Interview with Marc Brownstein (The Disco Biscuits)
by Frank Poppe
February 2, 2005

MB: So you are in Germany now?

FP: Yeah, right now I’m in Germany. I live here and I got a radio show over here every second Tuesday…

Ah nice.

…playing a lot of jamband sound and a lot of Disco Biscuits, too.

So do you know Volker?

Sure, I do! He was there in the States one day and he introduced one of your shows over there.

Yeah, he did, I love him.

Yeah, he told me about that and he is a friend of mine, too.

Ah, he is? Send him my regards, please.

Yeah, I will do that.

I really like him, my mom, too. My mom loves him.

Oh, wow!

She always asks about him all the time “Have you spoken to Volker?”, all the time.

So you are going to see him in Amsterdam.

He’s coming?

Yes, he is.

Ah, that’s fantastic. I was hoping.

Marc, rave or techno beats are components of your sound, although you got a rock-oriented composition of instruments: vocals, guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. How would you characterize your musical style?

Oh, that’s a great question. I would have to say that our musical style is improvisational electronica and improvisational rock as well. That’s how I would characterize it, with the emphasis on improvisational because whether we’re playing rock, house, drum and bass or trance, what we’re doing is to improvise. So the beat that ends up under it, that’s on a whim based on how we’re feeling on that particular moment.

What are your and the other band members musical backgrounds?

I think that we have a very, very varied musical background. Sam, our drummer has been always listening to more heavy music, growing up heavy metal, hard rock and stuff like that, whereas my keyboard player Aron and myself had a background in jazz and classic rock and maybe a little bit of prog rock in there for Aron. Jon is very influenced by classical music and as well by let’s say maybe Van Halen style, bands of the eighties,. A big influence of mine are Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, that kind of great bands of the last half century.

You released a couple of studio albums. Can you tell me something about the production, label and distribution of your CDs?

The CD’s that we have released in the studio all done on Mega Force Record. The production we did differently every time, we always change the way that we make our records and that’s something that I think has kept the records sounding fresh every time that we come out of the studio, it’s the new sound. On “Civilized Area” we just got in the studio and just sort of jammed and so we had an album. You know we would play a song and if it was a great take we would keep it and move on and if it wasn’t a great take we would play it again until we got a great take. But “They missed the perfume” was a very, I wouldn’t say overly produced but it was a long production of studio work with a lot of layering and loops and we pieced it together part for part rather than by playing the song altogether so that was all done on in an overdubbing style. And then we went back for “Señor Boombox” and we sort of mixed the two, we played the tracks, but then we went back and overdubbed some electronic stuff in there, maybe electric drums, stuff like that, so we tried to take a new approach. Aron and I are working on a new album now, the project is called “Il Conspirator”, it’s spelled I L and then C O N S P I R A T O R, that album we’ve been working on for a year and that’s almost all electronic, we’ve gone completely electronic in our newest studio effort and I think that’s an attempt to learn that genre of music a little bit more. It’s all a learning process for us, we do things to learn how to do them.

Some of your songs are played as inverted versions. What is that?

Let’s say we are in an improvisational section or a jam, we would take that jam, let’s say we started the song “Hope”, the first song on “Señor Boombox”, for instance, we might start playing “Hope” and when we get to the jam section of “Hope” we would just go off into an “Open Land”, where we can do anything and ultimately rather than jamming back into the end of “Hope” we’d jam into the end of another song. And when we hit the end of another song, say “Above the wave” is a good example, one that’s inverted a lot, we’d jam into the second half of the song and then when we get to the very last note, we flip it around and we hit the beginning of the song, so we play the second half first and the first half second. Then we will get back around to the jam section, we’ve played the whole song into the second half out of the first half and we’re back in the jam, that’s where we started, then we’re free to go anywhere that we want to go, so it gives us a way to keep the audience guessing about where we might be going at any one time and gives us the freedom to move around our set list.

Marc, that leads me to the question how much of your shows is improvisational, how much is pre-planned?

