Interview with The Bulkheads
The Bulkheads, formed in 2019 by Andrew Morrissey (percussionist) and Blake Jennings (bass guitar) out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They knew they wanted to get the people movin and groovin which led to creating “The Bulkheads.” Consisting of: Adrienne Mack Davis (lead vocals/Backup Vocals), Joey Bonenfant (Keys and Lead vocals/Backup Vocals), Jeremy B. Morse (Guitar) and Ari Landau (Saxophone) for the past few years this band has been wearing peoples soles in their shoes out by their driving and high energy performances. Watch and hear their music transcend genres from soulful RnB, to high energy funk and Hip-hop.
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
AMD: I would say music chose me, it’s something I gravitated towards naturally from a very young age, without it I think I’d have been given a different gift and I’m sure I’d be happy doing that.
Andrew: Music has always been in my life in terms of listening to it, but I started playing after my dad passed away in 2007 and it most definitely saved my life in a lot of ways and I don’t know where I’d be without it.
Ari: I got into music in elementary school when I had the opportunity to join the 5th grade band. If not music, I would most likely be working in an office environment, with a more regular schedule.
Blake: Music has always been present in some form or another at every point in my life. My mother and uncle had been in bands all their life, and as I grew up they sort of indoctrinated me into the habit of picking up any instrument, and seeing what kind of music I could make no matter if it was “Good” or not. If I hadn't gotten into music I would probably have gone to college to study something much less fulfilling, and thus ending up in copious amounts of debt that would be hard to recover from.
Joey: I actually attended a Billy Joel concert in the womb, so you could say I was raised on music. Both my parents are 60’s babies and had great taste in rock, classic rock, blues, jazz, and pop music from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. In my preschool years I had a perceptive teacher that uncovered a talent for piano and recommended classes, and from age five to eleven I was enrolled in classical piano lessons. At age 12 I began self teaching guitar and started joining bands as a guitarist at age 20. For me, music has always been a passion and a hobby, and only recently have I become professional, so I, along with the rest of the band, work full time jobs to make ends meet. So if we weren’t doing music, we’d just be lost in the rat race of human pandamonium, and we do plan to make a career of our musical jumblings.
Jeremy: That’s like asking somebody how they got into breathing. I have passions in this life, but music is the deepest one. If music wasn’t my religion I would be a devout Catholic, Taoist, or maybe an astrophysicist...
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
AMD: Honestly I like to relax, take walks in nature and spend time with people I admire and love. It influences my creativity by allowing me to bring balance to my life besides the go, go go of professional commitments.
Andrew: I enjoy relaxing at home, exploring nature, going to concerts and just enjoying the time I have when not playing music to the fullest. It inspires me and influences me in many ways such as playing styles, cultural styles, more memories to write about with music, stuff like that.
Ari: When I am not playing music, I like to play and watch sports like football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, rugby, and cricket.
Joey: In my off time I like to exercise outdoors, and much of my inspiration comes from my connection to the earth and my love for nature. But no matter what I’m doing, whether it’s working, cooking, socializing or even meditating, I usually have a song playing in my head, or a rhythm coming from my body. I call it the universal radio station. In that sense I am an indentured slave to music, and I have no choice but to channel it through and embody it here on Earth as well as in my mind, whether I’m playing music or not.
Blake: When I’m not playing music, I typically enjoy relaxing and spending time with friends and loved ones, being out in the woods, and engaging in some other type of artwork. Mostly my creativity draws from all of those things in some type of way. Out in the woods, or sitting by the fire, my creativity is pretty much intertwined with every aspect of my life. Sometimes the simplest things can initiate creative feelings that I use in my music.
Jeremy: I love being in the woods, living in historic rural New England, and love being in the workshop doing more practical, less subjective things like fixing old motorcycles. It’s a more relaxing thing for when my brain needs a break from music…
How long has music been your career?
AMD: Since I was a child I’ve followed music, but having it actually pay me consistently on a professional level I’d say about a decade.
Andrew: Music has been my career for eight years now
Ari: Music has been my career ever since I started attending the music program at UMass Lowell.
Joey: Music has yet to become a career for me but as I push myself more further into the industry I hope to do it full time for a living eventually!
Blake: Ever since The Bulkheads started!
