Right in the middle of his nation wide tour with Conspirator, Marc Brownstein took some time to talk with The Grateful Web about the tour, his music, his current collaborations, the future of electronica, and how he feels about life, Jazz, and Britney Spears.
GW: My name is Abrina Williams with the Grateful Web, this is Marc Brownstein from the Disco Biscuits and more recently Conspirator. How are you doing tonight?
MB: I’m doing really well thank you.
GW: Are you still doing your Southern tour dates?
MB: Ya, we’re in Louisville Kentucky tonight.
GW: How’s the South treating you?
MB: Treatin’ me great. Just had a BBQ sandwich. I heard there’s an ice cream Sunday for desert. I heard rumors that there may be an ice cream Sunday on the way.
GW: Nice. South’s treatin’ you well. Ok, so you kind of in the middle of your tour right now, and you guys have a new addition this time around. Chris Michetti?
MB: Chris Michetti!
GW: Can you tell me a little bit about what he’s bring to you guys with this tour and your music?
MB: Well he’s been playing with us since like he played with us a couple of times over the summer, last summer, and we decided, you know, right away after we played a tour with as a replacement guitarist for the disco biscuits last year that we wanted to keep working with him and he is jut bringing good positive vibrations. Good pozzie vibes the whole way you know. It’s a personality thing, he’s really not a very good guitarist at all. (pause) no, he’s incredible. he’s the best. He’s an incredible producer, he’s written some songs that we’re playing on tour that’s just taking everything in a different direction. He’s teaching me a lot of things and I think I’m teaching him a lot of things. We share with each other’s secrets of studio recording, ya know, ideas of improvisation, and it’s one of those relationships that’s mutually beneficial. Ya know, like every which way that it could go. He feels like we’ve done a lot to change his life over that last year and he’s done a lot to change our lives.
GW: That’s great. Your teaching him improv?
MB: I mean, I think I’ve taught him a lot about how we improv over the last few years and what kind of things that we do in our improvisation. Things like holding back and being patient you know. Waiting for the chance to develop rather than forcing it to develop. Then he’s teaching me things in the studio like how to make a side train compression and how to make a great bass sound on massive, which is a synthesizer that we use to make our sounds. So there are things that he knows that I don’t know and things that I know that he doesn’t know and we’re just trading all of our secrets and everybody’s getting better at everything.
GW: So you guys have been through a couple of different line-ups with Conspirator, with Chris do you think he this might me a more permanent member?
MB: ya, definitely. Until he quits he’s here.
GW: Can we expect any other guests on this tour?
MB: Well we’ve had different drummers playing throughout the whole tour you know. We had, last week was Mike Greenfield from Lotus, this week is Aaron Shear from the New Deal, we’ve had Adam Deitch from Pretty Lights with us for a bunch of nights. Um, Main Shaw from Mansions on the Moon, he was supposed to do this tour but he’s on tour with Wiz Khalifa right now, opening for Wiz Khalifa for a whole tour. So we’ve been using some of the best drummers from the so-called jam-tronica world and, you know, these are the best live electronic drummers in the country. So we’ve had this really great cast of rotating drummers and the more we get into it the more we feel like this is the band here, which is tonight, tonight we have Daren. Really, like every time a new drum gets here we look at each other and we’re like “this is the beeest” but when Daren is here we really feel that way, he’s a really special guy and he just brings so much positive energy to the tour and is a really healthy guy, sober, and an inspiration to us all and a really good influence on us all and I find that when he’s here we’re working the hardest and staying the healthiest and playing the best.
GW: Is he sitting next to you?
MB: No he’s not, Chris is sitting next to me, and I don’t know where Aron is . That’s just actually the truth.
GW: Great, so that leads me into my next question, have you had any really outstanding nights on this tour, like, that you could put above the other and you guys might put out some CD’s?
