Palm Beach ArtsPaper – All-acoustic String Assassins
The String Assassins, outside Little Moir’s Leftovers Cafe in Jupiter. From left: Matt Gill, Dr. Jay Kuchera, Mark Shubert and Zak Mahoney. (Photo by Tom Tracy)
It’s a hot summer night outside in mid-July, but the temperature inside the air-conditioned Brewhouse Gallery in Lake Park is also uncommonly high during a performance by the genre-defying String Assassins (www.thestringassassins.com).That’s because a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd is swaying to the sounds of the quartet (acoustic guitarists Mark Shubert, Matt Gill and Dr. Jay Kuchera; acoustic upright bassist Zak Mahoney); its classic rock catalog (Allman Brothers Band, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead), all-acoustic instrumentation that hints at genres from jazz to bluegrass to classical, and Latin arrangements like a bossa nova-influenced intro to The Cure’s “Love Song.” The group has incrementally built an impressive following since forming in 2014.
“We started out as just a three-piece with the guitars,” says Shubert, “and added the bass after about a year. It’s been our intention to cover just about every genre other than traditional blues, although many of the rock artists we cover are blues-based. There are bits of rock, bluegrass, and even pop and Latin music, since all three guitarists have distinctly different styles and influences. But we make them mesh. I’m hoping we’ve created our own little sub-genre.”
The quartet’s impressive turnouts feature mostly those in the similarly middle-aged bracket, plus crossover listeners from other bands like Shubert’s rock act Jupiter Trailer Trash and Mahoney’s former bluegrass outfit the Killbillies, which Gill also played in as a substitute. With members from both northern Palm Beach County (Shubert lives in Jupiter; Mahoney in Palm Beach Gardens) and the Treasure Coast (Gill is in Port St. Lucie; Kuchera in Port Salerno), the String Assassins also have a wide home base in which to book their diverse sound.
Mark Shubert. (Photo by Tom Tracy)
“For some reason, Vero Beach seems to love us,” Shubert says. “We started out at one place up there, and now I think we’re playing five. We’re all kind of taken aback by all that’s happened. We had no idea it would become what it’s become.”
Occasional gigs also feature 21-year-old violinist Paddy King, who also works with other artists like young Treasure Coast singer/songwriter Ryan Owens, and thus brings out a different age demographic. His inclusion adds nuances from traditional Irish music to bluegrass, although the provocatively-initialed TSA doesn’t consider itself shackled by any one style by definition.
“We practiced for about a year before we ever played out,” Shubert says. “And we decided we didn’t want to play the music that everyone else was playing. Whatever we were going to do, we were going to make it our own.”
That applies to even songs that many other bands are covering, like “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” by Tom Petty. Yet those other bands aren’t including it in a medley with Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” (sans cowbell).
The String Assassins at Little Moir’s Leftovers Café. (Photo by Tom Tracy)
TSA’s Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd medley of “Breathe” and “Time,” along with vintage chestnuts by Hendrix and the Allman Brothers, are more suited toward groups with three electric guitarists. Only Grateful Dead gems from “Friend of the Devil” to the traditional “Rider” hint at bluegrass, a tag sometimes applied to the quartet by process of electricity elimination.
“We actually do a bluegrass-influenced arrangement of ‘Time’ by Pink Floyd,” Shubert admits. “But that’s largely because the tempo is double-time.”
Zak Mahoney. (Photo by Tom Tracy)
Mahoney’s bass anchors such arrangements, and is the band’s heartbeat; a pulse that allows the guitarists to provide a surprisingly percussive sound even without a drummer.
“I’m not even a fan of bluegrass, but I love the String Assassins,” says Dr. Joy Graham, a West Palm Beach-based anesthesiologist. “I’ve seen them six or seven times in the past six months. They have so much energy, and the all-strings instrumentation is great. I even hear some rockabilly influence in their sound.”
Matt Gill. (Photo by Tom Tracy)
Shubert and Gill provide the lead singing and vocal harmonies, but the instrumental harmonies provided by the three guitarists may be just as important.
“Dr. Jay is a great slide guitarist,” says Shubert, “and we all plays solos and work out the arrangements together. Listeners will hear some double-harmony leads between us, a la the Allman Brothers, and Paddy does some of those with us when he’s on our gigs. Matt is a great finger-picker, and even plays the banjo, which we may incorporate into some songs. We’re also playing some original tunes, written by Matt, as we prepare to record our first CD.”
Dr. Jay Kuchera. (Photo by Tom Tracy)
Kuchera is an anesthesiologist, attracting an estimable amount of additional TSA listeners and fans from the South Florida medical community.
“I’d met Jay a few times through work before I ever saw the band,” says Graham. “And Zak was giving my son bass lessons when he taught at the School of Rock. So after a friend recommended the String Assassins, I walked into see them for the first time not expecting to see guys in the band that I already knew! And they’ve had more people at each show I’ve been to. I’ll keep going back.”
If you go:
See the String Assassins at 7 p.m. on Sept. 8 at Terra Fermata, 26 S.E. 6th St., Stuart (772-286-5252), at 8 p.m. on Sept.10 at the Brewhouse Gallery, 720 Park Ave., Lake Park (561-469-8930), at 3 p.m. on Sept. 11 at the Square Grouper, 1111 Love St., Jupiter (561-575-0252), at 8 p.m. on Sept. 16 at the Orchid Island Brewery, 2855 Ocean Dr., Vero Beach (772-205-2436), at 9 p.m. on Sept. 23 at Seaside Bar & Grill, 2401 Beach Ct., Riviera Beach (561-517-8661), at 3 p.m. on Sept. 25 at On the Edge, 1136 Seaway Dr., Fort Pierce (772-882-9729), and at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 30 at Little Moir’s Leftovers Cafe, 451 University Blvd., Jupiter (561-627-6030).
(Photo by Tom Tracy)