In October, percussion trio Square Peg Round Hole played a show at Boot & Saddle on Broad Street in Philly. I attended and met members of the band after the show, and asked if the band would like to be interviewed for ArtsLine. Square Peg Round Hole describes themselves as as “Percussion-driven instrumental rock/electronic band from Philadelphia.” Consciously connecting with artists and their work is something that I feel is essential for those of us in the arts administration field. Band member Sean Gill answered the following questions, in consultation with bandmates Evan Chapman and Carlos Pacheco-Perez.
Sarah Braverman: I can tell that Square Peg Round Hole prides itself as being a Philadelphia band. How and when did Philly become "home base"?
Sean Gill: We all were finishing up school at Indiana University in 2014 and suddenly had the freedom to be wherever we wanted. We loved the Midwest and had our roots there, but the music scene of the east coast and connections to Philly drew us back out here. We all moved into a house in Manayunk together that summer and dove into the Philly scene. We made so many wonderful friends in amazing bands really quickly. The music is of course great, but it's the people here that make it the most rewarding.
SB: Does Philly, your neighborhood, and/or your neighbors influence your music?
SG: Compared with our former home, Bloomington IN, Philly has created a whole new environment for us. We traded the folk-rock and classical music there for the punk rock, electronic, and experimental scene here, and it shows in our output. Being connected with these local artists has really impacted the way we write, perform, and function as a band. We have learned a lot since moving here, and we have been really fortunate to meet some people that are now some of our closest friends and influences.
SB:What sort of musical training do the three of you have? Did you study classical music?
SG: We all studied percussion performance at Indiana University. Luckily though, that doesn't mean we are all "drummers". We had a pretty huge range of experience over those four years, from orchestra, to Afrocentric music, to working with composers on new music, to preparing our own recitals of mostly contemporary solo percussion music. We somehow balanced all that along with writing our own brand of percussion-based rock music and playing at local bars. It can be overwhelming to have so many influences to draw on, but I think our diversity is one of the key factors that has made our music what it is.
SB: How and when did you first become exposed to percussion? How can we inspire young people to play and study music too?
SG: I think it all starts with an exposure and love for music at a young age when you don't know anything about it, but you're obsessed with it and you just have to be a part of it. Once you get that bug, you don't stop searching and learning. But everyone's path is different. I just wanted to play drums until I joined middle school band. And then the door to that world opened up endless options. Evan started on drum set and quickly became engulfed in the rock & roll/garage band scene where he learned more of his skills. At the same time, he was also learning classical and jazz in middle/high school, and he still draws from both fields in significant ways. Carlos actually started on piano at a young age and shortly after that started percussion in school. One of the most important things for inspiring young people is getting the parents involved. If the parents believe learning music is a beneficial skill, then their kids will be more likely to start and continue music.
SB: At the concert I attended at Boot & Saddle, the house was packed. At one point, the room fell completely silent during your set, rapt with attention, while you played vibraphone, keyboard/synthesizer, and complex rhythms on the drums. I found this amazing, especially because your style of music isn't what I typically engage with when I go out to a show at a bustling bar. What do you think it is about your music that makes people listen?
SG: Those are such exciting moments for us, and we appreciate it so much when crowds are that on-board with what we're doing. I think one thing that we do well is perform with a conviction that brings people along with us. When we want you to move around and party, we get that across. When we want it to be tense and dark, we get that across. When we want quiet reverence, on a good night, we can bring a room of people there with us too. I think that energy kind of captures the listeners’ attention and makes them try to figure out what the heck we are doing.
SB: What type of people or audiences do you reach with your work? Who would you like to reach?
SG: Our most reliable audience has always been drummers and percussionists of any kind! But beyond that, we tend to meet people at our shows that are pretty creative, open-minded people that like their music a little "outside the box." In terms of yet-to-be-reached, we want to play for everybody! There are lots of cities we have yet to see as a band, and we are planning to bring that number down soon.
SB: I read that you have teaching and outreach experience too. Can you talk about those experiences?
SG: We have been really lucky to have the support of some amazing people working in music education, and a few times, that support has even included being brought to share our music with their students. We usually get to work directly with percussion students who are right where we were a few short years ago. It's awesome to take their energy and enthusiasm and open the door to all the crazy stuff we do. We get to see their minds race when they see how to pull together percussion and electronics into something that can easily live in both worlds. As strange as it is, a lot of the people we have met can relate to both and really enjoy combining them.
SB: Do you compose music for people or instruments outside of Square Peg Round Hole?
SG: Actually instead of writing material for others, we have gotten several people to collaborate with us in a number of ways. We've had singers, instrumentalists, dancers, and videographers all contribute to our work, and we've had composers write some cool new stuff just for us as well. It's one of our favorite things to shake up the creative equilibrium that the three of us have by adding a new voice to the mix. But outside of the band, all three of us do compose for a pretty wide variety of instruments both for us individually and for others to perform.
SB: Square Peg Round Hole was connected to FringeArts at one point. When and in what capacity did you work with Fringe?
SG: They do a Friday night concert series in their bar/restaurant space that hosts bands of all kinds and we have been lucky enough to play there twice. The sound there is amazing and the audience is always wonderfully receptive. Also, they request a 2-hour set, so we had the freedom to play some songs we don't usually do live. We even played a few songs from our most recent album, Juniper, for the very first time at those shows.
SB: Are there other arts and cultural organizations in the region that you've worked or collaborated with? Would you like to partner with others?
SG: We recently got to film a really cool video at the Crane Arts building in Fishtown. The place looked great and sounded amazing. Obviously, we love FringeArts and would love working with them again too. We are always looking for cool performance spaces in the area and local artists to collaborate with. (You can check out the Crane Arts video here: https://youtu.be/aV8y90eGIFA)
SB: Is being an artist your full time job? How and when did you achieve that?
SG: We're all currently in the process of figuring out how to make this a sustainable project for us so that we can play and create more. I can't say we've figured it out yet, but we're all about to take the leap and go for it. So expect to see us hustling for content, shows, and merch in the next couple months!
SB: How do you balance your creative/professional life with your personal life?
SG: You can't have an effective creative life without some kind of personal life to draw upon. It takes a lot of work, but we all make sure to afford some time to explore our lives and ourselves. Whether that means blocking off a day to go hike, or sacrificing a night of sleep to see friends, we've learned the value of those experiences. You can't have a full, functional, healthy existence without that balance, and it's very hard to be an effective, genuine artist without it either.
SB: Why do you make music?
SG: It really has just always made sense as what we should be doing. It’s the most fun and gratifying way to spend our time, and we even get to share it with an audience who gets positivity from it as well. It’s both an internal and external force of good.
SB: What's next for Square Peg Round Hole?
SG: We are looking forward to releasing a few smaller things (single, EP, music video) in the near future, and doing some traveling in 2017. We will also be playing Philly a lot more frequently and unveiling some new material at those shows soon. We can't wait to get on stage more and meet people here and on the road!
Square Peg Round Hole is playing a one-time-only performance of their new EP, "Five Years” on Thursday, December 15 at 8:00pm at Crane Arts. Click here for tickets. To learn more about Square Peg Round Hole, visit their website, Facebook page, and Spartan Records.