“We’re sort of an un-supergroup,” laughs former Far frontman Jonah Matranga, who, along with ex-Crumb guitarist Mark Weinberg, is in charge of San Francisco-based Gratitude.
While it’s true that their résumés are filled with influential sounds and cultlike followings, Matranga and Weinberg are too excited about Gratitude’s self-titled debut to think too much about the past. And they should be. The 12-song album is filled with timeless rock and a batch of delicious hooks.
Though the band has only been together since early 2003, the story of Gratitude actually begins back in 1992, when Far and Crumb played a college music festival in Southern California. Matranga and Weinberg were introduced backstage by mutual friend and singer/songwriter Matt Nathanson.
The two musicians continued to run in the same circles over the next several years, touring together with their respective bands as well as contributing to each other’s subsequent projects, including Matranga’s onelinedrawing and Weinberg’s Softer and The Collision. In early 2003, on a whim, they began to write together. The songs poured out of them, and they quickly realized that they had stumbled onto something special. All they needed now was a name.
“One day I was just walking to the store and the word ‘gratitude’ popped into my head,” says Matranga. “I really love the simple meaning of the word. I’d never heard of it being used as a band name. When I found out it wasn’t already taken, I thought, ‘This could be real.’”
Things got really real for Matranga and Weinberg a few months later when they were invited to New York to perform their first four songs for Atlantic executives. Gratitude was verbally signed on the spot.
“The songs were just big,” says Matranga, who has spent the years since Far putting out homemade records on his own and with stalwart indie Jade Tree. Major-label reservations aside, he knew he wanted something different for Gratitude. “Songs ask for what they want and they go where they want to go, and these were just songs that wanted to be recorded in a big, beautiful studio, with people that have made classic records.”
The band eventually hooked up at Los Angeles’ historic Cello Studios with Jim Scott (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, Wilco). His streamlined approach to recording proved to be exactly what the band was looking for.
“Working with Jim, I really felt like we became a band while making this record,” says Matranga. “He just works so hard, with such obvious heart and honesty. Also, he just has great taste. He approached these songs in just the right way, from the drumming to the guitar tones to the vocal phrasing. He knew just how much to push us.”
“The reason why we chose Jim was because we wanted to make a different-sounding record, one that came from a more organic place,” explains Weinberg.
From the soaring pop-driven rock of “Drive Away” and “This Is The Part” to the deep grooves of “All In A Row” and “Feel Alright” to the beautiful ballads “Someone To Love” and “If Ever,” Gratitude deftly toes the line between classic rock (think U2 and Zeppelin) and modern-rockers such as Radiohead and Jimmy Eat World.
“I haven’t heard a record like ours,” says Matranga. “It’s such unselfconscious rock. Jim Scott is into simple production—you can hear every instrument on every track. There’s not a lot of doubling. There’s not a lot of toys on the record at all.”
“I’m such a fan of music and bands,” says Weinberg. “I know every little detail about all my favorite records, and this records sounds like a little bit of all my favorite records rolled into one.”
The lyrics on the record are the most direct Matranga has ever written.
“I’ve realized lately that there’s not political songs, there’s not spiritual songs, there’s not love songs—it’s all the same thing,” he says. “I really thought a lot about bands like U2 and The Cars and Cheap Trick—bands that you don’t generally associate, except for U2, with great lyrics. And even U2, when you read the lyrics on the page they don’t seem nearly as great and perfect as they sound in the song. That’s the magic of pop music. So many pop choruses, you’re thinking, ‘That’s so stupid,’ but when you’re in your car it just sounds so touching and brilliant. I wanted to make really big, beautiful rock that I’m not ashamed of.”
Powered by thick guitars, infectious rhythms and undeniably catchy choruses and verses, it’s not hard to imagine Gratitude blaring out of car stereos across the country. Rounded out by bassist Bob Lindsey, guitarist Jeremy Tappero and drummer Dave Jarnstrom, the band is ready to take its music to the masses.
“I truly think this is a band for everyone,” says Matranga. “At our shows, I want to see mullets and horn-rimmed glasses and mohawks. We didn’t set out to make a band for everyone—I just think it is.”