With Camp Bisco on hiatus for a third year, the urban City Bisco takes over as The Disco Biscuits’ main event of the year. Taking place this weekend at Philadelphia’s Mann Center for the Performing Arts, the two days of live music features a lineup that traverses jamband veterans to jamtronica’s newest generation — from moe., The New Deal and TAUK to LP Giobbi and Bob Moses.
City Bisco is only one weekend of a very busy 2022 for tDB. The quartet finds itself returning to pre-pandemic levels of work with a full slate of shows including co-headlining dates with Umphrey’s McGee and sitting at the top of multiple festival bills including Electric Forest and High Sierra.
Making the time to write and record, the band’s first studio album in 11 years is scheduled to come out this summer. Fans have embraced the new material with more than two million total streams of the three officially-released tracks while the band debuted additional songs during recent concerts.
A majority of artists stayed off the road the previous two years when COVID-19 made its biggest worldwide impact but the Disco Biscuits did whatever they could to keep the momentum going after the members recommitted to making the group a priority. The band played several livestream gigs including a charity show that raised $100,000 for Philly area Black Lives Matter causes. The Biscuits then transitioned to drive-in shows and, once restrictions were lifted, returned to bigger venues including a three-night run at Red Rocks.
Also, guitarist Jon Barber continued to add episodes to his three-year-old podcast, “Touchdowns All Day,” https://www.touchdownsallday.com/.
Today, I catch him at the park near his Philadelphia home. He’s not only excited about the slate of activities happening for the band this year but at this moment he’s enthusiastic about the upcoming City Bisco musically and personally.
“We’re home this weekend because we’re playing the Mann, which is a local show. So basically, through the Mann’s run, I sleep in my bed. It’s gonna be great!”
JPG: The 10th edition of City Bisco is coming up this weekend. What are your thoughts on what you wanted it to be and what it has become?
JB: This is pretty much exactly what we wanted it to be. We wanted to play the Mann. We want to do it with a bunch of bands. We want to do multiple nights, and we want the fanbase to look at it as our big statement show of the year.
JPG: It’s a curated event. So, how did the lineup came together?
JB: It’s a group effort by a bunch of people. Live Nation has their things. I get my things. Everybody contributes. Camp Bisco and City Bisco, we’ve been doing these things forever. I’ve done lineups, which is the Jon’s dream lineup, but I don’t really want to do that because if it doesn’t sell tickets it’s all on me that it didn’t sell tickets. So, we do a big conversation around who’s available and who everybody wants to play and we try to get the best acts possible.
JPG: There wasn’t a Camp Bisco again this year.
JB: Yeah. I think because it’s at the water park. Water parks are a little finicky as far as COVID is concerned, and when we have to book Camp Bisco COVID was still running rampant. We had the conversation, “Should we do Camp Bisco this year or not?” Everybody was sick of canceling stuff that they put a lot of work into so we decided do not do any work and not have anything to cancel. Obviously, if we’ve done the work, we would have been psyched but we didn’t know that then.
JPG: It’s at the same venue as Peach Fest, Montage Mountain.
JB: Peach, they did the work. But, Peach and Camp are different animals. Peach is older people sitting in their tents whereas Camp is young kids on the water slide. It’s a different animal. You could throw Peach in the midst of the pandemic it would be fine. It’s a highly vaccinated group. Camp is a much riskier festival to do, especially if the government is against you and everybody’s against you.
Camp, you’re gonna have more problems. You’re gonna have more issues. So, we just didn’t. We made the decision right around New Year’s. We didn’t cancel our show over New Year’s. Everyone was canceling and it’s…just a tough environment.
JPG: Is that part of the reason why City Bisco is in June rather than September or October?
JB: Yes. That was the decision. “If we’re not going to do Camp, let’s do the big Philly show in that time.”
JPG: With only having one rather than both again this year because I know you had to cancel Camp Bisco last year, are the intentions a bit different because you’re only having one rather than two events?
