Turkuaz: Interview with Dave Brandwein at All Good Music Festival & Buffalo Iron Works Show Review
Written by Mary Mistretta
UpstateLIVE and Buffalo.fm shared some chat time at the All Good Festival with Dave Brandwein of Turkuaz. Dave gave us an in-depth look at production of the new release in the fall, Digitonium, as well as some highlights of the past year and a bit of what to expect at their show at Buffalo Iron Works (review below).
UL: How’s the tour going so far?
DB: It’s good. This is a strange one; we just went straight across country for two festivals and then straight back.
UL: Wow, that’s a lot of travel just for just two festivals. We’re very curious to know about the new record, Digitonium. I got a preview and it’s really good! So, what’s new about this one?
DB: It’s a totally different approach for us. We went into the studio with only a handful of songs written, and we spent several weeks there basically writing the record. It was the most collaborative album we’ve done so far. Usually we work in my studio in New York, which is great. But the nature of everyone being in the city when we’re working is that they’ll come in and do their parts and then someone will have to pick up a shift somewhere or do whatever, so they’ll come do their parts and leave. Then I’m kind of there with whoever is left or just by myself and I’ll just do the best I can to make it sound the way it should. As a producer I’m used to doing that, but when I work with other bands I’m still working with the band. But this was a good time where I was able to work with the band, even though it’s my own, and everyone was there most of the time and it made for just a totally different sound: a different way of writing, a different way of recording, and so yeah, we would just like layer tracks, a lot more synths and digital elements.
UL: Do you have a different concept than in the past, in terms of the lyrics?
DB: In the past, it’s been a lot of stream of consciousness stuff for me. Generally, we have a groove first. I don’t ever sit and write lyrics first, for this band, especially. So, there’ll be a groove going and I start with just what sounds good, so it’ll even just be as phonetic sounds that don’t mean anything, and then I’ll kind of shape the words to match that, sort of treating it more like an instrument. And then usually I’ll go back later and look at what the words mean and then think, oh, this is actually pretty cool. I almost look back at it and analyze what it means after the fact, more than I think about when I’m writing, almost like splashing the paint on the canvas and then thinking, okay, what does that look like to me? But this time it was a little bit different. It’s sort of a concept record in some ways. It has a lot of tie-ins with the story of King Arthur and The Sword in the Stone. “Prestidigitonium” came from there so I borrowed from that and wrote a song around that and then it was like, maybe this whole album should be about that and it gave me inspiration. Throughout the record, every time I couldn’t think of a lyric or something I just kind of went back to that story and found something. So there are some elements of being an underdog, of being an unexpected sort of champion. Especially in one of the songs, “King Computer,” which is the last song. There were some new themes introduced for sure this time.
UL: Nice. And you still do all of the lyrics?
DB: I have done all of the lyrics generally, but actually for the first time ever on Digitonium, Sammi and Greg brought in some lyrics and some music and I worked with it, and then we worked on it together. Half of this album came from Craig just demoing stuff on his computer and then I would write over it. So normally, I do all the lyrical aspects of it and the music’s always been pretty collaborative.
UL: You make it look so easy. You’re such a large band but you each kind of fit into your own sections. How are you able to come together and be so cohesive?
DB: I don’t know that it’s easy but it’s certainly gelled into it’s own thing by this time. I mean, for the longest time we were a ten-piece and we had a separate keys player. Now we’re nine, and the trumpet player and the guitar player each double on keys. Ever since that happened, it actually gelled a little bit more smoothly and I think it’s because every instrument is not going all the time. The arrangements are much more conscious. So there’s a focus on the trumpet, a focus on the guitar, and then there are sections that really feature the synth or really feature the organ and it forced us to divvy it up in a way that I think works better. So strangely, when we stripped down, the sections all work together better. It’s been about two years now.
UL: Well, it translates really well from the recorded work to the stage, all of the layers and intricacies, especially the new record. I can’t wait for that to come out.
