Dave Brandwein and his eight bandmates are running coast to coast and daring you to keep up. Turkuaz is enjoying its most successful tour to date behind a conceptual album filled with nods to eighties babies and the high velocity funk they’ve come to embody. On the heels of a blowout show in Denver and a weekend at Hangtown Halloween Ball, Dave took a few minutes out of his day off in San Francisco to chat with the Grateful Web about what makes them tick in a touring industry heavy in so-called funk and jam acts, and what keeps them from being just another face in the lineup.
Grateful Web: So it’s Monday, and Turkuaz has a couple of days off before getting to Bend, Oregon. What are you guys up to, what’s the band doing?
Dave Brandwein: We just played Hangtown Halloween Ball, which is this fall festival here in Northern California that a bunch of the High Sierra (music festival) people are involved in throwing. It was really fun. We hung out there for a couple of days and actually split up. Some of the guys went to Reno, where one of our bandmates’ folks are, and the rest of us are came down here to the Bay Area, San Francisco, and we’re hanging out here for the day enjoying the city. And tomorrow we make what should be a beautiful drive up to Oregon. We’re actually going to do an interview in Portland in the morning and then go back down to Bend for the show Wednesday night. So we’ll get up there for the interview Wednesday morning and get back down to Bend for the show that night.
GW: Yee haw, you guys are running all over the place.
DB: Yeah, it should be a nice drive. A full day of driving Tuesday.
GW: Now are you guys in a van, a sprinter?
DB: We have two different vans. We rented some bigger vehicles for tours before, but in terms of our day to day, it’s usually two vans and one of them pulls our giant trailer with all of our gear in it. Our other van is actually another reason they went to Reno, because we have some people that can help us out and work on it there and I think it might need a new transmission, they’re figuring that out today. We may have to have them leave it there and use a different vehicle, and pick it up after the northwest, because we go all the way to Texas. So they’ll just pick it up with a new transmission. We’re used to touring (laughter), we’re used to things like that.
GW: You guys have been on a pretty extensive tour so far and it’s not over yet. You’ll be in Eugene, OR for Halloween. Do you guys have anything planned for that night as far as covers, costumes or anything for the holiday?
DB: We’re still working on that. The people of Eugene will have to come and check it out and see what we end up with. I mean, on any given night one thing we’ve learned is just to focus on putting on the best show possible. As you may know, we’ve done a lot of cover sets and things like that in the past, and we’ve also had a lot of special shows with New Years and stuff like that, and I think it’s important that the main thing is to put on the best show possible. So we’re still brainstorming for Halloween, we’ll see what we come up with.
GW: Let’s say someone walks up to you on the street, what would you tell him or her that they could expect at one of your shows?
DB: It’s always hard for me being inside looking out and trying best to describe us from the audience’s perspective, but I would say that it’s a true show in every sense of the word; as much visually as it is an auditory experience. Nine people on stage provides for a lot of stimulation and a lot of entertainment. I think in our show, each member really gets a chance to shine and stand out and show their musical talent as well as their showmanship. And it’s really, really electric in terms of the energy that goes into it. I’d have to say there’s never a dull moment, really, in the show. Loud, fast and really fun not only for the audience, but for the band too, which I think goes a really long way.
GW: I was hoping to make the Denver show, though I wasn’t able to. I heard it was rocking.
DB: (Laughter) Yeah, that was the best one of the tour so far, I would say. There’s something about Colorado.
GW: I was checking out the tour blog you guys have going and Craig (Brodhead-guitars, keys) mentioned that Denver is “a new capital for music,” and I was wondering what you thought about that and Denver in general as a city to pass through?
DB: We’ve only been going to Colorado for the past two years now, but it does seem that, for whatever reason, there just seems to be such an influx of people moving from all over the country to Colorado, and to Denver specifically. And those same types of people from all walks of life and all different places in the country that are moving there are huge music fan. It just so happens that whatever anyone is bringing there, that they’re just fun loving, cool people who just really love live music. So I think with that type of population of people that moved there, it has only added to how much of a music market it is. I mean we were there on the same night as so many other amazing shows, like Dopapod and I think Dark Star (Orchestra) was close by and Moon Hooch, and we still had a packed house at Cervantes Ballroom. That just goes to show how much there is to go around there, in terms of fans and music lovers. It is really cool. Other than that I don’t know enough about how it used to be, but the consensus among musicians is that it’s one of the…at the very least one of the music capitals right now.
