Once in a while, a person will walk into a bar, hear a live band, and fall in love instantaneously. For the lucky crowd at New York City’s Parkside Lounge on October 24, this was exactly what happened when Gretchen and the Pickpockets stole their hearts.
The lights are present only on stage and a twinkling disco ball spins overhead, centering Gretchen perfectly at the microphone. She steps up and with a steady inhale, dives into the first phrase of “Sweet, Sweet Love,” a Gretchen and the Pickpockets original. Her voice is clear and rich with an alto tone that cuts through the center of the room. She glides from note to note and her sound bounces off the rat-a-tat-tat of the drums and swoon of the horn. The blend makes its way to the deep and full bodied sound of the base and rounds off with the metallic strum and pluck of the guitar.
The band of five – singer Gretchen Klempa, bassist and brother of Gretchen, Mike Klempa, Tom O’Connell on drums, Richie Smith on guitar, and Ryan O’Connell on trumpet – calls the New Hampshire seacoast their home base but have no problem taking the New York music scene by storm. Their sound is original, refreshing and – in the endless circling of synthetic pop songs in modern music – a welcome chance to revisit the real heart and soul of music.
Described by band members as “alternative rock with jazz” the G&P sound is one that leans heavily on the wails of smooth jazz trumpet paired perfectly with the pep of classic rock guitar. Their songs, such as the signature “Sweet, Sweet Love” and “Break a Sweat” offer lighthearted energetic beats while “Confident,” “Don’t Let Go,” and “Swimmin’ In The Sea” show a more mellow side of the group, treading in lower tones and building to mid-song breakout crescendos.
Kick-starting their music career three years ago, the then group of University of New Hampshire students found common ground in their dorm building’s common room where they would gather to cover their favorite songs. Eventually covering turned to writing and the common room turned into a stage.
“It kind of just happened,” said Gretchen. “It was me and Mike’s idea to start the band and then we kind of like rang in these hooligans,” motioning over to the rest of the guys.
“We wrote some crappy songs and then Ryan came in and fixed them,” added Mike.
There’s a playfulness and ease to the group that shows through in their presence on stage and can be heard directly influencing the sound they seem to so effortlessly create.
Their sound, something fans would be hard pressed to find anywhere else, is pulled from a smorgasbord of inspirations, ranging from punk rock, hip-hop (both 90s and modern) and jazz, to name a few. The proclaimed favorite as far as other bands are concerned is D’Angelo and the common ground for favorite genre is soul music and R&B.
“We even had a keyboard at one point,” he added.
“Yeah … for like a week,” Gretchen tacks on with a hint of wit.
Something that stuck a bit more permanently than the keyboard, however, is the band’s name. Keeping on track with originality Gretchen and the Pickpockets as a phrase is just as catchy and unforgettable as Gretchen and the Pickpockets as a tune. The name can be attributed to Gretchen and Mike’s upbringing on Pickpocket Road where they held band practice and their father’s persistence when he heard a good thing.
“For like a year their dad was like, ‘You should be The Pickpockets,’” said Ryan.
The future of Gretchen and the Pickpockets is one that, just like the range of inspirations, fans and notes in their songs, has no limits. According to the band, their sound will continue to develop and their reach will continue to grow.
As for the sound, Ryan has high hopes to “experiment with bigger horns sections.”
“In some of our locals shows our friends will just jump up on stage with us and we’ll have like a six part horn section and it sounds really cool,” he said.
“We would just bring, at first cover songs we all liked then we kind of figured out what kind of music we wanted to play,” said Mike.
As for location, the group is hoping to do a Southern tour in the near future but for now is content with their native region of New England.
“I think you can make it big wherever you are if you have talent and know the right person. It doesn’t really matter where you are, to me. We want our hometown to be Boston,” said Gretchen.
The band currently holds the title for “Best Band in New Hampshire” and it’s inevitable that this is just the beginning.
“It’s like you know being in this band, I feel so lucky. Like, these are cool people, and they’re kick-ass musicians so like, you know, you couldn’t ask for a better way to be creative, said Richie, “I’m just happy to be in this group. I think what’s cool about being in this band is since we all really dig jazz and that sort of thing, there’s a lot of room to improvise but even though we have our set song forms, we can push it a little bit. If we want to change tempo a little bit, we go into a different harmony, everyone’s really good at listening and really goes with it.”
“We’ve all invested a lot of time the last few years and we’re all ready to invest a lot more time too,” added Mike.
The hard work is in no doubt paying off. With fans in New Hampshire, Boston, New York and even a “small cult following in Milwaukee” (Richie would like to give a shout-out to Reggie), there’s nowhere for this down to earth band to go but up.
“I think we sort of go by the mantra of, you know…don’t be a jerk” said, Mike. “Be nice and don’t suck.”
And so, tacos in tow, G&P left New York for the New England soundscapes once again. On Nov. 5, they will open for Low Cut Connie at Great Scott in Allston MA and plans for a full album are in the works.
For Gretchen and the Pickpockets, there are no signs of slowing down. We couldn’t be happier.
To catch Gretchen and the Pickpockets, check out their upcoming show dates and venues:
Nov. 6 – Thirsty Moose, Portsmouth NH
Nov. 7 – Blue Mermaid, Portsmouth NH
Nov. 25 – Zorba Room, Lowell MA
Nov. 27 – Press Room, Portsmouth NH