Sneaky Pete and the Secret Weapons formed in Jackson Hole in 2011 and have since become one of Jackson’s most beloved bands, winning fans over with their energetic, dance-inducing live shows.
The band has toured all over the Western United States, blending funk, rock, and reggae to produce their own brand of, in their own words, “high-altitude stink funk.”
In advance of their back-to-back “winter kick-off” shows at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, singer/guitarist Jack Tolan and drummer Andrew Keehn joined us recently in the KHOL studios.
Listen above for more and check out a transcript of the interview below. This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity
KHOL: So, how did your relationship with funk grow to the point you wanted to create your own version of it?
Jack Tolan: Early on, we just knew we wanted to make people dance and we didn’t decide that it was like going to be funk, really. It just kind of happened. That was just like where people’s influences, and I guess where the music was coming from was on the funky side. I feel like, especially at first, we definitely kind of modified from true funk because I, for one, didn’t really have the chops. So we just played things fast. That being said, our sound has changed a bunch since we added Andrew. Andrew’s reggae and punk influences have changed the sound quite a bit, especially as we’ve gone back through and reworked songs with Andrew’s flair in there.
KHOL: Your sound is not only funk but kind of a melting pot [of] reggae, punk, rock, jazz and jam music. I love that you refer to yourselves as, we talked about [it] in the intro, high altitude, stink funk. Can you elaborate on that for us? Just the stink funk itself and then the combination of all the genres you guys like to include in the “melting pot.”
Tolan: We came up with that, I think, years ago as we were starting to tour and we were like, ‘OK, how do we? OK, we need to let people know we’re from this mountain town, but also that we’re, like, funky.’ And that I guess we just smell bad. That has to be where it came from.
Andrew Keehn: No, there are photos of Sam playing the bass. And when he’s really into it, he makes a face like he’s smelling something hard.
Tolan: That is where it came from is the stink face, which is like, is in the musical world, is like high praise. That’s like, yeah, the highest praise you can receive from another musician. The yucky face.
Keehn: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know what that is. You’re so into it that you’re appalled at how good it’s going. But if their face does come, yeah, it’s usually going well.
KHOL: And is the combination of all the genres just a natural inclusion of all your influences and inspiration?
Tolan: It is. And that really from the get-go, we’ve all been writing songs and contributing them to the band, whether we’re showing up with 90% of a song that just needs to be sculpted or we just have like a riff idea and we write it collaboratively, it’s kind of like everyone’s musical influences. We’ve let all of that kind of seep in and mix into the stink funk pot if you will.
KHOL: Well, in your bio, it claims you guys broke through with a performance on December 21st, 2012, at a legendary party known as the Funk Apocalypse. Oh my. For those not in attendance that fateful night, myself included, can you spin some yarn on what all went down that night?
Tolan: Yeah, that date was the end of the Mayan calendar, right? People thought the world was going to end, so we leaned into that. So the show was at the tavern, and I remember we made more than we had ever made in this show. It was like a couple of hundred bucks and we were fired up we were like, ‘Yeah, this is the big one.’ And we had some friends actually like picketing out on the square with like the end is nigh like posters and garb. At one point, Greg Myers, who was our percussion player for a long time and still sits in with us. At one point, I don’t even think he had a vocal mic, but he just grabbed, I think, the percussion mic and just basically started freestyling and came up with the “I like to dance, I like to ski” thing.
Keehn: Oh, he made that up. He made that up there on stage. I didn’t know that.
KHOL: So every show you guys do here in the Tetons, whether it be here in Jackson or over in Victor or Driggs, seems to sell out quickly and get the town in a frenzy. What do you think it is about you guys that resonates so much with the surrounding community?
Tolan: I mean, we feel really lucky that people keep coming back to shows and keep telling their friends that we’re fun. I promise, just go to the show. I mean, some of our friends must have been to 40 or 50. I don’t even know how many shows. A lot of shows. Just the miracle that is the fact that we’re still a band in such a transient place, like the fact that we all still live here is, I mean, we’ve just been at it for a long time and, like, needed that support from people showing up to kind of grow us. You know, we like cut our teeth doing those tavern shows.
KHOL: Well, I think it’s also like you’re just saying with the “I like to ski, I like the dance.” It’s a certain type of person that moves here that likes to release all that energy that they might use on the ski slopes as well as after with you guys. And does the skiing mania inform your music at all? Like how does that correlate, that fever to ski and the fever to create music?
Tolan: Yeah, they’re very much connected. I think some of our best shows have been when we skied that day, and it was really good. And then we get to play a show and it’s the sort of like, it’s really, yeah, it’s really like a similar…
KHOL: It’s like a celebration of that day’s epicness.
Tolan: And some of our songs are even about skiing and kind of just about mountain life, too. So it’s all kind of embedded. But yeah, tapping into that like powder moment is..
Keehn: It’s kind of gaper day vibes for a lot of the shows. And those tend to be ridiculous shows, but they’re very fun, and everyone’s kind of in the same mindset.
KHOL: You can hear music from Sneaky Pete and the Secret Weapons right here on KHOL during our local music hour. That airs weekdays from 3-4 p.m.