Agent 22 lets its strings do the talking
Marcia Manna
For The North County Times

Tom Griesgraber is pictured in a trench coat and a fedora on the cover of his new CD "Agent 22," but he doesn't look anything like James Bond. Instead of posing with a pistol and a pair of dark silhouttes outlining the female anatomy, he is armed with a Chapman Stick and two musicians who share his vision. Guitarist/songwriter Jimmy Patton and percussionist Ryan Moran have joined Griesgraber to create the group's self-titled debut, a musically mysterious recording that would work well as a soundscape for intrigue. The group's original music inspired the name for the band and the CD.

"The first song Jimmy and I wrote had a real spy/James Bond-type feel," said Griesgraber by phone from his home in Encinitas. "That's where the name Agent came from. The 22 came from the fact that Jimmy's two guitars have 6 strings each and I was playing a 10-string Chapman Stick, so we had 22 strings between us. Since that was the first song we worked on together, we just went with that name for the group as well as the album."

Both Patton and Griesgraber use a tapping technique developed by Emmett Chapman, an artist who invented the Chapman Stick in 1974. Patton plays two guitars simultaneously while Griesgraber performs on the Chapman Stick, an instrument that looks like a 2-by-4 with strings.

"The Stick's sound is unique because it's centered around this tapping technique," said Griesgraber. "All the notes are made by fingers tapping on the strings instead of strumming. It's rooted in guitar and bass and yet it's different."

While still attending San Dieguito High School, Griesgraber worked as a music tutor under the direction of MiraCosta College guitar professor Peter Pupping. After graduating summa cum laude from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Griesgraber enrolled in the master's program at San Diego State University and continued teaching at MiraCosta College. He considered a career in teaching, but decided to take a year off to devote to live performance on the Chapman Stick. Griesgraber became more involved with Patton and Moran during a MiraCosta College recording project that compiled performances by students, alumni and faculty.

"It was funny because Peter Pupping called me from MiraCosta and he knew I had gotten my new Chapman Stick," said Griesgraber. "He called on a Sunday afternoon and asked me if I wanted to perform a Stick composition on MiraCosta's 'Dreamwalk' album. I asked, 'When is it?' and he told me the final recording was that coming Thursday. I called my song '90 Days' because that is how long I had owned the Stick at the time."

Pupping continues to mentor Griesgraber, and in the liner notes for "Agent 22," Pupping describes their sound as a "class act - what often sounds like five or six musicians is in fact just three - an excellent debut."

The "Agent 22" CD includes the song "90 Days" as well as 10 additional cuts incorporating the three musicians' intensive training into a contemporary sound that Griesgraber describes as instrumental fusion. But don't think all that education and intense dedication to their craft has left Agent 22 without the element of humor.

"One thing I tend to get into with instrumental music is to imply a story. A lot of the titles come from little puns," Griesgraber said. "We were looking for a title for the song that's named 'Brother Wind Shear.' The first time Jimmy and I played it, we played it as a duo and Jimmy is Korean. He has a much darker complexion and the only physical similarity is that we both have real short hair. But some lady came up to him after we were done playing and asked him if we were brothers. We sat there and laughed about it and wondered if she meant that we looked like siblings or monks. We figured it had to be the latter because we don't look alike at all except for the haircuts. I thought it would be funny to start a rumor - the way you tap on an instrument is the result of the aerodynamics and the wind flow around your head."