(Article previously published at WhenTheMusicsOver.net on 11/18/14)
Twiddle makes you smile.
Just saying it generates a grin, like some sort of oddball onomatopoeia from a Dr. Seuss story. And when you witness the band’s progressive, eclectic and high-energy mix of music live, you’ll inevitably dance and smile till you’re sore.
Twiddle hails from Castleton, Vermont but call Colorado a second home. Their show on November 13th at the Aggie Theater in Fort Collins, Colorado kicked off a four-night rocky mountain run that featured sold-out shows at The Bluebird Theater in Denver and The Fox Theater in Boulder. These Colorado concerts are part of the last leg of Twiddle’s 39 show, Chilled Monkey Brains Fall Tour that included recent dates alongside Papadosio, The Werks, Zoogma, and an array of surprise guests.
Their live show is as unpredictable as it is undeniably fun and free-flowing. Specific songs showcase the rock edge of Umphreys McGee, while others wander whimsically like a Phish show, reggae songs spark notions of Rebelution, and if you close your eyes during any of their acoustically-driven jams it sounds like Nahko and Medicine for the People. But Twiddle is much more than a collection of comparative bands. They cook up a gumbo of genres so tasty that trying to pinpoint a particular ingredient or influence would take away from the overall flavor. A unique flavor they describe as, “3-dimensional music,” that, “obliterates the laws of improvisation and spins tall tales over an intricate soundscape of hi-def shred.” Which is about as accurate and abstract as it gets when attempting to describe the music they make.
The captivated crowd is much more concerned with dancing to their music than defining it, and the fun-filled family atmosphere at The Aggie Theater was a warm and welcoming escape from the early winter chill outside. “Thanks for coming out on this cold cold night,” says lead singer and guitarist Mihali Savoulidis, looking even more like a lion as his long locks dangle down over a large lion face t-shirt. To his left, bassist Zdenek Gubb is shoe-less in his trademark beanie bouncing up and down on a hyper-orange moon mat as Brook Jordan sits smirking uncontrollably behind his drum set and Ryan Dempsey delivers killer keys while wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle onesie. The entire band appears very at home on stage; exhibiting a combination of comfort and comradery that can only come from a foundation of friendship and tirelessly touring across the country. There are times throughout the set that seem as if we’re witnessing the type of magical jam session that only exists in an intimate home studio set up. It’s immediately evident that every member of Twiddle is a masterful musician and their ability to adapt seamlessly to any style transforms seemingly ordinary songs into exciting, ever-evolving musical experiences.
With this tag-team of talent and tenacity, Twiddle is clearly the type of band that will be around a long time. They’re not only surviving, but thriving within today’s constantly changing music scene. Proving that amongst an almost endless sea of ‘jam bands’, quality will always triumph over quantity. Thus, Twiddle has transformed from the funny named band near the bottom of a festival bill, into the type of band that plays the main stage and makes instant fans out of anyone who happens to hear them.
In fact, most people in attendance at The Aggie Theater credit a trusted friend or a random festival for introducing them to Twiddle, and like myself, almost everyone has turned that initial introduction into many more shows and stories of the band treating them like family instead of fans. Some of that family even flew out from as far as Vermont and Massachusetts for this string of shows, and their fanaticism is well warranted. Their efforts were rewarded with rowdy covers of Sublime’s “Smoke 2 Joints” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” as well as fan favorites like “When it Rains it Pours” and “Frankenfoot”; for which they brought out local guitar prodigy Jaden Carlson who walked on stage sporting a Boba Fett helmet and ripped through technical riffs as if her talent truly came from a galaxy far far away.
If you missed out on Twiddle’s epic rocky mountain run, don’t stop smiling, just make sure to see them in a city near you as their Chilled Monkey Brains Fall Tour comes to a close with the five following shows:
11/19 – Johnstown, PA @ Ace’s Lounge
11/20 – State College, PA @ Levels Nightclub
11/21 – Washington, D.C. @ Gypsy Sallys
11/22 – Baltimore, MD @ The 8X10
11/26 – Fairfield, CT @ Stage One
For tickets and additional info click here and if you’re still undecided on how to ring in 2015 the boys will also be playing The Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts on New Year’s Eve alongside Dopapod.