MB: That’s interesting cuz this last week, since Ultra…well, the tour’s been great all along, but this last week we’ve been all kind of playing sober, which in the rock-n-roll world doesn’t always happen as much as it should and this last week I feel like we’ve been the best that we’ve been. Every night, everybody is just so in tune with each other and everybody is so on the ball and it’s been so refreshing to get up there and everybody be fresh and tight the whole entire night and I feel like we’re hitting a new level right now that we’ve never been at. I don’t know if it’s just that we’ve been on tour for three and a half months, almost four months, and maybe towards the end of the tour we started to wear ourselves our a little bit and we decided just to wake up and not to drink or smoke, ya know, and cut all of the fun stuff out and all of the sudden we’re playing really, really well. I don’t know what it is but it feels great being up on stage with a clear head and knowing you are playing as well as you can possible play.
GW: Cool, sobriety is a new sensation?
MB: Sober is the new high
GW: Cool, what have they been observing about the playing over the last few days.
MB: It’s been kind of a full band thing. We’re all doing it at the same time and it’s just like everybody is waking up feeling health and everybody is going to bed feeling healthy and the band is the most clear headed part of the whole room, you know, and that’s the way it should be I think. We’re starting to really take it seriously I think. We’ve been out on tour, and it was fun at first, but the deeper we get into it the more serious we are starting to take it. We are writing a lot of new music and we’re getting to the point where everyone’s treating it like a real band, working at it and making it the best in can possibly be every single night. Not that we weren’t trying to make it great before, but you know, everyone’s acting a little more professionally than we’ve ever acted before, which is really fun and exiting.
GW: Cool. So with the Disco Biscuits, that’s a different setting, and you guys have been taking that seriously for a long time. Do you think it’s a similar attitude to that, or is this a development unique to Conspirator?
MB: Well I hope to bring it back to the Disco Biscuits with me, you know what I mean. We just did a show like that at Ultra and it was one of the best shows we have played all year, or couple years. With Biscuit show next week I feel like I’m just gonna ride these vibes and see how that rolls. And the biscuits have always been very serious and very professional acting. Maybe not always the most professional of any band, but always very serious. That band has been the focus of our lives for so many years, you know, we’re trying to be professional at all time. With Conspirator at first it didn’t really matter as much, you know, it doesn’t matter how it goes, but now that we’ve played 45 shows we’re starting to feel like it does matter and we’re trying to make it really special. Every night it’s different, every night it’s special and exiting for fans and it comes out of playing a lot of shows and getting to know your band and developing jams over time, and the songs are just changing, you know, as always, and the jams and the songs that we’re playing are just gonna get better every time you play them. We’re playing 30 or 40 different songs right now with conspirator and over the coarse of the three months that we’ve been playing each and every one has a little improv section that’s just getting better and better as we go along. It’s natural, the more you play with someone the more you get used to playing with them. Your in a band, so.
GW: That’s great. I wasn’t gonna ask this now but since your talking about your free, uh, your improv and your jams and I know you have a jazz background and as an acoustic musician I’m kind of confused about this electronic stuff, like, can you compare the freedom of your electronic to maybe an acoustic jam?
MB: A bunch of years ago there wasn’t a lot of freedom, it was like you press play and this is what it is and this is how it goes but over the last couple years with Ableton and all the different programs that are available to you are changing and adapting to the different styles of music that are our there and the technology is so advanced at this point that you can play electronic music and still make it improvisational. So you can loop out sections and we can improvise on top of them and it’s really no different than improving acoustically only we use the computer as a fifth instrument. The computer is an instrument itself at this point. You can manipulate the backing track, change the backing track, and that’s what’s been going on with us, we have the ability to choose how long we want the jam, to be in real time. Aron can take a section and loop it out and we can jam on top of that track section while we’re playing it. You could mute the section, you know, there are so many different things that he could do in real time while we’re playing. The advent of software out there has freed up musicians to make music on the fly rather than being locked into what they had created already in the studio. And a lot of the time we are looping things that we’re playing like, and that turns it into electronic. Play something live, loop it, and then you could play something on top of it. That’s a really special thing that can be done that wasn’t possible ten years ago. As that technology changed the D.B. opened up our minds to using the computer, using samples, using loops that we control while we are up there. It becomes advantageous to use the technology. Being locked into it, what you created in the studio, makes it really not fun. You play the song, it’s the same every single time. But what we do is so improvisation-ally oriented that we get board if we cant change it up or manipulate it as we go.
