MaineList Article: Gristlestick


Setting The Mood

Setting The MoodThe ambiance of the room’s after-dinner environment at Bull Feeney’s in Portland is comforting. It’s a great place to enjoy a drink, and lounge with friends. You can always hear bands while walking the busy corner where Exchange meets Fore in Portland’s Old Port.

The band has just finished setting up, a few of their friends are just settling in, and patrons who are nothing more than strangers to the band are beginning to shift their seats as they prepare for the entertainment of the evening.

Drums quietly warm up the room, as Andrew, the band’s percussionist finishes setting up his kit. He begins a repetitive beat, evolving just a little for some time while the other members finish plugging in and tuning their instruments.

Leif adds to the flow encouraging an impromptu jam on his bass guitar, and soon after Tom enters the jam with his own improvised rhythm. As the room begins to avert their attention to the band, Russ comes in with a soothing bluesy lead style to confirm that the band is now setup and ready to entertain an already satisfied audience.

The band closes out their spur of the moment jam, and introduces themselves; “We are Gristlestick”, and wastes no time before grinding into the first song on their set list, followed by a personalized version of “Last Dance With Mary Jane”.

Impressive Schedule

Impressive Schedule

Gristlestick, an original and cover band from Farmington, was founded by Russ Copelin and Leif Devine about 2 years ago with the desire to try something different.

One of the first things I noticed while visiting the band’s myspace page was their schedule, which contained legitimate bookings for over 12 months ahead.

Gristlestick spent three months on the road, from June to September in 2006, as they toured through Montana, into Yukon Territory in Canada, preceding on into Alaska. They had just released their first CD entitled; “Flesh Tunes” before they launched their northern parade, and have maintained a busy working schedule ever since.

You wouldn’t expect an electric rock band to incorporate a ukulele, lap steel guitar, or banjo into the mix, but that’s not even the oddest thing these guys are up to. During their performance, the band will actually switch places taking on each other’s instruments too. They really enjoy bringing out an assortment of instruments to create a flavor all their own. “Sometimes, I’ll even play the kazoo.” Says Russ, the band’s front-man.

Press Releases

Press ReleasesIt seems the band has made some news with a couple of interesting press releases including; The “Farmington Flyer” (The University at Maine in Farmington’s Newspaper) which shows the band performing at the “Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s Green Beaver Fest” in an article written for the festival.

Gristlestick has been the subject of other Press coverage too, where they appeared in “Daily Bulldog” (a newspaper for Franklin County), “Bangor Daily News” who quoted Gristlestick as being; “Maine’s Best Kept Secret”, as well as a complimentary article from “FBX Square” out of Alaska.

Naming The Band

Naming The BandOriginally, Gristlestick was known for always changing their name. “We had a different name every time we played at first” explained Russ, who seemed to delight in coming up with strange and somewhat twisted band names. “We used names like; “Durf McGurgon”, “The Tuna-fish Quesadillas” or even “Left Titty and the Brown Boys”. From the sounds of it, I’d say the band had a lot of fun at first naming themselves, but it was finally “Gristlestick” that stuck!

I had to ask… “What in the world is a Gristlestick?!?!” I thought the band was going to say something obscure, and I was definitely on the right track.

“It’s a word taken from smutty websites.” Snickered Leif, the band’s bassist, who made no effort to conceal his humor. It seems that the band’s name has the same kind of flavor as some of the somewhat vulgarly expressive songs that they are projecting.

“People either love us, or love to hate us.” The band doesn’t seem to be bothered by the occasional scowls or disapproving gestures. “Either way, we often win over tough crowds.” This is probably due to their obviously demented sense of humor, which comes across as good fun.

The Songs

The Songs

Fans of Gristlestick are familiar with songs entitled; “Back Door” and “Tool Bags” which are a couple of their more requested originals.

The band is performing a 50/50 mix of originals and covers, with about 40 originals and 40 covers to choose from. This allows them to pick and choose songs according to the variables of each performance.

Audiences often enjoy their unique approach at songs like; “My Name Is” by Eminem, or “La Grange” and “Tube Snake Boogie by ZZTop, but the band is also known cover a wide variety of other bands as well, including songs by; Bill Withers, Bob Marley, Charlie Daniels, and many others that people know and like to sing along to.

Russ Copelin

Russ CopelinLead Vocals, Ukulele, Guitar, Harmonica, Percussion, Banjo

Influences: Big Frank Zappa fan! “Sex and Drugs and Rock-n-Roll!”

Russ Copelin strikes me as a genuinely ambitious band leader, who spends much of his time self-promoting and managing the band’s booking. “We probably play more than any other original band in the State of Maine!”, Russ approvingly states, “I’ll call some clubs a couple of times a week, until they pick up the phone and talk to me. I don’t care how annoying I can be, because I know from experience that’s how you book the gigs!” And with his band booked 12 months ahead, with over 150 shows in the past two years behind him, I think he may be on to something.

Learning how to barter may have been just the tools Russ needed, through working for his family’s business; “Benton Station Antiques” in Benton. “We hope to replace our regular jobs someday. We love Maine, and really hope the music scene is able to keep us going.” The band’s optimism seemed high, “Screw that! We wanna take over the World!”

“I’m sick of musicians working for nothing!” Russ conveyed some frustration with his experiences of booking. “It makes it difficult at times to book gigs, because some musicians will often undercut other performers. This makes it easier for venues to take advantage of bands, which often results in smaller pay sums.”

“I’ll be the guy at a show standing right up front staring at the performers.” Entertained by inquisitively researching and absorbing what the performers are doing. “Sometimes, it seems, I tend to make other musicians nervous. It’s probably the way that I stare.” Russ joked, as he put on his best impression.

Russ showed some appreciation for other Maine bands he’s encountered; “The Dead Sexies”, “151” which was a band out of Hollowell, and “Before I Kill Again” a Windham based hardcore band .

Andrew Bellmore

Andrew BellmoreAndrew Bellmore -- traditional drum kit, Hand percussion

Influences: “There’s nothing I won’t listen to! I listened to “Buddy Guy” the whole way down here today.”

Andrew started playing drums early in life, after breaking his parent’s car dashboard while drumming on it. His father, who is also a musician, remarked that maybe it’s time Andrew started playing the drums, and put his son's rhythmic hands to good use with a set of drums at an early age.

Leif Devine & Tom Stevens

Leif Devine & Tom Stevens

Tom "Magnum" Stevens -- Guitar & Slide, Percussion, Slap-Bass, Vocals

Influences: ZZTop, and Classic Rock in general.

Tom also drums for “The Nectaroons”, a band out of Farmington.

Leif Devine & Tom Stevens

Leif "Encore" Devine -- Bass, Guitar, Vocals

Influences: Primis, Tenacious D, Cake

Leif and Russ founded the band together.


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