Two years ago, the Disco Biscuits followed the traditional route of writing and recording new songs, debuting them at concert appearances and releasing accompanying videos.

Then, an idea was hatched, and the original plan was scratched.

Instead, the long-running quartet embraced the concept of a space opera with a storyline that featured the four band members – Marc Brownstein, Jon Gutwillig, Aron Magner and Allen Aucoin – saving the world from hard-partying aliens whose ship got lost in the universe.

Originated and developed in part by Barber’s collaborator, Joey Friedman, the band enthusiastically convened to create Revolution in Motion, the Biscuits’ first new studio effort in 13 years.

Brownstein also revealed during a lengthy conversation a week before the band’s album release gig at Webster Hall on March 29, the work on Revolution resulted in a disciplined and productive approach to songwriting. Nearly a dozen new tunes—and counting—have been developed. Some have already been played at Biscuits shows. Many, if not all, will make their public concert debuts in the future.

Besides discussing the group’s space opera, Brownstein dove deep into thoughts on The Beatles, Phish, Grateful Dead, learning the “trick” and much more in our Zoom conversation, which finds him at home, wearing a Dead t-shirt and Phish slippers, on a brief break from playing anywhere on the planet.

JPG: I follow you on twitter (X) and I love this post: “Now all I’m saying is if you let your kid go to SPAC to see the Grateful Dead, there’s a very good chance he’s going to start experimenting with psychedelics and create a band called the Disco Biscuits.”

MB: Yeah, my most popular tweet of all time. I knew right when I wrote it that it was gonna be the most popular tweet that I ever had. I had written another tweet on the subject earlier in the day and it didn’t quite have the…zhoozh of this one. This tweet, I knew that I had worded it perfectly and it was, in fact, well-liked.

JPG: You are home for a bit, about a week. How does it feel to be sleeping in your own bed?

MB: It’s great. It feels great. I’m having trouble getting the bottom sheet to stay over the corner of my bed. So, it pops up in the middle of the night. That’s one thing that I’m wrestling with right now, but other than that, it’s really great being back in my bed.

This weekend will be the first weekend since the beginning of the Disco Biscuits tour that I don’t have any shows because I had done the Jam Cruise and the week before that I did a series of DJ shows. So, this is my one weekend off between January and middle of April. I’m looking forward to it. Although, when my kids and wife went to work and school on Monday morning, Monday was my first day that I didn’t really have anything to do. That really was my weekend. Monday and Tuesday, when there’s nobody in the house and I’ve got nothing going on, those are the days that I consider the weekend because on the weekend we’ll be playing or hanging or doing work or driving, cleaning, cooking…It’s like you turn into an everything job. So, I really did enjoy Monday and Tuesday of this week. They were extremely chill days.

Last night, I got to go out and see Damian and Stephen Marley at the Fillmore and it was one of the most enjoyable concerts that I’ve been to in a very, long time. I enjoy pretty much every concert I go to but this one I had chills and tears. It brought me to tears. It was such an incredible show.

JPG: That’s probably one of the frustrating things for someone like yourself that you start off as a music fan and then you start a band. As a music fan, you have to take a back seat to attend live shows because you’re so busy. You can’t see other artists playing because you’re working.

MB: I’m the guy who’s wearing [Phish] donut slippers and a Grateful Dead t-shirt right now during this interview. So, I don’t think my fandom ever really took a back seat. That’s a nice thing for me, the way that I treated music as opposed to a lot of other musicians. I would say it’s changed at this point but when my generation of musicians was coming up, there was a taboo about being a Phish fan or publicly being a Phish fan. People wanted to maybe not talk about it or show it or go or listen, and that seems silly to me.

It was my favorite band and I just wanted to be able to go and enjoy it. It was a different experience after we started the Disco Biscuits because I’m going to see the band as a public figure in the jamband world. So, the experience changes a lot because you have spent a lot of time meeting people and talking to people but that’s what I always hope that the experience would be before I was in the Disco Biscuits, but I was a little bit shy.

So, I never really went to shows and met a lot of people and talked to a lot of people. The Disco Biscuits was almost like an unlock where the kind of experience that I was hoping to have when I went to see Phish, which was to be very active in the community and know a lot of people and be one of the more friendly faces on lot.