GW: So Ableton, you would recommend? Are there any other software’s you are getting really into right now?
MB: Well I use Mainstage, which is an extension of Logic. Mainstage basically allows me to play a soft-sense that’s on my computer live as I go so I’m just using my computer more as a library of sound. It’s no different from me at the keyboard or the synth but I could take synth off my computer or create them on my computer if I want and play them. I could build synthesizers and built sounds myself. I’m using the computer more as a synthesizer, Arons using it more as a beast.
GW: A beast?
MB: Ya, his computer is like a beast and mine’s more like a synth.
GW: Ok. So your writing a ton of new music right now, what doing you think is doing best? What is being really well received by your fans at the live shows?
MB: It depends if your talking about the biscuits or Conspirator, or the other project I’m doing with Mckenzie Eddy.
GW: Oh, I mean on your tour right now.
MB: We just played a new song called Palfon’s two nights ago that got really well received. This song that Chris and Aron wrote called Velvet Red, that’s up on our sound cloud page and has just been the highlight of the show pretty much every night people are loving it. We’ve been doing a lot of dub step and house-y stuff, house stuff with dub step sounds, but tastefully done, not overwhelmingly and in your face. We’re trying to write more melodic music, stuff that has changes in the melodies in it, not just overwhelming bass sounds. For me, I can’t speak for anybody else, but I think there is a lot of dub step out there that is hard to listen to, but we like the rhythms, I like dancing to that tempo. I’ve been having fun learning how to make it and making it on the bus but still trying to keep the songs sounding melodic and musical. We like to have sound-y musicality. Sound-y, we like to keep everything sound-y.
GW: Your melodies, do they come from your head or do you have another prominent influence for your melody writing?
MB: For me personally I sing it in my head and then just figure out what I’m singing. I don’t have perfect pitch, I can’t just sing something and then play it instantly, I have to take a second to figure out what I am singing, and as I get older it gets easier. The more I play the easier it gets to transcribe from my head over to the instrument. It used to take me a while but now it just takes me a second to find the note and then find the next note. That’s what’s keeping Conspirator different from the Biscuits, the melodies are what ties it all together. Kind of like the way Shpongle and Hallucinogen and Younger Brother are all different types of bands but they all have Simon Posford melodies, the common thread. There’s a common thread between the DB and Conspirator that is my melodies and Aron’s melodies are unique and have a very specific vibe to them. We’re always looking for new music, trying to emulate different stuff. Coming off of Ultra Music Festival last week we saw so many incredible acts. It’s like you hear it in your head and then sit down at the computer and try to write them down, the best music I’ve ever written, I’ve written in my head first. I haven’t just pecked away at a keyboard or played on a guitar until it sounded good, the best stuff is strait out of my head and then I figure out what I was doing later.
GW: Cool, that’s great that your getting fast at it too. So speaking of the DB and Conspirator and going back and fourth between them, how are your rolls changing as a song writer and performer? DB is bigger, do you have to back off a little to let everyone else have more artistic imput?
