The technology-enhanced jam band Papadosio, which is playing at Red Rocks this Saturday, recently released a series of improvisational YouTube videos directed at fans of ambient grooves, music tech enthusiasts and gear-focused musicians. The videos explore some of the ways the group uses modular synthesizers, MIDI controllers, pedals, sequencers and other devices to construct different soundscapes on stage, and how these effects shape their often ethereal-sounding explorations. Westword spoke with Papadosio guitarist Anthony Thogmartin (guitars, vocals and synth), who recently designed his own patch synthesizer and, together with bandmate Sam Brouse (keys and vocals), taught some students how to use Ableton Live music sequencing software through a program called Seed to Stage.
Westword caught up with Thogmartin ahead of the Red Rocks show.
Westword: Where are you at the moment?
Anthony Thogmartin: I'm calling from Asheville, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
Didn't Papadosio start in Athens, Ohio?
Yeah, we were all from different corners of Ohio originally, but we've been operating out of North Carolina for about ten years now.
Are you still on the road for about 150 shows a year?
Yeah, give or take — though now we're focusing on doing fewer but larger shows like Red Rocks and the Pigsah Brewing Company show near Asheville, and the Resonance Music Festival, which just moved into eastern Pennsylvania in a very beautiful spot.
How old are you all?
We're in our thirties.
Did you first meet in Ohio?
Yeah, I'm from a town called Lancaster. I was a townie. The other guys were going to school in Athens. We met because we all frequented an open jam every Wednesday night at a small local bar. We did it every week for a few years. There were about twenty musicians in circulation who were playing there. Eventually we said, "Hey, let's try to write some music," and the band kind of came out of that [in 2006].
Did you always play electronic-oriented music?
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I remember when I first met Billy [Brouse], our keyboardist, and looked through his CD case. He had stuff by Phish and Nine Inch Nails and Aphex Twin. It was a collection of music that spanned a bunch of genres. That kind of variety is representative of what we try to do. We've always tried to not have a filter. I suppose a lot of our direction ends up being electronic. Nowadays, everyone has an electronic element to their show. Even a bluegrass band will have lots of technology that assists them. It's a technological world.
We've made house music, IDM (intelligent dance music) and EDM. We like music with a lot of weird random complexity happening. A lot of the music we make on stage may seem like it's a static sound, but we're using things such as probability to change the way that sounds are played through sequencers. It's a pretty nerdy thing, but it's part of what we do. It's hard to ascribe what we do to a certain genre. It just depends on the day. What are we feeling today? What are we coming up with today? The lack of a filter has been our genre. We might do an acoustic song, and then the next song in the set could be a house dance track. We're just trying to explore as much as possible.
What's the instrumentation in the band?
We have a drummer who can play his set in addition to a collection of samples he has on his sampler; and we have a key player who focuses on piano but who can also play synths and samples; and a synthesizer player who can play synth but can also play keys, pads and samples; a bass player who can play either a synth with his feet or bass with his hands or bass samples; and my world is guitar but also synthesizers. Basically everyone has the ability to change their world to suit whatever the song we're trying to do is. Everyone sings except for the drummer — who knows how to sing, but we keep the mic away from the drums to lower the amount of ambient sound and the number of mics on stage.
Do you ever just play your guitar clean through an amp?
Yeah, we have a song called "Holy Heck" that sounds sort of like a Weezer song or something. Our songs can be complex or they can be simple, depending on what is called for.
Who were some of your early influences? Were you into Sound Tribe Sector 9 or bands like that?
We saw that band back in the day and thought it was interesting that people were using technology and laptops on stage, though they wouldn't have been as much of an influence on us as, say, Aphex Twin, who is actually just one guy [Richard David James] from the U.K., or Radiohead. Those artists had a huge influence on us as a band.
I listened to a lot of Beck growing up, and a lot of Tool. We were booked at festivals pretty quickly because we played improvised music, which is why I think we have also been embraced by the jam community. But people coming to the show looking to hear wah pedals and songs named after food items might not necessarily get what they expect — though of course we're grateful for the support of all the people who come to see us.
Where did the band name come from?
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We had a dry-erase board in our apartment, and we were putting up names on the board to see what people liked the most. The revolving door of people who passed through the apartment gave the most votes to Papadosio. Nothing came up on the search engines when we searched it, so it felt like a good thing to stick with. I wanted to call us the Worst, so that we could do a "Best of" album.
How many times have you played at Red Rocks?
This will actually be our sixth time there.
Papadosio and The Polish Ambassador featuring Wildlight with Random Rab and the Penumbra Live Band, 7 p.m. Saturday, May 11, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, $39.
Correction: May 10, 2019: The May 11 concert will not be Papadosio's first time playing Red Rocks, as an earlier version of this story stated, based on inaccurate information from the group's publicist. We regret the error.