The Groves: Building a farm-fresh Southern rock empire
(All this week, we’re spotlighting tbt*’s 2012 Ultimate Local Artists on Soundcheck. Today: The Groves.)
It all starts with the land.
Arrowhead Farm is 40 acres of pastoral Florida farmland on the outskirts of Carrollwood, not far from the mansions of Avila Golf and Country Club. It’s been in Lane Smith’s family since 1911, when there was nothing there but palm trees and scrub.
This is where the Groves came to be. It’s where they write, where they play, where they wakeboard, rock-climb, build bonfires and hang with all their friends. It’s where drummer Smith and his father built their own bar from recycled wood and tin, and where the Groves are building their own mini music empire, complete with a recording studio and permanent outdoor stage.
“To have 40 acres is one thing,” said guitarist Travis Bourguignon, “but then for them to do all the things that they do, and we’re able to all do it together and be a family about it, that’s the most important thing. It’s just a big ol’ playground, and if we can dream it, we can do it.”
Since forming two and a half years ago, the southern alt-rock foursome have made plenty of waves in the local music scene. In March, the Groves played the main stage of the inaugural Gasparilla Music Festival in Curtis Hixon Park — which was great, they say, but then again, how could it compare to “Reelfest,” the Groves’ own private festival, which drew 1,200 people to Arrowhead Farm in April 2010?
It’s tough to quantify just how much this land means to the band. Smith grew up there, and his cousin, Groves bassist Jana Jones, also spent time there as a child. Bourguignon and singer-guitarist Justin Brown are high school friends who also hung out with Smith; they later formed a garage band of their own.
The four members draw from disparate influences — southern rock (Brown), jammy pop (Bourguignon), metal (Smith) and bluegrass (Jones) — that came together on the Groves’ debut album, In Season. Most of their songs have stemmed from free-floating ideas that all four members flesh out in democratic jam sessions in a barn at Arrowhead Farm, which they’re working on converting to a recording studio by this summer. They hope it will help the band flesh out a signature sound — think My Morning Jacket recording in a grain silo, or Bon Iver laying down tracks in a cabin in the wilds of Wisconsin.
In talking about their music and goals, the Groves talk freely about the foundation they’ve built so far. They describe their music, and the process of creating it, as “organic” and “hand-built,” and maintain that the Smith family farmland influences their music more than anything else.
“The environment definitely molds the music,” Smith said. “If the four of us were downtown recording in a studio or something, it could be a lot more electronic-based.”
“His family has been on this dirt for 100 years,” Bourguignon said. “All of the things that his family has built by hand, all that energy that has been put into the soil, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re able to tap into that. ... The vibe is here for us because we know the story, we believe in it, we love it, we protect it, we provide for it. It provides for us.”
The group aims to play more shows out of town in 2012 and 2013, but they’re not in a great hurry to get signed. And why would they be? With their own studio, stage and 40-acre private playground, it sounds like they’re already living every band’s dream.
“When we get to that point where we’re attracting labels, and there’s good offers coming to the table, we’ll have proof that we have the formula,” Brown said. “They can’t really alter what we do.”
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo/video: Octavio Jones, tbt*