Joe Andreoli and Ken Topham both grew up here--Agawam and Ludlow, respectively--but it wasn't until both moved to New Hampshire that they began collaborating musically. The duo now rocks as Giraffes? Giraffes! and, after a couple of years on the West Coast, are back where they began: in Western Mass.
The two joined forces in Keene in 2003. "We both had other bands, but we wanted to pursue this different sort of stuff," says Andreoli. "We really lucked out, meeting each other."
That different sort of stuff turned out to be a powerful, almost otherworldly amalgamation of sound, energy and precision.
"I think the initial concept was to start a music project that was physically and mentally challenging for us to play, but still fun and approachable," says Topham.
"Yeah, totally," Andreoli adds. "At first, it was like, 'Let's strip all of the music down to get to the core of melody and rhythm.' You know, like really boil it down. Then slowly, as years go on, we've added more and more to that original skeleton of an idea. Now, we're still a duo, but I incorporate lots of live looping, effect pedals, and a synthesizer to really thicken things up and have a lot more texture. And Ken's always bumping up his kit with more stuff too: cymbals, strange bells, shakers, and stuff like that."
Both musicians cite a particular element as key to their intricate and calibrated compositions: coffee.
"Coffee is definitely the third member of our band," explains Andreoli. "It's like our George Martin. As far as songwriting goes, I used to write most of the song at home and then we'd work on it. Now, though, I come to practice with things that are more like ideas and concepts and then we assemble them together. We actually 'jam-wrote' some of the portions of the songs that'll be on our upcoming album, which is a first for us."
Topham concurs. "The magic element for this band is and has always been coffee. Most of the time my parts are determined by Joe's parts. He comes to rehearsal with a big bag of tricks and I try to make sense of them. He brings the meat and I bring the bones. I write the drum parts, which become the skeletons for Joe to stick his meaty riffs to. From there we just guide the songs and allow them to evolve, adding a little here, shaving a little there.
"But really it's the coffee."
Andreoli and Topham list some of the benefits and challenges of a two-man band. "With there being only two of us, it is much easier to communicate and coordinate," says Topham. "We have much more freedom to experiment and improvise and play with each other. There is always a direct conversation happening between us. Either of us can play as much or as little as we choose and the effect of either choice will be immediately noticeable to the other person and to the listener."
"In a duo, making the music we like to make, you really have to work at it," Andreoli adds. "There really isn't anything to hide behind, so you have to be engaged and on your toes to play well. We like the pressure of it though, the whole multi-tasking danger of it. It's also easier to tour, because it's just the two of us and our stuff in a van."
Giraffes? Giraffes! play The Elevens in Northampton Feb. 12 with Outer Stylie, Blue Star Burns Red, and The Shape. Visit www.giraffesgiraffes.com.