Rob Meany & Terramara is a jazz/pop group based in Minneapolis. THE GARAGE got in touch with Rob Meany, Terramara’s founder, to find out more about the band’s past and what being a successful solo artist brings to the experience.
THE GARAGE: How did Terramara start?
Rob Meany: After playing in cover bands and as a sideman in another band for several years, I decided I needed a vehicle for my own songs. At the time, I didn’t know many musicians in town, so I placed an ad in the classified section of City Pages and starting recruiting players. I found some good ones that way, and although the line-up has changed significantly over the years, I put together a solid group to get started with. With just a handful of original songs, we began practicing in my basement.
THE GARAGE: What does the band’s name, Terramara, mean? Do you want it to mean anything in particular to your listeners?
Rob: Terramara is an Italian word that we found in the dictionary as we were searching for a decent band name. It isn’t really meant to convey any particular meaning to our audience. It just had a nice sound to it at the time. Technically, it refers to a class of middle Bronze Age settlements in northern Italy because they appear in the modern landscape as spreads of rich black organic soil. This soil or “terramara” is often quarried by local farmers for use as fertilizer. Our logo is inspired by this definition as it is a depiction of a fertile, green earth. I guess you could say we see our band as a fertile soil of musical ideas.
THE GARAGE: What has it been like playing with Terramara over the years? Do you enjoy certain aspects of it over performing solo?
Rob: I think overall I have really enjoyed most of my time playing with Terramara. There were tough times when we didn’t get along or had conflicts, but that is pretty common for any band. Over the years there have been changes in the line-up and with each change, I have found another player who is even more well-suited to my vision for the band. It just keeps getting better. There is something very magical about playing with a creative group of players where the sum is greater than the parts. The other players in the band add so much to my songs and to the overall energy of the music. They are coming up with parts that I never would have imagined and that in many cases, make the song so much better. After playing together for awhile, you start to get in sync with them musically and the music gets tighter and more cohesive. That is where the magic happens.
Playing solo has its benefits as well. Organizing a group, practicing, setting up shows, recording together takes a huge amount of time and energy. At times it is simpler, less stressful, and more rewarding to just play solo. You don’t have that group of guys to back up up, but you have more freedom to play whatever and whenever you want. And you can find your true voice when you are by yourself.
I like both situations and will continue to do both.
THE GARAGE: How do you go about writing your songs? Many of them seem to be piano-based with guitar and drums to add substance.
Rob: That is right. They are primarily piano-based and the band really adds their parts around my piano/vocal structure. I have tried other methods for a few songs, but mostly I begin at the piano just fooling around with chords and humming melodies over them. When I find chord progression and groove that I like, I work on a good melodic phrase over the top. I will record this idea and come back later and flesh it out. Maybe it will have a natural verse and chorus section to it, or I will add another section to form the whole song. Sometimes it feels like it needs a bridge. Lastly, I will sing some lyrical ideas with the melody and just scribble down what sounds inspired. Sometimes a song concept will come from a random phrase, and as I add more lines, the concept will take shape. Sometimes I am able to write all the lyrics in one sitting if find a good topic. I tweak them later for better rhymes or word choice.
Later I will make a demo on my recording set-up with the basic piano and vocals. Sometimes I will add a drum groove if I have one in mind, and any other parts that seem to fit. I try to let the guys come up with their own parts as they usually have a really good sense of what sounds cool.
THE GARAGE: Where is your favorite place to play and perform?
Rob: I usually like a more controlled concert environment if I had my choice. My ideal would be a small concert venue like a jazz club. I haven’t played at the Dakota Bar & Grill but that would be my ideal. The Fine Line is a good venue that is similar.
THE GARAGE: Do you have a favorite song or album that you’ve released?
Rob: I think my favorite Terramara album is Four Blocks To Hennepin. And my favorite song is “Goodbye” from that album. I felt like that album had a really cohesive sound to it and an inspired group of songs.
THE GARAGE: What would you say has influenced your style and songs the most? Friends, family, experiences, or even other musicians?
Rob: I grew up listening to Chicago, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Sting, Elton John, Billy Joel, etc. And many of these artists were discovered listening to my older brother’s record collection. So I was heavily influenced by those artists and my interest in jazz. I played bass in jazz band in high school and taught myself how to play jazz on piano. I think my style grew out of trying to incorporate some jazz styles into my pop songs.
THE GARAGE: What do you love most about playing and performing?
Rob: I like to share my music with other people and see if it connects with them. I enjoy how music can lift people up. It seems to have a healing effect on people that makes it all worthwhile. It can be a blast to play with other musicians too and share musical ideas with them. Mostly it is a great way to connect with people who appreciate music.
THE GARAGE: Where do you see Terramara going from here? Are you pursuing any plans of your own?
Rob: I plan on continuing both as a solo artist and as Terramara. For right now, I am working to finish a solo album and expand my performance schedule so that I am getting my name out there more. I am hoping to do another Terramara record in the future as well. I am trying to become a full-time musician and reach as many people as I can with my music.