DB: Me neither. We’ve been sitting on it for a while. We actually recorded most of it before we recorded our EP so last September we went in and recorded most of the record and then we’ve just been going back in, in between tours.
UL: So how is Stereochrome different?
DB: It was done in the most opposite way. All the music was written and arranged beforehand, we went in and recorded it straight onto analog tape, didn’t even have a computer on. We didn’t use any piece of gear made after 1971, I don’t think, to make it, up until we had to make MP3s out of it. But before that, it was just straight running the tape machines, some do-over dubs mixed in through our console. That was back at my studio in Brooklyn, and we had just come from tracking the basics for Digitonium and although it was amazing, and a really fun experience, we were just like, we just want to go in the studio and just play. We did it in three days and put it out a couple of months later. It was the total opposite approach. May not have been the best segue, in terms of getting people ready for what they’re going to hear on Digitonium, because it’s a polar opposite. But at least it shows a little bit of versatility.
UL: Absolutely. So what does the rest of the tour look like? Are you going pretty heavy up until the winter?
DB: Summer is mostly festivals with a few club dates scattered in between, and we really pick it up into September, leading up to the new album. September, October, and November are just full. All the usual suspects in the North East, Mid-West, North West, West Coast, and we even open up some of the South that we’ve never been to. Texas and places like that. It will be a very full schedule for those 3 months. Then we’ll take a short break after Thanksgiving, leading up to our New Year’s event, which we haven’t announced yet, but we’re going to announce really soon.
UL: Can’t wait to hear that as well. Do you have a release date for the fall yet?
DB: October 2is the official release, but we’re going to do a series of shows in the North East where we’ll be able to sell advanced copies of the record around two weeks leading up to the release.
UL: Looking forward to it. So, enjoying your first All Good?
DB: Absolutely. We had to come early today so this will be my first chance to go explore and check it out. Definitely going to check out some music tonight. A couple of us have never seen Primus before, so we definitely want to check that out. We always love seeing Lettuce, and Antibalas are our buddies from Brooklyn, so definitely going to check them out too. Lots of good music.
UL: Absolutely. Thanks for being a part of it. That was a really, really, really nice set.
DB: Thanks we hope to be here many years to come.
UL: Yeah, me too. Is there anything else you’d like fans to know about other projects you have going on, outside of Turkuaz or inclusive of?
DB: This new album is where all of our energy is going to really this last year by the time the record comes out. So much has gone into it and between touring some 200 days a year, we haven’t had a whole lot of time to do other things. I have some solo stuff, and I’m looking forward to that break to do some work in my studio. It’s pretty different from Turkuaz and I’d love to get to work on that at some point, but we’re really just focused on the band, which is the good news. It’s everyone’s main priority.
UL: And we can tell. It really came across in your performance today.
UL: It’s been about a year since we saw you at Night Lights. It’s been a busy, big year for you. What’s been one of the highlights?
DB: Catskill Chill was amazing. We did that Sly and the Family Stone set, which was certainly one of the highlights of our year, and we’re going to be back there again this year doing an original set and then with Dopapod we’re doing Dopaquaz, a Studio 54 set. Our New Year’s event, last year we did the First Annual Ball Drop, which was a Turkuaz event, and we had a bunch of other really great bands. Tauk was there, Consider the Source, Spiritual Rez, and a bunch of other cool bands. That was an amazing event that our management and Rock N Roll resort really helped to facilitate. We’re looking forward to doing the ball drop every year, possibly in a different location each year, making it a destination thing. We’ll be announcing plans for that really soon.
UL: You’ll be in Buffalo Thursday, what can we expect?