Catching up With Conspirator
It’s a frigidly cold Colorado night as plumes of smoke scurry away with the wind whipping through the back alley of The Aggie Theater. Marc Brownstein of Conspirator stands shivering amidst streaks of snow answering a fan’s question about his age by saying, “it’s like the wind-chill factor, I’m almost 40 but it feels like 25.” As that iconic smile stretches across his face, it’s evident that Marc embodies this youthful, optimistic outlook, enabling him to both possess the wisdom of a jam-band veteran while preserving the ambition of a musical rookie.
Marc started the Disco Biscuits back in 1995, but despite all his accomplishments through the years he says, “I don’t feel bored at all making music.” This creative restlessness has resulted in him starting up multiple musical endeavors (Conspirator, Younger Brother, SuckerPunch), co-founding a non-profit to promote voter registration (HeadCount), establishing and headlining a highly successful music festival (Camp Bisco), composing a rock opera (Chemical Warfare Brigade), hosting a radio show (Jamtronica on Sirius XM), and remixing hip-hop albums (Ski Beatz vs. The Disco Biscuits).
Marc’s current focus is Conspirator, which has gradually grown from being considered a side project into a full-fledged band with it’s own sound and fan base. “I’m starting to see it turn from a thing that our old fans used to come to see just as a novelty because we were in it, into really having it’s own identity,” Marc says. “We’re trying to do something completely different and when you’re starting something new, you don’t know if it’s going to be popular. You just put your heart and soul into it, then promote it and believe.”
That constant belief and promotion has paid off with the recent release of Conspirator’s first studio EP, Unleashed, as well as a 28-city tour and a full festival season this summer to back it. There’s no telling what their future holds, but with that much momentum, it’s clear that they don’t plan to slow down or stop anytime soon.
Newton’s first law of motion states that bodies at rest tend to stay at rest, but when Marc Brownstein rests, he tends to make more music. Consequently, Conspirator was born in 2004 during a brief hiatus from touring with The Disco Biscuits, when fellow Biscuit, Aron Magner, who Marc refers to as his “musical soul-mate,” first proposed the project. The idea took off and allowed them to guide their well-honed creative chemistry in a different direction. This departure from The Disco Biscuits developed a unique sound that strays away from a jam-oriented style, yet maintains the same spirit of eclecticnes and excitement. “We wanted to make electronic music with an element of surprise,” Marc says, “playing with the beat and adding in all kinds of stuff that all comes together to create a whole new genre.”
Genre is a tricky word when it comes to Conspirator. Their music encompasses a wide range of rock and electronic elements that fuse together to form a sound that orbits around, “a heavy, electronically produced core with a skillful and melodic homage to instrumentation.” Marc is quick to sight Simon Posford of Shpongle as one of the forefathers of this type of live electronica. “ He is a huge influence of mine and also one of the guys who gave us the idea that this was something that could be done.” Conspirator continues to build off of what Posford pioneered and their diverse audience is a testament to the way their music bridges genres.
Conspirator’s crowd encompasses all ages and types of fans. Ranging from middle-aged men who hired babysitters to come to catch a couple of their favorite Disco Biscuit’s play, to neon-clad college kids unaware of the band’s past. “Sometimes we’ll meet kids and have to explain to them who we are,” Marc says, “That’s my favorite thing, people just being there and loving a new band when they don’t know about our other band or the last 20 years.”
Having just turned 40, the topic of age is inescapable, yet rather than pondering the past, Marc chooses to focus on the future. When asked about his opinion on age, Marc replies, “To answer your question, Phil Lesh just turned 73 the other week and that guy still throws down hard for four hours. I see him as inspiration to be somebody who just has the longevity and also Miles Davis as somebody who was not afraid to completely switch things up and change the way they make music.”
