Above: Bryan Killough and Jeff Bibbo in a scene from In Danger of Being Discovered.
Groovechild front man Jeff Bibbo discusses the band’s past, future, and new album
By Matt Kanner
Groovechild has two consecutive shows at the Dover Brickhouse this weekend, and tickets are going fast. The band made sure to book two nights at the venue, allowing as many fans as possible to get in the door. But front man Jeff Bibbo is reminding people to get their tickets in advance. At other Groovechild gigs over the past couple of years, fans have driven from hours away, or even flown across the country, only to find the show had already sold out.
“People come literally from all over the place, and the last thing they think about is buying a ticket,” Bibbo said.
The enthusiastic response at live shows is validation for a band that rose to regional prominence in the 1990s, took a lengthy hiatus in the 2000s, and has gradually reemerged over the last few years. Though the group originally formed more than a quarter-century ago, there is still strong demand for Groovechild’s music. And they are obliging.
Groovechild is currently at work on a new album, and they plan to book more live shows in the months ahead. For Bibbo, the band’s revival is both a throwback to a previous chapter of his life, and a fresh start after years of dealing with his own “demons.”
“I definitely have so much more appreciation for being on stage (now),” he said. “I don’t need to be inebriated to feel that connection. I just go up and I’m me, I’m myself. I don’t have to hide.”
Groovechild formed in the late 1980s at Oyster River High School in Durham. The lineup has changed over the years, but two constants have remained: Bibbo and guitarist Bryan Killough. Bibbo’s high-energy vocals and Killough’s jazz-infused guitar work combined for a jam-heavy rock sound that thrilled Seacoast audiences.
In 1992, the band’s 12-song demo “Sick at Last” took over the regional airwaves. Other local bands, including Thanks to Gravity, Heavens to Murgatroid, and Percy Hill, helped build a vibrant Seacoast music scene throughout the ’90s.
“People were as excited, if not more excited, about local bands than they were national bands,” Bibbo said.
In 1993, Groovechild sold out a show at The Music Hall in Portsmouth — an exceptionally rare feat for a local act. According to Bibbo, there were about a dozen reps from major record labels in attendance, and they soon came courting.
The band spoke with a few different labels and came close to signing a deal, Bibbo said. One label was interested in signing Bibbo alone, without the rest of the band. But all the musicians were reluctant to give up creative control of their music.
“(The labels) wanted us to write catchy, radio-friendly tunes, and they wanted the creative control, and we definitely were not interested in that,” Bibbo said. “And I certainly wasn’t interested in being signed and then having a hired band.”
Groovechild independently released their next album, “House of Life,” in 1995. They continued playing sold-out shows for the next six or seven years, but they began to lose steam in the early 2000s. By 2003, they had stopped playing altogether.
“It was more work than fun, and the creative connection wasn’t as strong,” Bibbo said. “If you’re playing music and you’re going through the motions, it stops working.”
Bibbo was also dealing with his own growing dependence on drugs and alcohol. As a lead singer who did not play an instrument, he relied on substances to overcome his stage fright.
“I definitely did it to excess,” he said. “I relied on chemicals for a long time to get through that. They only work for so long as fuel before they start to break down the system.”
That’s another reason Bibbo feels he made the right decision by not signing a record deal. The pressure to perform on a larger stage may have pushed him deeper into the abyss of addiction.
“I think it would have killed me. I was headlong into partying way too much,” he said. “I thought it was my job.”
Bibbo continued to struggle with addiction after Groovechild disbanded. Only in more recent years has he retaken control of his life. He’s also reconnected with his old friend Bryan Killough, and the two of them have rekindled their passion for music.
The creative spark came largely from director Marc Dole’s documentary film, “In Danger of Being Discovered,” which chronicles the Portsmouth music scene in the 1990s. Groovechild is prominently featured in the film, including interviews with both Bibbo and Killough.
In January of 2012, “In Danger of Being Discovered” was screened at The Music Hall. Following the screening, Groovechild and Thanks to Gravity played inspired sets on the theater’s stage, to the delight of the crowd. The film and subsequent performances helped prompt Bibbo and Killough to launch a new Groovechild project.
“The film definitely brought (Killough) and I together and reignited our friendship, first and foremost, and we started creating again,” Bibbo said.
To round out their latest lineup, the band brought back former Groovechild bassist Nate Edgar, now a member of nationally touring funk and soul band The Nth Power. Edgar, in turn, recruited Nth Power drummer Nikki Glaspie, who toured for years with Beyoncé.
Groovechild has played a handful of concerts over the last few years, including at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord and the Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury, Mass. They’re recording their new album with sound engineer Chris Magruder at Thundering Sky Studios in South Berwick, Maine. Marc Dole has been filming the recording process to provide a video component.
Last fall, the band raised more than $8,000 through the crowdfunding website Indiegogo to help fund the new recording and video. The upcoming shows at the Brickhouse will help cover the remaining costs. The album does not yet have a title, but it will include nine or 10 original songs. It’s now about halfway finished, Bibbo said, and they hope to release it in May or June.
Though the songs are new, Bibbo said fans will recognize the style. “It’s definitely, definitely Groovechild,” he said.
After close to a decade away from the music, Bibbo said it felt surprisingly natural to get back in the creative mindset. His head is clear, and he feels no pressure. His approach to songwriting involves “letting it land on paper and having some level of faith that other people might find it something worth listening to.”
Bibbo has no grand expectations for Groovechild’s future. They’ll play some more shows when the album comes out, and take it from there. Nostalgia is not what drives him.
“It really feels like we have something new to say and new energy,” he said. “We’re going to go with it as long as it’s still fun, as long as people still want to hear it.”
Groovechild plays at the Dover Brickhouse on Friday, March 6, with guests The Demon, and on Saturday, March 7, with guests Todo Bien. Both shows begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. The Brickhouse is at 2 Orchard St., Dover, 603-749-3838.