Vermont Vibes: Three local musical groups talk about life, jamming and what Vermont means to them

The music scene in Vermont is a lot of things. They say it’s eclectic. They say it’s fun. They say it’s unique. But what about the people actually involved in Vermont’s music industry? The musicians themselves. What do they have to say? For them, the music scene in the Green Mountain State is so much more. It’s full of real people playing real music .

 

“I really can’t say enough that it’s so important to follow your heart especially when you’re young and going into college or finished high school,” singer Kat Wright said. “Once those years are gone, they’re gone. It sounds silly, and I’m not a professional singer. I don’t have any training. I didn’t go to music school. I don’t play a musical instrument. I just want to be a singer.  It’s about more than just the music.

“We just recently became ambassadors for a nonprofit 1% For The Planet,” singer Nicole Nelson said. “For us, to be able to give back and think about a cause and just in general think of something that’s larger than ourselves, it’s an important part of what we do,” Dwight Ritcher said. It’s local.

“I just do what I love and people tend to feel like that about me,” said singer Keeghan Nolan “I’ve had a really great fanbase throughout the years that stand by be and come to a lot of my shows. It’s just great to have that local support.” The environment makes the music.

“We lived in a house for two or three years up in the middle of a beautiful lake and mountain setting,” said Ryan Dempsey of his bandmates in Twiddle. “I feel like some of our best music came out of those times. We totally got inspired by the surroundings of what I consider to be the epitome of what beautiful Vermont was found upon. I think the surroundings have a lot to do with the music.”

In this feature, four local musical groups talk about life, jamming and what Vermont means to them.

Twiddle

Twiddle is comprised of lead singer and guitar player Mihali Savoulidis, keys and organ player Ryan Dempsey, percussionist Brook Jordan and bassist Zdenek Gubb. Currently on tour, this Vermont quartet plays multi-genre music mixing jazz, classical, bluegrass and a blend of reggae and funk.

NextUp: How did Twiddle come to be? Where did it all start?

Ryan Dempsey: At Castleton, [Mihali] and I met on orientation day months before school. I happened to see him in class in the fall and we started talking about Phish. Mihali told me he played guitar and I said something like, “So you can play chords and stuff?” Everyone says they play the guitar, so I didn’t know if he was serious or not. But we jammed for the first time in the dorm rooms and started writing music. We met Brook through a pit band in a play and recruited him.

Brook Jordan: They recruited Billy, our old bass player, first. We were both seniors at Rutland. They said they needed a drummer, so they asked me. We went and jammed. The rest was history.

Ryan Dempsey: And then we met Zdenek when we needed a new bass player.

Zdenek Gubb: Mihali sends me a MySpace message and asks for my number saying we should play sometime and I was like ‘awesome!’ I was a fan of the band.

NextUp: How did you come up with the name?

Ryan Dempsey: Dictionary. First we were Jinx, but it was a German punk rock band so we couldn’t do that. We went to the dictionary and saw twiddle. Besides it’s main definition, it also said a fast series of musical notes.

Mihali Savoulidis: It had awesome synonyms. All the words meant the same. Jump. Jigglewiggle. Ramble. Fumble. It was all a bunch of cool words.

NextUp: How would you describe your sound? What were your major influences?

Zdenek Gubb: We all listen to different music, but enjoy similar music so it’s hard to say one influence.

Mihali Savoulidis: I like Ernest Ranglin the guitar player, but we also listen to Phish. And String Cheese I listened to a lot.

Brook Jordan: We like Umphrey’s McGee too.

Ryan Dempsey: I like Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. They’re my favorite band.

Brook Jordan: I’m constantly all over the map. Recently I’ve been really into country twang bluegrass but then I go all over the place. I like pretty much anything. I think we all do.

Ryan Dempsey: The sound of Twiddle is contrived of four individual personalities coming together. Even though we gave you our favorite of each, it doesn’t really matter. We don’t really play our heroes. We’re influenced but the sounds come from different collections of ideas.

