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5X Fast: Entertaining Marblehead and Beyond


Marblehead is not known for its wide array of nighttime entertainment options. But behind the sleepiness of 01945 is at least one dedicated group of fifty-somethings who routinely gather for jam sessions. The 5X Fast practices take place in a small cheek-by-jowl setup on Cedar Street, though with laptop technology arranged to track every note, foam soundproofing panels on the walls, and a camera in the corner capturing each rehearsal, it might as well be a professional studio. 


The group started with modest goals: four Marblehead guys wanting to jam and let off steam. In short order and somewhat accidentally, though, one thing led to another and they ended up naming themselves (with no one completely clear about the origins of the name “5X Fast” other than the naming having taken place over beers at the Barrelman) and booking a gig for a Tower School fundraiser. From there they landed a recurring spot at the popular restaurant/bar at which they had dreamed up the name.


The self-styled “alternative and new wave–not punk-rock” band members spoke with Marblehead Beacon last week. “We’re a WFNX band,” says bass player Keith Sachs–recognizing the retro nature of his reference to the days when FM radio dominated. 


Among the songs they play are those of REM, the Violent Femmes, the Cure, and even the rare Taylor Swift tune. The stylings of 5X Fast have now entertained guests of the Dolphin Yacht Club, Winthrop’s Blackstrap BBQ, as well as various local fundraisers and block parties. A catalog of about 120 songs allows the band to change things up at each performance, where, on average, they play thirty-five to forty songs. “We [always add] at least five ‘new’ songs for every gig,” says Sachs, who remembers the band’s first time playing together–in 2016. “[It was] my 50th birthday party…and we played five songs.” At that point the then-four-man band had only been together a few months and, says Sachs, before that “I hadn’t picked up my bass for at least 15 years.”


Last Thursday the five dads gathered in drummer Doug Williams’s detached garage for their usual practice, albeit this one with an audience of one from Marblehead Beacon. With thirteen children among them, Sachs says they’re the equivalent of “one Catholic family in 1920.” Leaving home duties for what they all consider sacred practice time is made possible, says rhythm guitarist Chris Grohe, “because we’re out of the bath-and-books stage with our kids.” With none of their children younger than high-school-aged, and several in their twenties, these days the five professionals are able to more easily exchange their daytime desks for nighttime microphones.


Grohe, notwithstanding his rolled-up long-sleeved shirt exposing a sizable forearm tattoo, is a bona fide professional who has words like “quantitative investment” in his bio, which accompanies his serious-as-a-heart-attack MIT Sloan MBA. But by night the portfolio manager trades corporatespeak for the sweet sounds of INXS and–at weeknight practices–cold root beer. 


Aaron Grazado’s vocals and lead guitar roles serve as somewhat of an alter ego for his real-estate portfolio management day job. As he belts out the Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” it is obvious his transition from rat race by day to rocker by night is seamless. He takes on about seventy-five percent of the vocals for the band, while keyboardist Tim Sullivan–5X Fast’s most recent addition only a few years ago–estimates he performs the remaining quarter. 


A lifetime spent playing piano and violin prepared Sullivan to join the band on keyboard sometime in late-2018 or early-2019 after meeting Williams in a local running group. Sullivan–whose day job is in biotech–manages to fit in band time while also having trained and run multiple Boston Marathons to raise nearly $100,000 to benefit pediatric cancer research. 


Williams, who started working from home some twenty years ago–well before remote work became de rigueur–hails from the corporate world like the others, but does a job even his band mates don’t fully understand. “Something about ideation,” is shouted out, as Williams explains his work as a professional services executive. Definitions aside, for Williams and his two decades of telecommuting, suits have never been in the equation; he dons the same t-shirt and jeans at 9:00 am as he does while smashing the drums at 8 pm. 


Sachs is a civil litigator, and as his “own boss,” says he dresses the part when he is in court, but reverts to casual attire whenever he can. And as is the case for most of the others, Sachs’s music know-how was self-taught. “I know scales and chords,” he says–the rest learned with his ear as the primary instructor.

The informal performance rules of 5X Fast include that Sachs is “not allowed to sing,” which he takes in stride. His singing chops may not be stage ready, but his deep, smoky voice is assigned the role of unofficial emcee at the band’s gigs. His wife, Eleanor, as well as Sullivan’s daughter and Williams’s son are among those who have graced the 5X Fast stage as guest performers over the years.


Several decades older and, perhaps, wiser than most in garage bands, the members of 5X Fast seem to appreciate the opportunity to indulge their musical passions with friends. Where others may golf or fish, these guys wear ear plugs and revisit songs from their formative years. Grohe clearly speaks for the group when he notes that playing with the band is sacred because it “lets you do something where we don’t think of anything else.” 


Each brings a distinct vibe and personality to the mix, sometimes roasting each other during practice. But there is no evidence of a hard-and-fast hierarchy or rabid competitiveness among the five. On the contrary: As the interview winds down, Sachs says quietly, “we’re like the Band of Brothers, but without the hand grenades.”


5X Fast will perform at the Barrelman at 8:00 pm this Saturday, February 4th.


Editor's Note: The author of this article went to law school with Keith Sachs.