Jeremy: Most of my professional life has included some aspect of music. Teaching or performing. But it’s more than a career, it’s a life.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
AMD: I’m originally from Rochester NY now based in NH for this current phase of things but I left home at 14 to follow music so it’s brought me to some really incredible places both nationally and internationally.
Andrew: I am based out of Southern New Hampshire and grew up with a lot of classic rock and jam bands which have played a big role in bringing me to enjoy playing funk, soul and RnB.
Ari: I am currently based out of Lawrence, Massachusetts. I played with a lot of colleagues from school locally, because a lot of them are also based in the general area, which is close to my university in Lowell.
Joey: I was raised in a coastal town in New Hampshire, and as I got into highschool my friends and I took to the reggae culture, particularly during the summers at the beach.
Blake: I was born in Kittery, Maine; the town right next to where the band was formed. Growing up in a small coastal town bordered by Massachussettes, New Hampshire, and Vermont there were a lot of different influences as far as music goes. I got a lot of exposure to Hip-Hop, Rock, Bluegrass, and some country. Which is ultimately the basis for what our band draws its sound from now.
Jeremy: Sandwiched between the Lakes and Mountains of rural New Hampshire. There’s plenty of quiet here so it’s easy to let the music in.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
AMD: One of the best shows I’ve played was in Maynamar actually, all ages and all ladies lineup, I’ve never seen a place go up like that, it was magic. Worst was in Nepal after the earthquakes there in 2015, it’s was a beautiful show don’t get me wrong but it was for all the volunteers and we were all spent and completely traumatized from the experience of seeing the fallout of such a disaster so it was a hard one to get through, especially with aftershocks rocking the building every so many minutes.
Andrew: The best show I played was actually in a basement of a college house packed like sardines and everyone was going crazy. The energy was just insane. The worst show I played at I was told I didn’t need a drum set at a music festival and drove 3+ hours to the festival and then soon figured out I should have brought my drums and had to go around asking other bands if I could borrow their drum set for my set. So now I bring a drum set with me no matter what
Ari: My favorite shows have been the ones with the most involvement from the crowd. Most notably was an open mic in Beijing, China, where I played ukulele with accompaniment of drums, bass, keyboard, and acoustic guitar. We played The Beatles’ Hey Jude for roughly ten minutes with the entire bar singing along with us at the top of their lungs. Conversely, I’ve played shows that didn’t have much heart in them because band members weren’t into the music and there was no enthusiasm from the crowd.
Joey: The best shows I have ever played were on those nights where the stars seem to align, the timing of setup and soundcheck leaves room for dinner with the whole gang, we eat, drink and the spirit of the night is sparkling in everyone’s eyes. The reverberations of our mid-day rehearsal still ringing in our ears. We take the stage for a sold-out packed crowd screaming for us to play. The worst shows I have ever played are those cold lonely quiet shows where the sound on stage makes it impossible to hear yourself, begging the question: “why am I even here?”
Blake: Some of the best shows I’ve played ultimately stems from when everybody is on the same page, and everyone's vibe aligns. It takes more than just one person to make a great show, and when everyone is vibin off of each other the outcome is magical. As far as worst shows, I don't really think of it like that, every “Bad” show is just an opportunity for learning, and further collaboration, and practice.
Jeremy: The best shows usually have a kind of synergy between the musicians, audience, atmosphere, sound quality, and energy. We can bring a lot of that to any show, but sometimes it feels like it’s already there and we just click, like we’re all dialed in to whatever the universe is doing that night.
The worst shows are when some uncomfortable vibe invades the space, and throws us off. But that is rare and is usually a product of some outside force.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
AMD: I don’t think I have a favorite, but I’d love to play Red Rocks someday.
Andrew: The most favorite venue I’ve played at yet was Higher Ground in Vermont with my last band “Stroll” but I’d love to play at The House of Blues, Red Rocks, and as many big festivals as I can.
Ari: I love playing in front of large crowds, and so the biggest and most fun venue I’ve played at is the auditorium in Durgin Hall in UMass Lowell. Playing in front of any full auditorium with a good crowd is what I like most, no matter where it is.
Joey: Our favorite venue to play at currently is the Press Room, located in our hometown Portsmouth New Hampshire. A recently renovated bar with a full-size stage and lighting system, a disco ball and a second floor balcony as well as a sizable dancefloor, we love The Press Room for being a higher quality venue and experience for us and our fans. In the future we would like to play at bigger venues that exhibit the same features we like about The Press Room. Examples would be The State Theatre in Portland, ME, The Casino Ballroom in Hampton Beach, NH or even potentially larger venues like Thompson’s Point in Portland, ME or the Comcast Center in Mansfield, Mass.