Zdenek Gubb: Trying to look at it from an outside perspective, I think there’s a lot of Dave Matthews, Phish, Bela Fleck kind of sounds: jazzy.

Mihali Savoulidis: We don’t like to compare ourselves. There’s multiple influences for different styles of our music. I probably subconsciously write lyrics more like Dave Matthews than I would Phish, but we jam more like Phish. That’s like any band. To create a sound of it’s own, it’s really just a compilation of everybody’s influences. All of our influences are going to be different from this band’s influences which is probably why we sound different.

NextUp: What is your songwriting process like? Do you all contribute?

Ryan Dempsey: Mihali and I started out with the first original songs and now everyone’s contributing.

Mihali Savoulidis: It’s very rare we all write together. Me and Ryan write together and Brook writes songs on the guitar and brings them into the band. Zdenek has written some songs too on his own and kind of pieced them together with the band. It’s usually that one of us has a main concept of a song and it gets tightened up and finalized.

Zdenek Gubb: We kind of get to write our own parts for whoever set up the guidelines for a song.

NextUp: In a place like Vermont, with such diverse music offerings, how do you set yourselves apart?

Mihali Savoulidis: I think we have our own sound and own style of writing. Vermont’s cool and Burlington is the mecca of the music scene. Two bands never really sound alike. There’s not many Vermont bands that are close to our sound.

Zdenek Gubb: Being able to live here in Vermont, it’s closer to the East Coast and important for getting to the markets on the East Coast. With every band, you go through rough times and you think, ‘how are we going to keep doing this?’ It’s hard - it gets really hard. Maybe one thing that might set us apart from some other bands is that we haven’t given up, we keep trying. We are like family. We hate and love each other at the same time.

Brook Jordan: Most people actually say, don’t give up man. We’ve been at this for eight years, so what we are just going to stop now? We are never going to give up.

NextUp: Do you have any particularly memorable shows or jam sessions?

Brook Jordan: Now we’ve been starting to get ridiculous musicians to sit in with us. We had Keller Williams sit in with us at Frendly Gathering. We played a show that was billed as John Popper and Twiddle out in Colorado and that was huge. He sat in on one of our songs and we played three Blues Traveler songs and were his backing band. Mihali even got to sit in with them again on the main stage

Ryan Dempsey: As far as jam sessions, one of my most memorable was in New York. We played one of our songs and when we ended it, we realized that was the whole 45-minute set. It was just a crazy-long, improvisational jam. It was good

Mihali Savoulidis: We’ve just hit this stride in the past few months where the shows we’ve been doing are kind of on the next level in terms of numbers and turnout. They’ve all been really intense and cool for us because it’s new. We’re not used to playing in front of that many people and having such a strong response from our fans. Playing for 1,000 people is a whole new world. All the shows have been pretty cool and special I’d say. It really validates the hard work that you put in and seeing some of the pay off.

NextUp: Did anything about the state of Vermont inspire you to pursue music?

Ryan Dempsey: We lived in a house for two or three years up in the middle of a beautiful lake and mountain setting. I feel like some of our best music came out of those times. We totally got inspired by the surroundings of what I consider to be the epitome of what beautiful Vermont was found upon. I think the surroundings have a lot to do with the music.

Mihali Savoulidis: I came to Vermont to be in a band. I don’t really think I came to Vermont for college. I just followed the footsteps and I think a lot of people do. I think a lot of kids come to Vermont to discover this place because of Phish and then realize how cool it looks. There are a lot of college towns similar to Burlington, but I definitely came to Vermont to find musicians in Vermont. Another thing that’s good about Vermont, is you have so many major markets right in your back door. Especially in Colorado, when you’re trying to tour you have to travel 15 hours to the next major market, but here you can cover the whole place in seven or eight with New York, Boston, Philly all right there. You can really kill the whole East Coast without destroying your pockets

NextUp: Do you have any pre-show traditions or habits?

