An Interview With Marc Brownstein & Mike Greenfield [Catskill Chill 2014]
Zachary Franck (ZF) interviewing Marc Brownstein (MB) & Mike Greenfield (MG)
ZF: Can you give us a background of Electron along with an idea of what you'll play tonight?
MB: Electron is a self-serving process for me, being in a band is such an exercise of humility. Electron was made as a means for me to have a band where I can play, I actually started it when I was outside of the Disco Biscuits for six months in the year 2000. I started the band then as my primary band, it was Tommy Hamilton, Joe Russo and this guy Steve on keyboards who actually never got a chance to play a show with Electron. I wrote all the songs that are now staple Disco Biscuits' songs but I wrote them all for this band and all within a year, twenty-five songs. All of the songs that were from The Maui Project and the project of Chemical Warfare Brigade so it's like sixteen or seventeen staple Disco Biscuit songs in the last fourteen years. So that's what it is, it's going to be like an early 2000s Disco Biscuits show focused on material that I've wrote. Over the years we've added more material into rotation and when we go on tour in the fall I want to update our song list; I want to include the other forty songs that I've written. They don't get played a lot because the Biscuits just don't have shows. There are a lot of songs like 'The Bridge' and 'The Last Days of Everything' or 'The City' even which made an album for the Biscuits. It's just that in twenty-five shows we'll play them once and I worked really hard on them; It took me a long time to write 'The City' and 'The Bridge' - they took me two months each. The chords and lyrics changed a million times and to have put so much effort into something and then only have them get played once a year sucksbecause I don't get to enjoy them that much. I think Electron is an outlet for me, it lets me play some of the songs that I love and don't get to enjoy often. I banged out those sixteen songs in six months, it was my most productive period but that's what happens when times are hard. Everything's great and then all of a sudden you can become complacent and a year can go by without one song getting written. When you get fired from your band and you're like "Fuck, I need multiple albums worth of material like yesterday" you have to sit down and do it; That's what I did, I sat down by myself in tears and just banged everything out.
ZF: Did you guys expect to be playing in Electron after all these years?
MB: For a while I stopped doing it because I felt like it was redundant to the Biscuits and there was no point to having another band that was so similar. I also felt that it could possibly cause issues and conflict with the Biscuits, I don't know if it was causing issues but I felt like it could. It didn't really need to happen back then but in the past few years shows are so few are far between that it comes to the point of wanting to work, this is just really what I love doing and I love doing it with Mike and Tommy equally as I do with Allen and Barber. I mean, I've been playing with all of these guys for close to two decades; they're all like brothers to me. The chemistry of the bands and the way that we do things are completely different and even though it sounds similar at times we're doing things completely different. We have a totally different approach to improvisation so it's exciting getting to re-interpret the songs and it's cool, it's a little less patient with Electron, we go for it a little bit more and it's fun to go for it, we just fucking hit it and hit. We have very unique way of jamming, Greenfield specifically has a way of taking us from the first part of the jam to the second part of the jam, to the peak that makes him really exciting as a player underneath and as a bass player I feel like I don't have to question what's coming next, he's always very clear and concise with his playing.
ZF: How do you guys go about writing your songs and picking set-lists for Electron in comparison to your primary bands?
MB: The Biscuits and Electron are very similar, it's easier in Electron because we only have twenty-five songs to chose from.
ZF: Do you feel more pressure in Electron or your main bands?
MB: A little bit more pressure sometimes; Less pressure overall because it ultimately doesn't matter as much, the end game is a little different.
ZF: How much is planned and how much is improvised in Electron shows?
MB: Nothing is planned. Well, last night in a shocking twist of fate we planned something for the first time since Greenfield has been in a band. When we decided that in Grass is Green or Confrontation, one of the two, that we would jam in C sharp minor rather than in A major but outside of that one thing we had no idea what was going to happen and then something crazy happened in the jam and we started going back and forth between the two chords and I was like how is this happening!?
