Indianapolis, IN. – In late August I had the opportunity to sit down with the band members of Three to One (3:1) and Starcat, to introduce themselves to our DBM audience. Also to explain who they are and what they are all about in the Indianapolis music scene. I could try to explain how the band 3:1 grew into Starcat, how they are the same band but different, how each member brings their own unique talent to the group, or how most of the members have played on the larger stage or with famous musicians; but I think it is better if you hear it from the band member themselves.
Joining me on this beautiful evening at the Dugout in Fountain Square (a burb of Indianapolis, Indiana) are band members: Tom Kiefaber (guitar, lead vocals), Jon McKinney (bass, vocals), and Joe O’Connell (drums) which make up the band 3:1, along with additional members Nancy Moore (vocals, percussion) Jamika Jones (vocals, percussion) who join 3:1 to become the band Starcat. Also included in Starcat are members: Tim Fuller (bass) and Bill Mallers (keyboard) who were not present for the interview.
Digital Beat Magazine: How y’all doing tonight? Thank you so much for sitting down with DBM this evening. We really appreciate it and are excited to introduce you to our readers. Let’s start with the band Three to One (3:1) which is a trio playing sixties and seventies music focusing mainly on Jam bands such as Little Feat, Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia Band and much more. So tell us a little bit about 3:1; who the members are and how you guys formed this group? Let’s start with Tommy.
Tom Kiefaber: Well, we formed kind of accidentally. Our original bass player, Ranch Wuertz, put together a wedding band for his son with some people he knew, and well, that became Ranch and me (Tom) and Joe. We got together and learned a few songs for the wedding and really enjoyed playing together – And we’re like, “well, let’s put together a band and see if we can go out and do some more stuff like this.” So, that’s what we did! At first, we tried to do, um, like a “Yacht Rock” thing for about the first month and then we…
DBM: How did that go? (group laughter)
TK: Well, we just slid right back into our old ways of psychedelic jam rock. (laughter) It just kind of kept going from there. So, we started out kind of a wedding band and then tried to do something else to go out and make some money – something different than we’d done before. We have all been in original projects before creating 3:1.
DBM: So, How did you come to settle in on the psychedelic jam rock genre?
TK: I would say organically. I mean, we were all drawn to that genre naturally and we knew a lot of those types of songs. It’s what we grew up listening to; what we had played before or just what we enjoy doing. We didn’t LOVE doing Yacht Rock music, although it was kind of fun, it wasn’t what we really wanted to do. It was more like a job to try to do that.
Joe O’Connell: The Chuck Mangione was fun. (laughter)
TK: Oh yeah, Chuck Mangione was fun!
DBM: So does that still get thrown in every now and again? Chuck? A little Yacht Rock?
TK: Some songs still do. (laughs) Every once in awhile, especially if Ranch comes back and plays with us.
DBM: What would you say was your favorite Yacht Rock tune to jam to?
TK: Ahhh, I’m not sure there were any (laughs – Joe in the background says “Chuck Mangione” – everyone laughs) Chuck Mangione probably!
Nancy Moore: Did you do any Kenny Loggins?
TK: No. (laughs) No, I don’t think so. We didn’t get into it deep enough to even mess with that.
JOC: Well, that band was formed at the end of 2010 and we were toying with the idea when we did the wedding. But at that time, we were also hired by a high school up near Crawfordsville, IN. to be the band for their show choir. So, we are the hired guns for this show choir band and our first gig was November of 2010. (Nancy in the background, “that’s hilarious!” – group laughter) The first show with the show choir was a competition and we won! We got this big trophy. They came out and gave Ranch, Tom and I this huge trophy and are like, “You’ve won first prize!” They take a great picture of us holding the trophy and then two minutes later they go, “We got to get that trophy back. You guys are professionals!” (laughter)
DBM: That was actually going to be one of my questions for you! I had heard a rumor that you had entered a talent contest, won, and then were disqualified after discovering you were hired guns!
JOC: (laughs) That’s actually it! That’s the story. I’ll come across the photo every now and again and post it. It’s us, all cheesing, and Ranch is telling us about his band director, going “See! See!” holding the trophy!!
TK: He was very proud of himself winning that trophy. (laughs)
Jamika Jones: (laughing) Show Choir is a big thing! My son is in show choir and it’s huge! So when the best band wins and that’s like, YOU (pointing to Joe and Tom), you’re going against other high school kids! (laughs) High school kids that are in the band. So…
JOC: You know what, if they’re going to give it to us, (laughing) but seriously I don’t think we were really cool but sure enough (laughing) we got one of those big trophies!! Yeah! Plus, we got a good photo! So, by rights that is where it all started, playing Ranch’s son’s wedding. It was like early January of 2011, right after the financial crisis, so we thought that we were going to dive into more of a society, corporate band but that market had pretty much dried up. All those people (bands) went to the clubs because there were no more corporate gigs. In that period, the gigs available, we didn’t get.