I’ve been off of tour for two days and we went to Stephen and Damian last night, and we’re going to see Eggy on Friday. Some people don’t want to go to concerts when they’re not at concerts and it’s their job but it’s like somebody said to me yesterday. We were talking about me being in a band for 28 years now and then filling every other weekend that I have with other things that are music-related, whether it’s DJing or playing with my son and the guys from Eggy in the Brownstein Family Band or playing with Star Kitchen or the multitude of other acts that I’ll end up playing with on Jam Cruise. I went out and did a collaboration with Chali 2na, which was amazing, and we had Adam Deitch and Nikki Glaspie, Marlon Lewis from Star Kitchen and Stanton Moore; four drummers right in a row during this thing. All of those experiences, I don’t do it because I have to do it. I do it because I love to do it. I have the best job in the whole entire world.

This what you dream about doing when you’re a kid and then I get to do it. So, I try to always look at going and playing shows part of it from the most optimistic standpoint. I love playing shows. Travel’s not always easy. Being away from the family is not always easy. Our kids are older so it’s gotten easier than it was when they were younger, but I just love it so much and that comes from being a fan of the music. It all came out of fandom and so I feel like when you’re a fan and you look at the musicians and you have a dream to do that, doing it didn’t change my fandom at all.

JPG: When you were at that SPAC Grateful Dead concert, were you already playing bass or playing an instrument, or did that give you the inspiration to take something up?

MB: The inspiration came earlier. I was seven years old when John Lennon was assassinated in New York City. I grew up in New York City. So, the people pouring into the streets and the people crying and, on the news, seeing what was going on in Strawberry Fields in Central Park across from the Dakota [where Lennon lived and where he was killed in front of the building]. Seeing how losing a musician like that affected the whole entire world woke me up to music. That’s when I was like, “Wow! This guy must have been really something special if everybody’s freaking out this much about it.”

So, I started listening to The Beatles. I was like, “Let me check this out.” I got a book that I still have on my piano right here called Beatles Gold, and it was easy piano arrangements for Beatles songs. My parents started getting me classical lessons. I resisted that greatly. Obviously, as a professional musician, anybody who resisted classical as a kid probably regrets it later in life, but we always had a chance to go back, and as adults, we went back and studied it.

The thing that I remember was there was a rock musician around the corner from me named Ricky Tepperberg (aka Ricky T). He’s still a keyboard player. He was in the High Times Cannabis Cup Band. He was also in a ska band called the Skadanks when we were in high school. I just saw him and was like, “Man, I just want to play rock music.” That’s what I wanted to do.

So, my mom bought me this Beatles book and I started doing that. Then, in second grade music class, I had my first public performance. I played “Eleanor Rigby” on the piano for my second-grade class. My second-grade music teacher ended up being a part of my life all throughout my life. That was the start of it for me—John Lennon, The Beatles and I learned a bunch of those songs. It’s like I’ve never stopped.

Much to my family’s chagrin, I will sit down at the piano and play through all of my Beatles-related songs every day—“Fool on the Hill,” “Imagine,” “Watching the Wheels.” I have a five or six song medley that I’ll rip through and sing along with to practice for tour my vocals. And I practice my piano on these same songs that I was learning nine years old.

That sparked it, and what’s funny is my older brothers were both Grateful Dead fans all through my life and that was their thing. They brought me to the Grateful Dead at SPAC. We were not far from SPAC and we were going every concert. The Grateful Dead concert was one of a string of concerts that we hit over the course of three summers—Men at Work to Whitney Houston to Yes and J. Geils Band.

I saw so many amazing shows at SPAC growing up. But the Grateful Dead one, that tipped me off to a culture. I knew that my brothers were fans. They also liked the Allman Brothers, but that show, I was like, “Oh my God! There’s a whole culture around this.”

That was in 1987. Then, in 1991, ‘92, I discovered Phish, and for me being like 17 to 20 during that time period, I connected more with Phish. It was smaller. It was a younger culture, more like my culture than the Grateful Dead did at the time.

That’s when I became swept away with the bass. I had been playing bass since seventh grade. I moved over from piano to bass in seventh or eighth grade. I had abandoned it in high school, but I didn’t necessarily see a path to professional musicianship until I discovered Phish. That’s when I was able to clearly visualize what’s going to happen in my life. Everything from that moment forth, that was 1993. We went to the first show at Roseland, and then everything from February of 1993 through all of 1994, when the Biscuits started, but not as the Biscuits. The first Biscuits show as the Biscuits was July 4th thereabouts 1995. The whole year-and-a-half before that, we had a series of lineups. Bill Ravenscroft was in the band on guitar, but it wasn’t serious enough. Then, Ben Hayflick was on piano, and he didn’t want to show up to practice, so we got Magner.

So, little by little the band’s line up formed from ‘94 to ‘95, but it was really for me the visualization of the whole arc that was about to take place from ‘95 to 2005 was solidified when I was in Roseland watching Phish.

