An Exclusive Interview With Marc Brownstein: The Disco Biscuits Are Prepared to Crush New Year's Eve
Marc Brownstein is undoubtedly one of the biggest faces in the live music scene. For the past twenty years he has been delivering memorable shows to fans all over the country, all over the world. From the Disco Biscuits to Conspirator and Electron, he's been a key musician in the development of trance-fusion. With his bands, he has paved the way for the genre of jamtronica. I had a chance to ask him a few questions about the Disco Biscuits' exceptional year and their upcoming New Year's Run. They have more than a few tricks up their sleeves. Trust me. If you're a fan of the Disco Biscuits, you're definitely going to want to read this interview. I'm sure of it.
Zachary Franck Interviewing Marc Brownstein
ZF: This year is the 20th anniversary of the Disco Biscuits, and what a year it has been, Think about it; Playing with Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart on multiple occasions, the return of Camp Bisco at an awesome new venue, A special Halloween show for the first time in years, and an extremely successful Dominican Holidaze. Have you sat back and really absorbed your accomplishments from this year alone? How spectacular has 2015 been?
MB: 2015 isn't over yet. We still have some of our best ideas still in our back pocket. We've got to spin The Wheel. We've got a few of the coolest fan set lists we've ever seen! We have so much more fun to take this year out ahead of us that we haven't had a chance to really take a second to reflect back on it. It's been a busy fall. Between the Halloween preparations and the show and then our little Conspirator tour, directly into the holiday and then into Holidaze! It's been a constant grind. Playing with Mickey and Billy was big for the band though, at least in terms of sort of bridging the generational gap in the jam band scene. There are a lot of fans that love both bands and obviously we take a huge influence from the Grateful Dead and the paradigm they have created.
ZF: Do you feel that your life and band is the most balanced it's been in years?
MB: I would say so. I can really only speak for myself and my own life, but I am definitely grateful for everything that I have. It's only been a year or so now that I've felt I've really discovered that balance. There was a 20 year grind that preceded that. And the grind continues, but in a much more balanced way, ya know? People will tell you, in order to succeed in anything you have to completely immerse yourself in it. For a touring musician, that could mean decades away from home, or in many cases decades without really feeling like you have a home. It means that you develop these relationships with places and cities and hotels and communities. You return to the same places so often that every town begins to feel like your home away from home. Over the last few years the shift for me has been back towards having a home base, and really living that. In terms of creating health, both physical and mental, the benefits are massive, and that should be good for longevity.
ZF: There's been so many great moments this year, but as it comes to a close, what are three moments/shows/experiences that really stand out to you?
MB: Well, a lot of people tell me that this was the most consistent year of shows since 2009, and for me it really is just a continuation of 2014, which was really high quality in my opinion. The interesting part has been maintaining the high quality while also stepping out of our comfort zone, and playing with a full horn section and singer was a huge highlight for us. I can't believe it took us this many years to cover Funky Town. That song was made for this band! And of course how can you not mention Terrapin Station and Wharf Rat at Red Rocks. But as amazing and different as those shows have been, it's been the other moments that have stood out the most. The return to the rotation jamming. The amazing show at the State Theater in Portland, Maine and the two shows in Burlington, Vermont the next day. 12/5/05, the third show in the Dominican Republic had two four song sets and people have been responding really well to that show. Camp Bisco had a few of those moments as well, and beyond the music, the return of Camp Bisco is probably one of the most important things to happen to all of us this year.
ZF: The second installment of Dominican Holidaze was an enormous success. I wasn't there but I kept in close contact with a number of friends during the weekend. The positivity has been pouring in from everyone about your performances. Where do your rate your sets at Dominican Holidaze among other great shows in 2015? How do you rate the Domican version of the experience with past years?
MB: The venue in the Dominican Republic is really luxurious. It's a much higher end experience than we had in Jamaica and maybe a level up from Mayan Holidaze. It makes the vacation feel really swanky. You can't argue with luxury when you are dealing with moving into a hotel for a week. As for the shows, well, that's really a subjective thing. All I can say is that people who have been seeing the band since day 1 were all really excited with the performances, and I tend to trust those people's opinions.
ZF: Stepping outside the norm on Halloween, trying something new and creative was probably refreshing. Was the second set of Halloween fun for you?