JB: We went way bigger with City Bisco this year. Bob Moses is at the top of its game right now and LP Giobbi is at the top of her game. These artists are very hot. Having moe. on the bill, TAUK, these are larger bands that probably playedthe venue as the headliner themselves. So, it’s a big bill where usually City Bisco is more like two reasonable openers that are friends with the band and the band but this is more like a Camp Bisco type of bill.
JPG: As far as connecting everything together, I’m listening to your Candler Park Music Festival set and it includes the cover of “I Feel Love,” which was produced by Giorgio Moroder who was on a City Bisco bill years ago.
JB: That’s right. You put Giorgio on the bill, he’s not gonna sell any tickets but you put him on the bill because you love the guy. We’re all fans of everything that he did. There’s so many great producers in the music scene that were inspired by him. It just felt like a cool move to bring him out to the show, shake his hand and play one of his songs and hang out with him a little bit.
We like to do stuff like that. Actually, we’ve been doing stuff like that for a really long time. We did that with Slick Rick. We did that with Snoop Dogg. We did that with the LCD Soundsystem crew. We did it with Nas. The easiest way to meet these guys is just hire them and put them on the bill. (laughs) We had Big Boi at Red Rocks. We’ve met a lot of people. Biscuits are in their own world in the music business. To get into these other worlds, sometimes, we have to bring people into our world.
JPG: Also, at Candler Park, you played the live debut of “Freeze,” which is coming out on the new album.
JB: We played a new song at all five of the last shows. We debuted a new song and City Bisco will probably be no different.We’re doing a debut at every single show.
JPG: As far as official releases, it’s been “Lake Shore Drive,” “Evolve” and “M1.” Then, you played “Freeze.” What am I missing?
JB: In the most recent amphitheater tour with Umphrey’s, on day one we debuted a song called “Another Plan of Attack” and on day two we debuted the song called “Who’s in Charge,” on day three we debuted a song called Space Train,” and on day four, we debuted a song called “Tourists (Rocket Ship).” Every song has been really really well received. I’ve never put songs out and had this kind of reception. This is awesome.
JPG: I read that you started work on the new album at the beginning of 2021, which is interesting because you had a fairly busy tour schedule considering that COVID was still making things a little shaky.
JB: Well, our salaries all went to zero when COVID came around because we’re a live music band. Our health remains pretty good but our finances were hit about as hard you could be hit. We needed to get out there and make the music thing work because that’s what we typically have done in our lives. That’s why we’re still around because we figure out how to make our stuff work and we get out there and do it.
JPG: Since the band had a fairly busy tour schedule last year did you have to be really focused when there were breaks to record or is the new album based on material that you had stockpiled from previous years, which made recording it easier?
JB: I work a lot when I’m home. We don’t necessarily all live in the same place. So, all the travel restrictions during COVID made making the album really hard. We were dealing with that. It was really hard to make the album. It was really hard to play concerts but things are getting better and easier, which is really nice.
But, we did a lot of work during that 2020, 2021 period. Now, we’re able to put a lot of songs out because we’ve had them sitting around. We didn’t have a debut strategy in 2021 for some of these songs. We weren’t able to get together. We weren’t able to practice them. I was feeling like they were hard to finish. Now, we have (Derek) Cloudchord, a producer, that’s been coming over to my house and working in the studio with me once a month for a couple of days. That’s been the big change. He’s tracking what we’re working on and helping me progress, filling in the dots, keep all the other band members focused as well because they were working with him. Everybody works with Derek and there’s a productivity that’s been created because he’s involved.
JPG: Is it a matter that people are sending him files or is the band actually getting together and recording or both?
JB: I try to get together and record as often as possible but it’s been really hard because of the pandemic. Sometimes, you have to do files. If you don’t do files things can come to a screeching halt, which is what happened in mid-2021. Things are getting canceled and I was like, “I just lost nine weeks” and nothing was happening. That’s over two months of time just went by where I’m trying to do things and can’t get anything done and in 2022 that hasn’t been happening and we’ve been doing a lot.
