Beckley Band Seeks West Virginia’s Sound
Article by Miranda Woody
Heavy Set Paw-Paws, an alternative band from Beckley, West Virginia, was formed in 2011 by musician David Gravely and vocalist Tyler Evans. According to Gravely, the band’s name “began as a joke, and then it just stuck.” Gravely and Evans had been playing music together for many years prior to the formation of Heavy Set Paw-Paws, playing in various bands with one another and some of their college friends. After their college years came to an end, though, the band mates all parted ways – except for Gravely and Evans. Although Evans moved to France for a period of time, he and Gravely recorded an album with one another before Evans’s departure. Their first album was released in 2013, and they released their sophomore album in 2015. Although the band began with only Gravely and Evans, their lineup has expanded and decreased with the passing years. Other members (some current and some former) of Heavy Set Paw-Paws include Drew Bsharah, Kati Grimmet, and Chris Oxley. Heavy Set Paw-Paws are known for their original music, along with the occasional cover. In fact, after David Bowie’s passing in 2016, the band put on a live production of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, featuring every track on the entire album. Gravely tells me, “We did the entire Ziggy Stardust record in order – it was great. We did the whole thing live at Sir Walter’s Tavern in Beckley.” Although this is an interesting factoid about the band, Gravely then interjects, “But honestly, we’ve never been a ‘cover band’. We don’t always do covers, and we don’t love to do them. Every once in a while it’s fun; sometimes you just love a song and you just have to do it.” Heavy Set Paw-Paws write all of their own songs, and Gravely characterizes their sound mostly as “rock n’ roll music”. Gravely is hesitant to put Paw-Paws into a single category, though, and he tells me that the band draws from a wide variety of musical influences. Gravely says that the band is inspired by “everything from soul music, to Willie Nelson, to eighties-pop and even classic rock. Anything that’s been big in the states or the U.K. in the past sixty years, we’ve probably tried that sound. We like it all.”
Heavy Set Paw-Paws are looking forward to the release of their new record, along with an accompanying tour, but nothing is set in stone with that just yet. The band has nine or ten songs recorded at the moment, and Gravely says they only anticipate to record a few more before the album is complete. Gravely states, “It could take three weeks or five months, it just depends on when we record and what we want to put out there.” The new album is more “acoustic” than their former albums according to Gravely, and he and lyricist Tyler Evans have been sharing the responsibility of writing songs. Evans has learned to play guitar in recent years which has given him the ability to write music for the album, as well as lyrics.
Heavy Set Paw-Paws have one more trick up their sleeve, though, which seeks to identify and cultivate a true, “West Virginian” sound. This project is titled Spellbook, and Gravely tells me, “The project features Heavy Set Paw-Paws and a few other West Virginia artists such as Britney McGuire, Richard Pettry, Dennis Spangler, and Kenzie Hendrick.” Gravely goes on to state, “It’s not our new record, it’s something totally different that we’ve never tried before. Old cassette tapes and vinyls are coming back into fashion now, you know? So we kind of wanted to get ahead of that trend and try it out here in West Virginia. Tyler’s dad passed away a few years ago, and he left this old tape recorder in the garage. Tyler and I found it and have wanted to use it for some time, and now we’re finally doing that.” When I asked exactly what the band plans to do with the cassette tapes, Gravely tells me, “We’re creating original songs and doing some covers, all while producing original artwork and sending each individual tape to people in the mail. We’re literally sending these personal, private tapes that we’ve been recording completely authentically, on a tape recorder in random locations, to people we know. Sometimes we record on someone’s back porch, sometimes we’re in the middle of the city, and sometimes we’re recording deep in the woods. We’ve done about ten tapes so far; we want to do maybe twenty. Each person that gets a tape gets their own private, personal recording, but we are going to pick our favorite tracks and compile them when the project wraps. That is Spellbook: the culmination of our favorite tracks from the recording sessions.”
Gravely ends on a positive note about how living in West Virginia has affected Heavy Set Paw-Paws’ musical style (particularly with Spellbook), and he tells me, “The thing I want to get across is this: when you’re a band and you’re trying to figure out your ‘sound’, it’s rough. Memphis has its sound, Seattle has its sound, and so on. Well, how does West Virginia sound? Is it country? Is it something else? I think that’s what we’re doing, especially with Spellbook. Recording authentic music on a back porch, or in the middle of the woods, for our family and friends: that’s West Virginia’s sound to us.”
Heavy Set Paw-Paws’ official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/heavysetpawpaws/
All photos provided by David Gravely.
Miranda Woody is a Concord University student originally from Beckley, West Virginia. She is pursuing a degree in English. She spent the summer of 2016 living in Brooklyn, New York, and has visited seven countries in her lifetime. She is twenty-one years old, and plans to graduate from Concord in December, 2017. She enjoys writing poetry, rock climbing, and traveling. Check out her other work on goodmorningmiranda.com.