The couples and small groups seated at the SoNo Brewhouse last Friday were drinking and leaning across the tables, chatting softly as Raisinhill opened. By the second jazzy number, the three-piece group had dropped another few notches, really oozing into a quiet instrumental song that might have acted as a strong narcotic a few hours later in the evening. By song three, Jay Bond’s drum hits had grown more assertive, landing sharp and hard, guitarist John Kasiewicz alternated between a light wistful line and a solid digging progression and Brian Anderson, the bassist, leaned into his instrument, plucking at the strings like he was trying to pull out hard-fought answers. With the tempo up and the sound expanding in complexity, Kasiewicz held the long end of a high warbled note so present that the drinkers had no choice but to lower their glasses, abandon their conversations and pay attention.
Together for less than a year, Raisinhill has a penchant for no-holds-barred playing. It’s Raisinhill’s unpredictability that jars the crowd during original numbers like “The Ridge,” a piece that moves with the fluidity and effortlessness of a skater across ice. There’s subtlety in the number, and moments of joy–it literally lifts up and nearly visibly takes shape.
On “Maker’s March,” Anderson pushes and pulls a bow across his upright bass, making dark rough sounds reminiscent of early Primus, Bond’s drums roll underneath as Kasiewicz jumps on top of the melody, the three synching together with the urgency and anticipation of a midnight train.
Bond stumbled across his bandmates at one of the Acoustic Cafe’s packed-and-spilling-into-the-street Tuesday night open mics. The first time, Bond says, he watched them reinvent tunes by jazz guitarist Bill Frisell. The second week, they played (and sang) an Edie Brickell and a Tom Waits tune. The band-seeking drummer was sold. After introducing himself to the duo, Bond realized he’d met the bassist earlier while living in New Orleans and playing drums in a “monster funk ensemble” called Afro Skull. As fate would have it, Kasiewicz had his own run-in with Afro Skull, sans Jay, while playing in an indie pop-rock band called Mannix who opened for the heavy funk group.
It wasn’t long after joining forces that the three stopped covering obscure hits and started penning their own. Raisinhill became regular faces on the cafe’s open mic stage, trying out two new numbers a week on what would become their most devoted fans.
The band’s name came about as a kind of game, the three sitting around writing down combinations of unrelated words. When Kasiewicz offered “raisin,” “hill” and “park,” they shortened it to Raisinhill.
“It wasn’t until later people said to us ‘It’s cool, it sounds like ‘raising hell,’ ” says Anderson. “We didn’t want it to sound like anything.”
Before this band, Kasiewicz says he also used to work in a record store and started thinking about where bands were placed alphabetically in the stacks.
“What band would you be placed next to?” he said. “Maybe that band is more popular, and your CD is slipped in there, and they run into your CDs.”
If the group lands in a record store any time soon, they figure they’ll fall right next to Radiohead, a band they speak of with reverence.
While the Connecticut Post, to the band’s dismay, mistakenly referred to the budding group as “a Deep Banana Blackout offshoot,” in fact, Raisinhill shares more of Radiohead’s aesthetics. They may sound nothing like Thom York’s tortured sound waves, but also like Radiohead, they sound nothing like anybody else. As such, they’re a natural fit for the summer festival circuit. While at Goddard College in Vermont, Kasiewicz studied guitar with the most famed teacher of jamband legend, Ernie Stires, an atonal composer who schooled Trey Anastasio, formerly of Phish, and Jamie Masefield, mandolin experimenter in the Jazz Mandolin Project.
With nothing more than a four-song demo recorded at Blue Parrot Studios in Monroe over a single afternoon after only two months of playing together, Raisinhill has impressed their way into a slew of big jamband gatherings. While it contains the nuances and memorable hooks that find people humming bars after their sets, Bond says the early CD is outdated and “every song sounds completely different now.”
Though it represents a fledgling effort, that demo brought the group to Scottypaluza in Venice, N.Y., where they’ve been invited back next year, and The Summer Solstice Hemp Happening in Cherrytree, PA. In the coming months, they’ll be featured at The OUR Festival in Pennsylvania and the Evolve Festival in Nova Scotia along with such rising acts as The Slip and DJ Kid Koala.
The trio has tailored their breakthrough around such festivals, where they can play for thousands of people who share an appreciation for new sounds.
Rather than slaving over a CD in a studio and designing a flashier press kit, Raisinhill keeps their touring schedule tight and broad enough to cement their name in fans’ minds, perfecting their blistering originals in live settings and recording as they go. When they do release a full-length, they’ll choose the choicest cuts from these sessions and, if the songs are anything like those they played at the Brewhouse, they’ll come complete with enthusiastic bursts of whistling, cheering and applause.