Brook Jordan: Zdenek and I sometimes do an exercise that I came up with, called grounding. It’s just a breathing exercise and it gets rid of the majority of pre-show anxiety. I’ve talked to musicians who say the anxiety makes you play better, but I like to center my qi.

Zdenek Gubb: Even after I do that grounding, my hands might still be a little shaky, but I can’t have my fingers going crazy

Brook Jordan: It also helps relax your mind too and it’s nice to focus on nothing and forget about all the bullshit you probably should have to deal with. You can just get ready for the show and that’s all that really matters. For most of us, I think that’s our saving grace is that life can be pretty shitty, but on stage all that stuff goes away.

Zdenek Gubb: We hope the same for fans watching the show too. They don’t have to think about everyday bullshit, they can just be there in the moment and enjoy it.

NextUp: What would you suggest to teens interested in making careers out of music or the arts as well? What should be their next steps after high school?

Mihali Savoulidis: Stick with it.

Brook Jordan: It depends what avenue they want to take and how serious they want to get. If you want to be a session musician and a touring musician, maybe go to Nashville or a school like Berkeley. A lot of musicians I knew growing up went to Berkeley, and it’s really expensive so they get what they can out of it. If you want to go find a group of musicians to play with, you don’t necessarily have to go to college.

Ryan Dempsey: I would say it’s not a bad thing to go to college. See how it works for you, and go to music classes. At least it’s someplace that you could potentially find your bandmates.

Zdenek Gubb: Intuition is a real thing and your heart can actually tell the future. It’s hard to explain but has been proven, the biggest thing is really just believing and trusting what you think’s going to work out.

Mihali Savoulidis: The slowest most tedious process is being in a band, but hard work pays off in the end.

Zdenek Gubb: If your gut is saying this is what I want to do with the rest of my life, then you will be able to do it.

Ryan Dempsey: Another big piece of advice for high school kids is about ego. Just leave it out. It’s the number one thing that will cause you to fail so quickly. Be confident. Have confidence, It’s the ego and the person that wants to lead everyone and tell them what to do that’s the problem. You have to let everyone make the sound instead of bossing people around and thinking you’re the best. I think that’s the number one turn off for me.

Zdenek Gubb: If you’re compassionate and considerate, you’ll go a long way in this business.

All: Be humble and patient. Never give up

Zdenek Gubb: Be respectful.

Mihali Savoulidis: You can’t just suck.

Brook Jordan: Have fun with it.

NextUp: What’s next? Do you have any big plans for this year?

Zdenek Gubb: We’re recording a live album on the next four Wednesdays at Nectar’s, a Vermont venue. Hopefully it will be out by Christmas. We would like to be in the studio in January for another album.

Kat Wright & the Indomitable Soul Band

Kat Wright is the lead singer for her big, bluesy, soul band Kat Wright & the Indomitable Soul Band. With a lineup of great New England musicians her music features bass, drums, percussion, guitar, organ, trumpet, trombone and alto sax.

NextUp: Where did it all start?

I actually was living here in Burlington for about six months and my friend Shane Hardiman, who plays keys for my band, and I wanted to start another band and there was a Thursday night spot opening up at Radio Bean. It was a coveted spot because people already knew to come down, dance and have fun Thursday nights. When that spot opened up, we were like OK let’s take this spot. Shane is a jazz musician and he’s been playing here every week for about eight years. He and I started talking and I was like, I want to start a soul band. He really helped me put together the people who are in the band. We had to do it really fast because we didn’t want it to fizzle out with people who would think, ‘Oh no more jazz. We won’t make this our regular stop on Thursday nights.’ We quickly learned a bunch of songs and we originally started off as exclusively playing covers and we did that for seven or eight months. Then the original songs started to creep out. They have been steadily coming out of the group since we started which was about two and a half years ago. It all started here at the Radio Bean and really because this place has such a reputation for being an awesome, intimate and comfortable place to play live music. I don’t think the band could have been born anywhere else.

NextUp: In a place like Vermont, with such diverse music offerings, how do you set yourself apart?

