Gravitron is a Columbia, SC based band that plays instrumental surf tinged indie music. Their songs are retro yet futuristic at the same time, and their show is a lot of fun for the crowd. Three of the four members of Gravitron -Steve Nuzum, Ross Steppling, and Travis Woods - recently took the time to answer a few questions for Carolina Mixer. Be sure to check out the photos and videos at the end of the interview.
How and when did you guys decide to start the band?
Ross: I placed an ad in the casual encounters section of Craig’s List. Travis emailed me back the very next day. Once it started going stale, we started talking music and we realized we both played instruments and shared similar tastes in music.
Travis: In 2010, Ross and I were both pretending to be women while trolling the “casual encounters” section of craigslist.org. After numerous encounters of a casual nature, we realized our mutual interests extended beyond bears and furries, so we started a band.
Steve: Ross, Travis, and Alex got together a couple of years ago. Legend has it they met through the “casual encounters” section of Craigslist. I’d played in another band in Columbia with Ross, Norwegian Blue, and he asked me to come play some keyboards, since I’d played them on the one record Norwegian Blue made (although I’d been mainly a singer and guitar player in that band).
So, what is a "Gravitron"?
Ross: Gravitron is the ride at every state fair where you lean against the wall and the ride spins you round and round and round and round. We found it especially fitting since our music induces nausea.
Travis: We wanted something outer space-y without too blatantly ripping off Man Or Astroman. A Gravitron LOOKS like a spaceship, but cements the bands origin story in seedy terrestrial world of the carnie-infested county fair, as opposed to the vast reaches of outer space inhabited by the aforementioned Astromen. At first we were gonna be called “Space Holes.” I also wanted to call ourselves “Tom Servo” in homage to MST3K
Steve: The fair ride, I guess, although I remember it being called the Galaxie 5000 or something like that. The name was in place before I joined up.
What is the best description of your musical style, and who are your biggest influences?
Ross: Instrumental Surf Rock / Indie Rock/ Garage Rock / Alex’s Workspace Rock. I’d say the band we get compared to the most is Man or Astroman?.
Travis: I think the only still-in-existence bands that we would all cite as influences are Daikaiju and The Descendents. We all enjoy instrumental surf stuff, I think we'd all agree that Archers of Loaf are pretty excellent... Math and Physics are also big influences, somehow.
Steve: Instrumental garage rock, maybe. There’s definitely a strong surf influence, and I know Travis is really into a lot of underground surf bands. Ross (and the rest of us) really loves Daikaiju, from Alabama, and I got pretty heavily into ‘60s surf and instrumental stuff like the Ventures and Surfaris a few years ago. But I think we pull from a lot of garage and independent label rock and pop, too.
How do you work through the songwriting process?
Ross: Most of the songs are written when I’m late for practice. On the rare occasion that I show up on time, we’ll usually just call up Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, or Holland-Dozier-Holland.
Travis: We typically outsource the songwriting process to the Barry Lutz talent agency, which is a fully owned subsidiary of the Globex Corporation.
Steve: Usually one member (Ross and Travis have written the most stuff) will bring in a song in some degree of completion, and we’ll all flesh it out. We try to make demos if we can, so everyone can come up with parts on their own and bring them back to the band. We did write one song, “Deep Space? Nein!” as kind of a jam on bass and keys and drums when Ross was late for a practice.
Where is Gravitron headed career wise?
Ross: According to the Worthington Law, more money equals better than. The goal is to write and record a series of #1 singles and then ride off into the sunset with everyone’s hard earned money.
Travis: I think its fairly safe to say that we'll be riding the instrumental surf music wave straight to the top of the charts. It seems like you can't turn on the radio, tune into MTV, or stroll through any urban American neighborhood without hearing the crudely recorded, poorly performed rock stylings of GRAVITRON these days.
Steve: We’re just really happy things have taken off as much as they have. We took a big break before ever getting to play any shows, so to play for a few months and get to open for Daikaiju and Southern Culture on the Skids (as well as great Columbia bands like The Get Wets and Dead Surf) has been much more than we expected.
When and where did you guys first take the stage together?
Ross: Our first performance was live on WUSC for The Columbia Beet. We played five songs and did an interview right after. Our first show was the next day at Art Bar with The Get Wets. I don’t remember how much, but I remember I pocketed at least five times the amount. Don’t tell them, though. It’s going to be our little secret.
