Marc Brownstein of Disco Biscuits: "I feel like we are the best we have been in years"
As Bisco Inferno looms ahead of us this weekend, we had a chance to speak with Disco Biscuits bassist Marc Brownstein about what it takes to make a happy life and a happy band. Full of enthusiasm and positivity. Brownstein shed a new light on the future of the Biscuits and why he thinks they are currently the best they have been in years.
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Westword: How'd the haircut turn out? Getting cleaned up for Colorado?
Marc Brownstein: Looking good, looking good. Unfortunately, it wasn't for you, Colorado, it was for my wife, who has been bugging me for like three weeks now. If it wasn't for her bugging me to get a haircut, I would probably have long hair, and that would not be good for anybody. Honestly, she's just looking out for everyone's best interests. I don't see it, so she'll just say "It's time." "Time for what?" "A HAIRCUT!"
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Just now at the barbershop everyone was talking about their wives, this and that, asking if anyone had the secret to keeping their wives' happy. I stood up and said "This -- this is my secret." My secret is, if my wife tells me to do it, I do it. If my wife tells me not to do it, I don't do it. All the money I make when I go out to work, I give it to my wife, because I trust her. If you follow those three simple rules, I think you get through everything. But that's me, I have the best wife in the world so I feel like if I live my life by those three simple rules, everything is going to turn out great.
Happy wife, happy life! We are really excited about Bisco Inferno this week, I love getting the two intimate nights of the Ogden then the big laser hurrah at 1STBANK to cap it off. Do you go about the shows any differently?
We approach every show the same, whether it's the bigger show or smaller show; it's all about listening. The songs that we choose, they get picked based on where we are in our rotation, and we aren't really thinking, "what songs will be better for the Ogden," versus "what songs will be better for 1STBANK."
It's mostly what songs are better for the fans at that moment. We're always thinking mostly about the fans, because a lot of the kids, now when we are only playing 25-30 shows a year, a lot of these kids go to every single show. They go to all of the runs. There's nobody missing Mississippi, no one is missing Kansas because those shows don't exist. They go to Chicago, they go to Denver, they go to New York, they go to Philly
As much as people complain that we don't work, it probably works out better for the fans who get to come, they don't have to get in their car and drive to the city we are in the next night. It's a lot safer, for me. That's a big issue, fan safety. Like having these kids go to the show, they party all night, and then we have to move from Boston to New York the next night, some of them leave in the middle of the night, some of them get a couple hours of sleep and leave.
Now we go four or five nights, one place, everyone goes back to their hotel, nobody is driving under the influence -- it's just a safer situation, and a lot of these kids, they go to all the shows, so I have to think about that first and foremost. "What did we just play in New York?" That's going to be a big part of what gets played in Denver. We will play some of the stuff we played in New York, but I might cross check what we played in New York and Colorado recently.
I just want to make sure we are putting out fresh shows for people first and foremost. For me, it's about "is the band listening to each other? Can we hear each other well?" -- that's the kind of stuff that doesn't matter once you are off the stage. For me, it's all about what's happening on that stage, it could be 5,000 or 500 people, and we are going to treat them the same.
While there has been grumbling about less tour dates, people also notice that you are playing fantastically.
Yeah, we are playing much better than we would be playing if we were on tour, I can guarantee you that. And I know that they are saying "well, they need to get out on tour and keep playing all the time to keep the momentum." First of all, the whole idea is that we are finding a balance so that we can exist for a long time. We have been in this band eighteen years; lots of bands don't even last five years. I always like to say The Beatles, the greatest band of all time, was only together for ten years!
Whatever we get past here, we are playing with house money at this point. We've gotten this far, so for us it's about longevity. We're all getting to our late thirties -- I'm forty. Now in terms of us being in shape to play, Aron and I are on tour with Conspirator, so we are fired up and ready to go at any given time. John's warmed up and ready to play, and no one practices more than Allen. We just have a really, really good balance right now. It's really good. I'm really happy with doing three shows, taking a month off then doing another three shows. It's working out really well for us and our personal lives.
