The Workshy: the Ames-based eclectic jam band

The Workshy
Jiho Han – Bass Guitar
Brant Williams – Guitar/Vocals
Danny Kratzer – Guitar
Evan Cokeley – Drums
Peter Neel – Keyboard/Vocals

“We just want to play the best show we can.” says guitarist Brant Williams when describing his aspirations for his band The Workshy and their performance at 80/35 this weekend.   The members of The Workshy, an Ames-based jam band, are pleasantly laid back individuals with a friendly, positive attitude akin to most college students their age.

Onstage, their lively, high-energy performance might evoke references to the Grateful Dead or Phish, but in person, they’re average guys who “just want to make music.” They come from many different majors and still hope to earn a degree eventually, but for now are just going with the flow that comes with being a college-aged musician.  Although Williams said the name of the band means lazy, they also hope to snag a tour or a contract one day.

“It might sound cheesy, but we’re playing it by ear. No pun intended.” says guitarist Danny Kratzer when describing their ambitions as an ensemble.

The group first began playing together in their junior high years as an alternative rock band with a repertoire that consisted primarily of Nirvana and Green Day covers.  They continued to make music into their high school years at Valley High school where they acquired their current drummer, Evan Cokeley. They hope to snag a tour or a contract one day, but for now are content with focusing primarily on their studies.  However, one may want to disregard their humility and take a look at their prolific history and performing schedule to fully appreciate their ambition as a band.

The band migrated to Iowa State, (except for keyboardist Peter Neel) and Danny and bassist Jiho Han continued to make music in the Maple Willow Larch music room.   After a long winter of practicing in the dorms, the group finally got their first gig at the Ames Progressive in the summer of 2008. They officially became a band after their next gig at the Bali Stay House. “The Workshy came from an old band name that Jiho was in.  We liked the sound of it and used it, it means lazy.” said Williams.

After officially becoming a band, they proceeded to book gigs like D.G’s Taphouse, Pappa’s Corner (now Headliners) and the Bali Stay House.  They soon expanded beyond the Ames circuit to Des Moines venues and the Iowa City circuit  .The Workshy booked many of their out-of-town shows through exchanging gigs with the friends they have made through shows they’ve played. The guys brighten up when they talk about the help they’ve received through the connections they have made.  “We’ve been making friends with bands…we might play with them in Des Moines or they came to Ames to play they might ask us to play with them in Iowa City, so it kind of helps to make connections and do a little gig swapping.” said Brent enthusiastically. The guys of the Workshy stressed the importance of maintaining relationships with other bands and helping one another out to form a community of supportive musicians.  One of the best benefits of this relationship is this occasional gig swapping.

They have also been establishing a following in the Ames and Des Moines area. They are very proud of their success and even threw in a plug for their sandwich that was once served at Planet Sub called The Workshy. It included a free demo CD with every sandwich order. The network of communication they broke into opened up many opportunities for the band. Their first big show with the Des Moines Music Coalition was Little Big Fest. This show exposed their talents and caught the attention of some of the influential members of the Coalition, which landed them one of the 5 recommended spots on the local band list for 80/35.

Inspiring a sandwich is not the only unique feature of the band. Perhaps one of the reasons that The Workshy stands out among local bands is their unique sound.  Each of the members allies with a different style of music and they work as an ensemble to create a unique amalgamation of influences.

Initially, when asked how to describe their sound, each member had their own opinion on the influences and direction of their music. It appeared as if each of them had a different contributors that ranged from the soulful funk of Earth Wind and Fire, jazz, blues, and even some driven marching percussion influences. Eventually, the general consensus that the group used to described their musical style rested on what Danny called an “eclectic jam band.”

The group works to incorporate all of the different styles and influences of each of the members and craft a distinct sound that carries relics from almost every mainstream musical style. The term “jam band” refers to the method of organization and composition of their music.  They focus primarily on improvisation over a specific musical form, rather than some of the more traditional methods of song structure. One of the most apparent features of the style is the length and development of instrumental solos. They are a far-cry from the shredders like Angus Young and Eddie Van Halen, and instead are more closely allied with the jazz masters who articulate extremely intricate chord progression and counterpoint. Overall, they are still a musically accessible group that “wants to make serious music” but not too serious.

Their set list for their 80/35 debut consists primarily of original tunes, but may include a cover song or two to spice things up. They even hinted at a surprise song along the lines of “something patriotic, we just don’t know yet.” as Jiho stated when probed about their set list.

80/35 will present the band with unprecedented exposure and organization that they would not be exposed to through most of the local shows. On top of being a part of a show produced on such a huge scale, they will be performing on the main stage along with the likes of the alternative giants, Modest Mouse and Spoon. Major shows like this one often help to catapult musicians into the mainstream and provide exposure and resume building experience that are few and far between. Although they hope to pursue a career as a band, they also have their degrees to fall back on, they often referred to jokingly.

80/35 is one of Iowa’s largest music festival and will take place this Saturday and Sunday at Western Gateway Park in Des Moines.  The Workshy is playing at the Wellmark Main Stage at 12:00pm Sunday July 4th.

After the festival this weekend, the Workshy will continue to perform throughout the summer and the fall with gigs that include the Uniphonix CD release concert, Camp Euphoria, and a tailgating performance at the Iowa game.

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