Anyone looking to spend a night out at the bars listening to some local musicians will usually have a good chance at finding at least one band. However, if the host of cover bands most venues book isn’t ideal, listening to some great music may be a bit more difficult.
That was the frustration that drove NMU graduate and bassist Obadiah Metivier, along with some friends, to start the band Terracotta half-life in the summer of 2004. They wanted to bring a distinctly fresh sound to the music scene, and they decided that sound was tropical funk.
Their style is a mix of Afrobeat, Latin-jazz, funk, fusion and soul. It’s not the norm for this area, but that’s one of the reasons senior diagnostic genetics major Matt Olson joined the band on guitar last year.
“It was really different,” Olson said. “I play in a lot of bands, but they’re mostly rock. (Terracotta half-life) is unique and creative.”
The band is mostly made up of current NMU students and alumni, with a professor even thrown into the mix. Steven Leuthold, an associate professor in the art and design department, plays a variety of wind instruments. Jennie Peano, Chris Potter, Kevin Baker and Metivier all have degrees from NMU as well.
The band plays an array of instruments, which goes hand-in-hand with their unique sound. Peano is the vocalist and plays percussion, and Metivier performs on vocals, analog synth and percussion, along with bass. Baker is the band’s keyboardist, and Potter is the drummer. They even incorporated an alto sax player in Aaron Kippola, who began playing with the band in the spring of 2007.
Like any band made up mostly of college students, it’s hard to keep the same line-up for an extended period of time. Terracotta half-life keeps evolving as new members join to replace ones who’ve left, but their connection to NMU and sound remains the same.
The choice to play tropical funk wasn’t just about being different, it was also about genuinely loving the music.
“It’s fun,” Metivier said. “Fun to play and fun to listen to. It spreads positive messages and positive vibes.”
Most of the members are involved with other bands as well, but they all say there’s something about the tropical funk sound that draws them to Terracotta half-life.
“I sang mostly funk, soul and blues cover songs until I met Obadiah,” Peano said. “I love Latin-jazz and afro-Cuban music, so when I found out there was a band that played some of this music in town, and mixed it with some funk, I wanted to be involved.”
Metivier is the main songwriter for the band, but Peano has written one song in Spanish and just finished up her second song for the band. She plans on taking a more active role in song writing in the future.
One song that stands out to Metivier is “Habari Yako,” which is a Swahili greeting that translates to “What’s the news?” He says it’s a song about protecting the Earth, and the greeting is being directed at the planet itself.
“Asking, ‘What’s the news?’ to the Earth is another way of caring about where we live,” Metivier said.
This world view of their music can also be heard in Peano’s vocals as well. She’s able to sing soulfully in English, Spanish and Portuguese, and is one of the reasons that Harley’s Lounge bartender Carrie Sanderson has them play there.
“Jennie is amazing and has an amazing voice,” Sanderson said. “They’re original, they’re funky and they’re all very talented. They draw a nice crowd.”
Sanderson added that she continues to bring them back because of their professionalism and presence on stage. She said they don’t talk to the crowd much, but they definitely feed off the audience.
According to Metivier, the balance of being professional while having fun is something that Terracotta half-life takes very seriously.
“It doesn’t matter how the venue is or the size of the crowd, it’s fun,” said Metivier. “We go up there with the attitude that we’re going to enjoy it.”
To sign up for the band’s mailing list, listen to music or find out when their next gig is, visit their Web site at www.terracottahalflife.com.