Interview with Chris Gangi and J.P. Nowak from Cornmeal


Written by Gretchen Gregory – [email protected]

NELSON LEDGES – Cornmeal is a jamgrass band that manages to accomplish swinging melodies from every point on the scale and in between with impeccable taste. The band has found a way to tie the past and present together, mixing rugged folk music with rock and sensible flourishes of Dixieland music. It’s traditional bluegrass, with a little rock added into the mix.

Stepping off their nationwide bus tour last Saturday, the crew made a stop in Ohio to play at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park as part of Summer Hookah 2010.

It’s the only time on their multi state tour this year that the band is scheduled to play in Ohio.

In an exclusive interview with Cincy Groove, bassist Chris Gangi said Ohio is one of the greatest places to play. “The fans are awesome and people are really enthusiastic. There are a lot of really, really excited music goers in Ohio and a lot of them are starving for a lot of good music.”

That was evident Saturday when the band was forced to take a 20 minute break from their set because of lighting. Despite the rain, fans stuck around near the stage waiting for them to play again.

They first started as a side project more than 10 years ago, playing a regular Wednesday gig in Chicago, the place they call home.

“We didn’t know what was going to come with the project,” Gangi explained. “It was just something we were doing. We explored a bunch of music we wanted to play, and didn’t really have intentions of heading out on the road, but as we started playing, we found the interest in Chicago spawned, and that’s when we all sort of started going away from our mainstay and take this more seriously.”

Hailing from Chicago gives the band an industrial working-class sensibility, adds drummer J.P. Nowak. “Chicago is the crossroads in America. It has a draw from an industrial sense and there were mills and refineries and a there’s a huge working class with a lot of different cultures and styles of music.”

Chicago might be their home, but Gangi says Colorado’s Telluride Bluegrass Festival had a lot to do with the formation of jamgrass.

“Telluride brought in a lot of the mix,” he said. “They are one of those bluegrass festivals that wasn’t so structured and brought in all kinds of bluegrass.”

“Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident from Colorado gave bluegrass a whole new element,” he continued. “They took bluegrass to a whole other dimension. They were playing around the structure of old time music and shaping into a much more universal sound. We are definitely seeded in that, and we’re just one step later.”

Besides Leftover and SCI, Gangi draws much of his influences from folk music. “Songs of folk music and bluegrass and America show that songwriting is about the people, and that really sparked my interest. I feel an obligation to keep a fabric of intellect and human heart in our songs, and we try to do that in our own way.”

“For the most part, we’ve been trained with the school of rock,” Nowak said jokingly, shortly after stopping the interview and leaning out the window to take a toll ticket somewhere in Pennsylvania. “As you grow and play music, you come to find a comfort in that sound or style. Right now, we’re kind of in a groove base that we’re feeling. We play intense, loud, fast music, and continue to work and be humble and continue to practice.”

“It’s been a great ride and we’ve had amazing opportunities. It’s fun music and I also believe it’s a bluegrass beat, and a rock ‘n’ roll feel to put a twist on it. It appeals to old folks and real young kids,” he said.