The Workhorse Movement
The Workhorse Movement
Hard rock band
In addition to producing the famous Motown sound, the city of Detroit has also produced some of the most recognized faces in classic rock, like the MC5, the Stooges, and Kiss, as well as platinum metal-rap artists Kid Rock and Eminem. The Workhorse Movement—comprised of vocalist Matt “Myron” Rea, guitarist Jeff “Freedom” Piper, drummer Joe Makie, bassist Pete Bever, and vocalist Chris “Cornbread” Sparks—represent the latest band from the Motor City to hit the hard rock scene, gaining momentum not only in their hometown but across the United States and in Europe as well with their critically applauded 2000 album Sons of the Pioneers. However, as New Musical Express writer Robyn Dorelan pointed out, “The Workhorse Movement isn’t your straight-ahead nu-metal. It’s an innovative brew of hip-hop melodies, dark psychedelia and jazz interludes set against slabs of guitar fury.”
The Workhorse Movement was formed in October of 1994 when core members Rea, Piper, and Makie started jamming together more or less as a hobby while students at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. The band’s name was inspired by a group of free-thinking characters in the Tom Wolfe novel The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, who coined the phrase “workhorse intercourse,” meaning devoting oneself one hundred percent to both work and pleasure. Rea, who had originally been recruited to the college to play basketball but was forced to quit after a leg injury, became a biochemistry student who aspired to become a college professor. Bandmate Piper studied jazz theory and guitar, but was also playing along to records by just about everyone from Monster Magnet to Public Enemy. Before long, local gigs and writing songs started to take priority over their schoolwork, and the Workhorse Movement spent increasingly more time honing their playing skills and experimenting with various forms of music. Piper, in particular, took the opportunity to explore different genres, techniques, and textures other than jazz.
Intending to create music that would appeal to a wide variety of listeners without sounding derivative, the group arrived with a unique, heavy urban rock sound that blended traditional hard rock with soul, jazz, and hip-hop elements. “Everything from Elvis to Sabbath to the Doors to Cypress Hill, you name it,” said Rea, citing the array of influences incorporated into the Workhorse Movement formula in an interview with the online magazine Unimitated. “Whatever we listen to somehow ends up in there.” But because of their use of disco and Motown flavorings as well as psychedelic grooves reminiscent of dark, 1960s rock, the Workhorse Movement defies comparisons to most of their rap-metal contemporaries, although similarities do exist. “We ultimately strive to be a rock band because we all love the dirty sound of rock music,” remarked Piper, as quoted by Roadrunner Records. “I think we belong on stage with Led Zeppelin in ’69 as much as we do with Limp Bizkit today.”
After developing enough songs for an album, the group released a self-produced, self-financed debut in 1995 entitled Dopamine, selling about 2, 000 copies of the record at shows and local record stores. Soon thereafter, the Workhorse Movement added the infamously crazy character Chris Sparks to the lineup, who had earned the nickname “Cornbread” because of his striking resemblance to a bearded Amish farmer. A prior fan turned band member, Sparks was a regular fixture at Workhorse Movement gigs. During one show, the band invited him onstage to guest on a song. Afterward, however, Sparks refused to rejoin the crowd, and the vocalist and co-lyricist has been a part of the Workhorse Movement ever since. By now, the band had also recruited bassist Pete Bever, who joined originally as a part-time member.
In 1997, the Workhorse Movement relocated to Detroit and its members dropped out of college, thereby committing their parents’ worst nightmare. “They didn’t understand why I dropped everything I had been doing for five years for rock music,” Rea told Dorelan. “I was getting accusations ranging from being into heroin to being in a satanic cult.” In spite of such misgivings, the Workhorse Movement soon became well-known throughout the Detroit area, playing clubs night after night, hoping to attract record label interest. They also added a full-time bassist, a former member of 20 Dead Flower Children named Jeff Wright. However, upon realizing that the group was missing a certain chemistry,
Members includePete Bever, bass; Joe Makie, drums; Jeff “Freedom” Piper, guitar; Matt “Myron” Rea, vocals, lyrics; Chris “Cornbread” Sparks, vocals, lyrics.
