The First Incarnation:
Giraffe started out as a band with vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Kevin Gilbert (KG) along with singer/songwriter Robert A. Ferris and, according to future Giraffe member Stan Cotey (SC), “Michael Abowd [as] one of two keyboard players and…Oliver Harris who played guitar” (Cotey). That original lineup didn’t survive, but the name did.
The name started as a joke. Gilbert says that he and Robert “were goofing around with all these bands who use their last names…like HSAS. We were making fun of that whole concept. His initials are RAF…so as a joke I wrote on the master tapes GIRAF [GI for Gilbert]…We used it as a joke for about a year. I just kept seeing this GIRAF written on the side of the tape box every time I’d get it out to work on it. It just grew on me” (Holz).
When Giraffe released their first album, KG drew a comparison between the animal and the band’s music. “The actual animal giraffe is a cool thing…it [is] goofy looking, but… for a reason. They have to be that tall to get to the trees. If you’ve ever seen a giraffe run, there's hardly anything else that looks as graceful…It looks like it’s in slow motion even when it’s not” (Holz). “this is a very strange record but the longer you listen to it, it becomes more beautiful. It makes sense in its own way” (Holz).
KG Takes a Break for School and “Money”:
In between the original Giraf and the reformed version that recorded two albums, KG enrolled as a film student at UCLA, where he wrote an “award-winning musical” (Smith, Giraffe website). During that time, he continued to record at the studio he’d worked at when he could. He dropped out of UCLA after a year to play keyboards for Eddie Money’s 1987 ‘Take Me Home Tonight’ tour, but as KG tells it, “he was a drag to be on tour with; he was a heroin addict, and his managers took advantage of me because I was young. I quit and said, ‘Forget this! I’m not going to deal with management companies or record labels. They’re jackals, all of them. I’m just going to make records that I want to make’” (Barton).
An Expensive Business Card:
Gilbert returned to San Jose and wrote material in his 24-track garage studio. Eventually, Giraffe would reform, although, as KG says, Giraffe “wasn't suppose to be a band really, it was suppose to be a production demo so that I could come down to L.A. and meet record companies and get gigs. It was [a] really expensive business card’” (Holz).
The “business card” band would comprise guitarist Stan Cotey, drummer J. Scott Smith (SS), bassist Chris Beveridge, and original Giraffe keyboardist Michael Abowd. Cotey had moved from San Jose to just north of San Francisco for a year or so while Smith and a partner bought the studio where KG used to work and renamed it The Recording Studio (TRS) (Smith, kevingilbert.com).
Reassembling the Band:
SC recalls: “they had a grand opening party and [Kevin] and I talked a lot…about our growing frustration at being ‘one-man-sequencer bands’ and…a desire to play live music we cared about. We cornered Scott, who was in” (Cotey). “I knew [him] from a few previous projects and would use him on sessions…mostly for advertising and media work. Scott was then and is now a great ‘feel’ player and could also play many instruments…He was one of those guys who could get great tone regardless of the gear he played” (Cotey).
Smith had similar complimentary things to say about Stan: “We worked together in a music store and he could grab any crappy guitar off the wall, plug it into a crummy amp, and still get a great tone, because it was in his fingers and his soul” (Smith, Giraffe website). “Stan was a driven genius who had recently drawn a bead on recording studios and how they work” (Smith, Giraffe website). “He understood digital when we didn’t know how to spell it” (Smith, Giraffe website).
With Kevin, Stan, and Scott on board, the band was beginning to take shape. SC recalls: “Kevin made a phone call to Michael, who was interested and we started getting organized” (Cotey).
SS: “Michael was the resident local synth-composer extraordinaire. He…was responsible for the sequencing for all the live shows—and that was a monumental task” (Smith, Giraffe website). To quote Michael, he says “‘Whenever I’m not sleeping, I’ve got my face in a computer, working on a sound, playing a part, or creating a sound. My function in the band is programming’” (Smith, Giraffe website).