But the file sharing is big reason why that hasn’t been happening.Everybody needs to be able to record themselves at a studio level of quality in their own house or the project comes to screeching halt. Everybody did figure that out in 2021. Now, in 2022, I can get something from you in three weeks for your part even if I’m not going to see you in three weeks, which is a huge plus this album.
JPG: Also, it’s been 11 years without a new studio album from Disco Biscuits. Was there a reason for the long break or a motivation recently to finally get around and put out a new studio album?
JB: I wasn’t in a studio personally, musically. I wasn’t making music. I was doing other things with my life. I was in the band for a really, really long time. In 2010 it felt to me being in a rock band was cool but I had already done it and there were some really amazing things going on in the world with all the different technologies that existed. It seemed like people were having a lot of fun doing stuff. So, I jumped into that world and went for it. I like to be excited about the things that I’m working on because it helps me stay motivated and helps me do better work, faster work, more work and I just wasn’t doing it in the music business. I wasn’t excited to be there.
Now, I’m really motivated to be in the music business but you notice the sound of the band has changed a lot. That’s part of what motivates me about the music business right now. The band has come together on this issue. We don’t have to sound like we sounded before we were doing all this new stuff, and the fans are really reacting in a positive way. We’re making very new modern dance music. We’re not saying, “We can’t do that because that’s not who we were before.”
JPG: Was it a matter of back then you just wanted to have an “adult life” that didn’t involve being on the road and late night beers and being up ‘til six in the morning and all that or was it just other opportunities?
JB: An adult life had a lot to do with it. It’s nice to have a normal life. Touring for as hard as we toured and for as long as we toured, it did feel like…I got to a point where I would pack for tour and I would open my suitcase, put it on the bed and then I would do everything else except fill the suitcase with stuff.
Literally, the bus would pull up to the house, and be like, “Let’s go.” and I’d look at my suitcase and it would be empty, but I cleaned the whole house, organized everything, moved things up and down the stairs for three hours. I literally never got around to packing and I was like, “Maybe, that’s a sign that you need to take a break from touring.”
So, we did take a break from touring. We still played shows because we were doing these incredible statement shows like the Mann, Red Rocks and stuff like that. We didn’t want to cancel those shows. So, we kept doing those shows but we weren’t on the phone actively pursuing new outlets.
JPG: Because of the COVID pause, did you find any personal growth or musical growth while things slowed down?
JB: We had all recommitted to doing the band on a major level a month before COVID happened (laughs); our first real tour in 10 years in December before COVID hit. So, the timing of COVID couldn’t have been worse. We needed to go out and make some money to get things moving before we were gonna sit in our houses for two years and play with synthesizers. So, COVID couldn’t have been timed worse but I had a baby during COVID, my first child, and it completely changed my perspective of life and everything and that was really well-timed. Having a kid during the pandemic was terrific. So, I just have to take the good with the bad there.
JPG: Back to the album, can you give me more details? I know that the band is officially releasing a song a month. Is there anything as far as when it’ll be released or how many songs will be on it or anything else you could say about it?
JB: We haven’t even decided which of the new songs are going on it. That’s the thing. It’s very loose. We have a lot of music right now. We’re gonna play a song at the Mann that is my favorite new song of all the new songs. We’re saving it for the Mann and that is good. Look, we don’t really know what the new album is right now. We could release an album tomorrow. This is what people do nowadays. They put out as an album a song a month. Then, they drop the whole thing. We’re just gonna do something along those lines. What the final tracklisting is going to be we don’t really know yet. We could probably make some educated guesses but we’re not locked into anything until 14 days before we release the album. You know what I mean?
JPG: As far as some of the songs themselves, and using the idea of all the influences, all the musical elements that make up what The Disco Biscuits are now, there are parts of “M1” that reminded me of latter-day Tangerine Dream before the song went into something that sounded more like a Disco Biscuits number. “Freeze” reminded me at certain times of the band !!
