Gran Torino Returns to WCU to ask, “Are You Livin’?”

Roaring into music venues across the United States with the force of a turbo-charged hot-rod, Gran Torino will come to Cullowhee, North Carolina to play Western Carolina University this Saturday, February 3.

The nine member, horn-driven, pop rock ‘n’ soul crew is in the midst of their “Are You Livin Tour,” in support of the band’s latest single, “Are You Livin,” which appears on Gran Torino’s highly successful album Gran Torino Two. The release of “Are You Livin” comes on the heels of the band’s hit single “Moments With You,” which just won the grand prize in the “pop category” of the 2000 John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

While building one of the largest followings of any band in the region with their soulfully spectacular and combustible live show, the Knoxville-based Gran Torino is, for the first time since forming in 1995, enjoying phenomenal success on the airways.

Upon its release in 2000, “Moments With You” was added to rotation at over 35 commercial radio stations throughout the South. The soul-infused, rhythmically enhanced song, with its tasteful blend of piano, horns, drums, and bass is a pure standout on mainstream radio and was featured on the September 12 episode of MTV’s The Real World.

Now, in 2001, Gran Torino has released to radio their second single, “Are You Livin,” an infectious song that struts a classic funk feel but with a contemporary accessibility that will make anyone within earshot feel the need to move and groove.

With eleven excellent tracks, Gran Torino Two contains a great diversity of songs that demonstrates Gran Torino’s creative musical power of melding R&B influences with elements of rock, pop, jazz, and soul. While songs like “Are You Livin” and “Moments With You” are finding success on the radio, tunes like the instrumental “Coup d’etat” raise Gran Torino high above other modern R&B/ retro-pop acts with an excellent horn arrangement that flows from a smooth melody into a hard-rocking sound.

Gran Torino is led by the impassioned singing of Chris Ford, who brings a wealth of influences to the band’s dynamic sound. “As a writer, old Springsteen and Stevie Wonder are big influences of mine,” Ford says. “As a whole, I would say the people in this band are influenced by R&B and a lot of the guys have major jazz influences.”

“I’m more of an R&B guy, and I’ve brought the gospel and R&B thing to the band,” explains Dexter Murphy, keyboardist and trombonist. “Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Tower of Power are my influences.”

The band also features Stephen Decker on guitar, Todd Overstreet on bass, Pee Jay Alexander on trumpet, Scott Pederson on trumpet and saxophone, Whit Pfohl on drums, Jason Thompson on sax, and David Heyer also on drums. “This year we hired David, our second drummer,” explains Ford. “He has a full drum set, and a half-synthesized drum kit. There’s a lot of electronic percussion on the new album, so recreating those sounds is part of his job.”

Again, Gran Torino will play Saturday, February 3, at Western Carolina University at the Hinds University Center. Doors open at 9:30 p.m., and tickets are available in advance: $5 for students and $7 for non-students.

Advance tickets are available at the Hinds University Center and In Your Ear Music Emporium. Tickets the day of show are $7 for everyone. This is an all ages show. For more info call (828) 227-7206. For media inquiries about Gran Torino, including photos and interviews, please contact Brian Cooley at Wicked Group, (404) 881-8891.