While Marc may disprove Newton’s first law of motion, he personifies the theory that the only constant is change, and also ‘haters’. “Don’t let the haters get you down, because if you’re going to be anything, you’re going to have haters. Since before the Internet, there were haters, but you shouldn’t give up if somebody else is telling you it’s not there. We had an OG hater back in 1997 who was at a show and said, ‘I’m in the music industry and you guys don’t have it. Go back to school and don’t quit your day jobs,’ which just fueled us and we were like ‘Screw that guy, we’re going to be successful on our own terms with our own sound’.” Conspirator has managed to transcend the haters, and thanks to a positive and progressive attitude, they’ve prevailed. “It’s all tied into dedication. That’s the key-practice hard, never give up, and be yourself. ”
To view a digital version of this article in issue #3 of Spinr Magazine click here (pg.12).
It’s over an hour into Random Rab’s set and not only has he played several exotic instruments I’ve never heard or seen before, but his drummer has yet to use sticks.
Although this may seem strange, it’s a good example of the type of world in which Rab and his art exist; it’s organic, alive and abstract. Rab doesn’t just make music. He creates surreal soundscapes by translating his emotions and experiences into songs that are as mystically beautiful as they are multifaceted. I caught up with Rab in Colorado to talk about playing the pyramids, sampling a space heater and the transcendent power of all art.
AKcreative: Earlier this year in an interview with Sparkleberry Lane you envisioned 2012 as, “a ripe pomegranate ready to burst open and spill juicy jewels all over the floor.” Now that it’s late August I was wondering how that pomegranate has tasted thus far?
Random Rab: It definitely burst and there’s lots of juice flying everywhere. 2012 has been a huge shift in my career and the scene in general. I’ve played a lot of sold out festivals and I get to go to Egypt towards the end the year on the solstice to play at the Giza Pyramids. Having that at the end of 2012 pretty much signifies to me that something’s going right.
I also have Burning Man coming up, which is going to be huge with all sorts of shows going on while I’m there. In November I get to go to Australia and play a full solar eclipse and sunrise set, which will actually be my second eclipse of the year. So there’s something about 2012, and I’m not necessarily buying into the whole ‘2012 thing’ as it’s presented by our culture, but it’s definitely going off. There’s tons of cool shit happening along with lots of alignments.
Is that one of the reasons that you tend to play so many shows that correlate with all these significant natural phenomenon?
I definitely love aligning with celestial events whenever I can because nothing can change when that’s going to happen and when you align with it everyone’s energy focuses or changes. Those events already have so much power in them and when you add music they become even more magical.
While we’re speaking about celestial events, you actually started the now legendary sunrise set at Burning Man and this year will be your fifteenth time performing there. What influence has that festival and its creative community had on your evolution as an artist and a person?
I think from an artistic point of view it’s really gave me the opportunity to play for audiences in a really crazy environment. It’s like your on the moon with all the dust and the people are beautiful and all very open and wanting their lives to change. They want something to happen that impacts their life at that moment. So you really have to be on point and in touch with both your audience and your art to make it work. Which really forces you to get in touch, get real and get present while also operating on no sleep amidst all of this energy coming at you from different directions. Another thing is this community thing that happens at Burning Man where you get to meet people from all over the world and really spread your wings amongst that community.
You’ve mentioned that you make music with the hope that it can carry you and your audience to a, “place of great understanding, knowledge and bliss.” What is it about your music or music in general that allows it to evoke such a sensation?
That really came around for me once I stopped trying to make music that sounded like music and started to make music that creates a feeling or experience. When I listen to music that sounds like music I’m not into it. Kind of like when you read a book that reads like it’s writing. But when music sounds like a place or a time and it can create space then you’re onto something. With the music that I make for me I’m really trying to make something that can stop sounding like music and start sounding like life.
When was the first time that you truly experienced music as something more significant and stimulating then mere sound?
