Grateful Web Interview with Bobby Syvarth

Article Contributed by Candice Dollar | Published on Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Get ready for the release of Bobby Syvarth's latest single "I Like (PineBox Studio Version)," featuring the talented Elliott Peck on vocals. Produced and engineered by Damian Calcagne at The PineBox in Boonton, NJ, this new release promises to be a hit. Damian has been making waves in the music industry, with 5 Grammy considerations for his Hammond B3 playing and engineering work in 2022.

The PineBox has hosted several top-notch artists, including Phil Lesh, Andy Falco, and Nadine LaFond, to name a few. This time, Syvarth has brought together an incredible team, including the exceptional vocalist, Elliott Peck, who has collaborated with big names like Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and Bonnie Raitt. On bass, we have Johnny Grubb, who spent seven years with Railroad Earth, and on drums, Billy Mutchler, a member of The Samples since 2003.

"I Like" is a fan favorite that Syvarth first recorded in 1997 on his Alive at Sarah Street album. The song has evolved and taken on a swampy, Little Feat-inspired sound, which the band has been performing live for years. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the band had to change plans and release a single instead of a full album.

Nevertheless, the song is sure to be a hit and will be streaming on all platforms starting April 28, 2023. Don't miss this Grateful Web exclusive interview with Bobby Syvarth and get a sneak peek into the making of "I Like (PineBox Studio Version)."

GW: Did you play a show last night?

BS: I went to see a friend play last night, an old college buddy.

GW: So, where are you located?

BS: I'm at the Jersey Shore right now, in Belmar. It is two towns south of Asbury Park, which is the more well known music spot, but Jersey Shore is great.

GW: One thing I've noticed is that there are a lot of great musicians who come out of Jersey.

BS: I know. I mean, it's kind of a little local Jersey pride thing. I feel like being in New Jersey is pretty good for that.

GW: Is that where you're from?

BS: Yeah.

GW: Nice. Well, I'm in Nebraska. We are not known for being a huge music state, but luckily there is a little music hub, which is not far for me. So, anyway. I appreciate your time.

BS: I appreciate your time. Hustling music and trying to self-promote— everything really helps.

GW: Oh, absolutely. So, I was listening to your song, “I like it” and I really like it (laughs). It's really good. You wrote the music and lyrics, right?

BS: Yes.

GW: Tell me about working with Elliott Peck.

BS: So, I've had the song for quite some time. I recorded the first version on a live CD in the late 90s, always with the intention of getting it into the studio. Often, when I was doing other studio projects, like this one, this tune just never got back to the priority list, but it's always been a real highlight to play live. It is one of our favorites to play. The keyboard player who I work with, named Damian Calcagne, built a beautiful studio in his home, and after a gig one time he said,  “We should play this. We should get into the studio and record this tune”. He had a relationship, musically, with Elliot, and he was the one producing the song, so it was his idea to bring Elliot in and basically turn it into a duet. She sings pretty much throughout the whole tune. So, it was a producer producing, you know? It was his idea, and his connection, and for me that's what a good producer does. They think of things you may not think of as a songwriter.

GW: I'm always very interested in the physical space and vibe of where the recording and production takes place. Can you tell me about that?

BS: Yeah, sure. So it's a detached garage, which is kind of a square building, and the wood inside is all pine, so it smells like pine. He also lives on Pine Tree Lane, so he calls the studio “Pine Box”. He has a little loft inside, but there's no glass, like you often see in studios. The space is just open. He has a little desk in the back corner, and then the drum set. He's a keyboard player, so he has an upright piano, a Hammond B3 organ, a couple of Leslie speakers, and then a bunch of instruments around. It's in a rural part of New Jersey, so it's got a real rustic feel. He really has created a beautiful space for making music.

GW: When did you record this song?

BS: We recorded this one right before COVID hit. The session was in maybe January? Our intention was to do a four or five song EP, but the lockdown squashed those plans, and then this tune was just sitting around, and we were trying to get our schedules to align so we could get back to it. Finally, I was like, “let's just put this out as a single. There is no reason to keep waiting”.

GW: It seems like a lot of people are doing that these days. Releasing singles, as opposed to full albums.

BS: Yeah. It's kind of easy to do now.  I'm releasing this tune streaming, so I'm not manufacturing any physical copies. I've been putting out music since the mid-90s, and one great change is the streaming thing. You can get music out for much less of a cost, and for distribution, you press a button, and there it is worldwide.

GW: I am sure there are drawbacks to that. I can see how it might feel like you're yelling into the void at times. Like there's so much music coming out that your music could get lost, or overlooked. On the flip side, if you've got something quality, and you've already got this fan base built, then I can see how that'd be a really good thing.

BS: Yeah. There's good and bad to it, like everything else.

