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Published: 2004/03/30
by Mike Greenhaus

MB2: Marc Brownstein Segues Between Earth and Bisco

Marc Brownstein likes to sample his songs. Segueing between the Disco Biscuits, Electron, JM2, and his newest side project Laverneus Cool, Brownstein has grown accustomed to reinterpreting his songs in different settings—-rearranging his compositions like a DJ sampling records at a rave. For almost ten years, the Disco Biscuits have been at the center of Jam-rock's trance fusion movement, aligned closely with fellow electronic-minded live bands like the New Deal, the Ally, Brothers Past, Lotus, and Sound Tribe Sector 9. In fact, during the Disco Biscuits' inverted New Years run, Brownstein birthed the trance fusion super group JM2, which includes former Ally drummer Mike Greenfield, New Deal Keyboardist Jamie Shields, and Biscuits' guitarist Jon Gutwillig. During his birthday weekend this April, Brownie will also keep busy, resurrecting the original incarnation of side project Electron for a performance at BB King's Blues Club (April 10) and debuting his newest quartet Laverneus Cool at this spring's Syn party (April 9). Featuring moe. guitarist Al Schnier, Shields, and Electron drummer Joe Russo, Laverneus Cool will be a true improvisational experience, collecting four musicians who have never shared the stage together as a quartet.

Following his performance with rapper Slick Rick at the Jammys, and a guest-laden late night jam session with JM2, Brownie gave his forecast for the future of Electron, his newest studio sessions, and the Disco Biscuits' current tour plans. And, once and for all, he also set the record straight on how Biscuit kids should wear their hats.

Currently, you’re working on some new tracks in the studio. Do you hope to release these studio sessions as part of a new Disco Biscuits album?

Not necessarily. Right now it's just me and [DB keyboardist Aron] Magner in the studio and we're having all the drum beats done by an electronic producer. We haven't decided what we're going to do with it. We might release a Biscuits album Outkast style, with individual works by the different guys in the band and have that be the new Biscuits' album. Personally, I think we are moving away from trying to recreate in the studio what the Biscuits do live. Right now, we are all doing four or five day shifts. We are in different studios, but everyone in the band is recording now.

What sparked your decision to return to the studio?

We decided to take a couple of months off from the band and everyone wanted to do some studio work, but we didn't want to go through the quandary of trying to recreate what the Biscuits do live in the studio again. We've already tried to do that and we've already tried not to do it. We've even tried to do it again and tried not to do it again. With the Biscuits' albums it's always a quandary we're in: What we do live isn't recreatable in the studiowithout the crowd and the vibe. So what we have started to do is put out Trance Fusion Radios: to multi-track every show we play and put Biscuits albums out that way. We go back and overdub the Trance Fusion Radios in the studio, so they are sort of hybrid studio/live discs. We redo the vocals and stuff. We're definitely not ashamed about it. We're trying to put out the best product possible.

What are your current studio experiments like?

We're taking some electronic Biscuits songs and making full electronic versions of them. Right now we've got some Biscuits songs and some non-Biscuits songs and we're making a hybrid album. It's an electronic album, a little bit Perfume style. Right now there is no guitar on the record it’s all computers, synthesizers, sequencers, and samplers. We’re taking some songs and recreating them completely and doing some songs kind of how the Biscuits do them. It’s sort of the next logical step, from say, a Perfume style album, which was us doing electronic drums and then playing baselines or guitar lines. Now what I am doing is programming bass lines and using sequences instead of guitar lines. There is a distinct possibility that this is going to be a solo album, or this could be a Biscuits album. I also know Moshi Moshi is doing a record. There is also a possibility that this is going to be part of a greater project like Outkast's new disc.

This spring, you are reuniting the original Electron lineup. What songs are going to be included in your set list?