Well, I’d say it’s about 75 % improvisational, 25 % pre-planned. We have a good idea where we gonna go in terms of what songs we’re gonna play, but we have no idea how we gonna get there and I think that’s the key. We might know that we gonna be playing from “Hope” into an inverted version of “Above the wave” but we don’t talk about how to get from A minor, which is “Hope” to F sharp minor, which is “Above the wave” and we leave that as a musical conversation. I think if you’d plan it out, you’d loose the musical conversation and that’s the interesting part of the show. If somebody is trying to tell us “Tell me the move into the different key”, there oughta be a way to do it musically and that’s what our whole career has been about, trying to figure out how to speak to each other without words.

There are some guitar oriented jambands out there, but in your music, it seems as there is no master instrument in front, it’s all on the same level. I think that makes it so very interesting.

I think that there is a lot of truth to that, not to say that at any one point the guitar might not end up being the leader of the jam. Our philosophy over the years has been for there to be no leader. We are hoping that the band can create one sound that’s moving together from one place to another, so it’s the collective improvisation. I think a lot of jambands, they will play a set progression of chords and then the guitars will sort of solo over on the top of that and that’s basically an easy formula to go by because there is no risk in that, you know, you play your D minor to A minor to G major and then the guitar knows exactly what you’re gonna play and you know what he’s gonna do and he’s gonna solo on top of it and you climax at all on the right time but for us it wasn’t interesting enough and so we don’t have a set chord progression in our jams, we discover the chord progression of a specific jam together right at the moment.

How would you describe your relationship to your fans?

Wow! Deep question. I’d say that we have a love-hate-relationship. You know, we love them and they hate us. No no, I’m kidding… We have a very intimate relationship with our fans. I think that part of being a band like the Disco Biscuits where your fans follow you from one town to the next or throughout the course of the country makes it so that you get to know these people, truly, especially the kids who travel with your band you get to see them at the show, you see them at the hotels, you see them at the party after the show, so over the course of the years we become very close with at least the very hard core Disco Biscuits fan base. That creates a very strong sense of community what is something that you need in order to build your band. You want people to feel like they’re at home with the Disco Biscuits. That’s their band. And that’s the way that it is with us, it’s their band as much as it is our band, it’s all our band. We want our fans to think of the Disco Biscuits is their band as opposed to any other band, we cater to that, you know, we very much listen to our fans when they have suggestions, we change our songs that we might be able to do in a better way. We’re not afraid to listen to somebody’s suggestion and go from there. That’s something I think that our fans get a big kick out of, they get a real sense that they are a part of the show.

Can you tell me the story about Camp Bisco?

Camp Bisco is our yearly festival that we throw every summer. I think that’s the concept of Camp Bisco, although there are a lot of people who could do it now. When we first did it, the concept was new. At a normal festival they have music starting at noon and it goes till about twelve or two in the morning. At Camp Bisco we started a late night schedule. Now that’s very, very common, every festival has late night bands, every festival goes until five in the morning but when Camp Bisco started doing this in 1999 there were no festivals doing this. We were the first festival that brought in electronic music and we would throw a rave as soon the Disco Biscuits would end at two o’clock we would throw a rave until seven in the morning and I think that it opened people in the jamband community in the United States up to the idea of a cross pollination between the rave scene and the jamband scene. And that’s sort of what the Disco Biscuits were. Before we started doing Camp Bisco our music was already that, we were playing electronic music and jam music. So it was very natural for us to bring that to a festival. But we do a focus on bands that have electronic style like Sector 9 and the New Deal, Particle and Lotus and Brothers Past, these are the bands that we focus on over the years and then we tried to get some big name DJ’s, you know like Alex Patterson, guys like that to come on out and throw down all night long. It’s our own little camp that we do for our kids every year.

Yeah, wonderful!

Though we skipped it last year…

Ah okay, so, this year again?

I hope so. It hasn’t been planned yet but I hope so.

Okay. One of your songs is titled “Morph Düsseldorf”. Where does this title come from and is there any meaning about Düsseldorf?

Well, I’ve never told this story but I guess I will tell it to you guys out there in Germany.