GW: Exactly. So you work with some heavy hitters, like John Skehan of Railroad Earth, for example. How did you connect with him?

BS: He didn't do this single, but he's on the original live recording. The live album I did where that song first appeared had a six- or seven-piece band. We had special guests coming in, but in Northwest New Jersey, where I grew up, and where the music scene was pretty vibrant in the mid-90s, my band had John Skehan, Tim Carbone, and Carey Harmon, who would then go on to form half of Railroad Earth. So, it's not like I got on the phone and called up railroad Earth guys. Luckily for me, they all lived in my neighborhood before railroad Earth ever formed, so these are just local guys who everybody respected and enjoyed working with. That's my relationship with those guys; It predates railroad Earth. I mean, I have pictures of me and John, strumming at a backyard barbecue, wearing cargo shorts and eating hotdogs. We even played together at a Battle of the Bands. John and I go way back. He recorded on my first studio album, and then the live thing that I keep referencing, and I still do some stuff with those guys here and there. Now their schedules are pretty heavily booked, so it's not as easy to get hold of them these days.

GW: What's your connection to the Grateful Dead? Of course, it all circles back around to them somehow.

BS: Yeah, I mean it's mind blowing again, because even with John, I remember working out tunes in his basement when we were in our early 20s, and just hanging out. He was more into the Dead than me, so he turned me on to a lot of stuff, you know, listening to cassettes in his little basement studio. To see him go on in Railroad Earth, and to see him on YouTube playing with Bob and Phil— Wow. Build it and they will come. To see him playing with dudes who I know are his heroes is amazing, and even for me, to collaborate with people who have collaborated with some of the biggest, most influential artists of all time feels like— yeah, you're a part of that energy. When I was a kid, if you would have said to me, “Your pal that you're playing at the local bar with is going to be playing with Bob Weir 10 years from now,” I would have said, “You are crazy. There is no way that could ever possibly happen.”

GW: I know what you mean actually. I don't know exactly how I ended up in the same sphere, but it’s almost like a spiritual community somehow. While also being very American. The Grateful Dead is about as close to “American” music as you can get.

BS: I'm getting goosebumps right now. It really is. It's beautiful. They make such beautiful music. And then completely separate from John, Tim, and the Railroad Earth thing, Elliott has been part of Phil's band as a vocalist. Her band, Midnight North, has some connections to the Grateful Dead too. I can't say I'm a true deadhead, but I have these musicians in my orbit who are truly connected to it. When you're recording, and you are able to get somebody on your project who has some good credentials, or who has played with so and so, it helps build interest. The musicianship is always first and foremost, but it's great to be able to say, “I'm working with somebody who's accomplished great things”.

GW: Can you tell me about Billy Mutchler, the drummer?

BS: So this studio version has a different groove than the live version, and that, we can attribute to Billy. He's a great drummer, and he brought it down, made it a little slower, and a little greasier— almost like a Little Feat vibe. Compared to the first live version, which was a little more bluegrass and alternative country. We call this version “The Groove”. Even now, when we play live, we sometimes do it the original way, or we do it the “Billy way”. Billy is in a Jersey based Grateful Dead tribute band, called This Old Engine, and he tours with The Samples, so he has a couple of good gigs that he's juggling.

GW: Well, I'm excited to compare the two versions. Where can we find the live version?

BS: It's on Spotify. My favorite is on an album called Alive at Sarah Street. It's got Carbone and Skehan shredding at the end. I mean, a real hoedown happens, so if you’re into Railroad Earth, you'll definitely like that version. They tear it up.

Live Schedule:

Friday, April 28 @ 7:00PM — 10:00PM (EDT, UTC-04)         

Bobby Syvarth Acoustic Trio 

The Asbury Hotel , Asbury Park, NJ

Friday, May 5 @ 8:00PM — 11:00PM (EDT, UTC-04)         

Bobby Syvarth & El Cinco     

Bull-n-Bear Brewery, Summit, NJ

Thursday, June 22 @ 7:00PM           

SONGWRITERS IN-THE-ROUND at Icehouse Tonight           

IceHouse Tonight, Bethlehem, PA

Saturday, June 24 @ 3:00PM — 6:00PM (EDT, UTC-04)         

Bobby Syvarth Band  

Untied Brewing Company, New Providence, NJ

Friday, July 28 @ 6:00PM — 9:00PM (EDT, UTC-04)      

Bobby Syvarth Band  

Shongum Lake, Randolph, NJ

Friday, August 11 @ 6:00PM — 8:00PM (EDT, UTC-04)         

Bobby Syvarth Band  

The Madison Community Arts Center, Madison, NJ

Saturday, October 14 @ 3:00PM — 6:00PM

Bobby Syvarth Band  

Untied Brewing Company, New Providence, NJ