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Whoever They Are : Geggy Tah's Members Defy Conventional Labels, Yet One of Their Singles Is Climbing the Charts

January 03, 1997|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Strange things are bound to happen with a band named Geggy Tah.

Sure enough, the first two albums by this unusual pop band have included the sound of a garage door opening functioning like a horn line, drums being played in water and a melody sculpted out of a horse's whinny.

Even more surprising than the makeshift instrumentation is that these esoteric musicians have the makings of a hit single in "Whoever You Are."

Keyboardist-guitarist Greg Kurstin and singer-bassist Tommy Jordan, whose baby sisters pronounced their names Geggy and Tah, respectively, created the catchy, chart-climbing little number about proper highway etiquette. It's starting to gain radio airplay on adult album alternative stations, said a band spokesman.

The synthesizer-driven tune, from the group's 1996 "Sacred Cow" album, finds Jordan singing, "All I want to do is thank you / Even though I don't know who you are / You let me change lanes / While I was driving in my car."

The growing popularity of "Whoever You Are" would appear to be an aberration, albeit a happy one, for a band with such a freewheeling and whimsical style, one that incorporates techno pop, jazz and rock.

The group's lyrics, mostly by Jordan, rely heavily on poetic abstractions, like these from the song "Mem": "Satisfy secrets pushing broken doorbells / Ringing implicit leaves fall down."

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During a recent phone interview from his Pomona home, Jordan acknowledged that the response to "Whoever You Are" has him scratching his head. He says the band, which performs tonight at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, has always emphasized following its muse rather than trends.

"When we begin a song, sometimes we start with a concept or a melody, but just about anything can inspire an idea," Jordan said. "Like one day when we were practicing, we had a drummer we were teaching the parts to, and I asked him what he wanted to learn that day. He said, 'A lot of stuff.' So I went into another room and came out 10 minutes later with an actual song called 'Lotta Stuff.' "

A meatier song was born the same way.

"We were rehearsing one day, and the door to the next room was open," recalled Jordan. "So I went over and closed it, which caused someone in there to yell, 'Don't close the door!' That's what started me writing 'Don't Close the Door,' only it evolved into a more complex song about love and death."

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According to Jordan, that go-with-the-flow spirit makes each of the band's concerts a singularly rewarding experience.

"Our songs can have some very specific angles to them, but my favorites are those we reinvent as we play them," he said, citing "Century Planet 2000" as an example.

"That one includes a lot of ruminations on the future, and sometimes [in concert] the mood and tone is hopeful and optimistic, while during others, it's darker and more ominous. It depends on how we're feeling that day."

In a separate phone interview from his Culver City residence, Kurstin said: "We try to come up with something unique to that particular show or venue, something that will get the audience involved. Concerts should offer a onetime experience."

Said Jordan: "Music is an interactive art, and the challenge is to create an environment or experience that is mutually provocative and stimulating. If a fan leaves our show with a little more skip to his step, then I know we've connected."

For Kurstin, a respected jazz pianist, teaming with Jordan and new drummer Daren Hahn affords challenges he didn't have performing years ago with the likes of saxophonist Charles McPherson and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.

"I enjoyed playing with them, but you approach jazz with a certain respect for tradition," said Kurstin, who has played with Jordan on and off for almost nine years. "With Geggy Tah, it's a new culture, and we can create something completely new and uncategorized."

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Geggy Tah would appear to be making good on that goal by combining frequent lyrical references to turkeys, puppies, owls, granddads, toads and sacred cows with a sound that crosses the experimentation of Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren with the childlike wonder of Jonathan Richman.

"An older guy once said to me after a concert that we have excellent motor skills and our music is very functional," said Jordan, clearly bemused. "It's all relative, really. To us, the music is mainstream for our stream. It's very grounded for us.

"Our goal is not to be quirky or wacky, although we certainly strive for originality," he said. "We push ourselves to stretch out because we don't want to make the same record four times."

* Geggy Tah, Larry & Bob, Groove Salad and New Roll Soul play tonight at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $10-12. (714) 957-0600.

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