MB: It’s basically the same role, everybody’s job is to write music at all times. Nobody can force you to write music, it’s just about taking the initiative to do it yourself. That’s the way I look at my life: my job is to write music. I need to write music for myself, I’m making a hip hop album, I need to write music for that, I’m writing an album of kind of down-tempo music with a girl named Mckenzie Eddie, I’ve written 15 songs with her, I have to write music for the DB, I have to write music for Conspirator. When I’m writing for Conspirator I’m doing it all electronically, on the computer, when I write for the Biscuits I try to keep them a little bit more Biscuit-y. I try really hard to keep the music sounding like the band and not have it be one thing for every band. I used to write songs and then play them with whoever, but now I am specifically writing for Conspirator: electronic, house, dub-step—y, whatever they are, and when I write for the Biscuits I’m writing a little bit more rock-n-roll, songs like Portal to an Empty Head and Twisted and Naïvea and Last Days of Everything, they’re vocal songs. It’s cool because I love writing electronic music, but I also love writing vocal songs and I don’t want to do one or the other, I want to do both, and that’s one of the reasons we have Conspirator and the DB, they’re two very different bands with two very different sounds and I don’t want to give up one or the other. I’m in Conspirator now, I can’t sit down with a guitar and write a song with lyrics and have it end up working for Conspirator. A song like The Bridge, we wrote last years and played 5 or 6 times with the Biscuits, it’s kind of a folk-sy, blues-y rock song with heartfelt lyrics, borderline cheesy, it means a lot to me emotionally and there is a lot in the song that I needed to get out. I wrote it for a reason, I was feeling something and wanted to get it out into music. That song would never work for Conspirator, there’s no place in the set for it, there’s barely a place in the DB set for it, but we play it and the fans love it, and the band is asking to re-learn it and play it , but, you know, they’re two very different outlets, one is kind of where I came from and one is kind of where I’m going, but I like to do both equally.
GW: You have mentioned Mckenzie Eddy in a couple of other interviews recently, do you want to tell your fans anything about the new music, or dates to look out for?
MB: Next week I have a band that I hand picked and she’s gonna come out and play a few songs to open the show with Chris Michetti on guitar and Adam Deitch on drums and Boram Lee on keyboards and Stu Brooks on bass from Dub Trio. We hand picked that band for a reason, they are four of the most talented musicians out there, and I’m exited. I called Adam and said “Adam, would you do this thing with me and Mckenzie” and he was like “what’s the music? Is it your music?” and I said “Ya, I wrote all the songs and she wrote the lyrics” and Adam was like “If it’s your music I’m doing it!” and it felt so good to have him say that to me, to have a guy of that stature, to have that be the turning point for him to say yes, I want to play this gig. So that’s where we’re gonna release some of this music. We released one song already, Retrograde, and there is a great remix that Chris did, called the Sizzurp remix, it’s a dub step project. He’s an incredible dub step producer; he took this song Retrograde and made a dub-step remix out of it. So we’ve released that one song, but there are 12 others that nobody has heard. If you like the music I’ve written over the years, chances are you’re gonna really like this project because I wrote all the music for it and (pause) …I think it’s really good. It’s a little bit different; I have a lot more freedom when I’m writing for somebody else than when I’m writing for myself, which is great because there are no expectations. There are no fan expectations, you can just write and whatever comes out, it comes out. Then you sift through it and figure out what the good stuff is. Now we have 12 really cool songs, from pop-electronica to down tempo stuff, from massive attack to niarma. I’m exited for people to start hearing it. It’s like writing songs and having a beautiful girl with a beautiful voice be the face of it, I don’t have to worry about singing songs or being the image behind it, I can just be the person in the studio making the music. For me that’s a really different experience and one that I’ve valued a lot.
GW: I read in an interview that you had met Erykah Badu recently, are you trying to do any collaboration there?
MB: I am in fact. She has contacted me a couple of times and I have been having a hard time getting in contact with her because I’m on tour, and I’m having a hard time getting the music I want to get to her actually to her. To be honest I’m a little nervous to send Erykah Badu music, and she’s just like “Brownie, come on already, let’s get the music! You said you were gonna send it.” And I’m lacking on it a little bit. It’s kind of weighing on me, every morning I wake up and am like “I’ve got to get something to Erykah Badu” but I just haven’t decided what I want to get to her. That’s a hard thing to decide when you have a super star like that. But ya, we hit it off and traded numbers and she has been actively asking me for music. I’m exited to know her and hopefully get a collaboration going with her in the near future. And actually, Dam. Dash has introduced me to so many great people from Talib Kweli to Ray-Quan to Erykah Badu to Wiz Khalifa, Bone Dali, and we’re working with all of them right now. That’s really exiting. When Dam. Dash gets in touch with you it’s just like, hey man, what’s up, lets talk, and the year and a half that we’ve talked he’s just done so much to help further my career on the producer side of things. It’s a new thing for a guy who’s been in a jam band for 14 or 15 years, to have that kind of access to those kinds of artists, and for them it’s exciting because we’re coming from a totally different place, and the music is changing. Pop is going electronic, and that’s where we’re at. We have a lot to offer hip-hop and R&B artists right now, which is why Dam. asked me to produce Mckenzie’s album in the first place. The people from the pop and hip-hop world are looking for people who know how to make electronic. We’re in a really fortunate place right now, we have been working really hard for a lot of years, and it’s starting to pay off in a lot of ways for the DB and for Conspirator, and personally for me as a producer and a songwriter.
