James “Fuzz” Sangiovanni is one of the founding members and assertive voices within Deep Banana Blackout. He plays guitar, has a hand in writing many of the songs and takes particular interest in mixing the group’s albums. Despite the band’s grueling tour schedule, he also spent some of his free hours this past spring and summer completing a new disc. On The Corner With Fuzz features him performing with a core of David Shuman on bass and Mark Balling on drums. However the release is laden with guest musicians, including Michael Ray, DJ Logic, Nate Wilson, Dean Bowman and many members of Deep Banana Blackout. The disc will be officially released and hailed with a show at the Knitting Factory on November 30 After that one gig Fuzz will return to life on the road with Deep Banana, which will culminate its millennium at Wetlands. For ticket information, CD purchases or other arcane bits of lore regarding either the Fuzz release or Deep Banana shows visit their recently revamped website.
DB: Before we start talking about your new disc. I just learned a Deep Banana fun fact. That’s your dad on the cover of Live in the Thousand Islands?
F: It is. There was one time when we were rehearsing at his place, early in our original music phase, and he was yapping about how when he was young he sang in the Thousand Islands. He was this wannabe crooner, he thought he was Dean Martin. So we decided to call it Live in Thousand Islands and he would be in thousand island dressing. We thought it was funny so we went with it. He thought it his big debut. When he sees people at the shows he says “I’m the guy on the cover.”
DB: Now obviously that’s a superimposed image but you actually covered him in dressing?
F: We got a big barrel and we started pouring it in around him. But the smell of the vinegar or whatever it was got to him, and he said “The smell is making me dizzy, you gotta get me out,“and I didn’t get to take one picture. Luckily we did take a few shots of him with the tux and the microphone before we put him in the barrel. I also have pictures of him lying on the floor with the thousand island dressing and the cat sniffing him. I love those shots because it looks like he was murdered with thousand island dressing.
DB: Well here’s an ugly segue. Let’s talk about On The Corner With Fuzz. What inspired the solo disc?
F: It wasn’t like I felt, it was time for me to break away (laughs). The two guys I did it with, David Shuman and Mark Balling, called me when I had a day off and asked if I wanted to do a gig with them in Hartford. We did some jazz tunes, and we decided to do another gig. It was just something fun to do on a day off. Dave is the guy who engineered our last albums and he was talking about selling his studio to focus on his playing. So I said why don’t we go in and record some stuff while you still have the studio.
DB: As a three piece?
F: Yes. Originally we went in there with some jazz tunes, along with some funk and rock tunes that we were going to make a bit more jazzy. We figured we’d also do some improv and if it sounded cool maybe we’d make a disc out of it. Just to use the studio before it went away. That was around the time that Deep Banana started to have these Thursday shows at Wetlands with special guests, and the wheels started turning. I decided to make it really special by inviting people in. It started me thinking about jazz albums that people made in the fifties and sixties where they’d bring in other musicians for a few tracks. There are a lot of great musician in this scene and people should be doing more projects together. I hope that this isn’t going to be the last time that I do this. We’ve made a lot of friends over this year and I want to put the bug in their heads that a lot more projects like this can happen.
Of course this all grew into something more than I had expected and it was stressful because I couldn’t take away from Deep Banana time. So I was like, “Oh, I have a two hour van ride, I can score some more horn charts.“I had to have everything prepared because we didn’t have much time to rehearse and knock it back and forth.
DB: Speaking of which, who does the charts for Deep Banana?
F: It occurs two ways. A third of the time I bring in something that is completely ready. Then other times I will bring in some raw ideas, maybe just a few chord changes, riffs, melodies whatever and we’ll start with that and build from there. In a group setting I don’t want to squash anybody’s creativity and everybody in this band is capable of coming up with some great stuff. We just had a major writing session a few months ago and I’ve gotten it down where I can cause the least amount of trouble as possible (laughs). I’ll say, I have these three songs I wrote and I have these other ideas, and let’s work with them. Eventually we came up with ten new songs. In the beginning on occasion there was some tension between Jen and myself. I can understand that because she wants to sing what she wants to sing. It’s pretty personal, you want to sing what makes you comfortable.
