“Garaj Mahal represents the world.”

By Jason Tanamor

The band Garaj Mahal got its name from a contest the band hosted when it first started. “At the very beginning stages of the band, we had an email contest and got several hundred ideas for band names,” Eric Levy said. “We ended up using Garaj Mahal because it represented the world influences the band has.”

Levy, keyboards, was the final member to join the unique band that also consists of Kai Eckhardt, bass; Fareed Haque, guitars; genetically-funky Sean Rickman, drums; and the recently departed Alan Hertz, drums. “It started with Fareed, our guitar player, flying to San Francisco to do a show with our drummer Alan. Alan knew Kai, and Fareed knew me. We’ve been playing together for the last eight years,” said Levy. “They had a keyboard player for a few months, but he left and pretty much, outside of San Francisco, it’s been just us, the same four members.”

Garaj Mahal’s music, a variation of tunes with both jazz and Indian influences, focuses on different grooves that people can dance to. It’s something that Levy, along with the rest of the guys, wants to convey to their audience. “I think people will get out of it what they’re willing to put into it. If someone is going out to dance and have a good time, or maybe meet someone, that’s a possibility at our show,” said Levy. “If they have fun then we’re happy for them. If someone wants to be intellectually challenged, that option is available to them. People tend to go to our show for one or all those options.”

Like its name and original way it came about, the band also looks at its music as different than what’s out on the scene today, specifically when it comes to the show, ‘American Idol,’ and what the reality show has to offer. “I figure, personally, I’ve decided to be a musician for my life and career. It’s a pretty idealistic pursuit, given our society, to be an idealist all the way and play music that challenges me. Looking at it through those type of lenses, I get great satisfaction. We sustain as a business, but we hope to have music heard the way we’re hearing it,” said Levy. “With any band, there’s going to be people who are turned on and some that just aren’t. I think we do really well actually. We can go from playing one night to an older, intelligent crowd, and the next night, be in a ruckus bar, and it’s a whole different set of challenges. But pending on the audience, it forces us to play different, and that’s not a bad thing because it pushes us to play on grooves. It’s where we focus our attention, and the venues changing from night to night are good.”

As for the hit reality show that offers complete exposure and fame, Garaj Mahal’s theory on such instant success is one that can be learned from. “It’s kind of fun to point to an example like ‘American Idol.’ This is really for everyone to see the other side of our business. It’s a cool premise. We’ve had the same record company doing the same thing and ‘American Idol’ is an example of what’s happening,” said Levy. “It gives people a chance to get a record deal and kind of brings the whole idea of capitalism in music. It lets people judge you and gives you the chance to pick what should be heard.”

Levy did go on to add his criticism of the reality show. “It’s not so much about the idea of show, but the implementation of how the artist is handled once they win. Look at Kelly Clarkson and how her music has changed since winning the show. It’s what record companies think what the people want to hear,” said Levy.

No matter how Levy looks at things, Garaj Mahal still has to go out and perform, which includes touring and unloading its gear. “Being on the road playing is the most demanding form of playing music I’ve ever had, far more than any job I’ve had that pertained to music,” Levy said.

And from being on the road, Levy and Garaj Mahal has figured out a couple things to keep going. “Number one, just stay positive. It’s easy for anyone to have personal issues and once it gets out there it can be a poison. Let everything bounce off of you with positivity,” said Levy. “The reward is being on stage playing. I have to set up my gear but once I start playing, I’m going to be playing my heart out. I’m really trying to go for musical concept as hard as I can.”

As for now, Garaj Mahal has a new album out called, “w00t.” “For those people who aren’t familiar with us, we have albums before this one,” said Levy.


Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He is also the author of the novels, "Hello Lesbian!" and "Anonymous."

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