Jeremy: I love the venues that are small enough to feel intimate yet big enough to have a good full crowd. Really big venues are not as fun for me. It’s weird being 20’ from the drummer……
I want to play more outside stages!
Blake: As of now, my favorite venue to play at is the Press Room in Portsmouth, NH. It's the first place I’ve played a show that was larger than the typical ‘Open Mic’ spots. Obviously, my pie in the sky venue would be to play at Red Rocks.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I could keep going but those are a few…
Tower Of Power
For me, there is no lineup that I would specifically want to have in a show. I enjoy playing with anyone who is willing to put on a fun show and is all about making good music.
Trampled by Turtles
Organically Good Trio
John Brown’s Body
G. Love and Special Sauce
If they’re cool and their crowd is cool, I love it.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
AMD: Follow your heart and learn to grow from the failures because there will be inevitable moments of hardship, but as long as you have a ‘why’ you can face any ‘how’.
Andrew: Stay determined and don’t let the little things get you down. It takes hard work to get to where you want to be and make time for some RnR every once in a while.
Blake: Play what makes you feel good, and the rest will come.
Joey: Learn the fundamentals, get a basic understanding of the instrument and music of your liking, this will help get you through the harder parts of practicing early on. Enough practice builds muscle memory, and with enough chords in your repertoire, the challenge is to build songs with your own creative decisions.
Ari: Do whatever it is that you like to do, and play whatever you want to play. The most important thing about playing music is enjoying it yourself.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
AMD: Don’t try so hard.
Andrew: Be more focused on the foundation needed to grow so it makes things easier in the long run.
Joey: Stop judging yourself and others, stop comparing yourself to others and allow all to express themselves freely. Give Compassion and respect to all performers.
Ari: Practice more and put more time into playing your instrument. It can be tough to motivate yourself to practice and play more, but that would have put me in a better spot going forward and set me up for greater success at a time when I can afford to do so.
Jeremy: It all starts with musicianship. There’s no shortcut! You have to study, listen, practice, watch, practice, research, practice practice practice. And to remember that talent initially gets you the gig, but being a good soul gets you hired again and again.
Blake: Learn the theory, but don’t let it take away from the creativity.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
AMD: I don’t think any one song means ‘the most’ to me. I think they are all equal in their creation and there to be expressed for a reason whether for my own benefit or for the benefit of people who find the music resonates with them.
Andrew: Of The Bulkheads songs I can't just think of one that means the most but B Groovy, The Crash and Holdup are three of my favorites.
Ari: It depends on the day of the week. My feelings toward my music change on a very frequent basis, and sometimes some songs mean more than others, but that could be flipped quickly. THe atmosphere in which I am playing or listening also has a lot to do with it.
Joey: One of our favorite songs is called “Rockin’ Stardust.” I wrote this song for a previous band with the intention of writing an upbeat, funky, powerful, driving tune to get everyone dancing on their feet. We started with a groove with drums and bass, and eventually added some much needed horn stabs and searing guitar solos. As I wrote the lyrics I wanted to inspire listeners to open up, be free from inhibition, and rock out like the stars we all are. “I shine bright, like no one else, no fears that can stop myself..” Without fail, every time we play this song, the entire room gets energized, engaged, and when it stops the crowd always goes wild.
Blake: Some of the songs that mean most to me are some that were written during the start of the band. At the beginning, song writing was an insecurity to me, and seeing that some of them stand the test of time, and still being played till this day is rewarding.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
AMD: I find that people love to be reminded and reminisce as much as people love to turn up, dance and forget, the whole spectrum of our songs is loved by most.
Andrew: I’d say people enjoy our up-beat songs when crowd numbers are high but people still enjoy the slower tempo music.
Blake: My favorite songs are the ones where we all hit together, and syncopate together in interesting and dynamic ways.
Ari: This also depends on the time and place. Sometimes it’s faster songs and sometimes slower songs. Sometimes hard songs or easy songs. That changes depending on the mood of the situation.
Joey: Favorite 3 songs on the Bulkheads current setlist would have to be B Groovy, Healer, and The Pressure. Currently, our most requested song is “Drum Solo” by Andrew “J Chill” Morrisey.