All of these things were goals. I didn’t know that we’d ever get to Roseland where I saw Phish, but we started the band in 1995 and it was only six years later in 2001 that we were on that very same stage. From the moment where I could see us doing something like this. We knew it couldn’t be that exactly because the whole point of Phish was their originality. So, in our heads, it was like, “Alright, let’s start the band. Let’s find our version of this. Then, go through all of the steps that you have to take from having five fans at your first show to having 3,000 fans at Roseland,” which is the place where it all came together, and we saw that this is a possibility.

JPG: It’s interesting that the bands that you’re talking about, the creative line going from The Beatles to the Grateful Dead to Phish finds them taking a number of different influences and create something original. In your case the psychedelic electronic dance jam elements.  

MB: For me The Beatles did it but not in an improvisational way. They went out and they studied all this music, and they came back and incorporated everything and turned their music into psychedelic world influencing music.

Who also did that was John Coltrane and so John Coltrane came in the very early ‘60s into this same sound, this Indian modal sound. And when he was doing all the shows at the Village Vanguard that whole series of shows at the Village Vanguard with Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner. That was kind of the spark that birthed the jamband scene.

It’s funny because when Miles Davis’ band opened for the Grateful Dead in California, there’s a thread there between the kind of modal improvisation that Miles Davis invented with “Milestones” in 1958. And John Coltrane’s in that band with him, the classic Miles Davis Quintet with Red Garland and Paul Chambers. That quintet birthed this whole style of music that we play, which is modal jazz essentially. We do modal jazz over techno beats with techno sounds but it’s really modal jazz. We’ll be sitting in D Dorian or whatever mode we choose to play in, and we’re all kind of just jazz improvising in and out of each other.

We took modal jazz and we mixed it with electronic music, to your point. Phish took that and mixed classical music and jazz, actual jazz, back into it.

That’s what took me in about Phish was they were based off of classical and jazz, which was my thing, where growing up in Brooklyn and Manhattan I wasn’t really exposed to, and actually was averse to country-sounding music. Anything that was pentatonic, based off of country music, like the Grateful Dead were, I had an adverse reaction to it, unfortunately.

I still was going to see the Grateful Dead. I saw 10 or so concerts before Jerry passed away, but it wasn’t landing for me the way that it eventually did land in 2014 when they paired us up at the Gathering of the Vibes to play with Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. Now, that was deep dive time for me. I wish that I had deep dived 10 years before that because I wasn’t prepared for that moment because I didn’t really know that music well enough to be prepared for it.

I never really played over major pentatonic. I was adverse to it and so I didn’t have all of the patterns and fingerings that you needed to be fluid and fluent over those styles. I kind of bungled those first couple of shows with Billy and Mickey. I’m sure they sound great but for me I wasn’t comfortable. It opened something up for me where I was like, “Whoa, this music, these songs are unbelievable. This music is incredible.” 

That period of time—2014 to 2017—when I played with Bob [Weir] at Brooklyn Bowl for a HeadCount benefit and did shows with Billy and Mickey at the 9:30 Club and we did Red Rocks, I had to get more and more comfortable over that music. Eventually, I started a band with John Kadlecik called the West Philly Fadeaway, and I did four or five shows with Kadlecik and he sat me down after one of them and was like, “Can I show you the trick?” I was like, “Please, show me the trick. I’m struggling here. I’m landing on the wrong note every single time. What am I doing wrong?” And he showed me the trick. There’s passing tones in the pentatonic scale that if you use the passing tones you always land in the right spot. It’s a five-note scale. If you add two more notes in and make it a seven-note scale, you’re always landing on a one or a five like you’re landing on a chord tone. So, he was like, “Here’s how you can get to the right note. You just add these two notes in when you’re in major pentatonic. Add these two notes in when you’re in minor pentatonic.”

That little lesson changed my whole playing style. Everything changed after that point. A lot of people have told me in the last two or three years that they’re impressed with the amount of progression there’s been in my bass playing since the pandemic because during the pandemic we had all the time in the world to practice. You can’t practice when you’re touring all the time.

But, it was like the Grateful Dead came back into my life, and then through learning it and playing it and talking about it and happening into people who are noticing me struggling through something and they want to show you the way, I was able to take that little lesson and apply it to everything I do in improvisation with the Biscuits. “Okay. These two scales work over everything.” Part of the reason that the Grateful Dead always sounds so great, they’ve got these two scales that if you’re in one or the two of them, it’s like, here’s the notes and everything works. It’s a beautiful free for all.

Anyway, that’s the thread from The Beatles and John Lennon dying to the Grateful Dead to deep diving into Phish and then rediscovering the Grateful Dead later and having relationships with them.

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