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Irish I were as Sketchy as Johnny

Written by  Nick Garrison
(Photo by: Greg Aiello) (Photo by: Greg Aiello)
Your typical St. Patrick's Day celebration may consist of Jameson shots, pints of Guinness, and some corned beef with cabbage. Saturday night's bash at Tipitina’s kicked off with free Popeyes chicken at the door, a shamrock adorned bead necklace around my neck, and a pair of green glow stick glasses to match. "We are Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes. The rumors are true. In your face!" belted front man Marc Paradis (guitar, electric cello, lead vocals, and one grizzly beard). The New Orleans funk/rock band has been working the crowd since 2001 when Paradis (Sketch) formed the group to enter Loyola University's Battle of the Bands contest. After taking home the gold, Johnny Sketch and his unorthodox band of friends have been performing across the country ever since.
 
Paradis, who started playing the cello at age 8 and the guitar at 13, earned his Bachelor of Music degree in cello performance from Loyola University in 2002. This once-aspiring symphony orchestra musician took a change of artistic direction upon graduating. "I wasn't burnt out, I just wanted to do other stuff. The older I got, the more I learned the business. The benefits did not outweigh the disadvantages of that lifestyle. I'd rather be broke doing this than broke playing in a symphony orchestra."

Johnny Sketch | IntheNOLA.com
With regular big venue shows, four albums out, and one about to drop, I'd say the band is doing just fine. Their sound is uniquely their own, featuring David Pomerleau's funky embellished bass grooves, Andre Bohren's thick, unwavering drum beat, and a saxophone trumpet combo with lines so tight the ladies can't help but squeal. Sketch's voice has a smooth flow and bold projection to it, but with enough gristle to make the sound rough around the edges. You know that feeling you get when you hear bacon fat popping, when the oil will bite you if you stand too close? That's about how dirty these guys get.
 
"We're trying to bring the energy back," said Paradis in a post-concert interview. "New Orleans is the shit, but everyone just stands there and plays. I remember seeing Rage Against the Machine when I was thirteen years old and it blew my mind. They were so physical. It was an active performance." Neither Sketch nor his Dirty Notes lack in this field. From member to member, fiery solos roused the crowd, and the performers' body language encouraged everybody to dance.
 
The night featured a number of guests, including members from the opening band, Gravy, local guitar wizard Camile Baudoin, as well as an original member of Sketch's crew, Harry Hardin on violin. In honor of the holiday, and Paradis' one quarter Scotch Irish heritage, the group delivered a wide variety of traditional Irish music, beautifully incorporating the Earthy timbre of both the violin and cello.

Johnny Sketch | IntheNOLA.com

(Photo by: Chris Schwegler)


Their shirtless drummer, who wore a blond wig and miniature hat, unleashed an up-tempo dance beat, which craftily served as the basis for a hoedown. The guitar played virtuoso banjo lines while the fiddle provided syncopated "oom chucks" on the upbeats. Sketch, his neck now married to the neck of a devilish electric cello, traded tasty four bar solos with Hardin. His personal sound, the voice of Paradis' music, is most recognizable in the rise and fall of his phrasing on the cello. While equally professed on the guitar, Paradis' incorporation of this uncommon instrument sets him apart from other rockers in the scene.

What really amazed me was the seamless blend of genres this group presented. Some critics have claimed that the band lacks a focused sound. However, the bottom line is that they are killing it, no matter what style of music they play. Paradis said, "Whatever the cost, you can't sacrifice the groove to be clever." This gives the audience a taste of musicians displaying mastery of their instruments within a form-fitted, high-energy structure. Each song is simple enough for listeners to pick up, but rich with nuance and recognizable due to the southern soul singing. After taking a trip to different musical modes and time signatures, tunes would slam back into a drunken funk groove before rising to a climactic finish.
 
The horn section, Brad Walker (tenor saxophone) and Omar Ramirez (trumpet), was responsible for many of the melodies and catchy licks that stick in your head -- an integral part of the equation. "I'm a big fan of pop music. I like big choruses and hooks, but not in the sense that it's dumbed down for someone to sing along with it," said Paradis. "We're just kind of steeped in that tradition of: we want to write music that's a little more substantial than a one chord jam with a riff. Somewhere between Zappa and Katy Perry, I'd like to live in that world, whatever that means. "

Johnny Sketch | IntheNOLA.com

While the gap between Zappa and Perry may seem extreme, so is this group of musicians. The chemistry among the members is what makes everything work from image and stage presence to musical style and direction. "You have to spend this ridiculous amount of time together, both professionally and personally," said Sketch. “We've had big ups and big downs, fought, but we're over it now and we know how to work together, and we like each other. We know what to expect from each other without asking."
 
Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes are sure to tear it up with their tight grooves and unique style. Keep an eye out for some sketchy guys taking over the stage the next few months, including performances at French Quarter Fest and Jazz Fest. Their new album is titled "2,000 Days" and will be available May 3rd for their CD release party at the Maple Leaf Bar.
 
For more information about Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, please visit their website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Last modified on Tuesday, 19 March 2013
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