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Three the Hard Way by Peter Aaron

Led by singer-guitarist Joey Eppard, Three (aka 3) had been kicking around the upstate scene for only a few months before roaring onto the world stage via a triumphant performance at the Woodstock ’94 festival. After an aborted deal with one of the majors, the group—presently comprised of Eppard, guitarist Billy Riker, bassist Daniel Grimsland, and drummer Chris “Gartdrumm” Gartmann—forged its name through the release of four acclaimed albums on Woodstock’s Planet Noise label culminating in 2004 with Wake Pig. Hailed as an instant classic of the progressive metal genre for its blending of epic, searing arrangements with Eppard’s emo-ey, sing-song vocals, Wake Pig was reissued by Three’s current label, Metal Blade, the following year and led to tours with Porcupine Tree, the Scorpions, Dream Theater, and the group’s “sister band,” Coheed and Cambria. 2007, however, saw the release of The End is Begun (Metal Blade Records), a disc seen by many fans as the band’s masterpiece and home to such ambitious mini-opuses as “All That Remains” and the title track.

If Eppard’s last name is familiar to Hudson Valley scenesters from outside the hard rock realm, it should be: Joey is the son of venerated guitarist and bassist Jimmy Eppard, who’s worked with Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, the Memphis Pilgrims, and just about everyone else. Additionally, Joey’s brother is drummer Josh Eppard, who has served with both Three and Coheed and Cambria. Just released on Metal Blade is Revisions, a collection that revisits Three’s decidedly less-proggy, singer-songwriter roots via new and vintage performances of earlier material.

Roll: Clearly, music is deeply embedded in the Eppard family genes. What was it like to grow up with such a badass guitar player for a dad? How old were you when you started playing? Were there other musicians in the family before your father?

Joey Eppard: It’s great to have someone to look up to musically, especially when they are right there in your living room. I never felt that I could equal my dad on guitar, so I chose to carve my own path as a player. I think what I learned most from him was passion for music. Both my parents were very supportive of their children’s musical endeavors; without that kind of support we wouldn’t have been able to do what we’ve done. My brother is a super-talented drummer and songwriter. His latest record, Sick Kids (Super Rap/Equal Vision Records), is due out in December. My uncle, John the Baker, handles the punk and hardcore side of our musical family. He lives out in San Francisco and works for Alternative Tentacles Records. Going back any farther down my father’s side of the family tree is a bit of a mystery for us. It’s rumored that we come from a long line of musicians and carpenters.

Being from the Catskills, you also grew up in an area better known for the music of The Band and other folk-based acts than for anything along the lines of the hard rock that Three plays. Have you ever felt at odds with the local scene? Do rootsier styles ever crop up in Three’s music?

Sure, but local scenes can be different for different generations. When we were kids playing some of our first gigs in Woodstock, we were misfits in the local scene because we were not as heavy as most of our contemporaries. We played a lot of funk and progressive-type stuff, but it was all based on good songs and melodies. Personally, I love The Band, I love folk music in general, and I am a very open-minded person. I am more inspired by Stevie Wonder than by anything out there in modern rock today. If you had told me in back in 2000 that someone would be classifying the music I make as hard rock I would probably have laughed at how ridiculous that sounds. Life is a funny thing, though, and sometimes when you go with the flow you wind up exactly where you didn’t ever expect to be. That’s the type of art I like to make; I like to surprise myself.

That’s what Three is about: It’s not about being confined to one genre, it’s about the passion and character that binds our diverse body of work. I always think of Three as being rock plus funk plus folk. I’ve had the unique opportunity as a solo artist to tour with George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. I’ve done shows with Richie Havens, Aztec Two Step, and Little Feat. I toured with Heart for a while, and many others. Three has played shows with the Bad Brains and Fishbone, and we’ve been able to reach people of all different walks of life and bring them together. And that is a beautiful thing.

Your band certainly had a baptism of fire by playing one of your first shows at Woodstock ’94. It must’ve been an amazing experience. What do you remember about that gig?

It was our “big shot.” We were being managed by Michael Lang at the time and were the subplot of the Woodstock ’94 movie. Everyone around us thought we were going to be famous. That can really mess your head up as a kid. Originally, we were supposed to play the main stage at 8pm on Friday night. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. We ended up playing at noon and it was a bit rough, to say the least.

We were on a circular stage that rotated, with a band on either side. While we were playing I could clearly hear the next band sound checking because the monitor system wasn’t functioning properly. It was tough to face 50,000 people and try to play over the top of another band checking their drums. There’s nothing you can do but just plow through. It was still incredible to do it. I remember that as the stage rotated around I seemed to lose control of my legs. They just started moving on their own. I remember one reviewer in the New York Times said we sounded like we couldn’t decide whether we wanted to be Primus or Blind Melon. I remember thinking, “That sounds like a pretty cool combination to me.”

You have a really unique style of playing, kind of a slap/flamenco hybrid. How did that come about? Do you listen to many flamenco players, or did that aspect come through other flamenco-influenced rock guitarists?

I am self-taught and I never was drawn to using a pick. Fingerpicking was what brought me to the guitar and I never even bothered to pick up an electric for the first few years of playing. Over time, my percussive technique evolved and continues to evolve. I never listened to flamenco until others made the association and got me listening to groups like Ojos de Brujo.

You’ve blogged about being indelibly affected by seeing a UFO when you were six years old, and how that experience has done much to shape the lyrics you write. How so? Can you cite some examples?

A song like “Alien Angel” [from Wake Pig] is a rather obvious example: “Are you an Angel whose ship ran aground / can’t get a grip on this planet you found / never to look down / trade in my halo for feet on the ground.” Also on our next release we have a song called “You are the Alien”: “But you can’t keep a spark in a jar / You must’ve traveled so far / Flesh was superimposed upon a star / I know what you are / Peel off your outer skin only to find / that you are the alien.”

I think, more than anything, it taught me to think for myself. I base my ideas off my own experiences and intuitions. It’s true that I saw a giant UFO flying slowly through the early evening sky. I could clearly see the shape of it as one solid object and It seemed close enough that I could’ve hit it with a rock. When my grandfather read me the newspaper article the next day saying it was a flight of 14 planes we both laughed. It made me angry though, really. I knew that what I’d seen was not a flight of 14 planes. I’m quite sure there are many things on Earth that we “working class” humans are not privileged to know about. I don’t know what the truth is, but I feel we have a right to know.

Your brother Josh left Three to join Coheed and Cambria, before eventually leaving that band to start Weerd Science and, recently, Mours. With everything he’s involved in and you cultivating a solo career in addition to playing in Three, do you guys still find the time to jam these days? What about the E-Males, the band you two share with your dad?

Yeah, we play together any chance we get. There’s something very special about making music with your family. We’re gonna be doing more and more stuff together, and even when we’re not Josh and my dad both are close advisors in anything I do.

Revisions is a collection of early, previously unreleased material. What made you decide to do this type of album? You also have a new studio album set for release next year. What can you tell us about that record?

I’ve wanted to make Revisions for a long time. For a songwriter songs can be like your children, and I was beginning to feel like I had too many of my children locked up in the basement. It feels good to have finally set at least some of them free, which leads to me feeling even more creative.

Our next record is what we’re working on now. It does feel good to be working on brand new songs. This record is going to be a bit stranger and perhaps more elaborate. Whereas Revisions is a very song-oriented work, this next album is going to be less traditional in terms of composition and melody. We’ll just have to see how it turns out...
Three, with Weerd Science, has their record release show for Revisions at the Bearsville Theater, 291 Tinker St., Woodstock,, 845.679.4406. 8 PM

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