The walls of the large, low-ceilinged practice space at the Bomb Shelter are covered in a mishmash of gray carpet squares, bright posters and phallic doodles drawn in colored Sharpie. A friendly black dog is curled up on the cushions of a beat-up beige loveseat and an open bag of Skittles sits on a small, scarred coffee table.
As the six members of local band Actual Depiction get ready to run through some of their new songs, the diverse group of 25- to 30-somethings naturally fall into their places: Guitarists Jess Grunder and Don Morris stand across the room from each other; bassist Darcy Erickson has her back to a stack of speakers; turntablist/keyboardist--he describes himself as a "tech"--Chad Lopez and drummer Ken Richmond form a two-person row, each man behind his respective equipment; and vocalist Brian "Murdoc" Gordon sits on a stool at what could be considered both the starting and ending point of the circle. They're getting ready to rehearse their tightly knit reggae-influenced mix of rock and hip-hop that ticks along as perfectly as a well-made timepiece.
In the spring of 2008, Actual Depiction was born in an apartment Lopez and Richmond shared. Morris and Lopez worked together, and the story is that Lopez was constantly "hounding" Morris to jam. With the inclusion of Gordon, Grunder and a former bass player (Erickson replaced the original bassist several months ago) Actual Depiction came to be. In the three years since, the band has put out two albums--they released Peachfish late last year--and they're headed into the studio to work on a third as part of a first-place win at the Knitting Factory's recent battle of the bands.
But they almost didn't even perform at the Knitting Factory: An ex purportedly tried to sabotage the gig.
"It was a sweet victory," Erickson says, especially after a slew of previous battles in which Actual Depiction watched other bands walk away with the prizes.
This win was well-deserved. Actual Depiction seems like a basic rock jam band at first, but they have a few distinct advantages. For example, Lopez, who is ensconced behind a huge silver stand that holds a turntable, a laptop, a board of sliders and a keyboard (which he taught himself to play only recently), is an industrious guy. He doesn't let being tied to the boards keep him from exerting as much energy as a stage might allow. He is constantly pumping his fist in the air and encouraging the audience to join him, whether the six members are packed onto the small stage at Tom Grainey's or the slightly larger one at Liquid or the comparably vast space of the Knitting Factory stage. What Lopez also brings to the table is a hip-hop flavor that spins what would otherwise be typical crunchy rock into more Kid Rock. Erickson said the band likes to describe the music as what it would sound like if Incubus and Sublime had a baby. That's a good, albeit obvious comparison. Actual Depiction regularly covers Sublime's "What I Got" and Gordon freely admits to an admiration for Incubus' Brandon Boyd.
And that Brandon Boydishness is another bonus in the band's wheelhouse. Gordon sings with his whole body: eyes closed, long limbs alternately tense and roving. He has impressive vocal control, ranging from a throaty hum to a subjugated scream. And while he may look to the Incubus frontman for style, lyrically, he and the rest of the band look inward for inspiration and all contribute to the songwriting process. While that kind of democracy sounds great in theory, it seldom works--except maybe in this case.
"I like to draw pictures," Gordon says. "I want to tell a story, I want to draw a picture with the words ... Jess writes more straightforward lyrics." Straightforward is an understatement. One of Grunder's most notable contributions is the song "Go Down," a rocking story of a man who isn't getting as much oral sex from his girlfriend as he wants.
"I wasn't," Grunder confirms. "I was thinking about it a lot, so I wrote a song about it."
As long as he feels the song fits his voice, Gordon is happy to sing whatever his bandmates bring to him. They're also happy to let him rearrange a song or add lyrics to suit his tastes and abilities.
With a melancholic intensity settling on his face. Gordon says his own lyrics are all about relationships. There's a longtime one that ended badly on Valentine's Day. There's one with marijuana. In "Hello" he sings: "Exploding volcanoes fill the room / my head heats up like a hot air balloon. Good thing we didn't clean up this thing / a permanent staple from which I can't refrain / Hello, my old familiar friend / It's good to see you again."
With each performance, something new comes through, even from the least showy of the members. Morris has a wicked sense of humor and when the conservative-looking Richmond stripped his shirt off in the humid rehearsal room, he revealed an arm covered in tattoos. Even Erickson, who seems shy and is generally hidden--or hiding--behind one of her bandmates, often reveals another side.
"I like being in the pocket," said Erickson, who played in local bands Sub*Vert, Inepogy and Rizing Rezistance prior. That appears to be true as she plucks at the bass. She responds to the music, but her movements are economic unless she has some room to move--or if she's encouraged to play center stage, like at a recent show. An audience member kept yelling, "Bring the girl up front. Bring the girl up front."
Erickson did move up, let the fan back up and stand tucked in between her and her bass and she played a whole song that way.
"She adds flavor [to the band]," Morris said.