3 on the near edge of fame (10.01.99)

Kingston Freeman Preview
Published: 10/01/1999

BACK in the early ’90s, our area was in the middle of a boom in local music. There were a couple of good compilation albums of Hudson Valley rock’n’roll, big crowds would gather at area clubs for some of the favorite bands and, eventually, a “local day” was added to the Woodstock ‘94 lineup, featuring bands from the Hudson Valley. Only a couple of those bands survived that time intact. One of them is 3, the youngest band at the time, and they are, perhaps, the main inheritor of that particular surge in Hudson Valley rock.

Through sheer persistence and steadily evolving musical ability, 3 has remained a local favorite, and has, several times, brought themselves to the near edge of wider fame. ”It started out with my brother and I,” explains band founder Joe Eppard, himself only 16 or 17 at the time. “It began in my living room one day. Some friends and I were playing, getting a band together, and we needed a drummer, so we sat my little brother, who at the time was 11, down behind a snare drum and a high-hat and he kept good time. It just progressed from there. A year later, we had started 3. We rehearsed in the basement and we eventually started doing gigs.”

THE ORIGINAL LINEUP of the band featured Joe Eppard on lead vocals and guitar, Josh Eppard on drums, and Chris Bittner on bass.

“It wasn’t really too long (before we started getting gigs),” Eppard explains. “My father is a musician and he could hook us up with shows. The first actual gig we ever did was at a place called Dooners, which is now the Rondout Bay Marina. That was the first time we actually ever played out. We did all right, actually. It wasn’t a total disaster.
Then, our first actual paying gig was at the Tinker Street Cafe on a Sunday afternoon. Then we started opening. We would come down and open for certain bands every once in a while, building a fan base and doing all-age shows.”

AROUND 1993, the band came to the attention of Woodstock concert promoter Michael Lang, who planned to break the new act at the Woodstock ’94 festival. 3 signed a contract with Lang, with Michael Birnbaum of Applehead Studios, and the Eppards’ father as co-managers of the act.

“(Lang’s) whole concept was to break the band at the ‘94 festival,” Eppard says. “We knew we were going to be playing there for a long time. By the time the festival actually rolled around, there had been so much political drama about what local bands should be allowed to play. Originally, it had nothing to do with the fact that we were a local band. It actually had more to do with the fact that Michael Lang wanted to break a completely new band at the festival. Word got around that we were going to play and we got a lot of flack because we didn’t have seniority over a lot of other local bands in the area. In the end, what happened was that we went on around 12 in the afternoon on the local day, early on Friday.”

3 played to a crowd of about 50,000 people on that Friday afternoon, still the largest audience they’ve ever appeared before. Before and during the concert, they were filmed for a segment of the Woodstock ‘94 documentary movie, a film that was never released. 3 did get an entry in the Woodstock ‘94 book, which did manage to reach bookstores.

EVENTUALLY OPTIONING OUT of their contract with Lang, the band continued playing gigs on a local basis and writing new material, honing their sound. In April of ‘98, they were offered a major label record deal with Universal Records.

“That came about through a friend of ours who was interning with Universal Records,” Eppard explains. “We gave him our demo. He took it in and played it for his boss. … The next thing you know, we’re heading down there for meetings with these people … Negotiations lasted for about two months. It was an incredible learning experience.”

The band was given the task of going into the studio to create an album on their own. During that time, however, Universal merged with Seagrams and a purge of personnel took place within the record company, which included most of 3’s contacts with the label, along with 75 percent of the acts signed to Universal. It was a rough lesson in music industry realities, and 3 was once again an unsigned band.

“I was able to destroy a lot of illusions that I had,” Eppard tells us. “What it did to me was make it come down to the question, ‘Why am I doing this?’ I had to come to terms with the fact that I’m doing this because I love to play music. I’m not doing this because I’m out to get a record deal. You can’t count on that. All I can do is just go out and play and enjoy what I do and work really hard.”

A few months back, Josh Eppard left the band to pursue other interests and was replaced with former Peacebomb drummer (and Josh’s drum teacher) Chris Gartmann. Also joining the band at that time was former Lunchmeat member Jason Foster. Foster is presently taking a leave of absence from the group and 3 is once again performing as a trio.

OVER THE YEARS, the music of 3 has evolved from a harder-edged sound to a much more sophisticated and melodic quality.

“I’ve always been into songwriting,” Eppard says. “That was my big thing. I’ve always wanted to be more of a songwriter than a ripping guitar player. I’m more of a writer than a performer, so that was my focus. You keep doing something and you grow and you get better at it. Very few people sit down and just play totally tastefully from the first day they pick up an instrument. You start out raw and you build up your skill and you get better and you keep writing. We have this catalog … We can still do tunes that we wrote when we first started the group.”

While Eppard often instigates the band’s creative process, the final songs and arrangements are a group effort. Eppard will begin to play a basic concept, and the rest of the group will pick it up and develop their own parts.

“A lot of time it’s really hard to do that stuff right without being under the microscope of the studio,” bassist Chris Bittner says of 3’s creative process. “We end up playing a song out a bunch of times, then we get in the studio to record it and we go, ‘This is how it should be.’”

3 WILL BE PLAYING on Saturday with Angry Salad (Angry Salad will start the show at 10 p.m., with a set that will be broadcast on WDST-FM). Expect a solid 3 performance with a few surprises.

“I’m going to play the digeridoo,” Eppard says. “We’ve tried it on the road a couple times, I’ve been opening the set with the digeridoo. I’ve developed my own little technique of playing it and singing harmony along with the note of the dig’. It’s a really cool sound. When you get your pitch right on, it vibrates your vocal chords and sounds really strange. At the Clearwater Festival a few years ago, my girlfriend and I went half and half on a digeridoo. We thought it was really cool. It ended up sitting at my house and I’ve been playing it for a few years now.”

If you haven’t seen 3 perform in a while, this is a good chance. ”We’re a little smarter, a little stronger,” Eppard tell us. “I’m willing to go out and play music and scrape by for the rest of my life, if that’s what it takes.”

Thanks to Alli T. for digging this article up

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