NM: (laughing) Don’t name names…
TK: Oh, I’m not naming names, I’m just saying we weren’t in that clique to get the corporate gigs. We didn’t play enough disco and stuff.
JOC: We did a lot of original music – Tom and I met in a band called Solar Howard prior to that. It was a six-piece band. Ranch, Tom and I were the serious guys and we went on and formed Three to One (3:1).
DBM: And what does 3:1 mean? How did you come up with that?
JOC: Oh, we couldn’t find a name. (group laughs) It was mainly for the website.
TK: Oh, that’s right. We had to get something quick. We were kinda putting the cart before the horse getting everything started and didn’t have a name.
JOC: We had tried a bunch of great names but had trouble getting a website for; with the .com, .net, trying to put a band’s name behind it with no luck. So we were working on some Miles Davis and there was some weird counting in there….Ranch just came up with the name. And it’s three guys. Three to One odds. You can look at it in different ways. Like, you know, number three, number two, number one. 3,2,1.
TK: There’s power in the number Three. (laughs) The triangle is the most powerful structure.
Jon McKinney: Maybe you could say the three of us together make one powerful sound. (group laughs and says, “there you go!”)
DBM: You heard it here first folks. A DBM exclusive. (Group laughs)
JOC: So, that’s kind of how it all got started. We got into the club scene because there was no other place to go. And then we just clawed our way around and here we are.
DBM: And now, as I said in the beginning, 3:1 grew into a larger band that includes Bill, Tim, Nancy and Jamika, which is called Starcat – and Starcat is known to be a Jerry Garcia Tribute band. Is that correct? Or is it a little more? Is it just limited to JGB?
JOC: Starcat is mainly a Jerry Garcia Band tribute, but we’ll play a party and the girls will do some cool Motown or, you know, we’ll twist it around a bit. But we sell it officially as a JGB tribute band.
TK: We’re still working as hired guns. If somebody wants to hire us for a party and say they want these songs. You know, if they fit in with what we’re comfortable with playing, then we’ll be like, “Okay!” and work those songs in.
JOC: But, Yes, for the most part, Starcat is a JGB tribute band. That’s why we play a lot of Dead themed places like the Mousetrap. There are already a lot of Grateful Dead cover bands out there.
NM: Starcat actually started because Quarto contacted you…tell that story.
JOC: Five years ago, I just looked it up. Basically, Michael Quarto, owner of the Mousetrap in Indianapolis was looking for something and I just came up and told him we had a JGB tribute band (which we didn’t) and Tim was in the band now – Tim Fuller had taken over Ranch’s roll in 3:1 about four and a half years in. So Tim was the bass player and we just made it happen. Tim knew these ladies…
DBM: I was going to ask how the ladies came to be part of the band?
JOC: Yeah. So Tim had worked with Jamika’s brother Devon a lot and had probably worked with Jamika and her sister some too. I know I’d seen you guys (Jamika and her siblings) a couple of times.
JJ: So my siblings and I were in a band called Soulove Universe…
NM: Best band ever. I wasn’t in it (laughs) but best band ever! I just loved them! So much so I hired them for my wedding!
JJ: Yes, that’s when I saw her (Nancy) sing. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to work with her!”
NM: So then Jamika, her sister and I did a show together in the Super Bowl village when Indianapolis hosted the big game. We threw it together and your brother Devon put it together. Wow, That was really the second time we sang together because we sang together a little bit at my wedding. So yeah, that was really fun! So that’s how Jamika and I met, but I’ve known Tim for more than 20 years probably and Tim called and was like, “Hey, you want to do this Jerry Garcia Band thing?”… and I’d known Tom for probably 20 plus years. Sidenote: I used to go see Tom play at The Patio back in the day. That’s probably about the same time I met Tim. When I met Tim… So that’s how it all kind of came together. I had asked who the other female singer was and as soon as I learned it was Jamika, I said, “I’m in!!”
DBM: I’ve been told that you ladies have had the opportunity to play and perform with one of the members from the Jerry Garcia Band. Can you tell our readers a little bit about how that happened and about the experience?
NM: So there was a band called Terrapin Flyer out of Chicago and their vocalists quit three days before they had a show here in Indy. They found us on the Mousetrap website or somewhere online and reached out to Joe; and then we got in touch with them.
TK and JJ: We want your women; give us your women….(sarcastic laughter)
NM: Jamika and I literally walked in – we had never played with them before and we did the show. Afterward, they asked if we would come to Chicago to play with them at the Dead & Company show at Wrigley. Was that last year or two years ago?
JJ: That was a year ago. Terrapin Flyer was playing the before and after shows across the street from Wrigley during the Dead & Company dates. So that was pretty awesome!