Jeremy: That changes every show. I love the ensemble songs where our lead singers both have prominent roles and there are instrumental solos from lots of us in the band!
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
AMD: The creative process is how one goes about the formula of being creative, yes? I find this is always changing and shifting for me, and as I allow more space for that and less rigidity in the creation of songs the process as a whole is better able to refine itself. Life in all its forms, ups and downs is what inspires me to write.
Andrew: I like to be able to see outside and usually in some sort of place that makes me feel a type of way. But sometimes it’s just walking around outside or I wake up from a dream or as easy as someone saying a line of some sort.
Ari: The best environment for me to write music and be in the zone is when I sit down with my band mates and jam on new material. The most fresh music comes from improvised jams in my opinion.
Joey: What inspires me to write music is my life experience. My vocabulary on piano and guitar allows me to construct chord progressions on the fly, fueled by my current emotions. From there I usually improvise melodies scatting with my voice, which I can later build into verses and choruses. Occasionally, with enough raw emotion involved, I can improvise lyrics and melodies on the fly!
Blake: What inspires me the most is a quote from Walt Whitman, “That you are here-that life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
Jeremy: I just like playing things that don’t feel done to death. You know, chord progression A is so overused, let’s substitute a couple chords and mess with the harmony a bit. Or, let’s twist the song form around a little….
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
AMD: Self acceptance, mindfulness and love.
Andrew: Care for the world and its resources and truth.
Ari: The most important message for me when I am performing is to let the audience know that I am having fun and that I want them to enjoy the show. Music to me is about coming together and having a good time. If everyone is enjoying the show, I am doing it right.
Joey: My songs are mostly about self empowerment and spiritual discovery, hinting at the bigger picture while also keeping it light and fun, in hopes of appealing to the pop culture of the masses. Some of my lyrics aren’t personal at all but written from my interpretation of the collective mind.
Jeremy: That there’s a world outside your immediate lived experience, and that I want to reach it with you.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
AMD: As of yet I only joined the Bulkheads team about a year ago but it seems that no matter what we’ve come up against thus far it has been handled rationally and with a great amount of maturity.
Andrew: It’s hard to not have disagreements when 6 people are involved on a project together but we are usually very receptive towards each other's opinions and hear each other out when it comes to decisions about the music, direction of the band, merch, etc.
Joey: Of course in any band or musical collective there will be differing opinions, the idea is to cooperate and come to agreements that most benefit the band as a whole. This is sometimes easier said than done, but for me, ego has no place in music because it's all about empowering each other and shining as bright as we can TOGETHER.
Blake: I’m very thankful to be a part of such a great group of people. Even when we have disagreements, ultimately everybody wants what's best for the group, and the music, so I feel we're all open to compromise even if there is never the exact answer that we all want. Other than that disagreements are few and far between.
Ari: Everyone has disagreements from time to time, but as long as you compromise, it’s ok. When I collaborate with other musicians, I like to hear their opinions and compromise based on the things we all like. Sometimes it’s more difficult to do so than others, but at the end of the day there is always a solution.
Jeremy: If we have good intentions, the disagreements are always easy to resolve. We’re all pretty gentle souls in this band and we support each other, know our roles, and are understanding.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
AMD: We are writing and recording NEW MUSIC which we are very excited to share with the world so look for it coming 2023!!!
Andrew: Currently we are working on our debut album and will continue writing and start recording for the second album in the spring of 2023.
Ari: I plan to keep playing and writing music into the future and am hoping to be involved in more projects and releases. I’m especially looking forward to getting our first album out with The Bulkheads in 2023!
Blake: Honestly, I just want to keep riding the train and see where it takes us. This venture in music has already exceeded my expectations in every way, so I’m just happy to be along for the ride and just wish to keep making the best music possible. If folks love the music we make and want to keep coming out and getting down with us, all the better!
Joey: Finishing our debut album and booking shows at bigger regional venues to promote! Right now we have a big show coming up on the 23 of November at The Press Room in Portsmouth NH alongside funk powerhouse Harsh Armadillo.
Jeremy: Expanding our live set!!!!
What makes you so damn funky?
AMD: Andrew Morrissey
Joey: Joey Bonenfant
Ari: Andrew Morissey
Jeremy: Being locked in with Blake and Drew…..
Blake: The collective mojo.