An Interview with the Guys of Formula 5

Formula 5 has come a very long way since their start. Their talent as individuals and as a band has moved light years ahead from when they first took stage around the Capital District. Formula 5 has quickly become a staple in the Albany live music scene, opening for such bands as Timbre Coup, Twiddle, The Heavy Pets, Dopapod, The McLovins and Lucid. It is certainly refreshing to see a young up and coming band be so passionate about their music and be representing Albany’s music scene. Jenni Wilson sat down with Joe Davis and Mike McDonald of Formula 5 at the recent Autumnation Festival and followed up with the band for their first interview with UpstateLIVE.

Jenni Wilson: Where are you all from?

Formula 5: We are all pretty local to the Capital Region/Upstate NY area. Mike (Keys, Vocals) and Joe (Guitar, Vocals) are from Latham, Bill (Bass, Vocals) is from Clifton Park and Greg (Drums, Yelling) is the odd ball from all the way up in Lake George.

Jenni: When did you guys start playing together and how did you meet?

F5: I guess the way we all came together was pretty random. It was definitely a gradual process starting with Bill. Bill had been playing some music with some former members of our old band called Chinatown Lights. You may or may not have heard that name before in the Albany area. They played as a threesome for a little while (2 guitars and bass) and eventually met Greg by chance. Bill met Greg while waiting in line for Phish tickets at the Times Union Center, found out he played drums and lived in Lake George and they set up a time to jam. They got together, liked the connection and started playing as a foursome. Eventually they wanted a keyboardist and they contacted Mike, who went to the same local high school as the former guitarist, was local to the area and was currently playing keys in a Grateful Dead cover band called the Green Mountain Pranksters. Mike joined wanting to explore his original music ideas and they started practicing and scheduling more gigs around the Albany/Upstate area. After about a year, the band stalled out when the former lead singer and major song writer departed the group.

With the future of the band in question, Bill, Greg and Mike decided they wanted to try and keep this thing afloat by finding a new guitarist and pursuing the music that they loved – Jam music. The older lineup tended to be more of a funk/soul group and they all felt like they were ignoring their true musical direction of more improvisational music. They went through many, many auditions and finally settled on the unlikely younger brother of one of Mike’s high school friends – Young Joseph. When Joe came up to audition we weren’t exactly sure of what to think. He was 19, he had no band experience and no one had heard him play prior to the audition because he had no recordings of his playing to send us. From the very first audition, we knew he was the guitarist that we were looking for. He fit our style very well and things seemed to “click” right away. In January of 2012, Joe became our guitarist – and things have really taken off since we finalized our current lineup.

Jenni: Who are some of your influences?

F5: Being that we employ a very loose, improvised musical standpoint, our influences would have to point to artists such as Phish, Grateful Dead, Medeski, Martin & Wood, moe., Umphrey’s McGee and many others who have made the jam scene what it is today. We are also very big blues, folk, Americana, Motown and classic rock fans that have been influenced by the greats such as Jeff Beck, Clapton (and his assorted projects), Traffic, David Bowie, Van Morrision, The Band, Little Feat, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rush, Miles Davis, BB King, Stevie Wonder, among many, many others. Growing up in our generation we have been exposed to many different genres and we are indeed very influenced by 90’s alternative music, some pop music as well as some of the newer indie groups that are writing great music in the 21st century. We like a lot of different music.

Jenni: What are some of your goals as a band?

F5: Some of our goals as a band include playing some larger regional festivals such as Catskill Chill, Gathering of the Vibes, Mountain Jam, moe.down, Backwoods Pondfest and others. In the next year we would like to release another larger studio album. We have enough new original material for two albums already and can’t wait to get back into the studio with some of these newer tracks that we are already playing live.

One major goal that we have as a band is to expand our musical resume as pertaining to different styles of music. Some of our favorite genres include reggae, funk, folk and blues but we really are working to encompass other genres such as more progressive rock, electronica, and even some exotic music styles. We have already written a bluegrass song and experimented with more progressive time structures and Middle Eastern scales in some of our newer material and are looking to incorporate these genres into our new material.

Jenni: Can you guys talk about the reincarnation of Formula 5 and the origin of your band’s name?

