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Salt Lake City Weekly Girth In the Balance

Shooting high and Living Large

By Bill Frost

JULY 28, 1997:  "We've got a couple of toes dangling in the hippie idiom," says bassist Jaime Cohen, attempting to describe the Girth sound.

No way am I going to pass up a quote like that.

Singer/guitarist Matt Newman groans, "Please don't mention 'hippie' anywhere in this."

Cohen forges on: "Although, I think we rock a little harder than that. Nowadays, most everyone our age has grown up listening to the Dead."

Speak for yourself, bud. He is right on one count, though: Girth do rock a little harder than that. Live, the guitar interplay between Newman and co-guitarist Pat Hickey can get downright Stonesy — when they're not noodling off into the "Cherry Garcia" sunset with Mountain Girl in the microbus, that is.

Girth, which also includes drummer James Fisher, has been around little more than a year and they've already got a CD set for release: Living Large, a self-financed 12-song slab of grooves and guitars galore. After a few spins of the CD, it's apparent that, despite the extended jam tendencies, Girth (the name comes from a full-figured bellydancer the guys once saw) are more of a straight-up rock band with a few Phish-hooks in the water than just another hippie load.

To make sure, I asked each member what they're listening to lately — dig the diversity.

Newman: "Tool."

Hickey: "Rage Against the Machine."

Fisher: "Porno for Pyros, Jane's Addiction — anything with Stephen Perkins drumming."

Cohen: "Tom Waits. And we're pretty bummed that we're going to miss Charlie Hunter — we've got a gig that night."

Not too hippie-like, eh?

Living Large will be available in August — until then, see 'em live if you can find 'em. "We try not to play here in Salt Lake City as much as possible and still make some money," says Newman, stroking his pointy chin-weed. "We're hip to playing the Zephyr, the Holy Cow, the Dead Goat — that's about it. We were going to set up the CD release at the Tower, but you can't drink there, so we couldn't get anyone to go. We're going to do something different, not the usual release gig."

"We've also got some professionals helping us out on the New York scene," Newman says casually. The Mob? The cast of "Rent"? "My mom's best friends with the head of A&R at Columbia Records. He's also produced for Bob Dylan, so we'll see what happens with that."

Statements like that may come off as arrogant to the average Utahn, but remember this: These guys are all transplants from the East Coast (Newman and Hickey, New York; Cohen, Connecticut; Fisher, New Hampshire). It's just second nature to them.

Hickey chimes in: "Did you see that news thing on us?"

He's referring to is a short piece KTVX did on Girth back in February. Following the story of a major label band's hard-luck struggle for stardom on news magazine Turning Point, Ken & Barbie on Channel 4 needed a local band for filler — uh, I mean, comparison. The honors went to Girth. All I remember from it is the sight of Hickey's alien guitar on the screen, a bizarre headless wonder that looks like it came from an aquarium on "Babylon 5."

"It's a Klien, from a custom shop in Sonoma, Calif.," Hickey says. "Steven Klien initially made acoustic guitars, but a friend of his who had polio needed an electric that he could play in a wheelchair. It's designed to play on your lap without a strap — the contour on the bottom hugs your leg. It's ergonomically balanced, with a spruce body, one-piece laminated neck and a Steinberger bridge — I just fell in love with it."

The preceding was just for us guitar geeks; sorry.

The band members met at the University of Utah in a "Music in Culture" class, where they learned "absolutely nothing," laughs Fisher. "I think it was supposed to teach you how to listen to music."

As far as teaching local consumers to listen to music, Newman isn't optimistic: "I'd love to see some kind of scene develop here, I just don't know if it's possible. There's an elite group of people who go out and party — if you've been going out in this town for five years, you don't meet many new people."

Cohen jumps in: "It's just so censored here, like bars closing at 1 in the morning. When I went to college, bars stayed open until 4 and they were packed. That's why the university isn't really raging. That college atmosphere is where a lot of bands get exposure — here, it's not much of an asset."

Not that they need it: Girth has become quite a draw on word of mouth alone. When Living Large is released next month, look out.

"When we started doing this, we were half of what we are now," says Fisher. "We've come so far. Every show, we do something different and something better ... but we're still humble — I mean, we're in Salt Lake," he laughs.

Newman concludes: "Some bands around here say 'Next year, we want to pack Kingsbury Hall,' or something like that. We say 'Fuck dude — next year, we want to pack Madison Square Garden!' We're aiming high — a lot of bands don't."

Watch for the Living Large CD release (on pay-per-view from MSG in August).

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