ZF: Do you guys think that you would ever release something for purchase or get in the studio with Electron because today when I was walking around talking to a lot of biscuit heads, some of them whom have been seeing you guys since 98'; they consider Electron to be more than just a side-project, it's something very special to a lot of people?
MB: Yeah, I guess the thing that we would do that has never been done that needs to be done is for the Chemical Warfare Brigade album to be recorded finally, go in the studio and do it like a real album, maybe even make some videos for it.
ZF: Do you feel that playing with Electron makes your primary bands better?
MB: I feel like playing with Conspirator makes my primary bands better because that's the one where were cutting our teeth and grinding, keeping in full shape all the time, exploring new jamming styles and just becoming better as musicians by playing hundreds and hundreds of hours of bass and keyboards.
ZF: Do you think that you would ever do a full tour with Electron or do you think it's more special to do small tours?
MB: I think there's going to be a full tour with Electron down the line; We have four guys here who all live in Philadelphia, it's the only band that any of us belong to this is like that, everybody lives all over the place in our other bands. Electron is a special thing, you said it before how people treat us special and I want to keep it special, we do it occasionally to keep it special. If we were going to go on a full tour we would have to put in a lot of work, we would really have to go into the rehearsal space for a couple weeks and add twenty covers, twenty originals and bring some Brothers Past songs, a couple of Mike Greenfield originals, he has some a lot of computer work he does that we would start to bring in.
ZF: Do you guys have a favorite song to play together collectively in Electron?: MB: Maybe, Plan B. Everybody really likes Plan B, Tommy's favorite is Plan B.
MG: I like 'Home Again' a lot, I've been friends with these guys for a long time but also a fan of them and I remember listening to that song on one of their Trance-fusion albums. So listening to that song as a fan first and then being able to play it with the people who wrote it is always pretty special, it's happened to me a few times and it's always pretty special.
ZF: Do guys think that you'll play more festivals next summer?
MB: I think it's starting to happen, offers are starting to come in. I think next year we'll do Electric Forest hopefully we'll be able to turn this Hulaween show into an Electric Forest date if everything does well. That's what I'm hoping for; Electric Forest, please book Electron.
ZF: Do you guys remember any specific Electron shows that have stood out over the years?
MB: 6/6/2002 at the TLA, that was really special. That one was with Tommy McKee on keyboards, Joe Russo on drums and Tom Hamilton and I. I had just come off my honeymoon and I hadn't played the bass at all in a month and it just felt really special to get back on stage. The New Haven show that we played last year was also so fucking good; It was really special, I don't know what happen there but that's what happens with Electron.
MG: Well I think that was the end of our run so I think we were well practiced for that one.
MB: Yeah, that one definitely stands out a little bit out of the ones that we've done in recent years.
ZF: Do you guys ever think about expanding or adding any guests to sit-in or just keeping it the four of you?
MB: I like that idea. We've done that before actually, on Jam Cruise we had Michetti sit in with us. That show stands out a lot to.
MG: Especially because that one was just for the fun of it because Fishman got sick and cancelled last minute.
MB: We were playing just to play which makes it even more special but I feel like we play just to play anyway, nobodies millionaires here.
MG: Well... (laughs and looks at Marc)
MB: We play for the love of playing... Well... (chuckles)
ZF: I'm really excited for your upcoming show at B.B. Kings after STS9, what cities are you guys most excited for on this upcoming fall tour?
MB: That's the one that you're most excited for?
ZF: Well I'm a New Yorker (laughs)
MG: I'm excited for all of them
MB: These are all of our spots, we chose five spots; Syracuse might be a little off the beaten path but I'm excited about that one in a different sort of way like anxious excitement.
ZF: Do you guys think that you'll ever book with Pete Shapiro again at any of his venues?
MB: Of course.
ZF: Capital Theater, Garcias or anything like that?
MB: I've been in the Capital Theatre before but I've never been in Garcias; How is that place, is it cool?
ZF: Yeah it's an awesome space.
MB: How big is it? Two-hundred people or more?
ZF: More than that
ZF: I don't know exactly, I know the Capital Theatre is two-thousand to twenty-five hundred. It would be awesome to see you guys book with Pete Shapiro again because of the fact that The Wetlands was very special to you guys.