Travis: We were paid $75 for our first show, which was at the Art Bar in Columbia, SC. Thats when we knew we were about to hit the big time. We went home that night with over $18 a person!!!!
Steve: I guess it was one of two venues in Columbia, New Brookland and Art Bar, but I think it was Art Bar, with The Get Wets. We got half a case of beer, and probably some money, too, but it went to making CDs.
Any horror stories from the clubs?
Ross: It’s always something guitar-related. We’ve been fortunate that the worst thing has been either a broken string or out of tune guitar.
Travis: Our drummer Alex hit me in the face with a snare drum head. And Ross punched a cop once, but he totally had it coming.
Steve: So far (knock on wood), nothing bad has happened beyond technical difficulties. We did have a show where guitar cable after guitar cable refused to function, but it was okay.
What is your best experience at a show so far?
Ross: We do a cover of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet’s “Having an Average Weekend”, which is the theme from Kids in the Hall, and some guy in the audience of our first show corrected us after we said the title. “It’s called ‘Having an Average Monday’!” We all had a hearty chuckle over it. We’ve asked the audience on multiple occasions if that guy is in the audience before we’ll play that song.
Travis: Both Petes from Nickelodeon’s classic “Pete and Pete” tweeted “OMG! Totes HART 4 GraVitron!” after watching us perform.
Steve: Playing with Daikaiju and Southern Culture, those were two really great experiences. Both bands are super nice and talented and encouraging. Our experience has been that there aren’t a lot of big egos in this kind of music—the whole surf/ rockabilly/ instrumental scene—and I hope that continues to be true.
If you could play anywhere, where would it be?
Ross: I want to play them all! I guess if I was going to pick one, it would be the stage on Conan. Choice #2 would have to be the Sargent House showcase at SXSW, but that would involve being on Sargent House Records. I visited CBGBs one time before they closed and that would have been great to have played at some point.
Travis: I'd really, really like to set up a show in an actual gravitron. We're trying to build one ourselves, but it is of poor quality.
Steve: Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, of course. Or maybe on top of one of those giant skyscrapers in Dubai.
What is the best thing about being in a band?
Ross: Getting to play with the three nicest guys in Columbia! We know if there’s a problem it can easily be solved with a hug session.
Travis: Adding “itron” to the end of everyone's name. Rossitron, Lexitron, Stevitron, Travitron
Steve: The endorsement deals.
"Extra Credit" with Steve Nuzum....
When did you get your first instrument? What was it? How did you decide to settle on your current instrument(s)?
Steve: I bought a crappy Hondo guitar from a local music store, The Music Store, when I was like 12. I washed a lot of cars to get that guitar. I play a little bit of guitar in Gravitron—and that’s always been my main instrument—but I started playing synthesizer in a band called JuiceBox in maybe 2003 or so, and I’ve gradually gotten just competent enough to kind of fill out the sound in Gravitron. It seems to just fit with the music we play, but it wasn’t really planned.
Biggest influence overall on your individual music style?
Steve: That’s really hard to answer! I listen to a huge range of music, like everybody in the band, but I guess the biggest influence on my keyboard/ organ playing would be ‘60s garage rock like ? and the Mysterions.
What is the last thing you listened to on your iPod/CD Player?
Steve: Cary Ann Hearst (Lions and Lambs).
What song would you jam on an iPod but not at a redlight with the windows down?
Steve: I don’t know, I’m not really embarrassed about music choices anymore. I was listening to The Fugees yesterday, but I am not ashamed.
What was your first "real" concert?
Steve: Hootie and the Blowfish at Finlay Park in Columbia. I guess I was in middle school. It’s a pretty big park.
What concert is most meorable for you?
Steve: Ross and I saw Neko Case open for My Morning Jacket in Alpharetta. That was pretty great. I think the best live show I’ve seen, though is Daikaiju.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?
Steve: Well, I’m an English teacher. I guess if music wasn’t such a big part of my life, I might have more time to devote to my study of String Theory and my restorations of Renaissance paintings.
Steve Nuzum (organ/keys, guitar)
Travis Woods (bass guitar)
Ross Steppling (guitar)
Alex Fulmer (drums)