Kat Wright: No one was really playing this type of music on a regular basis in Burlington. There’s a lot of rock n’ roll bands and indie bands, but no one was really doing anything like us and it caught on.

NextUp: How would you describe your sound? What were your major influences?

Kat Wright: Maybe the first thing you notice is the vocals and I have a big, strong voice. It’s definitely reminiscent of classic soul sound - catchy melodies and big horn lines. It’s definitely soul, but what’s cool about the band is that a lot of the different players come from different backgrounds. My drummer, Dan Ryan, is a jazz trained drummer and Shane who plays keys has been playing jazz for 20 years. My bass player, Josh, played in a rock band before he joined me. The horn players play all different kinds of music. My guitar player Bob is a great jazz rock player. It’s soul music really infused with a lot of different elements Soul music does have a lot of dynamic. I think it’s everything from Aretha Franklin to Stevie Wonder to what everyone would think of to more obscure stuff too.

NextUp: Do you have any particularly memorable shows or jam sessions?

Kat Wright: We had a really great performance at the Friendly Gathering in Vermont. It’s a little festival, but they really just did it right. We played on the main stage right before Rubblebucket and it was probably one of our best shows to date. We’ve had a couple opportunities to play on big stages. There is such a big difference. It sounds different. It feels different. There is different energy from the crowd. We were just really excited to play on a big stage. There was an hour in between when the band before us ended and we went on stage, so the crowd left and went to the other stage. We are still getting the word out about our band and we were like ‘hopefully people will come back when we start.’ Sure enough we started and even between the first song and the third song it went from 50 people to several hundred people. It was great and everyone was feeling ... I wish I could think of another word other than friendly, but that’s what it was.

NextUp: Do you have any pre-show traditions or habits?

Kat Wright: For me, I really need some quiet time before and I need to warm up my voice really well. I drink an enormous amount of water and tea always. I get zen about it I guess because I try to be in a really good space when I go on stage. It can be hard sometimes when you find yourself up there. You have to be prepared. If you aren’t ready for people to be listening to you and looking at you, then you can really find yourself squirming and not wanting to be on stage.

NextUp: What would you suggest to teens interested in making careers out of music or the arts as well? What should be their next steps after high school?

Kat Wright: I didn’t study music. I never took singing lessons. No one ever really encouraged me to do this. When I think back to when I was a little kid, I remember being 6, 7, 8 years old and if you asked me what I wanted to be, I always knew in my heart of hearts that I wanted to be a singer. I think I said that for a while and then as I grew up and was in middle school, high school and even college I let the world tell me I couldn’t do that. People don’t even consider that as being something you can do because so few people can actually do something like that successfully or make it. I really did go through many, many years where I totally put it out of my head, and it wasn’t until my early 20’s after I graduated college that I really started wracking my brain for what would make me really happy. I looked around at my peers who just graduated college and everyone wanted to get out of where they were. They were looking for adventure or love or whatever was going to make them feel like they were living the life they wanted to live. I was determined to not get locked into anything that would make me feel that way. I reconnected with myself and asked what would make me really, really happy and it was singing. I really can’t say enough that it’s so important to follow your heart especially when you’re young and going into college or finished high school. You have the rest of your life to worry about money and everything. Once those years are gone, they’re gone. It sounds silly, and I’m not a professional singer. I don’t have any training. I didn’t go to music school. I don’t play a musical instrument. I just want to be a singer. You have to take baby steps. We started playing, singing and traveling around. All of a sudden I’m living here with a really successful band in the state. I remember when I was a kid, I had my little kid tape recorder with the cassette in it and I was in my room, with the door closed by myself practicing singing Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. I would sing the songs and listen back to them and then I would delete them and just sing over and over until I got it right. Looking back, it was just like well obviously that’s what I loved, what I was super passionate about and for whatever reason what made me really happy. It’s just really important to try to notice those things about yourself.

NextUp: What’s next? Do you have any big plans for this year?