GW: I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that your new album, “Digitonium,” just came out and is doing well. I saw that it debuted on the Relix Jam Band charts at number five. I think you guys eclipse the jam band genre, which is really all encompassing these days, but regardless, it’s awesome and great to see that the album is climbing like that and you guys are pulling good crowds at the shows.
DB: Thanks. This album was definitely different for us and we were hoping people would like the direction that it goes in. It’s a separate thing than a lot of what we’ve done in the past. We’ve always said and still say that we love being part of the jam and festival scene, but we think that our music also speaks to different groups of people as well. That’s what I’d like to see happening more-even going into this next phase-just seeing more crowds mix, and not just for us but for other bands too. Especially with the festival becoming a lot more mainstream with the additions of things like Coachella. I think everybody can start getting back into the live music thing and away from the EDM on one end of the spectrum and also from pure pop music on the other end of the spectrum. I think that there’s a group of bands that are both in the studio and on stage doing things that the masses can kind of grow to love and be just as excited about as the jam scene is. So that’s something we hope to be a part of, melding some of those musical worlds and getting more people involved.
GW: With jam music you get a lot of funk, which is what you guys are referred to as, a power-funk group. Funk as a label gets thrown around a lot, kind of like jam bands. What’s your interpretation of funk right now, and what is your band doing to separate and distinguish yourselves?
DB: With the case of funk, especially where its roots are, it’s just sort of been watch and learn over the years to see and draw inspiration from the music we love that is classified as funk. And I think that for us it’s as simple as that. I’m not going to claim to have any crazy life experiences that put me in the same realm as a James Brown or Sly Stone or something like that, obviously. Aside from the obvious differences, those are the people that invented it, and all we’re really doing is taking it and applying our musical sense to it. That involves a lot of classic rock and even some eighties pop and things like that, and we sort of just apply our own songwriting and production styles to the original funk music that we grew up on and continue to listen to.
The real thing about it is it’s pure, fun music. And that’s what this album is for us. Although it has a lot of funk on it, we started to stray away a little bit into some songs that are more lyrically driven and a little less groove oriented and a little more of a song in the classic sense. But funk will always be at the forefront of what we do. As far as what sets us apart, again, a lot of the funk stuff and jam scene is more groove based and instrumentally based and we have four lead vocalists in the band and are very song and lyric oriented, too. So I think within the jam scene that’s a big difference with us. We’re maybe a little more in that Sly Stone category, as far as lots of different vocalists and a lot of song structure involved in it.
GW: I was recently listening to “Digitonium,” as well as the newest EP, “Stereochrome.” There’s a pretty big difference in what you hear on the album as opposed to the EP, which shows the range you guys have and what sort of ideas have been coming into your heads. What was the idea behind the new record, and what was different from the EP? What was the process behind each?
DB: I can tell you exactly. We basically went into making “Digitonium” way back in September of 2014. We knew-although a small handful of songs were written before going and doing it-we knew exactly what kind of sound we were going for and we knew exactly what the concept was behind it, which is much more synth heavy, futuristic kind of funk sound that we’d never done before. And we wanted the recording to be really hi-fi and more modern sounding, although it does have eighties elements and stuff like that, but essentially it’s the most modern thing we’ve done so far. But going into that we had a couple of songs that we knew absolutely weren’t going to fit and some stuff we’d even been playing a bit live, and we wanted to get it down at a certain point.
