In Conversation with Le Grüv
In Conversation with Le Grüv
These two young musicians are changing what we expect from a
live music performance, and music overall. We talk to them about their creative process,
how they collaborate and their thoughts on music.
Le Grüv mid-performance
Music, like all art, is hard to encapsulate. There is such a wide range of what you can do musically, that it’s nearly impossible to categorize music in a way that is strictly objective. That’s the beauty of it; there’s music for everyone. One aspect of music that has always baffled and impressed me is the improvisational side of it. In this respect, one of the most interesting musical projects I’ve come across lately is that of Le Grüv. Le Grüv is made up of two extremely talented musicians: Gianni Cavagliano (@giannicavagliano) and Felipe Cordero (@felocordero), and their forte is undoubtedly the improvisational aspect of their act.
With Le Grüv, Gianni and Felipe have managed to build a performance based almost entirely on their synergy as musicians. While their performances may seem meticulously planned, you’d be surprised to know that the basis of their act lies on improvisation. As musicians, Felipe and Gianni have developed a subtle balance between order and chaos, creating a one-of-a-kind musical experience that shatters what one would expect from a band. Their performances are melodical and simple, yet they are also extremely complicated and elaborated. Every second of their performance is based on what they are feeling in that precise moment, which in turn means that every performance is unique and curated strictly for the mood and vibe of wherever they are playing. The “Le Grüv experience” leads their audience to immerse themselves, as their music isn’t strictly a performance; it’s part of the environment in which they are performing.
It is refreshing to see how far two young musicians can stretch what we know as music, and it’s a wonderful experience to witness these two in action. Their groove, their attention to detail and their on-point melodies definitely set these two apart from other musical acts I’ve had the pleasure to see live. Seeing them play keeps you on your toes, as you never know what’s going to happen in the next few seconds, and this makes their audience feel as though they’re part of the performance instead of mere spectators. This is where the magic of Le Grüv lies; in the fact that they have managed to make music an even more universal experience than it already is. Gianni and Felipe have found the magic formula for making their audience feel like they’re not there just to witness an act, and this has led them to become one of the most interesting musical acts in the contemporary music scene in the Dominican Republic.
We’re very excited to say that we had a chance to talk to both Felipe and Gianni about their project, in which we touched on their creative process, their methods for improvisation and live performance, and their thoughts on creativity and music overall. This is what they had to say:
First of all, I’d like to talk about Le Grüv and your collaborative endeavors. How long have you guys been playing together and how did you start? Also, how did the idea to start a collaborative project come to be? How did you decide to start performing together instead of just getting together casually to play?
GC: We met somewhere around 2010. We had a lot of friends in common and moved in some of the same circles, but we didn’t start playing together up until 2013-2014. It all happened very organically. Neither of us were looking to be a part of the professional music scene. We just wanted to hang out, make music, and have a good time. Fast forward 4-5 years and we have maintained a very close relationship, inspiring each other, sharing music and artists we like, and exploring new and interesting musical ideas. In these past years we have had so much positive feedback and encouragement from our closest friends and sometimes people we don’t even know. We have met amazing artists and musicians that have made us feel like we are part of something greater. Eventually we saw ourselves surrounded by like-minded people who thought that what we were doing was something special, and that it had to be captured for other people to enjoy.
“we have maintained a very close relationship, inspiring each other, sharing music and artists we like, and exploring new and interesting musical ideas.”
FC: We've been playing together for about 4 years now, although we've known each other a little longer. Ironically, we lost touch after I moved out of the city but our parents became friends and we sort of reconnected. I honestly don't know or can't recall the exact moment we decided to actually start recording but I can tell you it’s been the best decision I’ve made so far.
Le Grüv mid-performance
Something that I feel makes you stand out among other musicians is the improvisational aspect of your music. Could you expand a little on how improvisation plays a part of both your performance and your overall attitude towards music?
GC: From the very beginning improvisation was something very important to the both of us. To us improvisation is where the real magic happens. When you are completely unencumbered and loose. When you are not thinking, but feeling. I also feel that improvisation is something that is somewhat lost in popular music. Everything is so fixed and rigid. Music to me is a reflection of life. Ups and downs. Lefts and rights. Orderly chaos. For us it was only natural. We were already doing it, but now we are doing it in front of a crowd.
“To us improvisation is where the real magic happens. When you are completely unencumbered and loose. When you are not thinking, but feeling.“
FC: Improvisation is probably the biggest and most important aspect of our music. It powers most, if not all of our tracks. I guess it stems from the way we approach a new project: we sort of let the feeling take over and try to lay down the groundwork for the track, like a drum beat and a bass line, and then go from there.
I feel that over the course of the years, people have come to expect Dominican musicians to have a certain pre-established sound. In my opinion, Le Grüv has shattered these expectations by developing a style that is not what one would typically consider a “Dominican” sound. When you first started playing together, did you already have an idea (genre-wise) of what you wanted to play? Or did your style surface organically just based on the kind of music you are both into?
