20 Years of Diligence: A Conversation with George Hrab
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Some might know George Hrab as the drummer who provides the backbone for Philadelphia Funk Authority, one of the most renowned and versatile party bands this side of the Mississippi. Others may know him as the host of the Geologic Podcast, a true variety show which celebrates its 500th episode this Saturday; a 500-minute extravaganza to be broadcast on Facebook Live.
On Sunday, March 5th, those in attendance at the Lehigh Valley Music Awards will know George Hrab for one more reason: he will be honored as a 20 Year Veteran of our local music scene.
Hrab will join a host of special honorees, including fellow 20 Year Veterans Tony DiLeo, Phil Pilorz, Victor “Baby J” Rodriguez, Tanya “STAR” Suarez, and Christine Bainbridge in being recognized during the ceremony, beginning at 4 p.m. inside of the Musikfest Café.
“It was completely unexpected,” Hrab said of the honor. “I haven’t been a part of the traditional circles of the bands that have been here. Yet, somehow by plugging away, people have noticed. It’s very humbling. I’m very honored by the whole thing.”
For Hrab, the moment is a chance to reflect and marvel upon the changes that have taken place in the Lehigh Valley – in particular, Bethlehem – over the past two decades.
“Just in terms of what Bethlehem provided in terms of venues then versus now, it’s incredible what’s happened over the last 20 years,” said Hrab. “To have a facility like (SteelStacks), it’s magical. It’s so well done. Having seen every stage of the steel mill, from a dying steel mill in my first years of college, and then an empty lot, a ghost block turning into this vibrant performance space with movie theaters, where I can see a Rush cover band on a Wednesday night, or go see Cake or Ben Folds perform, it’s incredible.”
Hrab also took a moment to reflect on the events that led to the beginning of his music career. A 1993 graduate of Moravian College, Hrab worked at the College for a brief period before striking out on his own.
“It was a fun job; it was cool, but I was in charge of running all of the concerts. On the weekends, I couldn’t gig, because I was at a gig,” Hrab recalled. “I got to a point where I realized I was turning down too much work. I left, and it was an incredible struggle for a good eight to ten years.”
Indeed, there are volumes that could be written about the trials and tribulations of the starving artist. There are difficult personal and lifestyle choices one must make on the road to creative success. Hrab recalled a story where he scraped and saved to include a string quartet on his third album. As a result, he was unable to replace the back window of his 15-year-old pickup truck.
“That’s the choice I made; because I wanted a string quartet on my album, I’m fine with a 15-year-old pickup truck with a cardboard rear window. I found the things that are important to me, and a new car isn’t important to me,” Hrab said. “Those are the choices you have to make to plug away. If you’re OK with that, then that’s great. If you are, however, someone that wants comforts and luxuries, which is your right to want those things, it might not be the lifestyle that’s suitable for you.”
Respecting the Music
“It’s kind of an honor to be a musician. If you go back to the underpinnings of what music is about, in terms of its earliest forms of communication and sharing a moment, the earliest protohomonids, in essence, were jamming together at some point,” Hrab said. “You’re tapping into something very primal when you share a musical moment that can be very uplifting, driving, scary, or whatever. I try to respect that responsibility.”
That means playing every song, no matter the situation or genre, with authenticity and a sense of gratitude.
“That’s something that I’m really proud of with Philadelphia Funk Authority. Whether we have an audience of seven people or seven thousand, the band fires on all cylinders,” Hrab said. “Everyone has that understanding of what our responsibility is, and how lucky we are to be working musicians that are playing music that we actually enjoy.”
For Hrab, that also includes picking up on the nuances of every style of music he plays, which presents a constant, yet enjoyable challenge.
“If we’re doing a wedding, very often the first dance for the couple might be completely out of our genre,” Hrab noted. “It might be a country tune. It might be a straightforward pop tune. If we’re playing a reggae tune, I have to know the component parts of a drummer’s responsibility for reggae. That, to me, is the fun puzzle of it. It’s one of those things that you’re never done figuring out. You can spend a whole career dissecting one genre, and you’ll never finish.”
The Philosophical Exchange
“From a writing standpoint, I love the challenge of being able to communicate an idea through humor or music. It distills it in a way that very few other writing forms do,” Hrab states. “Music is the best of all worlds, because you have the poetic aspect, the communicative aspect, the entertainment aspect, and the way to make it memorable and memorizable.”
In addition to original music, Hrab communicates his ideas weekly via the Geologic Podcast, which features content that varies from commentary and personal stories, to recurring sketches, music, and more.
“It really is this unlimited palette, which is the beauty of audio,” Hrab said. “You’re not beholden to making the images match what you’re producing. The imagination of the person who’s listening is filling in the blanks.”
Hrab remembers starting the show in podcasting’s early days, at first committing to just 50 episodes and re-assessing the situation from there.
“It got to a point where it hit that place, where if I don’t do a show, it feels like I haven’t bathed,” Hrab said. “I just feel weird. It’s such a habit now that in ten years, I’ve taken maybe ten weeks off.”
As Episode #500 approaches, Hrab has kept each episode fresh and different from the one that preceded it. In the process, he has built a global following of listeners that actively participates in the Geologic Podcast, even sending content for use on the show with regularity.
“It is a challenge (to put out fresh content). My friends laugh at me because I say, ‘I have to do a show this week, and I have nothing to talk about,’” Hrab notes. “They say, ‘You say that every week.’ I do say it every week, and every week, 45 or 50 minutes of material comes out somewhere.”
Success: An Unromantic Picture
“I revamped my website two years ago. When it went live, I sat there and looked at the site. I thought, ‘Wow, I would love to be this guy,’” Hrab said. “You never feel like you’re a success, because you’re in the trenches the whole time, and you feel this work that you’re doing and banging your head against the wall.”
The same can be said for any artist or entrepreneur. Often, the effort put in each day adds up to a result that is difficult to see up close. However, the body of work is easier to appreciate once one takes a step back from the trees to see the forest.
“Make the thing,” Hrab offers. “That’s my advice always. Make the thing, and then make another thing. Invariably, you’ll get better. You won’t necessarily see it, feel it, or realize that you’re getting better, but you’re getting better.”
But, it won’t happen without hard work and diligence. For George Hrab, that has been the key to living out his passions for two decades and counting.
“It’s choices, it’s consistency, and it’s work. Very unromantic answers,” Hrab professes. “There isn’t a secret apart from what everyone knows, and just implementing it.”
Check out George performing with The Blue Turtles, a tribute to Sting’s first solo album, below.