Last week, we reviewed The Groove Merchants’ self-titled album. Get to know this Kutztown-based band, and catch the latest news on their musical evolution, with this Q&A with the guys themselves!
First, tell us a bit about the band members’ individual musical backgrounds.
Here are the guys’ own personal bios:
Tye Vallone, Vocals/Rhythm Guitar/Percussion: Music runs in the Vallone family, so it is no great surprise that Tye would eventually find his calling in music as well. Tye Vallone began his musical journey on the drums at age 5, eventually taking lessons under Todd Scheid of the California Drum Shop in Bethlehem. Tye eventually picked up the guitar, following in his father Tom Vallone’s footsteps. Tom led the oldies cover group The Wandells in the Lehigh Valley throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and currently leads and plays in Cover Story and the Front Page Horns which he founded in the late 90s. So, Tye took up the family business forming his first band in high school behind the drums and singing lead vocals as well. It was not until college, however, that Tye really dug into the guitar, even while still playing drums in the KU Jazz Ensembles alongside eventual Groove Merchants drummer Anthony Guidotti. After meeting John Evin Groome and Anthony, Tye formed The Groove Merchants. Once the trio teamed up with Luke Ferracone on lead guitar, the rest all fell into place. Tye draws his influences from legendary guitar players and vocalists alike including Hendrix, SRV, Robert Plant, Freddie King, Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, Van Morrison, Joe Cocker and John Mayer.
Luke Ferracone, Lead Guitar: Luke Ferracone’s interest in music developed at an early age, as he would frequent the West Chester jazz and blues bar Vincent’s to see his father (Glenn Ferracone) perform. Notably, he gravitated toward the music of Johnny DeFrancesco, Philadelphia native guitarist, who lead his own group, The Johnny DeFrancesco Power Trio. Hearing DeFrancesco and his father play gave him inspiration to pick up the instrument himself. Since then he has been growing as a musician, sitting in with his father’s projects, performing with the band The Groove Merchants and collaborating with various other bands and musicians.
John Evin Groome, Bass: John Evin Groome started playing bass guitar when his father inadvertently bought him one as a Christmas present in middle school. Not knowing the difference between bass and guitar, John Evin’s fate was sealed. Taking private lessons led to an interest in the blues and funk music and the emphasis on energetic improvisation that he now brings to the band. John Evin attended Kutztown University for a degree in Electronic Media, where he met and began performing with The Groove Merchants.
Anthony Guidotti, Drums: Anthony Guidotti had an early start in music, beginning violin lessons at age 8 and piano lessons at 10. Eventually, because of a drum set left at his house by a friend of his brother’s, Anthony decided to start getting drum lessons, studying with many area musicians until college. At Kutztown University, Anthony majored in Percussion and studied under Dr. Frank Kumor, Dr. Willis Rapp, Dr. A.J. Merlino, Dr. Kevin Kjos and consistent private lessons from famed New York Jazz drummer Allison Miller. As a musician, Anthony has always been particularly drawn to rhythm, and most of his “drum heroes,” such as Danny Carey, Bill Bruford, Tony Williams and Elvin Jones advocate polyrhythmic and odd-metered approaches to musicality. His aim is to bring new dimension and energy to the instrument to help others think differently, as his heroes have always done for him.
Dylan Hinnershitz, Trumpet: Dylan Hinnershitz fell in love with music at the age of four when the household television broke. It couldn’t be turned off and the channel couldn’t be changed, so VH1 was stuck on. He fell in love with the tone of the trumpet after hearing famous trumpet player Lee Morgan play in dedication to his great teacher Clifford Brown. Dylan studied the Bill Adam trumpet method at Kutztown University under Dr. Kevin Kjos, and has also studied jazz with New York bass player Scott Lee.
What first led to you all getting together as The Groove Merchants?
Well, John Evin Groome (bass) and Tye Vallone (vocals and guitar) met during their freshman year at Kutztown University and formed a duo which later added on Anthony Guidotti, whom Tye met playing in the KU Jazz Ensemble, on drums. The group then added Luke Ferracone on lead guitar after a double booking situation arose with two bands being booked. The only difference between the two was that one included Tye, John, and Anthony, and the other included Luke, John and Anthony. So, we decided to all join forces and form the foundation of The Groove Merchants sound you hear today in the fall of 2012. Now, we’re evolving our sound, and have added Dylan Hinnershitz in trumpet as of the summer of 2015.
Your music is a terrific blend of rock, funk and blues. What artists have most influenced that sound of yours?
We like to take a little bit from everyone. Tye, Anthony, and Dylan have all played in KU’s Jazz Ensembles, while Luke is pretty into African rhythms and John Evin is a big alternative fan (Radiohead, Victor Wooten). But, the constants remain rooted in the blues and funk, like Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, SRV, The Meters, and B.B. King.
You released your self-titled debut album over the summer. Who worked with you guys on the record?
We wrote all the tracks ourselves, and the record was produced, mixed, mastered, and recorded by Luke’s dad Glenn Ferracone at The Music Centre in Exton, PA, which Glenn owns and operates.
“Curtis,” from The Groove Merchants’ self-titled EP.
Talk about the songwriting process; how did these tunes come together?
Our songwriting has evolved a lot since we started playing together. Originally, we would jam on a riff or a hook and then piece together all the other parts. Now, Tye or Luke will come in with pretty much a whole tune prepared, and then the rest of us will add to it and help it grow. But sometimes, we do things off the cuff, and if something’s clicking, we’ll put it together right there at rehearsal or in the studio.
Which moment on the record stands out to you as being “great?”
The whole record overall is something we really take pride in. We feel it serves as a sort of stamp on everything we’ve accomplished thus far, and a great stepping stone off of which we can continue to evolve our sound.
We had the chance to see you open for Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds as SteelStacks not too long ago. How did you land that opening gig?
We actually only booked the gig two days before. The original opener had cancelled, and we were approached by ArtsQuest to fill in. Thankfully for everyone, it ended up working out and became an amazing experience.
We thought you rocked! Aside from us, though, what kind of feedback have you gotten from playing at such a well-known local venue?
All of the feedback was excellent. We sold out of CDs at the show and everyone we talked to, including some of the guys in Sister Sparrow, loved the band – which was a really great response. It can be hard to put your best stuff out there in only a half hour set, so we were glad it went over well.
Do you guys have any upcoming shows planned?
We will be at The Social Lounge in West Chester on Feb 13, The Grape Room in Manayunk on Feb 20, and The Funhouse in Bethlehem on Feb 27 and March 19. Plus, we have a show April 2 at The Nail in Ardmore, and April 9 at The Kennett Flash in Kennett Square, PA. We also hope to be back at the Dogfish Head Brew Pub in Rehoboth, DE soon!
“John the Savage” from The Groove Merchants’ self-titled EP, now with trumpeter Dylan Hinnershitz.
You have a new EP currently in the works. Tell us about the new material, including when we can expect it.
We’re really excited about it. Our main focus right now is writing new material for the EP, and it’s probably the most involved our stuff has been up to this point. We’re really utilizing both guitars and the trumpet. We can’t wait to start laying it down. We hope to have it out by the early summer.
How would you say the band has evolved since the release of the self-titled album, and how can we expect that to show up on the EP?
Probably the biggest evolution or change has been the addition of Dylan on trumpet and the other dimension he brings to the band. We’re really trying to use all of the musical tools we have at our disposal right now, and hopefully this EP captures that.