We're going to revitalize the Electron set. We're also going to bring some of my newer Biscuit songs into the Electron set. I'd like to reinterpret some of my newer songs electronically in the studio and with different players, like the guys in Electron. It's always fun for me to see different musicians take on the same compositions. I always get a slightly different guitar line from Tommy [Hamilton] and a different drum line from Joe [Russo]. It's fun to do. For me, Electron is a way for me to play my songs when the Biscuits aren't on tour.

That’s especially interesting because many of your current Disco Biscuits staples were originally intended to be part of Electron’s set.

Exactly. That's part of the thing about Electron. Electron is a subdivision of the Biscuits culture. You're extracting certain things out of the Biscuits set and bringing them to Electron. In reverse of that, the situation that stood at the very beginning of Electron is that I was writing a lot of songs for Electron and then bringing them back to the Biscuits set. I am like that as an artist. I like to play my songs in different forms and do them differently in the studio and differently with those guys and these guys. I like to reinterpret things.

Yet, you seem to keep a non- variable in your side projects, whether it’s Jon playing in JM2 or Aron playing in Electron.

It's great because we are so accustomed to playing with each other, whether it is me and Magner or me and Jon. There is a foundation there—an understanding. There is a level of communication that has been going on for almost ten years. It makes it a little easier when you're coming to a new project to have that sort of a camaraderie. It definitely makes it easier to make the music tighter when there is someone there that you know under all circumstances. The great thing about JM2 is that I have complete faith with Jon, Jamie [Shields], and Mike [Greenfield] that the musical conversation we create is as tight as the conversation we have with the Disco Biscuits. The reason we put JM2 together is that there is a natural understanding there between us. We didn't need ten years to get to that level. It's the same thing with Electron. Joe and Tommy have a very good understanding of the style of music I write. Whether it's JM2 or Electron, I've found I have as easy of a time, or even an easier time, with improvisation as I do with the Disco Biscuits. A lot of that has to do with the freshness of the situation. But the key here, with these guys, is that they are great listeners. Me and Barber know how to listen to each other. We know how to react to each other. We know how to imply what we are looking for with certain notes and harmonies. The worst thing in improvisation is having someone get up there and just play without listening.

Since the Ally’s disbandment, Mike Greenfield has been a frequent Disco Biscuits guest. Have you ever entertained the idea of adding him as a full-time touring member?

We haven't really talked about is as a band, but I've certainly considered it myself. I love Mike's drumming. He is so well practiced and has such a great feeling. He brings an inspirational exuberance anytime he plays with the Biscuits. It's elevated the music to a different level. There is a thickness that you can't get with one drummer. Putting Sammy and Mike together is just so intense.

People really seemed to respond to his performance at January’s Jeremy Wainland Benefit shows.

I think what people are reacting to is the intensity of having two amazing drummers working back and forth. It's such an exciting thing to have to two guys who love to play together behind the kit, rhythmically feeding off each other. It brings everyone up to a certain rhythmic level. Actually lots of Biscuit kids seem to ask me, "why is Mike playing with you so much? Why was he up there at the Jammys?" Ever since the Ally broke up there is just this guy we're really close friends withan insane drummerwho doesn't have his band. For me, it's a pleasure to have him come up at places like the Jammys. Mike's in school now, but I think it's disastrous for the music industry for a guy like Mike to be going back to school. There is no reason for it. I told him, "Quit school and jump in head first." He told me, "Tell me when JM2 tour starts and I'll do it that day."

Can fans expect JM2 to tour this summer?

We are going to do some JM2 shows in early July, right before my wife is giving birth. Our first offer just came in today actually and we are going to build a little tour around it.

How about the Disco Biscuits? Do you foresee the Biscuits touring as hard as you did in 2001 or 2002?