DB: Yeah, Iron works. I’m looking forward to it. Actually, that was another highlight of ours. We did Halloween with Jimkata. That was a lot of fun and I’ve been bummed we haven’t been back yet. I know there’s a Stevie Wonder thing going on down the street and Mike, our drummer, is from Buffalo, so he’s got some friends, Eric Crittenden and some people who are playing over at Stevie Wonder. So they might come sit in afterwards with us, so we’re trying to make it a true Buffalo event…
And a true Buffalo event it was. Many of us live in this city because of its fab music scene, one that brings us bands such as Turkuaz. So after a great show at Canalside by Critt’s Juke Joint and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, many folks headed over to Buffalo Iron Works for some of the best funk and soul to visit The Queen City.
A balanced group of different components, Turkuaz layers on the sounds and blows their audiences away. No matter what they play, one can’t help but groove. I honestly can’t recall the last time I heard such applause from listeners, which added more good vibes to the constructive atmosphere that Turkuaz creates. They, too, were often smiling on the stage, and it was infectious.
Playing a mix of old and new, Turkuaz opened with “Bubba Slide,” which had a nice percussion and keys-heavy interlude. The next two tracks were off of Digitonium and had the signature Turkuaz sound: tight rhythm, harmonizing horns, and complementary vocals.
Turkauz’s song choices alternated well between high-as-a-kite rhythms and slower but funky sounds, which allowed multiple interactions with the music. This wasn’t a premeditated order; they’re just that good. An upbeat and full tune, “Tiptoe Through the Crypto” shined the pretty vocals of Sammi Garret and brought attention to the fun and mystical lyrics, and “Coast to Coast” followed with a faster pace and an all-around knockout sax solo from Greg Sanderson.
“Future 86” then slowed down the flow, as if to give us a break before “Snap Your Fingers.” Even those who generally don’t dance were rocking out to Shira Elias’ enthusiastic singing, backed up nicely by Dave Brandwein and Sammi, as well as the fabulous horn section. Chris Brouwers delivered first-class trumpeting, impressively done while one hand was playing keys.
The first set could have worthily ended here, but Josh Schwartz took a break from his glowingly guttural baritone sax to share his radiantly raspy voice with us on Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright,” a song that Turkuaz seemed meant to cover. Now, Mike Carubba’s percussion was stellar throughout, but I noticed during this song how securely he holds down the rhythm.
The last song of the set, “The Rules,” announced Taylor Shell’s reputable bass more prominently, giving the song an old-school funky quality. Buffalo guitarist Mike Gantzer, of Aqueous, was called to the stage to do his signature shredding for the first sit-in of the night, an improv received well by all and a great end to the first set.
Set two opened with fan favorite “Chatte Lunatique,” which gave us some more vocal time with Dave Brandwein, partly in French, no less, while Craig Brodhead did some strident guitar playing. The two swathed their respective playing together, and so well.
Mike Carubba, himself from Buffalo, elegantly pounded away on the drums for a good couple of minutes during “Lookin’ Tough, Feelin’ Good,” before the band brought up fellow Buffalo native Eric Crittenden to massacre us with his saxophone. His playing was elevated yet compact, hitting some crazy notes during a very sweet “Dollar Bill.”
Buffalo shows often have killer sit-ins, and it’s great not only to see the additions and ensuing inventiveness, but also the reverence, camaraderie, and support amongst fellow musicians. It’s the kind of stuff that usually happens at festivals, but we get it at many of our local shows and we were pleased that Turkuaz was keen to make it so at this one, too.
Now, I may be biased because I got my requested “Club Foot,” but I’m quite certain the rest of the audience loved it as much as I did and that the loudest of the many enthusiastic responses was after that song. It was such a well-done, funky tune, and the group’s collaborative efforts were shone once again.
Turkuaz of course finished strongly, the last two songs of the set becoming my new favorites. We wished they could’ve played more, even after an encore that still managed to blow our minds. Luckily for us, Turkuaz are embarking on another extensive tour and will likely be adding more dates. I will drive as far as I can to catch another show. Thanks again for a total blast, Turkuaz! (Be on the lookout for the new album, because it is seriously off the hook.)