What’s Around the Corner for Fuzz
Guitarist James "Fuzz" Sangiovanni is best known as the shirtless guitarist for Deep Banana Blackout. With an indefinite hiatus looming on the horizon for that band, Fuzz is busy working on a variety of projects from Mike Clark's Funk All*Stars to All Stripped Down to a new solo album. (He was also scheduled to perform with the Tom Tom Club this fall, although the tour was eventually canceled.) We recently chatted with Fuzz, while he was running around the house, preparing for a gig.
JW: Why don’t we start with Deep Banana Blackout and how you came to the decision to take a break and what it means for the band at this point in time.
Fuzz: Well I think we were leaning up to that decision, even starting as far back as a year ago. Our first thought was to just sort of slow things down in the New Year because by the end of 2001, we had such a busy year. We went over to Japan a few times, toured with the Allman Brothers, went out and did a really long tour with the bus, which is something we hadn't really done too much of in the past, we made a record, as well as just our regular, rigorous tour schedule. At that point in our career, we were just really spent on working together as a band, so we decided to sort of slow it down for the New Year. We're such a big band, throughout the years we've incurred a lot of debt because it costs a lot to keep us out on the road. We were making money, but we were also spending money and we weren't realizing that sometimes the expenditures were going higher than the earnings. Though we were paying ourselves so we could live off the band and the business, the company itself was getting a little into the red. So we decided to not do as much touring so we could just try to even that out and take a break. By the middle of this year, in the summertime, it really just seemed like what we needed to do was take a full-on break because [drummer] Eric [Kalb] was putting in his notice to move on and he wasn't sure if he was going to be able to do this past the New Year. We were sort of running through the same stuff and doing all this touring and just wondering where this was all going. With that kind of mentality it just felt like maybe we really needed to take a break, because what this band was based on was a lot of energy and enthusiasm and that was usually the source of all our music. If it's anything less than that, we owe it to ourselves and to our fans to not force it if it's not going to be right.
When we go out now, I still feel like we can give it the magic that it needs, but I feel like if we keep pushing it any further into the New Year, we may start to really lose some of that edge that we had and I'd rather not see it go that way and have people feel like we're not as good as we used be. So before it gets to that point, we just decided to take a break. It's been seven years and we just figured that we've never taken a break for an entire season and other bands do that, but never did. We've just toured and toured and toured.
JW: So how did you leave things, pretty open-ended?
Fuzz: Yeah, we kind of left it open-ended. I've been kind of throwing things out there like maybe we'll come out to do something for the summertime and festival season or maybe we'd want to hit Jazz Fest because that's always been a favorite of ours. All that stuff is just kind of talk. It's not really any real plans. We're just going to get away from it and not think about it and when we come back, we'll have a much more refreshed vibe I think.
JW: What do you plan to do during the time off?
Fuzz: For starters, I've been in the process of making a new record for myself since the summertime, but it's been a slow process because I'm always touring and whatnot. It's three quarters of the way done. I'm hoping that it will be done early next year. I think it's a much different record than the last record I did and kind of different from what Deep Banana has done. It's a little bit more of a bluesy-rock kind of sound and a little bit more of a guitar-oriented thing even though it will have a lot of the same elements: the horns and the gospel, soulful vocal stuff and the funk edge. But it's going to have a little bit more solid song structure. I don't want to use the word pop, but it's going to be more song-oriented.
JW: Do you have a solid line-up for that or are there different players on different tracks?
Fuzz: There are different players. The drummer is Andy Sanesi. He's the guy that played on The Bomb Squad record. Ben [Lefevre] is the bass player and we're talking about including some other Deep Banana members as well. Right now, Ben and I have been collaborating on it for the most part. We had a few days of studio time that were given to me for free, so I kind of jumped on that. That was the initial spark. All of this music was music I had been writing for the last six months to a year.
JW: And you haven’t played any of those with Deep Banana?
Fuzz: No, we haven't played any of them and partially because they might be a little too rock sounding. So I've just been writing them on my own and they sound cool even when it's just me and a guitar. A lot of them were written when I'd just go down to the woods or the beach with a guitar and strumming along and playing some bluesy R & B type of stuff. When the studio time became available I told Ben that we should go in a record these tunes that I had been writing. We just thought of Andy because it would be something different and it was right around the time that Eric put in his notice to leave the band. So I thought we should get a different drummer and Andy's a guy that I really like because I think his playing is really solid. The record is more of a rock thing than what I've heard Andy play. He's got a great groove so I thought he'd be the perfect guy. He's grooving, but he's rocking. So now, the layers are going on top and I've got different people in mind. So far, it's just been all guitar, bass, drums and vocals that I've been putting down. It's going to be some of the same people that played on my last record.
