This is the second feature in our Rocktober series, dropping every Saturday in October. This week, we chatted with Jonny Grusauskas of the band lespecial.
lespecial is a three-piece progressive rock band made up of Jonny Grusauskas, Luke Bemand, and Rory Dolan. They’re based out of Millerton, NY, and Connecticut, and their new album Odd Times was recently released on September 29.
lespecial formed in the mid-2000s when members Jonny, Luke, and Rory met in high school at Housatonic Valley Regional High School.
“We were fellow musicians looking to form a band. I knew about Rory and Luke, and they had been playing together since, like the fifth grade, so they were solid,” Jonny said.
The name of the band doesn’t mean anything in particular. Jonny shared that it was something that they heard someone say once, and they thought it had a certain ring to it. “It’s a bad band name in that anytime someone asks the name of the band, they say ‘the special?’, and we have to say ‘no, lespecial,’ so if I could go back in time, I would name it something easier,” he laughed.
Jonny’s experience with music started when he was just a kid. His dad was a guitarist, mandolinist, and played the fiddle, so he was constantly around music growing up. As he got older, he joined the school band.
“Learning music at Housatonic was eye-opening, then as I got older I got to be more independent and make my own curriculum, and then that really continued when I went to college at Bennington College in Vermont.”
Jonny also cited percussionist and former professor of music at Bennington College, Milford Graves, as one of his biggest influences. “My experiences with music and my biggest influences really have been through tutelage at school and through my family,” he said.
Jonny said that the name of the album is a double entendre. First, the name is a representation of the times that we’re currently living in, and second, it’s a musical term for rhythms that are unusual.
“Most songs are in a three count or a four count, but we’ve always liked trying out five counts and seven counts, so it’s just more of an unusual sound,” he said.
The first single off of the album is titled “Lungs of the Planet,” and the inspiration for the song is the climate crisis that is currently affecting the globe. “It’s about the rainforest and deforestation, and just the overall need to prioritize protecting natural systems,” Jonny said.
The second single, “Rays,” is a more upbeat and optimistic song, which is uncharacteristic for lespecial, given that they are typically a darker, moodier band. “‘Rays’ is a glimmer of hope in that we can make decisions before it’s too late. We can make things better and live in joy.”
Another song that Jonny highlighted from the album is “Divider,” which is a fun, upbeat track that is reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem and Brooklyn dance music. The sound might be upbeat, but the lyrics tell another story.
“It’s all about how we feel like we’re forced to choose a side. Why can’t we see the truth in all sides? Things aren’t so black and white, and I think all perspectives have truth to them. Peace is the way, and you have to be careful choosing sides,” he said. “There are no absolutes, and we’re stronger unified than we are divided.”
Recording an album ain’t easy
Jonny said that the band’s creative process has changed a lot over the years. “It used to be us getting in a room together, working on riffs, and going off of that. But as our schedule has gotten crazier with touring around the country, it’s become harder to get in the same room when we’re home.”
The band is rather spread out, which contributes to the challenge of being in the same place at the same time. Jonny lives in Millerton, NY, while Luke and Rory both live in Connecticut.
As such, Jonny said they’ve been writing remotely and then bringing all of their stockpiled ideas to the studio when they do get together. “For our next album, we might lean more on the electronic side so that we can write more efficiently when we’re not together.”
Challenges + Triumphs
A whole host of challenges come with being a touring musician. Jonny cited the grueling travel schedule, late nights, and uncertain conditions as some of the most difficult ones to overcome.
“It’s tricky being a touring musician – it’s not the most steady, consistent lifestyle and there are obviously obstacles to navigate, but it’s fun, exciting, and adventurous,” he said.
Jonny also said that balancing their creative vision with the need to make a living has been challenging, but lespecial is very fortunate in that their fans have been very receptive of their sound and their experimenting. “They like our creativity and the way we mix up styles to keep it different. We’re really blessed that it has provided us with the ability to make a living,” he said.
A big moment for lespecial was performing at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO, in 2022. “That was a dream come true,” Jonny said. “Red Rocks has a legendary history and it’s just a beautiful place. I had a Dave Matthews Band: Live at Red Rocks album as a kid, so to actually get there and perform at the same place as so many of my favorite bands was pretty amazing.”
You can watch their entire performance at Red Rocks on their YouTube channel here.
So, what’s next?
With this album in particular, Jonny hopes that listeners take away the messages that they’ve threaded into their tracks. “Be wary of division and divisive narratives, think for yourself, and prioritize protecting the planet.”
As far as creating music goes in general, Jonny encouraged others to do something different. “There’s a lot of Grateful Dead cover bands out there and that’s okay, but you might be surprised that if you try something totally different, people will really respond to it.”
Going forward, lespecial will be touring all over the United States through the end of the year. Short term, they are performing at their fourth annual weekend event, Le Getaway in Kent, CT. It’s an intimate, all-inclusive weekend of live music, music workshops, camp activities, and more. Music performances include lespecial, of course, as well as SunSquabi, Funky Dawgz, and Mad Midi, with other surprises and special guests. Le Getaway is running from Friday, October 13 at 3 p.m. to Sunday, October 15 at 2 p.m. More details are available here.
At the end of October, they head down to Live Oak, FL, on October 26 to perform for Hulaween, and then jet off to North Carolina for a couple dates in early November. A full line-up of tour dates is available on their website here.
Keep up with lespecial on their website and their Instagram.