NM: Yes, it was. That’s when we got to play with Melvin Seals from the Jerry Garcia Band. Melvin comes and tours with Terrapin Flyer some. So he came that day and performed and we ended up doing five dates with Melvin. That was fantastic because he had written a lot of the JGB arrangements that we were singing. So he’d be like, “All right. You’re doing that right, now just tweak this one part a little bit.” (group laughter) It’s one of those jaw-dropping moments where your jaw hits the floor when he solos; he takes so much joy in what he’s doing. It’s just incredible to watch. And he’s this very kind, soft-spoken, big man. He’s a big dude and he’s very quiet. He likes what he likes! He has to have his wine; he has to have a cheeseburger before he plays. And then it’s just fantastic! We made a real connection with him, like pretty much right away!
JJ: Yeah. It was such a huge compliment for him to tell us that he would love to work with us in the future.
NM: So we have to get Melvin down here to play with us! We’d like to bring him in to play with Starcat!
JOC and TK: That’s the goal! (band laughs)
DBM: So what does the future hold for 3:1 and Starcat?
NM:Well who knows in the land of COVID…
JOC: In the land of COVID – it’s upside down. (band agrees)
TK: It’s okay for the summer, you know, everything’s been cut; most have been canceled. Everything that Joe had booked for us out through January of 2021 was, BAM, just gone. Cancelled. So we’re finding local businesses like this (Dugout) that are doing outside small shows within the COVID guidance, don’t really advertise for big crowds, maintain social distancing, some private parties, things like that. Friends who are like, “Hey, want to play for like 25 of us? We can give you $10 tip a piece or something like that…” just to keep us around and keep them entertained. (laughs) Just fun little things like that. With all that’s going on, who knows what fall and winter may bring.
DBM: Being mainly a cover/tribute band, do you ever foresee writing your own music someday?
TK: No. Nope. (laughing) Not with this particular project. Now Jon McKinney has a ton of original songs and we’ve all played original music at some point but it just feels like beating your head against a wall because if the songs aren’t as good as the covers your playing. You know, it’s like feeling fantastic playing some Grateful Dead tune that you’ve really worked your ass off to get it down; and then you write a song it’s like, doo do doop do and unless it’s as good as everything else you’re covering, which is hard, we are already playing as good as we can do. You know what I mean? Unless it’s something as good or better, it’s hard to get original music to really catch on. Unless you’ve got something hooked up, you’re young, you’re out there, you’re sleeping in people’s basements, you’re not making any money for two years…
JJ: All of us are too old for that! (group laughs)
TK: That’s really rough, you know. Its fun to do for occasional gigs, like when we play the Fountain Square neighborhood or we are opening for a national act. Things like that. Occasionally. But as far as going out, and saying here’s what we’re going to do; We’re going to change the direction of the band. No. We aren’t going to do that. But, I only speak for myself…
JOC and JJ: Yeah. We don’t agree. (laughing)
TK: Everybody else feels differently. (laughs) Everybody else wants to get famous.
DBM: Now correct me if I’m wrong but the band is branching out and playing outside of Indianapolis some, correct? The other States in the Region?
JOC: Yes, we’ve branched out some.
NM: I think in Indianapolis, it’s really hard to be a successful original band. Especially today. Even when I moved to Indianapolis 20 years ago there was really only one venue that really supported original, local music. It was just really hard. Once I got in my first cover band, I just kinda from there. I think with original music, you have to have a following already and then just pepper in like the original stuff every now and then.
TK: Plus, you really have to network. You have to be hanging out with people who really like your band and continue to build a fanbase.
DBM: But you have to admit that 3:1 and Starcat have built quite the fanbase. You have a group, a 3:1 family, that comes to most shows and has followed the success of the band and its different members for years.
TK: Oh yes! Yes, we are very lucky to have the fanbase we do and to be out here doing what we do.
NM: My husband does not like the jam music at all and he loves coming to hear 3:1 and Starcat. It’s introduced him into new music that he never would have given a chance. I mean, he’s an old punk rocker. It’s only because of the musicianship that these guys have. It’s true.
JOC: Organized chaos. It’s not a 65-minute solo, it’s only a five-minute solo. (group laughs)
TK: We are working musicians at the end of the day and we want to keep being working musicians. It’s not like we are going to draw a line in the sand and say, “we won’t do anything but X,Y and Z!” We don’t think that way. We all have been involved in 5 different projects at a given time around Indianapolis. So we can be playing every week, you know. We are constantly learning new material. It is constantly making us better musicians. I learned eight new songs today to perform with Nancy and Jon tonight. It is much more rewarding to me to be able to keep my skills up as a musician as opposed to thinking I’m a writer and that I’ve got something to say. Cause I personally don’t! (laughs) Now, Jon McKinney does. He has a lot to say. (laughs) I’m not out to prove anything. I just want to keep getting better till I die.