Rea, Piper, and Makie formed band while attending Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, MI, 1994; self-financed and self-released debut album Dopamine, 1995; moved to Detroit and signed with Overcore Records, 1997; negotiated wider distribution through Roadrunner Records, appeared on Ozzfest ’99 album, 1999; released Sons of the Pioneers, toured with Tattoo the Earth Festival, toured Europe for first time, 2000.
the Workhorse Movement asked Bever to come back as a permanent member. Since then, the band lineup has remained stable.
The group signed to Overcore Records, a Detroit-based independent label, and in 1998 released a five-song EP called Rhythm and Soul Cartel. With record in hand, the band then loaded their gear into an old Ford conversion van with no heat, holes in the floorboard, and a chain-link steering wheel, pulling a homemade trailer, and embarked on three national tours. “We have been a traveling promotional machine,” the band stated for the Overture Music website. “The reason for traveling was to sell albums and hook people the only way you can without $100, 000 in advertising. We just decided to go out and rock… party like there was no tomorrow and make a bunch of friends along the way. That was really all we had going for us so we traveled anywhere we could get gigs, slept in the van, showered at car washes, saved money for the party that night. It wasn’t easy but it worked. We finally started to get the attention we were working so hard for and several bigger labels saw the potential.”
The group’s work ethic also impressed several established rock acts. Consequently, gigging wherever they could soon turned into major support slots with the U.S. Bombs, Skrew, Sevendust, Gravity Kills, and even Vanilla Ice. “He is a nice guy,” Sparks said of the pop star in an online Workhorse Movement interview. “It’s no crime to play trendy music. He does his own thing and we do ours. For us it doesn’t matter what image or reputation the other bands or artists we play with have. We don’t care about the other bands on stage. We only care about the audience. As long as you give us the chance to perform in front of an enthusiastic crowd, we accept to play with everyone. Doesn’t matter which style. Give us a stage and we will rock!”
After one show in New York City attended by executives from Roadrunner Records—home to Soulfly, Sepultura, Machine Head, Coal Chamber, Fear Factory, the Misfits, Type O Negative, and other big-name hard rock acts—the Workhorse Movement finally secured major-label support. Roadrunner immediately included one of the group’s songs on the Ozzfest ’99 album, exposing Workhorse Movement to a significantly larger audience even though they did not participate in the Ozzfest tour that year. Subsequently, the band teamed with Overcore Records owner Scott Santos, booking studio time to record their Road-runner/Overcore full-length debut.
Released in January of 2000, Sons of the Pioneers stands as a tribute to the group’s inspirations: their parents, their hometown of Detroit, and bands that influenced the Workhorse Movement by challenging the traditional rules of music and succeeding. For example, the opening track, “Keep the Sabbath Dream Alive,” references the heavy metal band Black Sabbath, which Ozzy Osbourne fronted, while the album’s closing song, “Feel Like Bob Marley,” honored the life and attitude of the late reggae legend. Other expressions of gratitude included “Traffic,” featuring Detroit rap artist Esham in a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, and “Zero,” containing an opening verse that alludes to the Charlie Daniels hit “The Devil Came Down to Georgia.” The album won nods from several critics and made a large impact in Great Britain. Melody Maker’s Dan Silver hailed Sons of the Pioneers as “Far too good to be wasted on the wasted—turn on, tune in and prepare to be knocked out,” while the British rock magazine Kerrang picked the Workhorse Movement for its “Hot 100 for 2000” list.
In support of Sons of Pioneers, the Workhorse Movement toured nationwide in America with Fishbone, returning to Detroit for shows in May of 2000. After that, they toured the United States with the Tattoo the Earth festival alongside Slipknot and Coal Chamber, then spent the summer and fall performing in the United Kingdom and Europe, including stops in Germany, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris.
Dopamine, self-released, 1995.
Rhythm and Soul Cartel (EP), Overcore, 1998.
Sons of the Pioneers, Roadrunner/Overcore, 2000.
Detroit News, April 14, 2000.
Melody Maker, June 21-27, 2000, p. 74.
New Musical Express (NME), June 10, 2000.
The Record (Bergen County, NJ), July 14, 2000, p. 012.
Metro Times, http://www.metrotimes.com (September 5, 2000).
Overture Music, http://www.overturemusic.com (September 5, 2000).
Roadrunner Records, http://www.roadrunnerrecords.co.uk (September 4, 2000).
Rock Online, http://www.rockonline.com (September 5, 2000).
Workhorse Movement Interview, http://www.heim-e.uni-sb.de/~rage/workhorseinterview.htm (September 4, 2000).
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