They say today’s music looks to the past to move forward, but does it really? In a sense, sure – Daft Punk and Robin Thicke scored the biggest hits of the summer by embracing 1970s pop textures. But perhaps we’re not moving forward at all. Just take a listen to Pharrell’s new LP: the bass lines squirm almost as adeptly as those off of Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions,” the Fender Rhodes lays down chord progressions straight out of Jamiriquai’s book of majestic pop harmony, and the production is clinical enough to suggest Pharrell was genetically engineered by a team of marketing executives as an embodiment of the cool you feel when you wear salmon-colored slacks. Awful, awful stuff. “Gap” commercial fodder.
Alas, we move in circles. “Get Lucky,” the genuinely wonderful treasure that it was, represented a blip – a blip of retro-future freakiness from the pop machine which, thanks to the convergence of social media and music streaming platforms, is already being synthesized into the mainstream transcript as next year’s poison. Such is life and decay. So why don’t we take our eyes off the data and dance?
This is the kind of attitude that Turkuaz, a 9-peice, Brooklyn-based dance outfit, holds. The band combines elements of ‘60s Mowtown and ‘70s freak-funk in a live experience that’s as zany as something a conservative and settled-down Wayne Coyne might devise. While a visit to the band’s website could provide the curious outsider with all the information on influences he could need, for Turkuaz, influences are slightly beside the point. Sure, they’re important – as the adage goes, “We’re standing on the shoulders of giants.” However, a Turkuaz experience is really about communication – communication between a bunch of musicians whose freewheeling love for notes and sounds is so urgent it could change the world, communication between a band and an audience that shares a common susceptibility to the tug of a bass drum, communication as a vehicle for transcending life’s stupid distractions. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dave Brandwein, guitarist, vocalist and programmer for Turkuaz, where we discussed album covers, touring, and whit it mans to reach out to an audience.
Jeff Howard: Why don’t we start off talking about your new release, “Future 86,” – it just dropped on April 1 of this year. I got a sense that you guys are bringing together a lot of different eras of funk music but also ‘60s soul and R&B music. It was a wide range of sounds, but it also felt really fresh. From your point of view, what does “Future 86” mean for Turkuaz?
Dave Brandwein: This album, for us, was made during the process of us really becoming a live, touring band. When we started the record, about a year and a half ago, we were maybe playing something like 40 or 50 shows a year, mostly around the Northeast. We really hit the road during this period of time so it was kind of done in between tours – now we’re up to 180 shows a year. So, I think it’s symbolic of us becoming a real touring, live band. You can hear that on the record. It’s a little bit more of a live, rock kind of sound than stuff we’ve done before. Also, with our lineup being finalized, we had some changing casts of characters before the band was touring a whole bunch. I think this is just us really coming into ourselves for the first time.
JH: I can tell that the live experience is a really integral part of the band. I was watching your videos, and while on one level the music was really tight and vibrant, I also noticed that with your colorful jumpsuits and stage presence, you guys create a really celebratory and all-encompassing experience. What kind of atmosphere do you guys try to achieve at a live show?
DB: Well, we really feel like, wherever we go, whatever the atmosphere, whether it’s a festival or a club or a ballroom, we really do try to make it a party atmosphere where people can have fun and let loose a little bit no matter what’s going on in their everyday lives. We see a lot of people who come and they’ll even see us multiple times in a week or in a tour. I think it really does somehow give them an opportunity to forget whatever else is going on in their lives and just have a good time – a lot of dancing. Some people like to drink and party and I think other people just genuinely go for the music. I think what you said before is very accurate – it’s definitely “celebratory” what we’re always going for.
JH: I read your tagline on Twitter: “Turn your speakers up loud, and get as freaky as you want to be. To dance is a protection, funk is your connection, so don’t forget that shit.” I think that says a lot right there.
DB: It speaks a lot to the stage presence of all the band members. I think everybody, especially the horn players and the girls, help the crowd feel excited and get involved – they’re dancing, they’re smiling, they’re having a good time. That certainly gives the crowd license to do the same. We’ve been in plenty of situations where we start off and the room is a little cold feeling and people are just a little bit timid. Generally, by the end of a set of our music we loosen people up quite a bit.
JH: I noticed you guys are playing dates with Alan Evans, the drummer of Soulive. You also have dates with Spiritual Rez, Jimkata and, if I’m not mistaken, your drummer was previously a member of the band Dopapod. It seems like you guys have connections with the jam band community – is that fair to say?
DB:Definitely. A long time ago, we didn’t consider ourselves anything close to a jam band. We weren’t playing as much live, we didn’t stretch our songs and we didn’t “jam” quite as much as
we do now. But I think it’s a little bit of a natural progression that we still don’t consider ourselves a jam band, but we realized after a while that that is a scene where there’s such appreciation of music and such fans of music. That’s sort of where the live music scene is thriving, in some ways, these days. A lot of us don’t really listen to jam bands, we don’t consider ourselves one, but I think that we’re definitely in that family – we’re really good friends with the guys in Dopapod. Alan Evans too – they jam and improvise, but Alan’s new project is really a rock band, which is really awesome, for those who haven’t seen it.
JH: I’m looking at your “Future 86” album cover – I actually have the physical copy right here. The cover itself has the desolate, ghost-town kind of thing going on, which seemed like an interesting choice for a party band. What was your inspiration for the album cover?
DB: Again, because this album was really conceived of and created while we were touring so much. On the one hand, it was frustrating because we were trying to get long blocks in the studio, but on the other hand, it was great because we were continuing to let the songs evolve and get better through playing them live as we worked on them. Really, again, the live show was the prominent thing at this period of time and, as you can probably guess, most of our time is spent on the road, traveling. We think we traveled something like 80,000 miles in the van in 2013, while we were making that record. So the open road and the mirror kind of ended up being symbolic of the act of touring, driving around, and the cyclical nature of time, which some people have interpreted “Future 86” has to do with. Actually, “Future 86” is the name of a stretch of road on Route 17 in New York State. You drive all along this road and there’re all these signs that say “Future 86,” which we always found so weird (laughs). It just ended up being a good name for the album. There are road signs that say “Future 86,” but we didn’t wind up using them for the cover – we actually wound up using a Route 66 photo. That photo was actually taken in Southern California somewhere. So that was the origin of the name originally, and we customized the cover to be a little more visually appealing.
JH: It makes sense. You guys are a party band, but the cover offers a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes, so to speak. Now, you guys are playing Rochester’s Montage Music Hall on April 17. Are you looking forward to this?
DB: We are really looking forward to it. We have not played in Rochester for such a long time now because our last show at Water Street got cancelled and we’ve been trying to reschedule for a while. We were out West for the whole beginning of the year so it was really hard to find the time to do it. We were just way overdue – Rochester’s always been one of our favorite places to play. We were playing there pretty early on, even before we toured nationally; that was one of the places we’d specifically go, one of the four or five places we’d always make sure to go to a few times a year. It’s been a really important place to us for a while and we really can’t wait to get back, it’s been way too long.
JH: I can’t wait to see you guys there, it’s going to be an awesome show. That covers everything on my end. Before we finish is there anything you want to add?
DB: Just to let people know the album’s out now, it’s on iTunes, you can also get it on our website along with other releases that are only on our website. Always check back for tour dates, we’re always adding more dates. Definitely come out to the show, it’s going to be a good time.
Turkuaz will be performing at Rochester’s “Montage Music Hall” on April 17th. The band’s new album, “Future 86”, is out now on iTunes. For more information on Turkuaz, visit turkuazband.com.
Howard is a member of
the class of 2017.