DBM: What do you have to say about that Jon? You’ve been the quiet one sitting over there…
JM: Well, you know, I do love lots of things in life, like music and food and hanging out with beautiful people like yourself. I’m probably a little bit more optimistic. I think that some of the things that Tommy says, you know, kind of resonates with me in the fact that I think it’s a different mindset. I think that when you go out and play somebody else’s tune, it’s a different mindset than when you play your own original music. I think that there are sometimes not as desirable mindsets like you had something to prove when you’re playing an original tune. And I think that when you have an original tune that you shouldn’t write it just because you feel like you have to. It should be an inspiration, you know, something that you would like to share. I feel very lucky to have gotten a handful of tunes in for the band and was able to play them on stage with these beautiful people here. We’ve had some really good moments. Our local piano player, Bill, that’s been playing gigs with us; We played some of his original music here at this exact venue last week and we’re seeing a lot of really good responses from that. I think it’s a very good balance that we have going on. One of my favorite moments recently is a tune that I actually wrote with Joe’s wife, Amy. We actually penned a song together recently as well. And so there’s some light and some positivity to the original song side of things. But I do understand that we have a certain format and direction that we’ve been going and it’s probably not the most realistic to do a total 180-degree turn and shift. We’d like to throw an original tune in here and there…or at least that would be my vote.
TK: I’m really happy with what kind of music that we’re doing. It gives you the freedom, you know, it’s structured and then in the middle of it, you can do whatever you want; you can connect with each other and make your own stuff up. You know, improvising and listening to each other. You get to experience that every night on every song. Basically you get that freedom to write your own part and express it. And for people like me, that’s a lot of fun because I can’t write. I’m not a lyricist. I’m not even a great songwriter. I can help Jon out on part of a song like, “Oh, here, hit this chord.” That’s my add to one of Jon’s songs. It’s great for me to be able to play with a bunch of people who like to listen to each other. Every night is totally different. We may play the same song but we won’t play the same setlist every night or every week or every month. Never. But we always get that chance to interact with everything. So there’s a freedom of doing that. Improvising and working off of each other.
JOC: We played in a few bands together and well, Tom, you know, he’s self-deprecating (laughs) but while Tom is not a lyricist, he has written some incredible arrangments. When the song is coming, you know, there’s these ideas. He’s the one that knows if it’s a bridge or chorus. So he’s got that! And Tom has co-written some songs several years ago and does have credit on a few. We actually did do a complete set of originals (well almost) at Radio Radio in April of 2019. We played some of Jon’s tunes, some of Tommy’s tunes. We did some from our dear old friend, Ricky Freeman (Sidenote: Ricky Freeman was singer/songwriter for beloved local psychedelic band, The Spirtles, which also featured drummer Joe O’Connell.) So it has happened. There will be more. Jon and I have been needling Tom and you know, we’re coming into a winter where we’re not going to be able to be doing much if things don’t change. So, I’m thinking we might actually get inspired to do something.
DBM: So, let me ask, for being such a diverse group and having influences coming from several different musical genres. If you all could choose somebody to sit in on a set with you, who would it be?
NM & JJ: Melvin!
JOC: Yeah, Melvin Seals would fit right in! No problem.
NM: And that’s the thing with Starcat. We may play the same arrangements that Melvin wrote, but we all trust each other so much that we let it breathe and it’s like, “Oh, that went somewhere it’s never gone before.” And that’s great! That’s kind of how Melvin is. He just kind of feeds off the energy.
JJ: Absolutely! And that’s the great thing about this band and these musicians is we feel the music and however we’re feeling, it is how it is, you know. We present it and we bring it out and it’s just beautiful!
JOC: And if we are tired, the music may sound a little tired…(laughs)
TK: If we are tired, the music sounds AWESOME! (group laughs)
JOC: Full moon can bring out some interesting things. Right? (laughs)
DBM: So, if our readers would like to check out 3:1 or Starcat more, where can they find you on social media?
JOC: We have our websites: 3to1music.com and Starcatband.com and then we have YouTube, Facebook: 3:1 and Starcat, ReverbNation and Twitter if we can get it back up running again. Funny story, I was setting up our Twitter account and I tried to put our age on there, right? Let people know how long we’ve been around. Since 2011. So, that makes us like nine. Shortly after entering it, I get a message from Twitter letting me know nine years old is too young to have a Twitter account and they shut us down. (laughs) We are like, “Wait a minute, we are a band!” So, we are getting that fixed.
DBM: That concludes our questions for tonight. Again, we thank all of you for taking the time to sit down with Digital Beat Magazine before your gig this evening to tell our readers about yourselves. Have a great set and we will look forward to hearing more from Three to One (3:1) and Starcat!
*DBM would also like to thank Dave Gordon for providing video and to Lorri Markum Photography for providing Starcat photo*