GW: Do you feel comfortable going into pop?
MB: Hell ya.
GW: If Britney Spears comes to you and needs something what are you gonna say?
MB: Bring it on Britney! You know what I learned recently: the best way to do things is by saying yes to things you don’t know how to do. Dam came to me and was like “do you know how to do re-mixes?”, and in my head I was thinking “no, I’ve never done one before” but I just said “of coarse I know how to do re-mixes!” And then we made 25 re-mixes, and now I know how to make re-mixes. Then Dam. was like “do you know how to produce an album?” and I was thinking “no I don’t know hot to produce an album” but on the outside I was like “let’s funkin do it babe!” Then we produced an album, and now I know how to produce an album. So you know what, the best way to learn how to do things is to say yes to the things you don’t know how to do. Just dive into it head first and learn it. There is no substitute for real world experience. You could go take production classes at a music school, but until you go produce an album you’re not a producer. Now I’m a producer. And it was nice, now I hang out with people like Alex B. from Paper Diamond and Michetti and we all just trade tricks. We learn. The guys that produced Planet Anthem are in a band called Nico’s Gun and we just sit together and trade tricks. I taught them how to use Lodgic and how to make hip hop beats and that’s just where the art of it is, you get to a certain level and you know a lot of people and if you care enough you sit down with them and you trade tricks, you trade information, you trade secrets. You learn, it’s still about learning. I’m 38 in two days, and now I really get what learning’s all about. In high school it’s like “why am I learning all this garbage?” but now I don’t have a teacher who’s gonna test me later, it’s all about real life. It’s all about opening your mind up and opening yourself up to learning how to do new things you’ve never done before. That’s what it’s about: that’s what life is about.
GW: Great. I just have two more questions for you, and one is that I know you’ve got some kids, do you have them playing music?
MB: Yup, they do, they both play piano. Well, I have three kids but the two of them that are old enough to play piano play. They are six and four. My son wants to learn how to play electric guitar as soon as possible. I’m throwing that one in Michetti’s ballpark. This one’s for you Michetti, teach the kid how to play guitar ok.
GW: Alright, and back to your jazz background, who is your favorite jazz musician?
MB: uhhh well that’s just a really hard question. I could go with the obvious answer, like “my favorite jazz musician is clearly Miles Davis or John Coltrane” but I’m a bass player so if I had to answer “who is my favorite bass player and jazz musician” old school I would say Paul Chambers, new school I would say Christian McBride. If it’s “who’s your favorite musician who’s not a superstar like John Coltrane or Charles Mingus or Felonious Monk or Miles Davis” I would probably say Freddie Hubbard. But there’s so many of those guys, I love Dexter Gordon. I LOVE Dexter Gordon. Don’t you love Dexter Gordon? Do you know Dexter Gordon?
GW: Ah, no I don’t Know Dexter Gordon.
MB: Ya, get on that shit. It’s the greatest. And then there’s so many. I have 300 jazz CD’s at home that I bought while I was in jazz school. I’d say over all, my very favorite jazz musician of all time, over all categories, is Cannonball Adderley. You know Cannonball Adderley?
GW: I know Cannonball Adderley.
MB: Cannonball Adderley, go home and get Something Else by Cannonball Adderley and just enjoy your night. You can thank me later.
GW: Ha! Ok, is there anything else you want your fans to know before I say goodbye?
MB: Nah, what else can I say? I want them to know one thing, I want them to know that the DB are not breaking up because we are on a Conspirator tour right now. They can just rest easy. Rest easy motha fuckas! Everything is fine, just taking a break.