DB: What’s your background? What style of music did you listen to when you were growing up? Sometimes it sounds as if you’re all over the place in terms of musical reference points.
F: When people look at my record collection they say the same thing. I’ll have a Van Halen record next to a Charlie Parker record next to the Pointer Sisters. There’s not much music out there I don’t like aside from heavy pop, slop stuff. A lot of people will say “Everything but country.“I don’t feel that way because I really like southern rock and at times that can blend over into a country style. I had certain favorites when I was growing up. Before I started playing I liked Black Sabbath and AC/DC but I also like the Supremes and the Goldfinger Soundtrack. But once I picked up the guitar I started checking out lots of stuff. I was really into Pink Floyd for a while- I liked David Gilmour’s guitar playing- it was simple but tastefully done. Then I got into jazz and blues: I was really into Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny, and I then I got into P-Funk and James Brown. A lot of the guitar stuff is simple and repetitive from one track to the next. But I have this frustrated drummer inside of me. I love getting on the drums whenever I can although I’ve never had lessons and I don’t know what I’m doing. I just like laying down the groove. Anyhow, the closes thing I can come to that on the guitar is playing funk music because it’s all just rhythmic parts- it’s all finding a place in the rhythm. It’s like being another percussion instrument sometimes. I really enjoy playing funk guitar.
Lately what I’ve been trying to do is combine the best of everything: have some cool funk grooves and some heavy rock riffs and some crazy solos that can be somewhat jazzy but take it to another level like Medeski Martin & Wood who just go and go and they create chaos in their sound. You don’t know where they’re going, it just swirls into madness. Sometimes I like to keep it mellow too, people don’t need to hear every song pushed over the edge, blasted in their faces. That one thing I like about this record- I have even more of a chance to play mellow guitar stuff than I do with Deep Banana.
DB: Was everyone there at the sessions or did you just grab them when you could get them.
F: Grab them when I could get them because there wasn’t a lot of time or freedom. The only way I could get Michael Ray was because he was going to play with us on Friday at the Gathering of the Vibes. So I asked him if he could come up on Thursday so we could go into the studio, and we did the horns in one day. One day we did the keyboards with Nate, Cy [Madan from DBB] and Barry Sellen. Vocals happened in one day. The way it happened was that we focused on one thing on a particular day. What I think is amazing though is that some of the tracks or certain parts of the tracks almost sound like they’re all live because there’s a lot of playing off the other instruments.
Some of the solos were done in one take. Dean’s scatting solo for instance. He came in at one in the morning and he was really out of it, and said I’m going to take a nap. That was the same day we did the keyboards and I had been there at noon, and then Dean calls and says “I’ll be there about one.“Now I had been there for twelve hours and he comes in and says he needs to take a nap so we tried to do whatever we could just to get some more stuff done. Then at about three in the morning, I wake him up. While he’s halF:asleep, he sits there with his eyes closed and he does his track which is the one that we used. That picture you see in the CD of him is how it was: “Open up tour eyes I’m going to take a picture of you now.“But that’s a great scat solo, and it interacts with what’s going on in the background.
DB: What was it like to work with DJ Logic in this context?
F: He’s such an on-the-spot kind of guy. I went and picked him up in the Bronx and drove him to Hartford. We were stuck in traffic and he just laid back and listened to what we had done. Then when we went in, some of the tracks were done in just one take. He just laid it down and nailed it. He can listen to a track once, and know what records he wants to put on it. There were a couple where he did three or four takes but we spent more time in the car than we did in the studio (laughs). I did want to do some spontaneous jamming with him, so we did a few things live- we only put a few snippets on the CD but we have twenty, twenty-five minute jams with him that are pretty cool. I met him at the Boot camp shows in April (the DBB residency at Wetlands) and we just exchanged numbers. I said I have a feeling we’re going to work again in the future and we have- I played with him, and he has played with Deep Banana. He’s going to do some more gigs with us too. He’s just a great guy, the most attitude-free person I’ve met.
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