Disco Biscuits bassist Marc Brownstein met guitarist Danny Mayer at a spring Little League game in suburban Philadelphia and immediately suggested they start a band. Mayer recommended keyboardist Rob Marscher, newly relocated to the area. Drummer Marlon Lewis wowed the three at his audition and a year later, at Electric Forest, Star Kitchen officially debuted. It’s a departure into funk and soul for Brownstein, who has spent nearly 25 years with the livetronica jamband Disco Biscuits.
“With the Biscuits style so glaringly different,” Brownstein says, “I wanted this place that was like a traveling super-jam, but with a house band that’s really well-rehearsed. I feel like the universe responded.” After a star-studded, four-show slate of Star Kitchen appearances this past Fall, Brownstein resumed Bisco duty for the group’s autumn run of multi-night stays, with two standout performances – one in Las Vegas, one in Albany, NY- that fans and band rank among the Biscuits’ best. With both experiences fresh in his mind, and a holiday homestand of four nights at the Philadelphia Fillmore to round out 2018 upcoming, Brownstein spoke of his new band’s origins and his longtime group’s future.
At Star Kitchen’s Ardmore show, you mentioned that the performance took a year to get there. Do you mean that in a literal way?
That’s exactly what it meant. Danny and I met around the Spring of 2017 at a Little League game here in the neighborhood. I knew that he was in the neighborhood and that he was a professional guitar player that had played with some pretty special guys and gals.
You recognized him at the game?
My son had some friends over. One of them said to me he had heard I was in a band. He said, “My dad is also in a band.” My initial thought was, Everyone’s in a band in this neighborhood. He said his Dad had toured professionally. I asked who he played with and he said he plays guitar with Alan Evans and Eric Krasno. I was like, Wait, your dad plays guitar with Alan Evans and Eric Krasno? I said I have to check this guy out.
When you met, your first thought was to put a band together?
Right when we first met I said to him we should start a band. He said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” We wanted it to be based around classic funk. We’re in the process of figuring out what the interpretation of that is going to be. Danny said he knew that Rob Marscher, the keyboard player from Addison Groove Project, and Jennifer Hartswick’s band, and Matisyahu, had very recently moved into Philly. He said whenever he plays with Rob it’s like getting into a warm blanket. I think that’s how he described it; the warmest foundation of music that makes it very comfortable to play over. I remember thinking, Wow, let’s get Rob.
And on drums?
We started working last winter—2017 into 2018—auditioning drummers. We tried out four or five different drummers. We found a guy named Marlon Lewis who came highly recommended by a drummer named Boots Greene, who drummed for Jay-Z. Marlon came in to play, and after the first song Rob stopped and said, “Hey, man, are you available to do this?” And Marlon says, “Yeah.” And we said okay and hired him on the spot. That was in the spring of 2018.
Was there an initial goal?
There are so many jams that happen in our community, so many times it’s like, these seven musicians getting together and they throw a name on it. A lot of the musicians are really professional, and it always sounds great, but a lot of times these seven have never played together, or rehearsed even, and they’re expected to know all the songs, for better or for worse. I’ve done a lot of those and they’re a lot of fun. It’s great for networking. But, after doing things like that, I got the urge to play these types of songs but with a consistent group of people that had been rehearsing. I was getting into doing modern takes on classic funk and soul, but I wanted to spend time working on the music—to bring something more polished; a really solid product. Our litmus test was playing four shows in different cities with special guests. And, it was really awesome.
Was meeting Danny the spark or had you been thinking about this before that?
I wanted to start exploring this kind of music. It happened through a series of events. I had been invited to play Brooklyn Comes Alive about four years ago. They put together a band of people from the Disco Biscuits scene: the drummer from Lotus; a guitarist that plays with the guys from Umphrey’s. A band of my peers. We were expected to play Disco Biscuits-style music. It was a thing with really serious funk musicians and I felt a bit like a fish out of water. I go to Jazz Fest (in New Orleans) every year. I get super-inspired by bands like the Greyboy All-Stars, and The Meters, and all the different, cool collaborations that happen late-night, like Dragonsmoke. I have diverse musical interests. I went to jazz school, and I used to play in a jazzier style. When Brooklyn Comes Alive came around again in 2016, I asked if I could put together a band for which I could choose the songs myself, and have it be something that’s more of what I was getting into over the last couple of years. I wanted a chance to play the music I wanted to learn. That was fall of 2016.
That’s when the idea crystallized for you?
I had a moment of clarity. I said to myself I want to keep doing this, but I’d love to do it with rehearsals and soundchecks. Doing music like this, I really need to put the time in to make sure I’m crushing it. I was able to identify what was good about what I was doing, and where I could make it better. That’s the paradox of festivals. It’s your biggest show- a chance to play in front of the most people- but paradoxically, you get the least amount of time before you go on to prepare; usually no soundcheck. It’s weird.
Did you feel you needed another band, another outlet in your creative life at this time?
It’s important for me, if I’m going to start another band, that it has a purpose. I didn’t want something that sounds like Disco Biscuits. Electron was that, but we’re not really playing anymore.