicians and songwriters who are essentially good friends who approach their work with honesty, integrity, and an ego-free ethic to bring out the best in one another and the songs. Check out the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
GROOVY SHIRT CLUB: We’ve all know each other for many years and played together in different combinations. What then became Groovy Shirt Club initially began with some of the songs being tracks for a film soundtrack but the movie ran into problems and was never completed. We forged ahead regardless as it was just so enjoyable working through the writing process and collaborating with old mates to get the tracks down. With the film project cancelled, there were no longer constraints or a particular purpose to the creative process other than going with the flow and having the freedom to simply do whatever we wanted. So many songs came out of that period, we are now in the final stages of a second album and have more than enough demos for a 3rd and 4th even without writing anything new.
2. With social media having a heavy impact on our lives and the music business in general, how do you handle criticism, haters, and/or naysayers in general? Is it something you pay attention to, or simply ignore?
GROOVY SHIRT CLUB: Ignore it. If people don’t like a song, or a T.V show or a movie, what’s the point in tearing it down when all they have to do is click on something else? We’re not into cancel culture. The only thing that should be cancelled is cancel culture itself!
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘GROOVY SHIRT CLUB’?
GROOVY SHIRT CLUB: Our tastes and influences are pretty broad. Neil and John are both excellent jazz players as well as rock and rollers. John’s passions stretch from Stanley Clarke, through 50’s rock and roll to blues via Miles Davis. Neil is everywhere from Buddy Rich to Ringo, 60’s Go Go to Ian Paice and everything in between. Bruce brings classical, Cole Porter, opera, jazz and Billy Joel. Ola loves soul, blues, jazz and funk from Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklyn and Merry Clayton starting with gospel and ending up in 70’s rock! What I really love are The Beatles, CSN, Eagles, Burt Bacharach, Abba, right through Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis jnr to John Barry and Roy Budd. Band names are tricky. You can over think it, start to get a bit too clever or pretentious or a combination of all three. And after all what’s in a name? I don’t think people care much what you’re called. Once they hear the songs, the name becomes attached to the music and the two things are synonymous. So, I was having dinner with some mates on a sunny terrace in the South of France. The banter was flowing and so was the wine. One of them asked me “so what’s the group called?” I looked around for a moment and realised three or four of us were wearing a bright, floral patterned or a paisley style shirt. I said, “Groovy Shirt Club”. They laughed, toasted it and that was that.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
GROOVY SHIRT CLUB: The song writing stems from a reflective and philosophical view on life. Contemplating relationships, love and life itself. The stories, or observations come from actual experiences and so an authenticity shines through. The lyrics, mood and tone of the songs are then reflected in the arrangements, performances and recordings which are all done in live takes by this group of musicians who are great friends and share the same mindset. We bare our souls in the music, so it’s our personality and character in the recordings. In production terms, we make a deliberate conscious decision not to use any samples, electronics, midi files, loops, or software trickery. Every single note is played by the band. If there are scratches, bumps and imperfections, we leave them in. Crisp, edited, perfection is too clinical for us. That ultra modern approach of making minute adjustments to achieve a rigid, glossy, smooth finish effectively erases the human touch, replacing it with binary code. We put air in to our music using analogue techniques and live performances, separating ourselves from the mass production of digital derivatives, so the songs have room to breathe and sound natural. The result is you get us and absolutely nothing else. Our sound is therefore in a similar headspace to the bands of the 60’s and 70’s who recorded on tape and although there are clear influences from that era, we also work very hard to be original and modern.
5. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
GROOVY SHIRT CLUB: Bruce and Neil have formal training. Bruce Studied at Birmingham Conservatoire, Guildhall School of Music, National Opera Studio and Berklee College of Music. Neil studied privately with the world renowned drummer Mal Garrett and trained with the Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra. Neil was then invited to New Jersey to study with Dave Brubeck’s drummer, Joe Morello. John, Ola and myself are mostly self-taught rock and rollers but with a good grounding in music theory.
6. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
GROOVY SHIRT CLUB:
Our genuine philosophy on this is we are building an audience who resonate with us. Media is very different today and a group can have a huge following without anyone outside of that following knowing who they are. So it’s about connecting with people who are essentially, like us. A fan base of kindred spirits. Almost like an extension of the group. Members of Groovy Shirt Club, let’s say. That’s what we are working towards next, to complete the circle. There is a sense of fulfilment already in that we are extremely proud of the Electric Flowers album, and are well aware of what we’re doing next in terms of recordings, but that fulfilment you’re talking about is in the wave of positive responses coming back to us about the music. Which is happening right now.
7. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative, and entertainment?
GROOVY SHIRT CLUB: All of the above. But I’m not saying that as a cop out for an easy answer. To prove my point, the songs on Electric Flowers do dip into politics, cultural, spiritual and social observations as well as 2 or 3 tracks being introspective reflections on life or simple love songs. After all, that is the spectrum people cover throughout their daily lives. We work, we complain about the government, we love, we get angry, we laugh and we cry. We talk about all these things sensibly over a meal or get drunk with our friends and put the world to rights. Music should and generally does cover all these human emotions and challenges. Groovy Shirt Club do to. There is no one theme we’re attached to. Lyrically, the songs come from a thought or feeling at the time. Like normal life. And the range of emotions and ideas in our songs reflect that. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the album. I mean properly listen to all of it, in order, with no skipping. Like you would a vinyl LP. That’s the best way to answer that question!
8. Creative work in a studio or home environment, or interaction with a live audience? Which of these two options excites you most, and why?
GROOVY SHIRT CLUB: The honest answer is all of it. The creative process, the work, developing ideas and producing a piece of music is the closest thing a person can come to actual magic. It’s literally materialising a thought. But then the shared experience of a band on stage playing songs to a bunch of people who are also really into it, is fantastic.
9. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
GROOVY SHIRT CLUB: There is no one method or rule we have on how the songs are created. Sometimes it’s a title, asubject, or a theme that’s the starting point. A riff can trigger a song idea, or a line of lyric or musical phrase. Sometimes they can start with a jam around a few chords. Other times a completed song could be at the heart of a session. Or half a song with a chorus and no verse. And we’re never swayed by what we think we should be or go down a genre tunnel. We let the music develop organically. What does happen each time though, is the strong work ethic to develop ideas and evolve them into something we all agree is solid. This might be achieved by one person or everyone contributing to the writing, or even shaking their head with a definitive “No” if it’s rubbish. Sometimes a song pings into life quite quickly. Other times they get shelved and we work on something else. We are fortunate to be great friends. All of us. That is what’s at the heart of Groovy Shirt Club. Egos don’t get in the way. It’s about striving for the best result all round through collaboration built on great quality songwriting and professional quality musicianship. For instance, if there’s a suggestion that a vocal take was a bit lifeless, or a bassline was a bit dodgy, or a piano lick was too cheesy, or the drums need to be on the down low in the middle eight, we go back around and do it again. We go into writing and recording with a plan but open minded to allow ideas to flourish. The sound of the group and our songs then just evolves naturally as everyone throws the best of themselves into it without fear or criticism, or anyone damping down their creative flair in an attempt to fit the tracks into a commercial box.
10. Do you think is it important for fans of your music to understand the real story and message driving each of your songs, or do you think everyone should be free to interpret your songs in their own personal way?
GROOVY SHIRT CLUB: I think ultimately a songwriter or artist has no control over how their work is perceived or understood by others. You put it out there in the most honest way possible and it’s down to each individual listener to interpret it and engage with it however it works for them.