MB: Yeah, well he definitely has offered us to play all of his venues in the past six to eight months. For us it's just the matter of finding the right moment especially because Jon is running a business right now and I'm in like nineteen bands. (laughs) I can't even name all the bands that I've played in over the years.
ZF: How excited are you guys to play the Catskill Chill?
MB: We are really excited, The Chill is one of our favorite festivals and we've been talking about it all day.
MG: For festivals that are under four to five thousand, this is our favorite
ZF: Especially because you went to summer camp here, Mike.
MG: Yeah, I went here man, it's incredible come back.
ZF: Do you guys think that Electron is the best "side project" in the scene?
MG: Hell yeah.
ZF: I asked about hundred different biscuit heads today and everyone is super stoked for tonight.
MB: The best side-project in the scene? I'll let other people determine that.
ZF: Well I'm not including Conspirator because it's definitely not a side-project anymore.
MB: You couldn't count Conspirator as the side-project anymore, that's the main project now; The Biscuits are the side project now, right!?(laughs)
MG: Uh Oh, Uh Oh (laughing)
MB: It's unfortunate but Barber is a business owner now and has other things going on; Aron and I are not ready to give up music full-time, we still have mortgages to pay. We'll never stop playing completely and Camp Bisco is definitely coming back next year, one-hundred percent. I was so sure that it was coming back last year, we were so close. Gathering of the Vibes came along and we all thought it was a really cool opportunity and maybe we should take a year off from Camp Bisco and not force ourselves to do something that possibly wouldn't be as good as we want. The promoters already had Hudson Project, we weren't going to do a Camp Bisco and do independent festivals instead. To me, forcing two festivals out and competing on new land in the same summer didn't seem like the right choice. I thought that we should take a deep breath and seize the unique opportunity at Vibes that will never happen again. We know that our fans have had certain issues about Camp Bisco in the past few years. As musicians and music fans we are bringing the music that we're into, that's never changed. What happen is the music that we're into suddenly got gigantic and thirty-thousand people came and it brought a whole different element of people; We have to contend with that. Every situation when something blows up whether it's a band or a band's festival there's going to be those original people that feel like they lost what they had. We had a manager once that managed The Black Eyes Peas; Now listen, they were an underground success story before Fergie joined the band, they were like a festival band in the vein of Ozomatli and came out and did all this hip-hop funk stuff. They were a successful band but when they added Fergie to the band they skyrocketed to the single most success thing that was happening in music for four or five years much to the shit-grin of all of their fans. I don't know, The Black Eyed Peas aren't my cup of tea, I liked them more before Fergie joined them but I'm not faulting them for taking the sixty-five billion dollars. I know what it's like having to make your mortgage payments every month as a musician and it would pretty nice to never have to worry about that again just like everybody else, as a reporter wouldn't it be nice to blow up and win the Pulitzer price? Whatever you are it's great to have success in it. As festival owners when our festival became bigger than the band itself, it became about something more than just us we had to step back, set our egos aside and let this business that we started develop into what it's became despite the fact that our core fan base has issues with it. The reality of it is that twelve years ago we opened a business that lost money for eight years in a row and now it's taking off and it's hard to apologize for the success but on the same token I know exactly where everyone is coming from and I understand and agree, I'm in touch and I know what everybody wants Camp Bisco to be. I don't think Biscuit fans should have anything to complain about because now the popular style of electronic music is now the electronic music that they've embraced fully and promoted for the last five years when it was the most underground; Now that deep house and nu-disco is at the top of the genre we could go and get acts like Disclosure and Breakbot. Maybe there's a compromise somewhere in between that makes sense for 2015 for the mainstream crowd that crosses over with where the Biscuit fans are, I think that we're there and that electronic music has gotten to a point where we can all agree now, we all like the same fucking music.
ZF: I'm truly excited for 2015
MG: I have to go set-up drums I think.
MB: Alright man, we have to go set up now. But me too!
ZF: Okay, thank you guys so much
MB: Thank you, Zach!