So we went in and started “Digitonium” in the fall, and then we had a bit of a break between that and going back to finish it. And in that break I was like, ‘what if we use these few songs we’ve wanted to do just for a quick EP?’ We decided to go into my studio in Brooklyn, record it straight onto tape and do it in a couple of days. The polar opposite of how we’re doing “Digitonium,” with layer upon layer on each song. So “Stereochrome” may have been a bit more for us than anything. I’m sure it’s a little confusing to some people who picked up the EP and then they got the album and was like, ‘man, this is the total opposite.’ But it was kind of nice for us in the process of being so meticulous on the one hand with one record. We had these tunes we wanted to do at some point, so hey let’s go in and do them straight to tape, mix it, master it, and put it out. And that’s exactly what “Stereochrome” ended up being, these few more soul, old school kind of tunes that we had. I don’t think we used a piece of gear made after 1970 to do the entire thing.
GW: And it takes on that sound, it really does.
DB: Yeah you can tell the difference in about a second of putting each record on, totally different approach that we took. And I think it does show our range, I’m glad to hear you say that, because it’s definitely a bit of a confusing two things in a row to put out.
GW: I can see where that would be confusing. I was curious myself at first, but looking into “Digitonium,” that’s how I see it. Not necessarily the roots of what you started doing, but you had the idea for the album, you kill it over what, twenty-two songs. There’s so much going on. I love it. And the other one is so much more stripped, and I think putting them out so close together really does show the different things you guys are capable of doing. It shows different sides.
The first single from “Digitonium” is “The Generator,” and I did want to mention the music video. That was hilarious. The costumes, the mannerisms and the facial expressions you guys hit on are so perfectly tuned in with the music. It’s hilarious.
DB: Yeah that was done by my wife Dani, who does all of our visual stuff from photos to videos to merchandise and wardrobe. That was her concept for sure. When she heard the song, she said, ‘I know exactly what I want to do for this.’ She put a team together, we found a 1985 Panasonic VHS camera to film it on to really go for that authentic eighties’ look, and I think we got it (laughter).
GW: You definitely did.
DB: They rigged up that old crappy camera to do all sorts of crazy things. They put it on a dolly and were spinning it around and moving it side to side. They actually did some really cool things with it. And we are really, really happy with the way that video came out.
GW: You just put out the new album and are in the middle of a tour, so obviously it’s hard to think about what’s on the horizon, but what’s next for you guys? Where do you want to take things next?
DB: I think in 2016 we have a little time off before and after New Years where we’re going to do some writing, and that’s one of the things I’m going to need to decide. Doing “Digitonium” was such an intentional thing. I guess my thought is for the next batch of songs and next album to maybe be where things go naturally in the writing process more than aiming for something particular. But I think we’ll find out what exactly that is. Most of all it’s just continuing to make stuff that our fans and we enjoy. But yeah, we’ll do some writing in the first part of the year and hoping to record, again, sometime in the summer. But yeah, that’s pretty much it. I mean we are hoping to expand and keep on touring and get to the point where in 2016 we’ve played pretty much everywhere in the country. We could even expand a little bit. Maybe start to expand into Canada, and you know, just kind of spreading the word and spreading our fan base. I think “Digitonium” is a strong enough release for us where we can continue to tour in support of it all the way through the next festival season. And that’s definitely our plan; we want to focus on that for a while. But of course continue writing and getting ready to do some new stuff in the future.
Another thing that we want to do at some point is performing a full “Digitonium” show once the album’s been out for awhile and people are familiar enough with it that they wouldn’t mind if we did it at one of our shows. I think we’re going to plan at least a series of special shows where we’ll do the entire album front to back. So that’s another thing we’ve been thinking about. And the vinyl for both the album and EP will be out a little before the holidays-right around the holiday season-so that’s something to look forward to. And we have another music video coming out in the near future for another song off of “Digitonium.”
GW: Very cool. Do you have any ideas for the concept of that video, or still brainstorming?
DB: (Laughter) We’re not going to use a VHS camera for this one. It’s going to be way weirder than the last one.
GW: I can work with that.
DB: It’s going to be strange, that’s all I can promise. It’ll be upsetting to children, however you interpret that (laughter).
GW: (Laughter). Well cool. Dave, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I’m looking forward to the next time you guys make it to Colorado and I’ll be keeping my eyes open.
DB: Thanks man, later.