Sitting on the shore of the Long Island Sound, just miles away from the site where his one-time prominent Bridgeport, Connecticut funk band plays their hometown show each year at the Gathering of the Vibes, Fuzz Sangiovanni can hardly contain his excitement, bouncing up and down with every word he manages to spit out between the smiles.
Once the be-all, end-all for the Northeast jam and jazz scenes, Deep Banana Blackout disbanded in 2003, leaving the guitar player with a lot of time to be involved in countless other projects, both in his own groups and with others. Nothing he came up with was what he really wanted, though. It wasn’t until he was working with his wife, Carrie, writing songs as an acoustic duo a year and a half ago that something finally struck the right chord. The songs, filled with percussive, staccato rhythms and graceful, but haunting, melodies and harmonies, became the material for their new band, soon to become known as the Caravan of Thieves. And shortly after they had the concept they knew violinist Ben Dean and double-bassist Brian Anderson would be the ones to fill out the group.
Part of the excitement for the two is just trying to figure out how to describe the music they began creating then, which ranges from the simple “alt-gypsy-swing,” to the all-out “Gypsy swing meets the Beatles at Tim Burton’s house.” More conventionally, at least on their terms, is the “alternative-Gypsy-swing-folk-pop” description, but they won’t mind if you come up with something yourself. With the breeze blowing and waves lapping it up on the shore, they talk about the state of music, where their band came from, and where they hope they can fit into what they see as the future of pop music.
You guys had been playing as a duo and with your band Rolla for a couple of years before bringing this together. How did this project come from those?
Carrie: We had been doing Rolla for a few years and Fuzz and I kind of had the feeling, an urge to go back to the acoustic roots that we had started with as a duo, yet change it up, give it a new twist, a new spin, a new approach. I had been listening to a lot of ‘Django’ Reinhardt, old Gypsy jazz and stuff. Fuzz was like, “Hey, maybe we should combine this really cool swinging rhythm with harmony vocals and pop song writing and see what happens.” It was kind of like we went through these phases and then we found the perfect fit for what we do together.
So you wrote the songs and then went out and found people to play with you?
Carrie: Totally. We had known Ben Dean, the violin player, because he had sat in with Rolla a few times and the duo, and we just knew he was an amazing player and we wanted to find a use for him somehow. And Brian, Fuzz has known him for awhile because he played in Raisin Hill on the same scene as Deep Banana and Rolla actually played with them. I remember seeing him play and he was so energetic and had this great presence. That’s definitely the kind of people we wanted to play with us. We needed some characters to fill out the group.
Fuzz: The way it got to this was people were saying that we make a lot of sound for just two people and it was kind of like the idea that we were…the music was real energetic and driving. We weren’t doing your typical singer/songwriter thing that’s kind of like, oh, strumming the chords and blah blah blah. Not that that’s so bad, but it had a lot more of a push to it. And the Gypsy jazz music is all acoustic. When you listen to it, it’s essentially a whole bunch of acoustic guitarists strumming away with the violin and the upright bass and they all just stomp and there’s this great swing rhythm. We heard that and it was going in that direction anyway.
How do people that haven’t heard you before react to your show? Do you get an idea of what people think of the music?
Carrie: It’s really fun seeing the reactions of the people who have no idea out of the gate who we are; they just happened to be at the show or saw the name and thought it sounded cool and they have no idea what to expect. They will kind of sit there for a few songs asking, “What exactly is going on, like, I’m tapping my toes, but I don’t really understand.” But then by the middle of the set they’re clapping along and at the end of the night they’re just excited and going crazy.
Fuzz: The first stage is just simple like, “What are they doing? What is this music? Who are these people?” We always get dressed up. We definitely don’t just stand there and play the songs. We get very animated and roll around on the stage and we get into weird positions and joke with each other and the audience in a way that gets people engaged and laughing and clapping along and singing along and making sound effects and stuff like that. It might be a little like stomp in the way that it’s performance art as much as we’re a band playing songs. This is all kind of a work in progress, you know, the band isn’t that old. It’s only been around since 2008 so it’s been a little over a year.
When did you release the album?
Fuzz: February of this year. We went around for about a year just playing and we had a CD sampler that we recorded four songs for at the second or third rehearsal. Everybody just clicked right way and we had good chemistry right off the bat. Then we recorded the record in the fall of 2008 and we started leaking songs online, but it wasn’t officially released until February of 2009.
Was it challenging touring for a year before officially releasing any music?
Carrie: One of the fun things about this project as opposed to the other ones is the growth is really fast. I was a little nervous at first about the residencies [in Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington DC]. Our agent was like, “Yeah, you’re gonna go play at this place in Philly every week in June,” and we had never played in Philly and nobody knew who we were and I was like “Nobody’s gonna come the first time, how are people gonna come the next four times?” At the first there were like twenty people and the next one there were like forty and the next one like sixty and then it was totally packed for the last two and it was like, “Oh! Okay!”
Fuzz: It’s pretty universally accepted, you know, because we’ve done openers for Tony Trischka and the Tom Tom Club, which is sort of double duty for me, but we did that and we’ve played with Ryan Montbleau Band. They’re all very different types of things, but it connects with all of them and I’m finding that out of all of my post-Deep Banana projects that this has been the most successful and most promising and most likely to stay. People have always had that feeling like, “Oh, Fuzz always does these other things and then it’s kinda like on to the next thing,” but it’s mostly been on to the next thing because I didn’t feel like they were right. Big Fuzz wasn’t right because it was too much like Deep Banana Blackout and Rolla wasn’t quite right because it felt like we were just another rock and roll band that was on the scene and there’s a lot of pop rock and acoustic bands.
I like this the most, even outside of or beyond Deep Banana. That’s more like a comfortable old shoe. That’s a bigger thing that I’m a part of that I like, it’s a style that I have always enjoyed, funk and rock and blues, but this as a song writer and a creative contributor is really something where I feel like I’m in my element completely, just because of the humor and the theatrics and I’ve always loved swing and the Gypsy thing just seems to connect really well and the songwriting seems to come effortlessly. So it’s really great and we’re starting to get people who have been Deep Banana fans who are coming out now to the show that I think really enjoy it because it is so different.
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