Lee Grutman: Puppet Master
Updated: November 22, 2016 at 3:55 pm
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“Here, need to do some Christmas shopping?” Lee Grutman asks upon welcoming me into his home in Plaza-Midwood.
He hands me a box full of sex toys and tells me to take whatever I like.
The Christmas shopping comment may be a joke, but he really does want me to take something home with me, if I care to, and as I peruse the comically oversized dildos, the cock ring with built-in clitoral stimulator and the rest of the most-definitely-inappropriate-for-anyone-on-my-Christmas-list items, I consider how this is, weirdly enough, a rather fitting beginning to our interview.
I’ve known Grutman for about a year or so, and this gesture definitely fits with his overall style: goofy, playful, irreverent, unabashed and straightforward. That also doubles as a fairly accurate summation of the music he makes, under the name Your Fuzzy Friends.
It helps, of course, that Grutman is a media buyer and blog content producer for the sex toy giant Adam and Eve. The items in the box were sent by various manufacturers hoping to land a distribution deal.
He has occasionally used these items for humorous blog entries or in jokey posts to his personal Facebook page. Grutman is a man who loves a good prop and a corny joke.
That becomes quickly evident to anyone who attends a Your Fuzzy Friends show, which is as much performance art as anything.
When he decided to begin playing solo after years of being in bands, Grutman knew he needed a solution to the lack of adequate spectacle normally apparent on stage when everything is riding on one individual to capture and hold an audience’s attention.
He dresses in colorful, eye catching costumes, sometimes employs friends to dance onstage with him in masks and is always armed with several puppets and large stuffed animals that help flesh out the performance. He’s clearly having a great time up there, and it’s contagious.
“I’m hard to talk through,” he says. He’s right.
“Your Fuzzy Friends is a culmination of wanting to have as much fun as possible, and of wanting to be able to have a band without having to rely on band members,” Grutman explains.
One of Grutman’s past bands, L.A. Tool & Die — named after an infamous gay porno from the late ‘70s — scored a pretty big indie hit with their self-released album “Fashion For the Evildoer,” reaching number 96 in the College Music Journal’s Top 200 Chart. They had momentum on their side, but had to split up when one of the member’s personal problems finally made continuing no longer a possibility.
Never one to sit idle for long, Grutman quickly formed a new band, Fat Camp, with two other mainstays of the Charlotte music scene: Adam Phillips and Phil Shive. Fat Camp — which was in many ways a prototype for Your Fuzzy Friends, in that it featured silly, campy lyrics about gay sex, among other things, and didn’t take itself too seriously — also gained quick attention. They were named Reader’s Choice Best New Band by Creative Loafing and found fans from disparate circles while playing indie rock clubs, biker bars and punk shows.
Yet once again, Grutman found his band dissolving just as things got going. Phillips got more immersed in his other band, Amigo, and Shive began playing bass and tour managing for outsider musician David Liebe Hart, best known for his many appearances on Adult Swim’s “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”
So Grutman set out to work alone. Although not entirely. He actually does have one non-puppet partner in Your Fuzzy Friends: musician Kelly Shane, who does all the programming for the group.
Shane lives out of town, and has only seen one Your Fuzzy Friends show so far. He doesn’t appear in any of the band’s photos or music videos.
Their song writing process sees Grutman writing the songs on guitar, sending the track to Shane to add his part, and then the two go back and forth via email until each one is satisfied with the outcome.
“It’s a fun way to work, and he’s great to work with. He’s really easy to work with,” Grutman says.
It allows Grutman to work with a collaborator without having to be as tied down and dependent on others as he once was.
The band has released one EP and several singles, on various compilations, and Grutman says they have enough material for a full length. He plans on releasing it sometime in the coming year.
Grutman is also pleased with the place the wider Charlotte music scene has reached over the past several years.
“Seriously, everyone is good,” he enthuses. “It’d be a shorter list to tell you the bands I don’t like than the ones I like, and everyone is working together. There’s no backbiting like you see in a lot of other scenes.”
Does that make him want to join, or start up, another band?
“No,” he says, without needing time to think.
He’s happy where he’s at now, at last fully possessing all the freedom and joy he’s been aiming at over all these years. : :
more: Grutman’s Your Fuzzy Friends performs in venues across the area, including the Milestone Club, Snug Harbor and others. Learn more about Grutman, download a free track, “Some of My Best Friends are Gay Unicorns,” and learn more about him at yourfuzzyfriends.blogspot.com and facebook.com/YourFuzzyFriends.
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About the author: Jeff Taylor is a journalist, artist and social media editor. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, LGBTQ Nation and The Pride L.A. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport and has lived in Charlotte since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @jefftaylorhuman.