Pink Floyd is often regarded as one of the premiere groups in rock history, so it would seem a tall order to recreate their music on stage. But tribute band Us and Floyd devotes its career to doing exactly that. Floyd fans will get to experience the eight-piece band’s dedication to their craft when they play the Space at Westbury on Oct. 29.
Several members of Us and Floyd are veterans of the Long Island and tri-state area music scene, including guitarist Rick Nossa of Glen Cove and drummer Doug Betensky of Old Westbury. Each member has dabbled with multiple genres of music with different bands in the past. But regardless of their musical backgrounds, they all have a mutual adoration for their source material.
“All of us, with maybe one exception, are total Floyd freaks,” said keyboard player Steve Mercorelli, also from Glen Cove.
“With Pink Floyd, it’s kind of like four or five bands in one,” added Nossa, who grew up in Mineola and played gigs in Boston for seven years before returning to the New York music scene in 2000. “In each of their different eras they had a different sound. As much as they’re a lyrical band, they have a lot of different soundscapes, which is cool.”
The band, which formed in late 2012, plays songs from a variety of Pink Floyd albums, with material from as far back as 1970’s Atom Heart Mother and as recent as 1994’s The Division Bell, with an occasional song thrown in from Pink Floyd’s early days with Syd Barrett. Pink Floyd is notorious for pioneering the use of the studio as an instrument, relying on several overdubs, tape loops and sound effects to create their trademark sonic textures. Their recordings are complex and considered difficult to perform live, but Mercorelli notes that it’s easier now than it once was. He also gives much of the credit to lead singer Scott Goldberg.
“Technology has come to a point where, if you work at it, you can really get close to [Pink Floyd’s] tone,” he said. “A 40- or 50-year-old keyboard won’t last, so I use a variety of instruments. And we either recreate the sound effects ourselves or do it on the MacBook. We won’t use snippets from their actual albums, like some bands do. And we’re lucky because Scott sounds so much like Roger [Waters], it’s amazing.”
“We try to bring a bigger sound,” added Nossa. “I go for all of the little details they had. It’s a challenge, but we make it work.”
Beyond the challenge of recreating Pink Floyd’s music, the members of Us and Floyd face another challenge, one that is common among tribute bands: the issue of identity. As Mercorelli points out, the line between honoring one’s idols and expressing oneself as a musician can be a difficult one to navigate.
“It’s hard to be like a jukebox, because we’re musicians,” said Mercorelli. “You want to put your own feel into it. But you still have to stay within the framework of what Pink Floyd did. And to me, it’s the feeling that makes the difference. All the important notes and the tone are there. And we do the little things on the album that you don’t notice unless they’re not there. But it’s that feeling that’s so important.”
Nossa, in particular, is no stranger to musical diversity, as he plays with several other bands in addition to Us and Floyd. For him, staying within Pink Floyd’s boundaries can be especially difficult. However, Nossa also points out that the boundaries aren’t as narrow as might be believed.
“Pink Floyd were a lot of things,” he explained. “They were a writer’s band. But at their core they were also improvisers. They didn’t always keep things exactly the same on stage. So I find pockets of space to improvise. But I also try to capture the essence.”
Capturing the essence of Pink Floyd’s music is something that Us and Floyd takes very seriously. Their tribute extends beyond songs, to visuals. The band has used lasers and smoke screens at past shows, depending on the venue. But as Mercorelli makes clear, the music is what keeps people coming back for more.
“These shows are not about us,” he said. “It’s about Pink Floyd and Pink Floyd fans. If you’re going to play Floyd and put your heart into it and play it right, people love that. And I’m grateful that they wrote this great music and we get to play it.”
Find out more about Us and Floyd at www.pinkfloydtributebandny.com.