I’ll never forget it. My dad had the Chariots of Fire soundtrack on a 45 record and I put it on as I stood in the living room with a chopstick pretending that I was the conductor of an orchestra. I remember closing my eyes and feeling this total out of body experience came over me and I fell over. I was like ‘oh my God what is this?’ and I played it over and over just wanting to get that feeling again. I kept trying to figure out where that was coming from since it was so mysterious to me and I had never experienced anything like that before.
To this day I still try to evoke that same feeling in myself where it’s kind of like where you close your eyes and then you’re gone. Once again going beyond the sound of music and into the sound of everything.
For that type of feeling or experience to exist it’s essential that you and your music remain free from any pre-conceived conventions. This theme of all around artistic freedom carries over to your own life, with the way your music defies definition and you chose to move out of the city and onto 50 rural acres of redwood. What is it that you dislike most about being creatively contained or controlled?
The hard part is when you start to put expectations on what kind of music you’re going to make or how that music will be received. When you start to have expectations then you can set yourself up for massive failure. If I go into my studio with the expectation that I’m going to make another fucking incredible track that I’ll love for the rest of my life and it doesn’t happen then I can really get depressed. I’ll try again and then try harder wondering ‘what am I doing wrong,’ but when I finally let go of all those expectations and just do what comes naturally then I’m free. You really have to be careful with art not to get stuck in your own pigeonhole or your own little rut. You have to allow yourself to be free and just do it because you love it and not because you feel like anyone including yourself is expecting something out of it.
Do you apply that exact concept to your live shows? Or is your set a blend between pre-produced songs and improvised sampling?
Tonight we’re actually doing just that by using our set as a basic structure and just expanding upon it. Normally when I play my sets I don’t plan anything. But when I’m playing with other people it helps to plan a little bit and have some idea of where you want to go because if it’s totally free form then it can become a technical nightmare. I always try to treat every show like it’s own unique thing. It doesn’t matter what you want out of the music cause if the crowd responds differently then you were expecting you’d just have to go with that. You can’t force it down anyone’s throat or just give them what they want since it’s a journey and it is important to stay flexible and in touch with what’s going on right here right now.
What is the best or most beneficial thing that you’ve learned from touring and making music with Simon Posford (Shpongle)?
Simon is an amazing person and that’s evident in his music, which is super powerful. There are a couple of things that I’ve learned from him. One is that he knows how to stay humble within his art and he doesn’t get caught up in the typical ego thing that a lot of other artists may. Also after hanging out with Simon I’ve realized that he is an outstanding storyteller and when he tells a story it’s the most captivating thing to the point where the most random thing ever or what just happened to him at a restaurant sounds like this epic tale. He weaves a story so well and I see that come through in his music.
How did you get the opportunity to compose music for the Princess of Abu Dhabi’s bachelorette party?
I did a project for the fortieth anniversary of The United Arab Emirates and Abu Dhabi where I composed some music for his architectural installation. She heard the music through that big event and wanted someone to create some custom songs for her party so she asked me. It was such a pleasure and honor to make that music for her and I’m really happy to have had that experience.
What’s the oddest instrument or sound you’ve ever sampled?
I hope all of them are the oddest ones. I try and always look for cool new sounds. One of the most interesting things that I found was when I turned on my space heater it’d make this really weird sound so I sampled that, ran it through Melodyne and changed the frequency so it sounds like this really psychedelic and awesome sitar now.
Since you have to go on stage soon I’ll finish by asking you some simple prompts that you can answer with whatever pops into your head…
Music is your vehicle for…
Knowing myself, knowing truth, and connecting with other people through my true voice.
The first record you ever owned was…
Motley Crue “Shout At the Devil”
If I you could say something to your fans who will read this what would it be…
Thank you so much for making it possible for me to do this as a living and share this with all of you. I can’t thank everyone enough because without my friends and fans none of this would be possible. So I have everyone to thank for my life and I hope to return the favor through what I do.
* Thanks to Rab for the interview and Sam Hanus for the live photos.For more on Random Rab click here and if your ears are eager to taste some of his magnificent music here’s an appetizer.