JB: Oh, yeah, exactly. We did a show with !!! I think they opened up for us at an Electric Factory show maybe 10 years ago. I don’t remember correctly, but something like that. We met all those guys. They were cool. A little bit of a similarity. “Freeze” is a weird song because we don’t have any songs that are like “Freeze.”
So, it’s very much a unique song. I feel like we’re getting that on everything because we’re making the songs differently than we used to. The songs used to be written on an acoustic or Marc on his bass. Nowadays, the songs are being written with use of the computer very heavily because we can’t have a rehearsal necessarily.
Me on my guitar doesn’t really help me get tracks from the other band members. So, I’ve got to put it on the computer even if it’s me on the guitar. I’ve got to put it on the computer and then at that point, I have the whole computer available and I’m going to do other stuff and get into it and have fun. Then, it’s gonna develop into this kind of music that we’re getting. You might get something like “Freeze.” You might get something like any of these new songs. It is really a different band in a lot of ways. It’s a totally different studio process and we’re leaning into all these things because the results are really great.
The fans are as jazzed now as they’ve been in 20 years It’s crazy. We’ve never debuted five songs in five shows. After the Mann, it’ll be seven songs in seven shows. We never debuted seven songs in seven shows our whole career. When I was younger, we came close, but it was different back then because we did one debut a week not one debut a show. So, it was like 10 weeks straight or something.
Different world. New studio style. New devices. New sounds. And very resonating response from the fans, which is good. Hopefully, COVID will stay away and we can enjoy this stuff.
JPG: We were talking a little bit earlier about family. I was wondering about the importance of family — those you live with, those you are related to, those you play with and those you play for…?
JB: The people that you live with, I’m very lucky. My fiancé and my son, I spent every minute with them in the pandemic and we didn’t break up. We got along great! So, I feel like that is a lot of stability for me in my life personally and I’ve never had that level of stability since maybe college was the last time that I had a very, very great girlfriend and was really stable in other aspects of my life.
This is a good time for me personally because of her, because of Lisa and River and how stable they are and how good this is, how nice it’s working out. The pandemic was something that would have tested that if it wasn’t there and it is there. It’s nice. It feels good.
The rest of my family’s getting old though. It feels weird in that department but I guess that’s just I don’t know…
As far as band family goes, we’ve stuck together through thick and thin this group of people. It’s an interesting group because everybody in Disco Biscuits is like a lead guitar player. Everybody is like viciously good at their instrument and it allows us to do what we do. Everybody plays really well. And it is very family. There’s the band and the way everything works and everybody hangs out and all the wives hang out. It does feel very much like a like a tight-knit group.
As far as the business world goes, it’s the music music business. When you’re selling tickets, everybody loves you. When you’re not selling tickets, everybody hates you. It is what it is.
And the fans. There’s so much going on in that group; so many people from so many different years because everybody has their two years where they listen to the band constantly. They go in and out, they have own kids and stuff like that. The only reason The Disco Biscuits exist is because the fans are such a family, if you think about it.
I left music almost entirely and started doing other stuff for a really long time, not a year-and-a-half but like a decade. That’s a really long time to do something like that. And in that whole decade we got bigger. With the pandemic it’s been hard to sell tickets but before the pandemic year, we were arguably just as big as we ever were and it’s weird that that’s what happened to the group. The fans and their family vibe is why we’re still a band today. Most guys they go and do other stuff and two years later the band’s playing and there’s nobody at the show anymore after those two years. For the Biscuits, we essentially got bigger. So, it was very unusual. I did not expect it.
I’m in this phase in life where I’m just trying to take wins when I can get them because they’re just so many L’s in the COVID music business. There’s been so many times where I’m like, “Okay, my salary’s gonna get paid by that show.” Then, that show’s canceled and now my salary just got canceled, It happened so many times in the past two years, I don’t know how I survived it. I don’t know how anybody survived it.
I’ll take the wins when we can get them. When everyone shows up, I’ll take it. The fans love the new songs, I’ll take that. I’ll take that win all day long.