F5: Sometime towards the end of our old lineup, we decided we wanted to change our band name and we were toying with some concepts such as “Formula” or “Elixir” referring to the various influences and styles that come together from our various members to create our unique sound. We dragged the decision making process out for a very long time and we finally decided on Formula 5, due to their being 5 members in the band at that time and the fact that we were so sick of arguing about it. It seemed to be the name that everyone hated the least. Clearly we are now a four-piece band so it’s the most misleading band name of all time. In all honesty, we just thought it would be less trouble to keep the same name, websites, mailing lists, logos, etc… rather than re-branding ourselves. We knew that our new sound with Joe on guitar was going to do a majority of the re-branding anyways. Now we kind of enjoy the name because we know people are sitting there trying to figure out why we’re named Formula 5. People either think we can’t count or were looking to add another member. The truth is neither: we can count and no, we are not actively looking for another member. We are just focusing on becoming tighter as a band and writing more and more new material as a band.

Jenni: Where have you guys toured so far?

F5: In our short year as a group we have begun to play around parts of New York State and even a few outside of the borders as we look to grow and expand. While we haven’t strung together what could be considered a “tour”, we try to do the weekend warrior thing while we work our day jobs during the week. We frequent the Albany music stops, Putnam Den in Saratoga, Shepards Cove/Park in Lake George, The Monopole in Plattsburgh, The Waterhole in Saranac Lake, Java Barn in Canton, Oneonta, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Jamestown and other random places across the state. We’ve played a few festivals as well such as StrangeCreek, Bellstock, the recent Autumation Festival, Green Mountain Getdown festival in VT, Mama Strawberry Jam and a few other smaller festivals. We are working on something in Boston and New York City as well.

Jenni: Where are your favorite places to play?

F5: We are still trying to play some of major stops in the northeast but we still love getting back to place we got our start – Red Square in Albany. We’ve had some great shows in the north county at the Waterhole in Saranac Lake and the Monopole in Plattsburgh. The Java Barn was a very memorable for us we absolutely loved the hospitality and the eager crowd that couldn’t get enough. Black Oak Tavern in Oneonta is also a very fun one for us.

Jenni: What is the name of your album and how many tracks are you including?

F5: Currently the album is slated to be self-titled “Formula 5”. Another idea we had was “Peanut Butter Tuesday” but not sure if that’s going to happen. It will likely be self-titled unless an amazing name comes up in the next few weeks. We are picking our final mixes of the songs and will be sending it off to get mastered over the next couple of weeks. There are seven tracks total on the album with one of them being a short interlude leading into the track “Mister Elixir”. We chose six of the oldest tracks that we have been playing since the beginning of this lineup and many of them were written and played long before Formula 5. While being our oldest tracks, we also feel that these tracks really illustrate our style as a band and what we like to do with our songwriting. Each song averages about 7-8 mins (we’re a jam band…) and they showcase many different styles that drive us. We have straight ahead rock, minimal funk, horn-driven R&B, gritty blues, reggae, progressive time structures and plenty of improvisation across these six tracks. We employed the horn work of Bryan Brundige (trombone) and Jeff Nania (saxophone), two well know performers in the Capital Region to spice up the funky track “Houdini.” Stay tuned for an album release party in early 2013.

Track Listing for the upcoming self-titled debut album:

1. “Hot Box”
2. “Coming Home”
3. “Paella”
4. “Sueno”
5. “Mister Elixir”
6. “3 Ring Circus”
7. “Houdini” feat. Bryan Brundige and Jeff Nania on horns

Jenni: Is this your first experience in the studio as a band?

F5: Yes, this is the first time we have entered the studio as a band. A few of us have done some assorted studio work but nothing too extensive. We really focused on this album and put a lot of time and thought into it. We can’t wait to get it out there for people to hear.

Jenni: What are some future shows you guys will be playing?

F5: We’ve got some great shows schedule in the next month or two. Friday November 23rd we are at the Bayou in Albany; December 7th we’re at the Monopole in Plattsburgh; December 15th at The Putnam Den in Saratoga with our friends Lucid; January 4th we’re at the Dinosaur BBQ in Troy; January 18th we’re in Buffalo with our good friends Funktional Flow; January 19th we play in Jamestown, NY again w/ Funktional Flow and February 2nd we are in Oneonta at the Black Oak Tavern.

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