Kat Wright: We are really excited because we are just about to put out our first recording. I think it’s going to be our ticket into really awesome opportunities. Seven Days does reader polls and this year, my band was voted Best Unsung Band in Vermont and I was voted Best Up and Coming Performer. It’s really cool. Nobody told anybody. We didn’t campaign for the votes. People could have said anybody and people said us, so we are excited for the album to come out because it will give us exposure and lead to really great things.

Dwight & Nicole

Dwight Ritcher and Nicole Nelson are an American roots act based out of Boston/ NYC and currently living in Burlington, Vt.

NextUp: How did Dwight and Nicole come to be? Where did it all start?

Nicole: I’m from New York and Dwight’s from New Jersey. We both moved to Boston around the same time and started blues groups. We were fans of each other’s groups. I used to go see music all the time and I would see Dwight’s bands open for all the coolest people like Buddy Guy. I used to go see him opening for these guys in the House of Blues and I was floored. He would come to my shows too and he was a fan. We both coincidentally moved from Boston to New York in 2004. We started doing shows in New York together and then we would sit in with each other and our fans were asking for a CD or if we had anything that had us together. So we thought maybe we should record something together. We started recording, singing and doing shows together from 2004 to 2008. We both moved into a studio together where we’re at today. We lived in the house and recorded in the studio for a year or so whenever we could get down there.

Dwight: We recorded with Milt Reder, he owns the studio and actually invited us to come and live with him and his family for a year.

Nicole: It was awesome. We had time to be creative and focus on writing. Then we moved to Burlington. I fell in love with the place. We would come to Burlington and visit and I found myself never wanting to leave and wanting to be there all the time. So as soon as we had the opportunity to move there, we did.

Dwight: To be on the road as much as we are, going to places like Boston and New York, it’s such a recharge to come back to Vermont. We’re lucky to have a really nice group of friends here and when we do get off the road, we get a chance to recharge our batteries and really enjoy the openness and spaciousness of Vermont. You almost can’t put it into words there’s just a thing about it that’s really, really cool. Especially in the summer, there’s so many opportunities to get out and camp and bike.

Nicole: Vermont speaks to who we are as artists, people. I feel like we’re always trying to come into balance and I think we do musically together where we are a man and a woman and we complement each other well. There’s also balance in our lifestyle. It can be a very unhealthy lifestyle, being a traveling musician and being on the road at 3 a.m. tired and hungry. it can lead you down an unhealthy path, but the two of us are both determined and focused to be healthier and living in Vermont is part of that. It makes that possible with our lifestyle. It’s great

NextUp: How would you describe your sound? What were your major influences?

Dwight: We have a lot of soul, a lot of blues, some rock n’ roll, a little bit of country and jazz gospel. We have a very eclectic taste. My grandfather had a big band in the forties and he played piano so that music was around a lot for me as well as Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin. It was a big swatch of interests.

Nicole: I think the most accurate description would be American roots music because we sort of touch on all of it. We both love so much of the classic country music, classic R & B, classic rock music and I think american roots music really does it. We kind of touch on all of that stuff. I think that we are most often categorized as soul or blues because we have soulful songs and voices so it comes across that way. That’s how people categorize us, but we are just as likely to do a Cyndi Lauper cover as Buddy Guy.

NextUp: In a place like Vermont, with such diverse music offerings, how do you set yourselves apart?

Nicole: I think all we do is we are just ourselves. I never think about how we are different than what’s going on. If I’m guilty of anything, then it’s not knowing what else is going on. Our lifestyle is so busy, it takes all of our energy just to move ourselves forward and be creative in our own way. It takes an awful lot of energy too to be myself. I can’t be fully myself and also be watching what other people are doing, comparing, because that takes away my own energy - my own life force. It’s easy for us to stand apart from our peers because we are not trying to stand apart from our peers.

NextUp: Do you have any particularly memorable shows or jam sessions?

Dwight: Oh yeah! Definitely some! We had a great show at the higher ground for the farmers benefit.