KG: “The last guy to join was Chris Beveridge, the bass player” (Darter). SC: “We were trying to get…Nate Pitts…but he was too busy. He suggested [Chris] who had just moved down from Oregon” (Cotey).
CB: “Winter 1987-88, I just moved to Sunnyvale from Portland…where I was in a band for about 4 years. I…met…Nate Pitts…who gave me a tape of what turned out to be The Power of Suggestion….[I] listened to it, LOVED the music and proceeded to learn all the songs on the tape” (Beveridge, shadowself.com).
CB: “I called Kevin and we talked for about 2 hours, getting to know each other's musical interests, influences, gear, quirks, etc…. In less than a week, I had met up with Kevin and the rest of the Giraffes and did an audition at TRS. I got the gig the same evening” (Beveridge, shadowself.com).
SS: “I’ll never ever forget that night…The five of us in the big room at TRS… [Bev] had gotten a copy of the music and said he knew the parts. Chuckles all around…We plugged in and blew into ‘Because of You.’ Two things were immediately apparent: one, four of us didn’t know the song very well and; two, Chris did…He even asked us if we were playing the recorded arrangement and we sheepishly said yes. We all tried it again…and the band fell into place that night” (Smith, Giraffe website).
CB: “I found that I had a lot in common personally with these guys, and they definitely made me feel part of the family from the start. Scotty and I immediately locked in as if we played together all our lives, and the whole thing took on a natural balance and momentum that enabled lots of cool stuff to happen” (Beveridge, shadowself.com).
SS: TRS served as “the rehearsal room for the assemblage of the live band” (Smith, kevingilbert.com). “We rehearsed in our little practice room off 17 and 101 and shared the space with a band called Mystery Date” (Smith, Giraffe website). “Equipment-wise, it was an average, quirky mid-‘80s studio. Vibe-wise, it was other-worldly” (Smith, kevingilbert.com).
SC: “Rehearsals were always an adventure from the amount of hardware involved. Any room we played in was small for us” (Cotey). Adds CB: “It's hard to put into words how much creative energy and imagination was literally flying around the rooms in rehearsals, recording sessions and live performances, but it was a singular, powerful thing that touched me and many other people in an unforgettable way” (Beveridge, kevingilbert.com).
Making the First Independent CD…Ever:
Meanwhile, Kevin decided, “‘Dammit! I want my record to come out on CD!’…I had a friend in Silicon Valley who worked on computer and CD ROMS and things and I called him up and said, ‘You make CD ROMs from computer chips. Is the information that goes on a CD ROM any different from what goes on an audio CD?’ He said, ‘It's still just ones and zeroes.’ So I said, ‘If I give you a tape full of ones and zeroes that just happens to be audio, you could print a CD ROM for me that I could play on my stereo?’ And he said, ‘Yeah. Absolutely’” (Holz).
KG: “I called up a couple mastering places and figured out how I was suppose to do that and in January 1988 I sent him this tape and said, ‘I want 500 copies.’ I didn't know it at the time, but it was actually the first independent CD in the world. BAM Magazine, about a year later, did a story on ‘Now You Can Make a CD’ for aspiring bands. They used the Giraffe record as an example” (Holz).
CB: “Kevin and I went to local music stores, including Tower records, and we put [the CDs] up for sale on consignment. Kevin was able to get some airplay on a local radio show and he entered the CD/Tape into every contest and showcase he could think of” (Beveridge, shadowself.com).
KG: “I felt great about it, since it was an album full of songs like [future band] Toy Matinee, very non-commercial. People would describe us as ‘what Genesis would have sounded like if Peter Gabriel hadn’t left’” (Hall).
KG: “I’m genuinely surprised by how many people remember that because it's so tiny. There's only 500 copies of that record in the world and I get more people who own or have heard a copy of that one than the second one, and there's twice as many of the second one. It's also the one I like better actually” (Holz).