GC: Over the past 4-5 years we have gotten to know each other very well. From the beginning we had very similar musical tastes. I guess just playing together so much, listening to the same artists, hanging out with the same crowds, being a part of the same scene. In the end our style will always be a reflection of our influences (blues, rock, funk, jazz, rnb, gospel, techno, dance, latin, hip hop, trap, etc) and what we feel like in the moment. But it is also really important to not close yourself off to anything. Music is everywhere and it comes in many shapes and sizes. Keeping an open mind is key. But most important is not to do anything for anyone other than yourself. What we want is to make music that WE enjoy, and hopefully others will be able to see themselves in what we do and connect with our music.
“Keeping an open mind is key. But most important is not to do anything for anyone other than yourself.”
FC: I never thought about labeling our sound, at least not genre-wise. It just boils over and whatever mood we are both in, translates into the music we are making at that particular moment. It helps that we have very similar taste in music.
Felipe Cordero on the keys
Something that I’ve tried exploring in these interviews is the concept of collaboration. With you, I feel that collaboration is especially important as you are both an invaluable part of the overall product of Le Grüv. I was wondering, what role does each of you play in the music? I know each of you plays different instruments and hence fulfills different needs within the band, but I’m more intrigued to see if each instrument plays a different, specific part in the final product of your collaboration, as well as if you guys each have a specific “creative” role within it or if the entire project is a purely collaborative thing.
GC: Great question. Collaboration can be very tricky. Two minds do think better than one, but they have to be on the same page. For us, we obviously play different instruments that play different roles in the music. Nevertheless, the process is almost always the same: Any one of us can propose an idea, a melody, a chord change, a drum loop, a musical concept to act as a springboard, etc. Anything goes really. When we have an idea we like we usually jam on it for a while until the groove and feel are down. The great thing about this partnership is that we both know enough music theory to communicate and deliver whatever it is we are thinking about. And since improv is so important to us we see that both of us can get a place in the song where we can let go and express ourselves.
“It makes it easier to create new, fresh sounds when we have that creative freedom and don't limit ourselves to certain roles.”
FC: Our approach is not as methodical as one would think. The fact that we can both play different instruments allows us to tune in and out of certain mental spaces, depending on what we want to add to a track. Say for example, on one track, Gianni can lay down a bass line and some rhythm guitars, and for the next one he'll do lead guitars and melody while I play the bass on the keys. It makes it easier to create new, fresh sounds when we have that creative freedom and don't limit ourselves to certain roles.
In regard to the Dominican music scene, I’ve noted that in the last few years a number of up-and-coming bands have begun experimenting with what Dominican music can be. When I’ve spoken about this to other people, I always seem to get one of two different opinions. There are people who are happy to see that Dominican music is no longer being held back by the genres that are typically associated with the culture. On the other hand, there are people who believe that this departure from the typical “Dominican sound” is a sort of cultural betrayal to the country. What do you guys personally think of this expanding of what it means to be a Dominican musician?
Gianni Cavagliano on guitar
Gianni Cavagliano on guitar
GC: I feel like no one is obliged to sound any way in particular, no matter where they come from. Music is HUMAN. And now more than ever, music and culture are GLOBAL. I have a great respect for traditional musicians who keep alive the genres of music that set the foundation for new styles. I also have immense respect for the people who take things here and there, and mix them up to birth something new, something spontaneous and interesting. This is the nature of humans. To change. To evolve. Like I said previously, our style simply came to be from what we liked and who we hanged out with. What makes it so special is precisely the fact that it is not one thing or the other. It’s not really funk, but not really reggae, not really techno, but not really Pop. You can’t put your finger on it. It is its own new thing. And to anyone out there who is making music, or thinking about it, remember; your music is special. It is one of a kind, and no one can take that away from you.
“we must continue to push the issue and find a new "normal" for Dominican music without shunning those historical sounds that made us.”
FC: I think the word betrayal is a very strong word in this context. I feel like, musicians shouldn't limit their sounds to what surrounds them, especially in this day and age where we can find inspiration from anywhere in the world and instantly use it to our convenience. If anything, we must continue to push the issue and find a new "normal" for Dominican music without shunning those historical sounds that made us.
One issue with being a musician based in the Dominican Republic is that there isn’t really a lot of exposure available in the worldwide music scene. In your opinion, what do you think is necessary in order for a Dominican musician to develop a more global fanbase? Do you believe it is at all possible to gain global exposure while living in the DR?
GC: I think that now is the greatest time to be a musician. The digital age has come to revolutionize the music industry. With all the amazing platforms out there it is way easier for an up and coming musician to be heard. I think that if you are doing something you enjoy with all your heart you are half way there. You can’t make people like your stuff. Either they like it or they don’t. All you can do is put it out there. Put everything you’ve got into creating something that makes you proud. Something that you want to share. Eventually, you will be heard, and if it’s good enough to connect with people, you will slowly but surely create your fan base. But to answer your question, yes I think it is posible to gain global exposure whilst living in the DR.