MB: Halloween was super special for all of us. After years of being asked by middle aged men and women if we were "a disco band", we finally lived up to our name. Playing those disco classics proved to me that the old adage "disco sucks" is not really that on point. Disco is where it's at!
ZF: Jon Gutwillig is undoubtedly one of the best guitarists and songwriters in the scene. You've had the pleasure of playing next to him for twenty years. What are your favorite songs that Barber has written?
MB: I love them all man. The guy is a genius songwriter. I remember looking at him as he taught me House Dog Party Favor and just saying, wow, we are going to be huge. And that was how I felt every time he taught us a song in that two year span. Overture. Above The Waves. Hot Air Balloon. It never ended. He was just birthing one masterpiece after another. The guy literally wrote some of the best music of the 20th century all in the last two years of the century. I'm extremely grateful to have linked up with one of the greats of all time in the American music scene. Barber may be the most underrated composer in our entire world. But not to those who know. Those who really get it, they know that he is one of the best out there.
ZF: The relationship that you have with Aron Magner is very special, not only are you guys partners on stage but you're also best friends. What are some of your favorite songs that he's written?
MB: Magner is amazing too. Every song he has written has flashes of brilliance in it. Spaga, Spy, Unspoken Rhyme, Digital Buddha, the list goes on. The difference with Barber was sheer output. If Magner wrote 100 songs, I bet 75 of them would be genius. I always try to encourage him to write more because he is so good at it, but it wasn't really the thing that drove the ship for him. He's a tremendous player. As for me, I literally was just inspired by the best, trying to learn from the best, and trying to keep up with the best. It was an unenviable task as a songwriter but someone had to do it.
ZF: Would you guys ever do something similar to the AKIRA jam from 12-31-99?
MB: I think that the AKIRA jam is something that we own completely. In all the years since we have done it, we haven't seen one other band stand behind a screen and improvise for the full length of a feature film. That's our thing. We've done it one other time, on the Halloween run out west a few years later. The funny thing is, this is something that has started to get spoken about internally over the last few months. This is something that we have recently identified as a special event that we want to reclaim as our own thing. Is it the riskiest of all propositions? Maybe. Who knows what's going to happen in this situation. A full set of improvisation? When it comes to the legality of playing a feature film, we would have to obtain a license for it at this point, and I don't think it's something that could be advertised either, so it's the sort of thing that if it were to ever happen again, it would be something that was unannounced and the fans would sort of just stumble into it. That's a really exciting proposition to us.
ZF: How was The Wheel developed and how do you feel about bringing it back during the New Year's Run?
MB: The Wheel was just a different way at arriving at a set list. It's backwards from what we normally do because we let the fans in on the process of what song is coming next and that creates a really exciting and different paradigm at the show. We all know what's coming next, it's just about how the surprise of it will lead us there. It's a totally different type of journey. For this New Year's run, which I think is probably the last in NYC for a year or two, if I had to guess, we decided that we wanted to do something special, every single night. We want this run to be completely memorable in a string of New Year's runs at the same venue. People will walk away from this year saying, 2015-2016, that was the year these guys completely flipped the script. There will be no chance that it all blends together, with what we have planned. This has been a unique year and that's what we wanted to accomplish to cap it off, to cap off what's already been arguably the MOST unique year we have had in god knows how long.
ZF: Since you were born and raised in NYC, can you explain how special it is for you to perform in Times Square on New Year's Eve?
MB: As for Times Square, you know, I don't think any band has played as many shows at the PlayStation Theater as we have, same as with the Electric Factory in Philly. To us, this is like playing the Winterland in the 70's. It's ours. It's a unique time and place in history that the Disco Biscuits own. The Nokia, Best Buy Theater, whatever you want to call it, it's called home to us. Every year we come home for a hometown throw down, just a few miles from where I grew up, and we take in everything that NYC has to offer in the holidays. The excitement, the people, the ball drop, it's all right there... We relish in the bigness of it all. The name, the Disco Biscuits, on the billboards in the city lights, being broadcast across the world during the biggest television event of the year, over and over. That's the kind of advertisement that you couldn't pay for. Times Square, NYC...the world. Be there.
ZF: If you could say one thing to fans that are on the fence about coming to the New Year's run, what it would it be?