Q&A: Grasshopper's Josh Millrod And Jesse DeRosa On The Electric Valve Instrument, Working In Advertising, And Improvisation

Every Grasshopper jam starts with a great big nothing sound, on or near the cusp of silence, so soft and unassuming that it almost isn't there. Then, ever-so-glacially, the frame fills with sound: Josh Millrod's penetrative trumpeting fed through the maw of Jesse DeRosa's distortion-hemorrhaging Electric Valve Instrument, the two elements weaving and warping to an extent that it can be next to impossible to say where one ends and the other begins. And just like that, it's as if the divining song they've summoned into being—be it low-level, keening drone or a no-holds-barred FX freakout—has always been there, waiting for you to finally find it. The NYC-based duo strikes odd balances between playfulness and dolor, noise and New Age; they take a stimulating yet calming approach to "out jazz," one that feels both idiosyncratic and vital.

In advance of Grasshopper's appearance at this weekend's Ende Tymes Fest, SOTC exchanged emails with Millrod and DeRosa about the nature of their sound, Stephen King, and the value of high-school music education.

How did Grasshopper come to be? Had you guys known each other for a while before you started playing together?

Josh Millrod: Grasshopper is the culmination of 14 years of friendship and bandmate-dom. Jesse and I met at a summer performing arts program where we were both working hard on our trumpet nerd-dom. I can't remember if it was me or Jesse who wore an Operation Ivy t-shirt, but that shirt brought us together and led us deep down the rabbit-hole of ska together.

At some point, we decided we were going to start a band. After much deliberation, we settled on the name Tuesday Night's Leftovers. I had only been playing trumpet for two years at that point, so I ended up singing. Jesse was the main songwriting force and was surprisingly good at it. We touched on some serious issues, ranging from how cool it would be to be 18 to how cool it would be to be Bill Clinton since he was getting BJs on the regular to getting diarrhea from a visit to Mexico.

Toward the end of high school/early college, we both started getting into weirder music and founded the original Grasshopper, which was a pretty awesome post-rock band with me on keys, Jesse on guitar, my cousin on flute, and the drummer from our ska band playing like he was in Pink Floyd.

Throughout college—we both studied trumpet at conservatories—we both got more and more dissatisfied with playing classical/bebop trumpet and started listening to weirder and weirder music. In my senior year, I saw a band called Werewolf Unit who played trombone and electronics and went out and bought some pedals; Jesse already had some pedals. Not long after, we started noise jamming.

You guys should slip some Op Ivy covers into your Grasshopper sets.

Millrod: On our last tour, we listened to Operation Ivy's "Energy" every day. "Junkie's Running Dry" for life!

Jesse DeRosa: I think it's safe to say that our ska band was held together by a wing and a prayer. Though we managed to play shows on the regular and all, it was always frantic, and pretty much ready to fall apart at a moment's notice. Together with a few other folks and perhaps the most warped trombonist to live on Long Island, Kevin Jackson, we kinda pushed together a very left-footed attempt at what would be considered a band "on paper" but certainly in hindsight should've been a red-flag that something wasn't quite right under the hood.

It eventually collapsed on itself. A few projects spewed from it, and following some earlier experiments in using drum machines with the band, Josh and I ventured out into strange one-off projects that eventually evolved itself into Grasshopper (around 2002), as we started merging our jazz tendencies with circuit bending, turntable experiments, and four-tracking.

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