An Interview With Keyboardist Todd Stoops
Zachary Franck interviewing Todd Stoops
ZF: How long have you been playing keyboards/piano? Did you study music anywhere?
TS: I've been playing since I was 5... so about 35 years - my grandmother bought me a Casio to mess around on when I was in 1st grade and I've been playing since - I never took piano lessons but I studied percussion from the age of 11 until 18 when I switched to keys full time. I studied marching percussion, and orchestral percussion (marimba, vibes, etc).
ZF: Where are you from? Growing up, who were your biggest musical inspirations?
TS: I was born in Fairfield County, Connecticut - Growing up, I was heavily influenced by my parent's favorite music (as most of us are) - they listened to a lot of Beatles, Beach Boys, Santana, Chicago, etc. - and a bunch of singer songwriter stuff like Jim Croce, Seals and Crofts, Neal Young, Simon and Garfunkle.. When I was old enough, I bought cassette tapes of stuff like Beastie Boys and Def Leopard, Van Halen and Motley Crue, Rush, etc - and when I started studying drums I was into Steve Gadd, Vinny Colaiuta, Buddy Rich, and other cats that my drum teachers or band director would turn us on to.
ZF: Who would you consider your all-time favorite piano players to be?
TS: Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, John Medeski, and Keith Godchaux
ZF: Over the years, you have played with many different bands and projects. Can you pick a favorite or do you feel that the best has yet to happen?
TS: Hard to say! Every project has a special place in my heart. With all of the creative energy and countless hours of effort that go into each... They're all my babies. RAQ will always hold the top spot for me, I think, as a first-born would. But most recently Oktopus has taken up a ton of my creative output - also Rhythmatronix!!! Rhythmatronix is an AMAZING band that was put together by Jason Hann with a dedication to performing intense fusion music with a heavy duty line up. I just got back from a cruise to the Bahamas where I was performing a few shows with Rhythmatronix and the lineup was myself, Jason Hann and Michael Kang (SCI), Oteil Burbridge (Allman's, ARU, Dead&Co - filling in for Andre Manga (Paul Simon/Josh Grobin), Raul Pineda (Chucho Valdez), and Fareed Haque (Garaj Mahal) - look for a lot more from this band!!
ZF: Many music fans consider you to have a very unique style, how and why did you start playing the way you do? What other keyboard players in the scene do you have the most respect for?
TS: When I started taking keyboards seriously, I made an effort to apply my percussion background to the keyboard instruments in a way that was unique to my personal experience with drums/rhythm. I came from marching percussion, which is aggressive by nature, so that's where the intensity comes from - I have a ton of respect for Cory Henry (alien game changer!), Robert Walter, and a ton of other cats - I could go on and on!
ZF: Now that you and Kung Fu have parted ways, I understand that you have a new project with Jason Hann of The String Cheese Incident entitled 'Oktopus' - Can you tell us a bit about it? What type of music is it and what direction are you heading?
TS: Oktopus is a female-voiced, electronic hybrid art-project performed by Jason Hann, Hayley Jane, myself, and special guests including our musical friends, live artists, and live dance - the project is based on original music that Hayley and I have produced over the past year, and we have had a few amazing performances over the same time period (namely a Gathering Of The Vibes "sunrise" set, and a heater set supporting our good friends Twiddle at their sold out College Street Music Hall show last November) - we are currently finishing our debut album to be released in 2016 and we couldn't be more excited!
ZF: I know that you've also played with Stratosphere All Stars on multiple occasions, how fun are those shows for you?
TS: I love the Strat shows - I actually performed with the debut band at BKBowl last spring and have been able to play a few more shows with them as well. Funny detail - I actually named that band! When the promoter needed a name for the first performance, I suggested "Stratosphere" or "Stratosphere All-Stars" and the name stuck!
ZF: You've also sat in with Electron and the String Cheese Incident, it must be awesome to have so many friends that are successful musicians, can you remember meeting these guys years ago? the Disco Biscuits? Lotus? Cheese? How much has changed and how much has stayed the same?
TS: I remember meeting most of these guys from touring with RAQ in the early 2000's - we opened for tDB a couple of times, and toured a few shows with Lotus way back in 2002-2003 - very proud of all of our friend's successes!
ZF: RAQ was your main band years ago, you guys toured extensively and got a lot of love. Now that Chris Michetti isn't playing with Conspirator full time and you aren't playing with Kung Fu, will fans be seeing more RAQ in the near future?
TS: We are all pretty busy with other projects but RAQ is important to us - we play as much as possible, usually about 15-20 dates a year at this point...
ZF: I've been seeing you play as an 'Artist At Large' at a few different festivals this past summer, who are some of your favorite acts that you've had the pleasure of sitting in with at a festival?
TS: Oh man that's tough! I've had a blast performing with Twiddle, Electron and Papadosio, Lotus, the Werks, there's really so many it's hard to pick a clear stand out - I'm a huge fan of all the acts I've performed with so there are different elements of their music that appeal to me, etc.
ZF: What does your keyboard set up consist of?
TS: It depends on the project - I use MainStage a lot lately for access to the software synths in real time - I have a Moog Little Phatty, and a Moog Sub37, a Nord Electro 2, Nord Leads 2 and 3, a Kurzweil pc-1 that doesn't get a lot of use these days, and a bunch of controllers...
ZF: I know that you're a big fan of the Grateful Dead. What does their music mean to you?
TS: Without the GD, I wouldn't be performing in this aspect today by any means. I wasn't even aware of this culture until my first Dead show - it's a vibrant, creative scene that has spawned a thousand bands and tens of thousands of artistic ideas - the music is the common thread - it taught me familiarity with the major progressions, how to improvise, and so much more. Foundational influence to say the least!!
ZF: What are some of your biggest musical goals for 2016?
TS: To finish the Oktopus album and get that music out into the world! Also to work on The Smooths (a duo with Mihali Savoulidis from Twiddle and myself) - we have some Rhythmatronix shows in the works and of course the RAQ mini tours are always tons of fun!
ZF: On more than one occasion, it's been quite evident that you have some very loyal fans. If you could send a message to all of your die-hard fans out there, what would it be?
ZF: What does the future hold for Todd Stoops?
TS: Who knows! I'm thankful for the opportunities I have to make music for people who enjoy and can relate to it - it's very humbling! I'm grateful every damn day!!