Nicole: We just recently became ambassadors for a nonprofit 1% For The Planet. We did a kick off party for their bonanza and it was just beautiful. So many great people came together for a great cause.

Dwight: For us, to be able to give back and think about a cause and just in general think of something that’s larger than ourselves, it’s an important part of what we do. The one percent group was started by the owner of Patagonia. It’s been really great to be able to do what we do and also maybe be able to give back some and consider a bigger picture than ourselves.

Nicole: I think having the cause larger than yourself, it made it all that much more powerful. It was a powerful experience knowing that you were helping people and helping our community and protecting each other and taking care of each other.

Dwight: Vermont is about that too. Vermont has a just great feeling of community and I hope we exemplify that a little bit.

NextUp: What do you do specifically as an ambassador for 1% For The Planet?

Nicole: Spreading awareness. One percent is asking large companies to donate one percent of their sales to One Percent For The Planet to be distributed throughout their network of organizations that support the health of the planet, the environment, the rainforest and so many other companies. It’s really fantastic.

Dwight: One percent really tries to streamline things and I think they raised about 100 million dollars so far.

Nicole: They’re reaching out to creative people in the community because we have a platform where we’re interviewed and in front of thousands of people. We can talk about things that are important.

NextUp: Nicole, can you tell me a little bit about your experience on The Voice?

Nicole: I got a call from someone who was a producer who I had worked with in Boston and he asked me if I would audition. He got an email from a friend of his who was a producer on the show and they were looking for a recommendation, so I said I would think about it because I didn’t know. I’ve been an indie girl for a long time and it means a lot to me to do things myself and to not be involved in a business I don’t feel 100 percent good about. I don’t know how I feel about reality TV. I don’t even own a TV. I’m not trying to seek fame in that way. I went home with it and talked it over with Dwight and Bonnie who works with us and my family. We were about to take on investors and part of our mission as Dwight and Nicole Music is to proliferate, spread and be able to use music as a tool for empowerment - as a bridge for people to connect with us and foster healing and love. If I put my judgements out of the scenario it’s an opportunity for me to sing in front of millions and millions of people that would never hear about us or wouldn’t have any idea of what it means to be an independent artist. So I said I have to do this. As long as I go there and I am completely myself while on camera and I’m honest, then I’m doing the right thing.

Dwight and I were going to do it as a duo, but it couldn’t really happen that way - mostly having to do with the contract. It worked out completely perfectly I wouldn’t change anything about the experience. It was unbelievable. I loved and am still good friends with everyone I met out there. I met so many beautiful, talented artists and working with the NBC crew and producers, who had just the highest level of professionalism and talent, it was inspiring and wonderful.

NextUp: What is your songwriting process like? Do you both contribute?

Nicole: It’s changed a lot through the years. I think that we are both very different as writers, the way we connect to a song. Dwight, maybe because he was an English major, is writing all the time. He writes every day at least a little bit. It’s so inspiring to the amount of output he creates. He’s the architect. I call him that all the time because he comes up with forms and then I’ll come in. When I write a song, I give up on a song before it’s done if in my mind at that moment it isn’t going to be amazing. Then I’ll scrap it instead of putting it away and come back to it like I should. What I do is that occasionally I’ll get struck by the lightening and three hours later I’ll be coming out of some little hole somewhere with a complete song that’s perfect. A couple times a year, I will write a whole entire song that I love. Now what ends up usually happening is that Dwight will have the base of a song and say let’s go work on this and I will come in and do the trim and paint. He has the foundation.

Dwight: What’s nice about the Dwight and Nicole thing is that its really an umbrella for us. We both have very eclectic tastes creatively. So in reference to the songwriting, yeah I can write a song, she can or we can together. Nicole is really good at selecting the songs. A lot of times you get too attracted, connected or repulsed to what you’re writing for yourself so a lot of times she’ll be nice enough and has a great ear to pick the songs that she likes that I’ve written. You get caught up in the whole process, so its nice to have someone else who can be objective.