It’s a Wednesday afternoon and Dave Brandwein is milling around Galaxy Smith Studios, his personal recording space in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. The singer-guitarist is gathering his things, preparing for one of Turkuaz’s biggest tours to date. “Having just released the album, we’re starting to hit it hard again,” he laughs, referring to Life in the City, Turkuaz’s first LP since 2015’s Digitonium.
Staring this month, the nine-piece band will embark on a five-month, coast-to-coast outing that will bring them everywhere from Port Chester, NY’s historic Capitol Theatre to the high seas of Jam Cruise. Looking back on the creative process of Life in the City, Brandwein is excited to explore its lyrical depths onstage. “Each song on the record has its own little theme that it explores,” he explains. “It’s different than the last one; this one is based more in reality than fantasy.”
Below, Brandwein touches on the new record, Turkuaz’s ongoing love affair with Talking Heads and what it’s like to be at the helm of a wildly creative and “hugely collaborative” band.
Since Life in the City is your first LP in three years, did you have any specific goals in mind?
Our album in 2015 was Digitonium and it was a very long record—it was very much a concept album. It was based in fantasy, around the sword and the stone. It was this fictional universe that we played into, It was totally just a fun, fantasy-based thing, whereas this album was trying to dig in a little bit more into what was going on in my life, what was going on in the world, without addressing any of it too directly.
Trying to include some personal, and at times, darker stuff, is tricky being a band whose music is always supposed to be fun and uplifting. People come to Turkuaz shows to celebrate life and to enjoy it and forget about problems. I didn’t want to take that element away, but I think what ended up happening was a really cool juxtaposition of putting some darker, even at times dystopian, themes over music that’s still fun and energetic and uplifting.
What songs do you think exemplify that juxtaposition you’re talking about?
This one song “The One and Lonely” is dealing with sticky habits like drinking. As you can imagine, when living life on the road it’s easy to get into the drinking and partying lifestyle. I kind of hit a point where I wanted to change in myself, and you can hear me sorting through some of that on “The One and Lonely.” Again, it was something that I was a little bit unsure if it was gonna work for Turkuaz music, but the music under it is still fun and, in fact, is one of my favorite grooves on the record
You touched on it earlier, but Life on the City is much shorter than your previous release. Did you originally have more than nine songs in the writing process?
Absolutely. I think that is another big difference, that the last one was so long and this one we tried to trim the fat and make it leaner and more compact. It packs a lot of punches in a short period of time. Each of the nine songs has its own really strong identity, and it is a very listenable length. Over the couple years we were working on this, we recorded something like 21 or 22 songs, not all of them to completion. We took the nine that we felt made the best record, because we do still care a lot about the art of making an album. At some point, over the next year or so, we want to trickle out the rest of the material.
I have to ask about your collaboration with Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads. How did you guys end up meeting?
Someone in our management team actually came up with the idea because they heard us talk about the Talking Heads being such a huge influence on our band, which they are. Stop Making Sense, the film, was the direct impetus for Taylor [Shell] and me, several years ago to put a band like this together.
We were looking to have an experience with an outside producer so we reached out, and sure enough he was very interested, which we were thrilled about. I met up with him, we hung out one night, and it was really awesome getting to pick his brain and hear about how they put that film together, how it was done.
Can you remember moments in the studio with Jerry when you were particularly inspired?
There were a number of them, but one that’s really funny was he thought my vocals were too calm or didn’t have a sense of urgency to them, so he asked me to run laps around the studio. I have a hard enough time getting a good take as is, and I didn’t think running around was gonna help very much, but he insisted. And it actually yielded a cool result, this intangible thing, a sense of urgency. He told me that they used to do that on some Talking Heads recordings.
Now I’m imagining David Byrne running around a studio.
I think that did happen. That’s probably why there’s that whole running sequence in Stop Making Sense for “Life During Wartime.” Running laps around the stage.
How exactly do you think Talking Heads fermented in your brain to create Turkuaz?
I think that people assume that a lot of the more classic funk stuff would be our main influence, which obviously a lot of it is: everything from James Brown to P-Funk, Prince, Michael Jackson—there are so many I can’t even possibly begin to name them.
But seeing that film, Stop Making Sense, and hearing the way Talking Heads put this theatrical spin on funk, they used a different approach. I come from a background of a lot of classic rock—Beatles, Pink Floyd, things like that—and I saw for the first time a really perfect melding of funk and that sort of songwriter approach when I watched Stop Making Sense.