JW: You mentioned Eric leaving the band. Do you think he’ll be playing with Deep Banana when the band reunites?
Fuzz: Well that's kind of the big question in mind. I don't know what his plans are. Because we're taking this hiatus, I feel like it may actually salvage the relationship. If we were going to keep going without him, obviously we'd still be Deep Banana Blackout with a new drummer. When he was planning on leaving, will be our last date until further notice.
JW: New Year’s.
Fuzz: Yeah, New Year's will be it for a while. So what I'm thinking is maybe as time goes by…I think for him, he's got lots of other issues attached to being in the band with us. Having been with Jen [Durkin, former lead singer] and now they're not together anymore, that's been one big soap opera. It's been kind of tough for him and I understand that. So coupled with the whole question of what are we doing here?' for him it's been a little disheartening and I think he just felt like it was time for him to move on. I think as time passing, there might be a good chance that he'll come around with that.
JW: Does he have other musical projects in mind?
Fuzz: He's working on a couple things. I mean, Eric's also very cool with hanging around as the local cat and playing with a lot of different guys on the scene in the Tri-state area and doing that sort of thing. He's also working on something that sounds sort of interesting. I don't know if it's happening yet or if it's gonna happen. I haven't been updated on it. He's working on doing something with Adrian Belew and Les Claypool in a little trio thing. They're looking to do something, those two guys, and they were looking for a drummer and I think Eric's name got mentioned, so they're trying to see if they can make that happen. That ought to be an interesting project. Eric would be psyched if that happens.
JW: How did the shows with Mike Clark go?
Fuzz: They were great. It was a killer line-up. I think we really dug in. It was great playing with Mike Clark. He's a really intense drummer. I describe it like a rollercoaster because it seems like at any given time [he's] gonna jab or take a big drop. You just have to be prepared for any sudden change in direction and I felt like I had to really focus and lock in." Him and Tracy, the bass player really locked in and Robert [Walter's] played with him a shitload of times so they had a good groove together already. For me I was just kind of finding my way through it all and staying in the pocket. We had some killer horns: Fred Wesley and John Ellis were just amazing, playing shit all night.
JW: Now is this an ongoing project? Do you think you’ll do any more shows with that line-up?
Fuzz: I get the feeling that we'll do more. I know Robert's got some shit coming up. His wife is pregnant and she's due in March or something like that, so he's gonna be kind of wrapped up through the first quarter of next year. The last few times I've talked to Mike, he's said he wants to try to do some more stuff together. We'll see who's up for it. It seems like the Mike Clark band could incorporate anybody in any kind of style. So I could see myself doing more gigs with Mike, especially since we only live an hour apart from each other. Doing stuff in New York and New England, there's probably a pretty good chance of that happening. We talked about doing some stuff with Ron Levy too. We talked about maybe even doing some stuff with just the three of us.
JW: What happed with the Tom Tom Club tour being canceled? You were going to go out with them for a string of dates.
Fuzz: Yeah unfortunately it's tough to take such a big band out on the road these days They ran into the same kind of problems that we've had with Deep Banana. They It's tough these days. Trios are the way to go [laughs]. So we're talking about doing something together in the New Year. They want to do the SnoCore tour. I may be doing that with them depending on the timing of it all. Nothings set in stone though. I mean, as of right now, the things that I'm looking to do in the New Year are things like that. If something cool comes up, whether it's shows with Mike Clark or shows with Tom Tom Club, or I'm talking about doing some stuff with Dave Watts from The Motet. He's always keen on putting different things together. He had the Theory of Everything shows that he's done. He wants to do more stuff like that, have me come out to Colorado possibly sometime late in January for those kind of shows.
Basically I'm just trying to finish this record. As soon as it's done I'm going to try to put together a live line-up and also get the record out. I'm going to see if I can get some label interest in it as well. For me personally, it's definitely the best stuff I've ever come up with. I think you guys are gonna love it. It's like Otis Redding meets Jimi Hendrix.
JW: You know duos are even cheaper than trios on the road. What’s going on with All Stripped Down [Fuzz and Stephen Kellogg]?
Fuzz: [laughs] Steve and I have both been like racking out brains, going crazy doing our own things. That's another thing we'll be doing a lot more of in the New Year. Steve and I will be going out, doing some more shows for sure.
JW: Do you ever road-test any of your new solo material with him?
Fuzz: Yeah, a little bit. We've kind of gone around New England. We had a great show up in Burlington [VT] last month. It's fun to see different people who haven't seen us before. They come out and check it out and they're responsive. It's not always what they're expecting. You know, it's pretty much almost 50% comedy. So it's a pleasant surprise. Usually we get em laughing by the second or third song.