The first time you played Camp Bisco was in 2005. In that time you have become good friends with the members of that band and played with a number of other bands associated with the jamband scene. Were you familiar with the Disco Biscuits’ music before playing that initial Camp Bisco?
Not so much, no. I hadn’t come across their music, though we had mutual friends so I sort of knew of them, but I didn’t really know much about them until I got there. It was only when I got there that I realized this is our crowd: a psychedelic crowd who really loves music. And I think at first event then, they didn’t quite get the electronics so much. They seem much more receptive to it now, the last time we played.
I hated electronic music as well when I was a teenager. I couldn’t hear the soul in it or the human element or anything I wanted to hear in it. But when you take drugs, it really changes everything, and suddenly these really alien sounds make sense. There’s only so much you can do with a guitar and a conventional band lineup. Whereas once you start incorporating electronic sounds you can get really other worldly alien textures and soundscapes you can’t achieve otherwise. It was a fabulous scene, and the Disco Biscuit guys are just such nice guys, I really adore them, they’re so sweet, and we had such a blast and we became really good friends.
When I heard people in the States term psychedelic music to me it was more stuff like the Grateful Dead. To me it didn’t sound psychedelic, I never really got it because I never went to a show. I hear it’s all about the show and when they play it live and how they stretch out the guitar solos, or whatever, and it becomes psychedelic. Really it’s such a similar crowd because they appreciate psychedelics and mind expansion, and they seem to be a very musical crowd as well. So it’s weird that the paths haven’t interwoven and crossed more, actually.
From an outside perspective, it’s been interesting to watch your relationship evolve. Your first year you did your set, they did their set, then in 2006 you sat in with them for a song and by 2007 you had formed a band featuring members of the Disco Biscuits.
At the end of the day we’re all musicians, and we all have such a love of music and to be able to jam with each other and play music and listen to music together—that’s really what it’s all about. There’s never been any preconceived plan—like we should do this, let’s make a band with Brownie and this and that. It’s more like, “Let’s have a jam and let’s play some music together.”
In Europe, from what I can tell, the jamband scene is tiny. I mean the Biscuits, I don’t know any of my friends apart from those who went to universities in the States, for example, have even heard of them. And there’s not really a jamband scene here other than the Ozric Tentacles. Over here there was a big festival culture in the late ‘80s and early-‘90s but that is sort of done over here [as far the electronic scene is concerned]. Now they are called the New Age Travelers, they used to just be called the Travelers’ scene. It’s people that live in busses and, I guess, they’re descendants of the Merry Pranksters. They’d be squatting a site somewhere, a field in the country, and they’d live there until they got moved on by the police and they would have a big party, and there would be this festival scene. Then it all sort of came to an end in England with the Castlemorton festival where suddenly 20,000 people descended on this quiet village in the English countryside, and the residents had an absolute shit fit. And suddenly there’s all these kids wandering around, music is going all night, people are having fun and obviously that got frowned upon. It got outlawed, and so now there’s no real free party scene so much—it’s really gone underground again. And even the equivalent rock festivals like Glastonbury Festival, which started to raise money for C.N.D. and Green Peace, is now a huge corporate thing with Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as Paul McCartney headlining.
You touched upon some of your other projects earlier. What is the status of the Younger Brother album, which features your live band (Marc Brownstein, Joe Russo and Tom Hamilton)?
We’re aiming for release this year. In these times, with downloads, it’s hard to make money off of album sales, so we’re trying to find someone to release it or an investor to put money into it because we basically just indulged our fantasies—and got Joe Russo to come over and play drums. Getting all these American guys to come over here and record in the studio is expensive. Joe Russo, I have to say, is my hero. He’s just a phenomenal musician—he really is. His drumming is outstanding, but not only that, he’s better than everyone in the band at all their instruments. No matter what you tell him about a song, he knows exactly what you’re talking about.
There’s one time that always continues to amaze me. We did a session in Philadelphia, and we went to the studio for a day. Russo had his wisdom teeth removed in the morning, and turned up at the studio with a head like a hamster, full of Vicodin or some painkillers. We’d written this song in 9/8, which is a tricky signature, and the band was still trying to figure out the arrangement. I run through the arrangement with him, and I started with the guitar part I came up with. So I run it through with Russo, and he said I have to go in an hour—let me just put down, just the drums. So even without the band playing, he played to a click track in his ear, which was in 4/4, and he played this 9/8 tune—all while on painkillers. It’s quite a complex tune, the difference between the 9/8 and 4/4, and he just fucking nailed the whole thing with a 4/4 click track and nothing else playing. Meanwhile, the whole rest of the band is scratching their heads trying to figure out how to play this song.
He’s actually playing in a Grateful Dead offshoot band called Furthur now.
Mickey Hart is a fabulous drummer as well. I don’t know much about the Grateful Dead spin-off bands, but Mickey Hart—that’s some serious shoes to fill. If anyone can do it, fucking Russo can.
Did you always envision Younger Brother as a live band?
All this stuff started…when we were young, the technology really wasn’t available to do it as a band, unless you had a record deal and access to a big expensive studio. And then the technology became available to make electronic music at home with a 1 meg Atari computer, which seemed huge at the time. We had samplers and stuff, so we made electronic music. Now the technology is available to sound like a band in your own studio. So it never really started as a band. Benji and I were asked to do a thing for charity…so we did this track and it was for indigenous tribes around the world. Ours was the Kogi Tribe and they live a sort of lifestyle where they see themselves as protectors of the planet. They call themselves Elder Brother, and the rest of the world is Younger Brother. It’s one of the few ecosystems where they have a full ecosystem—from the coast to high mountains to the jungle, and they spend their days making offerings and sort of protect the planet. They saw something was happening, the water was changing, and something was up. Up until this point, if you bumped into them they didn’t speak Spanish, they didn’t really engage with foreigners. So they sent someone out to learn Spanish or English and communicate with the world and say, “What are you doing with your machines. The water is drying up, something’s happening.”
So anyway, we had to do a track for Survival International for that benefit and that’s why we chose the name Younger Brother, and “Evil and Harm” was the track. We used it in this documentary about them, a BBC documentary, and it was sort of electronic. But only really when the technology came along to do a band sounding thing at home, did it turn into a band-y sounding project. I’ve always been able to play drums, bass guitar, and traditional instruments but it’s always been easier to use a sampler—and use electronic samples, but now I can setup a kit in my living room and record it.
Was Marc the first person you approached to play the songs live?
I can’t remember why we did it. It was probably the fact that coming to Camp Bisco and playing a laptop set, like a traditional DJ amongst all these jambands where people are actually doing it live, thinking what the fuck are we doing, why don’t we just do it live. Also, you know, the technology becomes available to make it sound like a band at home, so playing that as a DJ thing just looks a bit weird when it sounds like a band—you’re playing with laptops, so Brownie was sort of our hook up. We didn’t know any musicians in the States, and it was too expensive to fly people over from here, so Brownie said initially suggested initially Zach Velmer from STS9 to play drums and he couldn’t do it. But we saw Russo play in The Duo at that Camp Bisco and we were like, “What about that guy who played, you know, in that band where there are just a drummer and a keyboardist and the drummer was amazing.” And he was friends with Tommy Hamilton, and we got him in as well. I didn’t really know any of these bands, just sort of wandered around Camp Bisco and Brownie hooked us up with these musicians.