The Soundcheck Competition:
One of the contests Gilbert entered the band in was the Soundcheck Competition sponsored/created “by Yamaha Corporation of America to offer unsigned bands a forum in which they could perform and be heard by the people who have the power to make a difference in their careers” (Music Trades). As Smith says, “over 6,000 bands in the U.S. entered and 8 finalists were picked with 2 alternates” (Smith, Giraffe website).
Each band would get “at least 10 minutes of fame in the bright spotlights and cavernous sold-out space of the Universal Amphitheater” (Woodard, Down Beat) and “a full house of 6,500” (Music Trades). “They were treated with all the major venue accoutrements - lights, sound - plus the added attraction of numerous record label A&R people stalking the halls” (Woodard).
For their performance, Giraffe played This Warm Night and Because of You. The band won the Grand Prize, which meant $25,000 in cash or equipment, a chance to record a 24-track demo with a professional producer, and entrance in Band Explosion in Japan (Soundcheck program). They were “a refreshing choice in that their neo-progressive rock style is hardly the stuff of the late ‘80s pop charts” (Woodard).
As Smith says, “Now the competition really got tough, as we were pitted against the best unsigned bands in the world. The World” (Smith, Giraffe website). 21 bands met for a chance to win $15,000 in cash and $15,000 in equipment (Soundcheck program). Giraffe took second, meaning $10,000 in cash and $10,000 in equipment to , as fellow entrant Nils Erikson put it, “the professional but very Jackson-inspired Australian band Jans” (Erikson).
SS: “Since the [Soundcheck competition] the vibe in the band changed, and I didn’t pick up on it until too late. Chris, Stan and Kevin all lived together in San Jose so they were a lot closer to it than me. As it turns out, Patrick Leonard, one of the judges in LA approached Kevin to sing in his new band…The other people associated with Yamaha in LA also got Kevin’s ear, and made the argument that he should move down south” (Smith, Giraffe website).
SS: We “finished the second Giraffe CD The View from Here. This was another stellar Kevin Gilbert production. It had vision, great songs, and kept the whole progressive, yet commercial aspect of Giraffe intact…When it completed in March of 1989, Kevin went south. He told me he was working on some production stuff and would be in LA for a while. He did engineer some tracks on Tracy Chapman’s debut record, and did some stuff with world class producer Roy Thomas Baker. But he was also being seduced by Pat to join Toy Matinee and move to LA” (Smith, Giraffe website).
KG says, “the guys…didn't want to continue it really. They didn't want to move to L.A. and become professional because they all had other jobs. It was kind of falling apart anyway” (Holz).
SS: “The remaining Giraffes…went about their lives. Chris became a success at Cisco Systems, and runs sticky notes studios in his home. Stan and Michael both work at Digidesign and are very successful. They now pay Stan to demolish things. I, of course, continue to own and operate TRS, the ‘scene of the crime.’ We are all very proud of what we did…It was a very special time in my life and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. May prog rock live forever and God bless Kevin, wherever he is” (Smith, Giraffe website).
- Chris Beveridge, ShadowSelf.com. No longer online.
- Chris Beveridge, KevinGilbert.com
- Stan Cotey. ShadowSelf.com. No longer online.
- Sibyl Darter, AfterTouch – The Official Publication of the Yamaha Users Group. (December 1988: Vol. 4, No. 12).
- Nils Erikson, “Me and Kevin Gilbert.” KevinGilbert.com.
- Dave Hall, “Toy Matinee,” JAM
- Christine Holz (co-editor), “Toying with Kevin Gilbert,” Music News Network, (11/94 – 1/95).
- Music Trades, “Yamaha’s Soundcheck Draws 5,000 Entries.” (1/89).
- Wayne Perez, interview with Brian MacLeod. KevinGilbert.com
- Scott Smith, “Remembering Kevin.” KevinGilbert.com
- Scott Smith, Giraffe website
- Soundcheck program, maybe from KevinGilbert.com
- Josef Woodard, Down Beat, “Yamaha’s Soundcheck.” (12/88).