Yeah, you have to! (laughing)

We have a group of friends in college and they were all international kids. They all had wild names like Vai-U and Jizz and what we used to do is we would rhyme everybody’s names. So when we would have a joke where somebody would walk in, if it was Vai-U, somebody would say “Why you, Vai-U?” Or if it was a friend named Jizz, we would say “What it is, Jizz?”, you know? So all of our friends had a rhyme and one day we were sitting around calling all of the rhymes out, a friend of mine and myself doing this and when she got to my name she said “Marc Düsseldorf” and I looked at her and I said “Courtney, that doesn’t rhyme. The whole game here is that it’s supposed to be a rhyme.” And she said “Oh, what rhymes with Düsseldorf?” I said “Morph. Morph Düsseldorf.”. And that was the beginning of that song, she just called it out so it was a random reference to Düsseldorf. And so I supposed when we talk about “Morph Düsseldorf”, people say “Who’s Morph Düsseldorf?” which is something that nobody has ever asked me, the answer of the question would be me.

The term Jamband and the scene belonging to it are not well known in Europe. What do you think might be the reasons for that?

For one, it’s very hard to make it financially feasible to travel over there. So these are bands that don’t have corporate sponsorship unlike a band that might be on Sony Records or Columbia Records, one of these big record companies where the record company would pay for the band to go out to Europe in order to try to sell records out there. These are bands that do things by themselves. We sell our own records, we sell our own merchandise, we make our own tours and we build without commercial radio as a crutch for us to stand on and without MTV. Because that’s the way these bands build, a lot of what they do is based on what makes sense financially. You know, how can we do this and make money doing it and that’s what I think the goal of any job is, you know, any business is, but without multi-million dollar corporations. For in the bill I think these bands look at the schedule and the finances of traveling over to Europe and they don’t necessarily do it. Now Phish did it, but Phish did it when they were selling out to Rhino Records in America. So it didn’t really matter if they lost money. When the Grateful Dead finally went to Europe they were selling out to Rhino, money wasn’t a problem for them. So I think there are a lot of bands out there that would tour outside of the states if it was a financial possibility but it doesn’t ever add up when you talk about how many flights you need, how to get the equipment over there or to rent the equipment in Europe. We’ve been looking to coming over there with our electronic sounds ‘cause we think it would fit very well with the European mindset but it just has never made sense before, you know, financially, it has never been the right time to come loose money. I think a lot of the bands, if these bands maybe were all millionaires they would all go over there.

What do you think are the reasons for you and the other bands playing at the Amsterjam festival? Do you really want to reach a new market or is it more a fun trip for you all?

I think the people who would set that trip up for us finally figured out how to make it work in bringing four bands over together and making it so that the shows would sell out in advance. I think that they worked the finances out on that one and so it is a little bit of both. That is the reason everybody wants to do it is because we are gonna be able to get our music out on another continent in a new country but I think that probably a good portion of the reason is because of the fun trip. I would assume that the greater percentage of the people who are going to Amsterdam are coming from the United States so the question is how many new people are there really gonna be after the shows are already sold out with Americans, it doesn’t leave any room for a new crowd to catch on to these bands. And I think that’s what happened, I know that we have five hundred kids at least just the Disco Biscuits coming out to Amsterdam and that would tend towards us not necessarily making a big European fan base out there but I’m hoping, you know, Volker’s gonna be there…

One more question left. It’s about your drummer Sammy Altman is going to quit the band after Amsterjam. Do you still exist as the Disco Biscuits? You want to replace him or if so, is your repertoire going to change?

Tough, hard questions. We haven’t decided yet. I think out of respect for Sammy who’s been with us for ten years, we’re waiting until he’s done before we decide what we’re gonna all be next. We wanna have the Disco Biscuits with Sammy and then we can figure out what the Disco Biscuits are. There is a good chance that we’ll replace him and get a new drummer and that would certainly change the repertoire a little bit but not much because most of the songs have been written by me and Jon. And there is a good chance that we stop and not get a new drummer and start a new band with a new name and a new repertoire altogether which we have done, you know, we’ve already done that. So me and Aron have this band called Il Conspirator and we’re concentrating hard on coming out with a whole new style, with all new songs and just a musical evolution for us because we’ve been doing the same thing for ten years. We wanna learn how to do something else and hopefully we’ll be able to bring that all back to the Disco Biscuits and the Biscuits will evolve further from there.