At Work: lespecial
“Whether or not you’re a ‘jamband fan,’ everyone appreciates variety,” lespecial bassist Luke Bemand admits as he surveys the mix of prog-rock sounds and improvisational sensibilities that are so core to his band’s vision. “Primus, for example: They’re not a jamband. They’ve toured with Mastodon, but they have jamband fans go to their set.”
Bemand, guitarist Jon Grusauskas and drummer Rory Dolan came of age playing music together in Connecticut and officially formed lespecial in 2005, eventually honing in on a power-trio sound that owes as much to Radiohead and The Mars Volta as it does Medeski Martin & Wood and Umphrey’s McGee. After steadily gaining buzz on the club and festival circuits, lespecial have truly stepped out into the national spotlight during the past few years. In 2017, the outfit dropped their second full-length album in time for Halloween and served as the backing band for the Oakland, Calif.-bred alternative hip-hop act Zion I. In what started as a one-off gig at Great North in the fall of that year, lespecial and Zion I have forged a true partnership, playing sets at Serenity Gathering, Strangecreek and Camp Bisco, among other places.
“We had a couple of days of rehearsal and we hit it off. The vibe was really cool on both ends,” Bemand says of their new collaboration. “For us, we’ve always been into hip-hop and we’ve collaborated with other emcees, so to be in the backing band for an emcee was appealing. Zion I was really into the vibe as well—digging the heavier edge we brought to it.”
With Dolan and Grusauskas utilizing samplers onstage, lespecial tapped into their longtime love for J Dilla to create what Bemand describes as a “clash of cultures” and a unique experience for fans of both acts. “It was a great fit from the start,” Dolan continues. “He could tell we listened to his music a lot and tried to interpret it and stay true to the records, but then he would also encourage us to do our own thing.”
In June, the trio also returned to Bonnaroo, the site of one of the group’s formative experiences, for a series of performances in one of the festival’s POD spaces in the campgrounds. “It was a totally surreal moment to get off a plane, take a shuttle over there, get to the festival, and see Steel Pulse and then Oysterhead,” says Bemand, who skipped his high-school graduation to attend the festival with his then-new bandmates in 2006, of that early pilgrimage. “It all began at Bonnaroo for us.”
And while lespecial was just getting started at the time, the outfit still jumped at the opportunity to play an impromptu gig at one of the country’s biggest festivals. “They had this Volkswagen-sponsored jam garage with amps and drums set up,” Grusauskas says with a laugh. “We actually did a few tunes.”
This article originally appears in the Decmeber 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.