“You can’t make people like your stuff. Either they like it or they don’t. All you can do is put it out there. Put everything you’ve got into creating something that makes you proud.”
FC: It’s all about the work you put in. Nowadays, finding exposure is probably the easiest it’s ever been before, with so many different platforms to expose your work, all you have to do is find YOUR sound and keep chipping away at it until you have a polished product that people enjoy. Whether that’s 100 people or 100,000 is up to the work you put in.
The guys; in the zone
Whenever I see you guys perform, I’m always surprised by how easily you seem to be able to play in unison. I know it may sound a little cliché, but it almost feels as if you guys become one when you play together. When you are playing, is it easy to get in the “groove” (haha, no pun intended), or is it a more conscious effort to play in unison and still sound natural?
GC: Just like with any other skill, the secret is PRACTICE. Like I said, we have been playing together for quite a while now. We know each other’s capabilities and we feel comfortable. Making mistakes is ok. Usually when we put together a live set we jam it out several times to internalize it. The objective is not to memorize what you are playing, but rather get the overall mood and tone down. Each time is different, but the more we play it the better we are at noticing little things that we like, or finding a new way of playing something. With consistent practice, long jam sessions, and having a common musical taste, we have developed great chemistry.
“The objective is not to memorize what you are playing, but rather get the overall mood and tone down.”
FC: I feel like it just clicks, you know? Be it playing for some friends on a weekend trip or a gig at a club, we always know what to expect from one another. I guess you could say that chemistry is a product of repetition and in this case, it really is. We've probably put in thousands of hours jamming together and with other musicians as well, so I feel we have a pretty broad understanding of each other's abilities.
Many artists struggle with a creative block at some point or another, and the ways they deal with this varies from one person to another. I’ve always wondered how this “block” works in an improvisational performance, or if it ever even happens at all. When you are performing, do you ever reach a point where you don’t know where to go next? If it does happen, how do you deal with it?
GC: Hahaha great question. Honestly when playing live, the sheer adrenaline of thinking that I could screw up in front of a bunch of people keeps my brain juices flowing. For me, the creative block doesn’t really come when playing live. The block for me comes during the creation stage when, for example, you have made 10 beats and they all sort of sound the same and you want to get out fo that vicious circle. Or maybe the chords are the same or the instruments we are using are the same. Maybe I want to start a new project but don’t know where to start. That’s where the block is at its worst for me. Luckily there are a bunch of cool triggers that I use to get into that flow state and start creating. Personally I like to do things in a very orderly fashion. I always like to start with the drums because they give me a clear direction and make me commit to my initial idea. I also like to stack as much layers of sound as I can. It is important to keep the ideas pouring out. When you stop, the energy and intention that you were carrying fades away, and it’s like starting over. Obviously, listening to new music is BIG. Finding artists that you like and analyzing what they are doing and how they are doing it. And lastly, maybe learning something new, theory wise or technique wise. That’s the great thing about music. There is no roof. There is always something else you can learn and apply. This has to be the best tool to break the creative block in my opinion.
“Think of it as a toolbox where we can find those hooks or a bridge or even a melody we came up with years ago that works well with whatever we're playing.”
FC: What makes improv work for us is that we avoid those blocks by going to musical motifs that we're familiar with. Think of it as a toolbox where we can find those hooks or a bridge or even a melody we came up with years ago that works well with whatever we're playing. During a show, this translates into a little breakdown where we slow the pace down and let our brains refresh so we can reach into that toolbox and pull out whatever we need at that moment to keep the performance going.
Improvisation in the works
Finally, is there any artist, from any medium, that you feel everyone should know? If so, who would that be and why?
GC: That’s a tough one. Talent is abundant on Planet Earth. Maybe my top 5 right now in no particular order: The Free Nationals, Vulfpeck, Men I Trust, Jacob Collier, Marvin Gaye. Any one of these bands or artists will surely blow your mind to mars. There are many many more but I’ve been listening to these almost religiously these past few weeks. Something that all of these have in common (even though they are different genres) is that the music is easy to relate to. It is music with great character and energy. Usually the groove is strong in the music I like (I am very bass oriented) and all of them keep true to the groove. So if you don’t know these cats, please check them out. These are some of the most talented musicians on the planet.
FC: That’s a great question with so many great answers, yikes... Umm, at the risk of sounding ignorant, for I know very little of art, I’d say there's one Dominican painter we know too little about. Dario Suro was a master of the arts, having studied under Diego Rivera and the great Frida Kahlo, he's probably THE MOST underrated Dominican painter to have lived. Get acquainted with his work and i guarantee you'll find at least one that will absolutely fascinate you.
We’d like to give a special thanks to both Gianni and Felipe for allowing us to interview them and ask them about their project. For more info on Le Grüv, you can check out their Instagram @legroovygruv and follow for updates on their journey both as musicians and up-and-coming creatives.