By Nikki M. Mascali
In just five years, the Kalob Griffin Band went from playing around the Penn State University campus to getting banned from Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia following one of its raucous live shows.
“We got rowdy, I think we let the energy out of the cage too much,” keyboardist John Hildenbrand explained to Highway 81 Revisited last month. “We have to learn how to hone this, but I think that’s what really creates a live show. I’d rather be on that side than be unenergetic.”
Some of the ways KGB is trying to harness its energy in a way that won’t get it expelled from venues is to take the site, time slot, band energy and mindset into consideration.
“Everywhere we go, no matter what, you have to know what you’re going into,” Hildenbrand said. “When we play Philly, it’s our home base, it’s just the way it goes. Like The Dead, we’re never going to tell our fans what to do, we’re going to do our thing and understand there are certain things to abide by, that’s just being professional. The best thing a band can do is learn how to play a room.”
One of the next “rooms” KGB will play is The Pavilion at Montage Mountain as part of the Susquehanna Breakdown festival Saturday, May 10. This is the second time KGB — which also features vocalist/guitarist Kalob Griffin, guitarist Rob Dwyer, drummer Eric Lawry and bassist Jonathan Colvosn — will perform at Montage; its first was during last year’s Peach Music Festival.
“I think festivals are really key to a certain degree of bands that just kind of fit that bill, fit that spreading, live sense of music,” Hildenbrand said. “We bill ourselves as a live act because we’re always switching things up, and a lot of people going to festivals want that on a bigger scale.”
As any live video on the band’s website can attest, KGB members give their all on stage, which feeds into the rabid audience. When it came to recording its new EP “Full Love,” which was recorded by Bill Moriarty (Dr. Dog, Man Man) and mastered by Greg Calbi of Sterling Sound (Bruce Springsteen, The National, Trey Anastasio), it wasn’t hard to harness that live energy in the studio.
“It depends on the song, but No.1, we’re all together trying to create that song,” Hildenbrand said. “That was something we learned with Bill to try to do better, and I think it’s important to capture our sound.”
“Full Love” is slated to be released sometime this month, and Hildenbrand said it was “a blast” working with Moriarty and Calbi during the recording process.
“We did two different sessions with Bill, and he creates an atmosphere of creating the best product and an honest atmosphere. We thrived in it, and we’re really proud of it.”
Hildenbrand, whose father plays guitar and brother plays drums, found music in his mid-teens and taught himself keyboard. “We listened to a lot of Phish and the Grateful Dead, and I bought a poster that had piano chords and used my great memory to be rhythmic and play songs,” he shared.
While his list of influences is long, one musician is set apart. “Page McConnell from Phish. I kind of emulate his approach to music,” he said. “He’s almost taught me everything I know just by listening to his music so much.”
KGB is fiercely proud of its Pennsylvania roots, and Hildenbrand, who grew up near Philadelphia in Chester County, said it’s all got to do with passion.
“I think the history here, the passion everyone has, everyplace you go, there is just an understood passion that Keystone blood runs deep,” he explained. “People know how to work, they love what they do — if you come here, you’re going to get people who look you in the eye and are passionate about what they love. And, it’s a very historical place; the country was born here. I think that’s what I love, it’s just the roots.”