Everyone's happy; nobody's burned out, and that leads to us playing better. I don't hype shit up when I'm not feeling it, I'm hyping it up now because I am really feeling it. I feel like 2013 was one of the best years we have ever played, in terms of consistency, and when we take a breath and take a step back, people are really going to see it was a great year for the Disco Biscuits, and hopefully we will ride that momentum into 2014. Because God knows, in 2001, 20002, we were able to carry the momentum from 1999 into that. There is no reason we can't have five years of really great playing right now, and if we keep the balance, it could be indefinite.
With Conspirator being established now and you having a great outlet for more electronic ideas, it seems as though the Disco Biscuits sound has gotten more pure. Would you say the same?
That's exactly right. You're exactly right. Now that Aron and I have explored the electronic side of music, we don't feel as compelled to force the Disco Biscuits to be something that it's not. I'm much more comfortable with the Biscuits just being a jam band. We play electronic music, but we have an outlet outside of that to do what was really inspiring us in the mid-2000s. So when you say the Biscuits feel more pure now, that's how I feel about it as well.
I feel like we are the best we have been in years precisely because of what you pointed out. We got this chance to go do this other thing that is super electro, and now we are not trying to push the Biscuits in a specific direction. Can the Biscuits be at any given moment much more electronic, or much more rock?
Yes, but I feel like for a couple years I had a hang-up about it. There was this whole new scene of electronic bands. Everyone was getting more electronic; the fan base was into the electronic stuff, not so much the rock and roll anymore. It felt like the landscape was changing, moving toward electronic music, and I felt like I was hung up on it and really concerned about the Biscuits staying current and not being left behind, but now I see it differently.
The Biscuits are the Biscuits, and I'm just as happy to get up on stage and open the show with a "Eulogy" or just play the rock stuff and play it well and not try to force it to be something different, just be ourselves. We are the best we've been in years because we are just being ourselves, and you are your best when you are comfortable.
Conspirator is popular on Jam Cruise, do you ever see Disco Biscuits back on Jam Cruise?
The easiest answer is that I can see it happening; I can definitely see it happening. I don't know what the Biscuits are going to do is my best answer, since I don't decide where we play or when we play. I never thought we were going to play Phoenix. We actually have this fan in Phoenix whose always hoping for a Phoenix show. I was finally like, "Dude, hate to break it to you, but I really can't see us playing in your area," and then two minutes later we are playing in Phoenix! Nothing makes me happier than when we go play somewhere that's a surprise like that. I know how much it makes the fans happy.
Oh I know, I grew up in Texas. We got passed by everybody.
Haha. I just passed up Houston! We were playing New Orleans with Conspirator and then Austin and Dallas, and my brother lives in Houston. I'd love to play there.
Are you going to be at any of the after parties in Denver?
I definitely am going to go to the after parties. I'm really excited for both of them, actually. They put together two cool parties and somehow managed to rope Magner, Barber and Allen into doing them. Excellent. I don't know how they figured out how to do that, but it doesn't get better than getting the guys from the band to play the after party!
Veering into a different subject: Since it's an election year, how are things going with HeadCount?
It's going really well, we are ramping up for this year. We had a really, really successful last election cycle; people are feeling really good about it. The hard part is raising money in the off years. That's where we spend time figuring out how to raise money to keep the organization alive until we are back in voter registration time.
We debate the whole year -- are we going to get into issues, or stay as just voter registration? There's an internal collective of really heady brains that come together, and it's really fun to talk to these people because some are at the top of the music industry, and some are more in the political sphere. And I just get to sit back and listen to some of the smartest people putting their opinions out there.
I'll end the interview on a lighter note. After the Phish Hampton 2009 run, you ate at a Cracker Barrel. What did you order?
I ate at a Cracker Barrel?! [laughter] At Cracker Barrel, I always order the grilled chicken tenders. It is crack. They put the crack back in Cracker Barrel.
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