“We have a slogan, it’s ‘improve not improv,’” Marc Brownstein says, discussing the Disco Biscuits’ techy TractorBeam interludes. “We have three and a half hours: 30 minutes of songs, 2 hours and 45 minutes of pure improv and like 15 minutes of composed house music. The point of that 15 minutes is we want to work through it as a band and learn all the different kinds of dance music. It sounds like the Biscuits, but we undertook this as a project and said ‘Let’s see how much we can learn from the hugely vast library of music that is out there.”
Calling from Denver, in a pre-quarantine world, the bassist discusses his recovery from eye surgery, his work with Star Kitchen, the state of the jam scene and more.
You’ve been recording with Star Kitchen. Is there an album coming out?
It’s kind of a writing session and recording session- so we started from scratch and we wrote two new original songs and they’ll be released in a couple months, one at a time.
I obviously want to ask about your health and your recent eye surgery. How are you feeling?
It’s hard to talk about a little bit because I don’t wanna sound dramatic. But saying it as it was, it’s very dramatic. It’s a very slow recovery process and it’s gonna be going on for like four months or five months or something like that.
It’s slowly getting better, but very slowly getting better. It’s just- it’s a little frustrating.
I have to have a second surgery and that’s gonna take place three or four months from the time of the original surgery. Without getting too medically technical, it’s two surgeries. I’m like, “Wow, this is intense.” I cannot believe that I have to do this again in a couple months.
But, you know, I have perspective and understand that in the grand scheme of things, in like a year or so, I’ll look back and it’ll all be in the past. But it’s brutal while it’s going on.
You said in January that you started losing vision in the middle of this year’s Jam Cruise, but you still went on with a DJ set and a high-energy, event-closing Electron set. Tell me about the decision to go on with the show and keep your ailment on the down low?
Jam Cruise is a magical place and I just wanted to let everybody have their magical experience. I talked about it with [Electron bandmates] Tommy [Hamilton] and Aron [Magner], but if you’re telling somebody that something’s wrong with your eye… I knew it was a serious thing and that I was going to have to go for surgery, but I still figured, while I’m there, play the show and just try to take it in stride. There was nothing I could really do. I could’ve taken a helicopter off of the boat and skipped the shows. My surgeon said that’s what I should’ve done. So if anybody is out there listening, PSA here: If your retina detaches, immediately take that to the medical center, that’s what my doctor told me.
So it got worse because you didn’t leave the boat right away?
Do you feel like it’s impacting your playing at all? Even in like a weirdly positive way?
In the first week or two, that was the thing, you know? Like, “Wow my hearing is on point right now!” Musically, it was just very acutely in tune
I want to pivot a little bit and talk about the Disco Biscuits. Set break is over and you guys are more active than you’ve been in years. What precipitated that?
You know, I think that these things for the Biscuits come in waves and you know, in order for it to all work, everyone in the band’s gotta be on the same page, at the same time. That’s where we’re at right now, you know? Starting about a year ago, it just became clear to everybody that what we wanted to do is put all of our effort in making the Biscuits the best that it can be, musically. And you know to be- I think a lot of it was precipitated just by Jon just went into a creative era like he had in 1998 and 1999, writing and writing and writing. Now, with all this new material we’re putting full effort into it.
By full effort- I mean playing a lot of shows, playing in places that we haven’t been in a lot of years and, of course, working to try to break down creative boundaries that are part of the Biscuits allure in the first place. When we started playing electronic music over rock music, most people hadn’t heard anything like that before. And when you find some music that just sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before, it’s worth exploring that creatively and exploring it as far as we can. For us, we always wanna continue to push that boundary and do things we’ve never done before. So that became a big focus for us in the last 6 months, how can we make ourselves better twenty-something years in.
Digging a little deeper into this new material, are these all Barber writing credits? Did you guys flesh this stuff out together?
I know that Magner and Barber spent like a week together working on the stuff and they brought a lot of his ideas to life in the studio. [Barber] had like 25 things that he thought would be relevant to the Biscuits. And he just recorded little demos of each of them and put them into a Soundcloud and sent it to us, and said, “What do you guys wanna work on? Take as many as these as possible and just start playing over them live and then we can continue to develop some of the themes in the studio.” After not doing that for so many years, going out and playing that many shows in a row and having so much new material to flesh out, it made every show super creative and very inspired. That’s the key to having a healthy band, having everyone feeling creative, inspired, energized.
People theorize that there’s an “end of the decade” thing with the biscuits- you’ve had big years and in ‘09 and ‘99 and, obviously, ‘19 was big for you guys. Do you see that?
Must be something like that. There must be some sort of, you know, subconscious drive to finish a decade off really strong and just have everyone look back and feel good. As we turn into a new decade, it feels good about the state of affairs. This time around we’re a lot more mature, a lot older, with a lot more experience and wisdom. We’re able to figure out how to get there and be at the high level without the debarchy that we did in 1999 and 2009, which was, you know, party-fueled. It was crazy.
What are the techniques or the little things you guys are doing that make the difference in that way?
We’ve all changed our habits in life outside of the band. So once you change your habits you kind of want to stay on track. I mean, for me, going to the gym everyday that I’m home. I go to the sauna every single day.