It’s All a Matter Of Perspective

Photo by Laura Neal

In 1977, NASA launched Voyager 1, the robotic space probe destined to visit Jupiter and Saturn (the largest of planets in our solar system). Thirteen years after its launch, Voyager 1 completed its mission and was now headed out into the far reaches of the solar system. At the request of famed astronomer and NASA advisor, Carl Sagan, Voyager 1 turned around for one last look at home. The subsequent photo that the small probe took was named the “Pale Blue Dot,” showing Earth as a tiny blue speck surrounded by a dark endless vastness. Of all the telescopes and missions all dedicated to exploring outward, this one photo turned the perspective back on us. It showed our little planet in this “great enveloping cosmic dark.” Take a second to think about that and it can change your perspective on a lot of things.

With that in mind, let’s talk about a band… it’s after all what we usually do here at DoS. We look at bands around the capital of one nation, that rests in the corner of that tiny “Pale Blue Dot.” Some bands are inspired by Dylan or Morrissey, or sunsets or baby smiles, or whatever. But this is a different story–a story of a band that is inspired by the likes of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. They’re three friends who’ve known each other for almost 15 years and they call themselves The Very Small. “The name ‘the Very Small’ is a tribute to the idea of keeping things in perspective-from the world of the very large (nebulae and galaxies light years across) to the very small (the quarks, leptons, and fundamental forces that act as a foundation for existence)… understanding how precious and beautiful all of this really is,” says bassist Will McHenry.

So what sort of music does a band make when you’re inspired by scientists, astronomers and astrophysicists? Funky, toe-tapping, infectious rock music–that’s what. It’s what all the nerds dance to. These guys have been doing it for some time and have been playing together in some form or another since middle school. Jazz bands (!), pit orchestras, marching bands, choirs and school productions–you name it, they’ve played together in it. Will is joined by percussionist Aaron Mann and vocalist/guitarist Robin Smith. The three of them have been playing together in so many environments that when The Very Small started to take shape, their sound took a little longer to develop. Aaron’s take, “It’s definitely been a challenge sometimes to identify our own distinct sound… We didn’t create the band with any particular sound in mind, other than the vague ‘rock music with funk and indie influence’. At this point though, we’ve started to figure out how we want to sound and started to develop our own style. I think this will definitely come through on our next release. This first album was more just getting out the material we had generated as we really became a band.”

That first self-titled, self-released album came out last year and is not too shabby of a starting place. There’s funk found in the opening tracks, “Don’t” and “Guardians”–think Incubus in the S.C.I.E.N.C.E. days. On the other end of the spectrum is “In America,” a piano driven song that shows versatility. There are also two songs that are either partially or completely written in Spanish–”Ánimo” and “Uno Día”–inspired by time Aaron spent in Spain and Argentina. “Ánimo” is one of their standout tracks, a song about dancing with a sexy girl, full of “flamenco-esque” stylings like the trumpet and hand claps–a showcase for some of their innovative thinking.

This band is just full of surprises and tricks hidden up their collective sleeves. Their Web presence is another angle from which they attack. They have recently started releasing what they’re dubbing as “TVS Sketches,” which range from unreleased songs/covers to promo and practice videos. Their films are actually quite entertaining and sometimes quite hilarious. Will on the TVS Sketches: “Our original idea was to create some kind of ‘thing’ that gives fans new content to keep/increase interest without wearing them out… Often we find that people who are fans of our music also share other common interests – so being able to relate on that extra level makes our relationship with them much more special. The ability to be ourselves, to be ‘undressed’ (sometimes literally) in front of our audience is much more honest, comfortable and attractive-to us and our fans.”

The idea of keeping things in perspective is in the background of everything The Very Small does, from the big to the mundane. It’s clear that that they love what they do and that shines through in the funk rock that they make, but they don’t take themselves too seriously at the same time. In fact, they’re one of the more exciting, fun bands we’ve seen in DC for some time. They always seem to remember they’re just a group of guys doing what they love on that “Pale Blue Dot” Voyager 1 looked at from 4 billion miles away. Will explains, “Carl Sagan said something along the lines of, ‘If you encounter a human being, let her live–for in billions of light years in any direction you’ll never find another creature quite like her.’ I love that. All of this is so much more beautiful than we could possibly comprehend, and I’m honored to be able to experience this…take that, emo.”

The Very Small bring their energy to Jammin’ Java on March 30th for a breast cancer benefit and then The Rock and Roll Hotel on April 23rd. Visit them here: http://blog.theverysmall.com/

The Very Small
Funk Rock

03.22.10
Featured, Reviews
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