I think what I see us doing is making the best music possible to be made with the musicians we have available to us. We're going to serve our fan base with the best possible music we can give to them, depending on the circumstances. Right now, the circumstances are I am having a baby and I live out west and the other guys live out east right now. I am just not in a situation right now where I can leave for two or three months at a time. Years go by and years go by. There is always going to be time to go on huge tours and this just isn't the time. There is going to be a small Disco Biscuits toura four or five night run—-coming up in May. It's been a longtime in the waiting for us to take an extended break. We always promised ourselves in 2000 that we wouldn't go 3 or 4 years without an extended break. Whether it is a month or a year, we need to take off a serious amount of time to keep it fresh. We need to shift the focus away from Marc, Jon, Aron, and Sammy to make the best music for our fans. I think what makes the best music is taking a step back and concentrating on our personal ideas. If you listen to our albums, sometimes it's smooth from start to finish and sometimes it's a hodgepodge of styles. Certainly Senor Boombox was a hodgepodge. I love Senor Boombox, but I am not interested in putting out hodgepodges right now. It transverses five or six styles of music and for me doesn't have the flow it could have. That's what I am doing now. I am making an album that is going to flow from start to finish. Certain ideas are going to carry through the whole disc. It's going to have a certain sentiment both lyrically and musically.

Which of your Disco Biscuits’ compositions are you most proud of?

I think the newest stuff that I've come out with is the best stuff. I don't want to say that I am moving away from rock entirely, but for me the more electronic stuff—the "Caterpillars," the "Rock Candies," the "42s"—is the best. But, then again, I wrote "Therapy" this year and it's one of the best rock songs I've ever written.

At the Jammys, the Disco Biscuits were paired with rap-icon Slick Rick. How did you prepare for your performance with Rick?

You don't rehearse for the Jammys right [laughs]? We just learned how to play "La-di-da-di." We got together with Rick the night before the show and talked about the song a little bit. Up until the Snoop Dog version of it "La-di," there is no music behind it. So we got to improvise the music behind it.

Who was the coolest person you met at the Jammys?

Rick was the coolest person at the Jammys hands down. There is no one cooler than Rick. Now, [Relix Staffer] Barry Frank may be cooler than Rick, but it's a totally different type of cool. Have you ever seen someone with as much body armor on as Rick? I never have. The dude has diamonds on his eye patch. That having been said, it was nice to have Kate Hudson there. We were mulling around and I bumped into her a few times. That was nice, I'd like to bump into Kate Hudson any day. But it was also great to see Victor [Wooten] and Oteil [Burbridge]. As a bass player, it's always great to see them. It was really great to see Warren [Haynes] againI haven't seen him in like a year. That's amazing since he is everywhere, but I have been laying low. I love Warren so much. He is such a pussycat.

How did your collaborations with Slick Rick differ from your 2001 Jammys spot alongside John Popper and Stanley Jordan?

Slick Rick wasn't an improv situation. For us it was because we were improvising the music underneath, but Slick got on and performed the song and that's that. With Popper there was no practice. We just got on stage and told him what we were going to play and he just got on stage and played it with us. That was true improvisation. We did something different [this year] because Flav wasn't there and Rahzel wasn't there. We had a little extra time so we used it to play "Rock Candy." We said, "Why don't we give the Theater at MSG a little bit of what the Biscuits are about"show them why we are here in the first place. We got onstage and jammed electronic music. A lot of time at the Jammys you get onstage and play someone else's' songs or style of music.

How are you going to balance you preparation for Electron and Laverneus Cool?

With Electron, we are going to spend the week working on putting together an Electron show. At the Syn party, we are going to just get onstage and just play electronic music. Jamie has never played with Joe. Jamie has never played with Al. I have played with all three of these guys, and I have total faith in their musical abilities. There is a collective thing going on in our scene and it's independent of the thing going on in your Govt' Mule/Allman Brothers kind of world, which is a little bit older and little more well known. But there is a thing going on in the underground. There are a lot of guys who are becoming really skilled at playing over electronic beats and an electronic vibe. Over the last year, if anything has become clear, it's that these guys like to play together.

Tell us a bit about your connection to Yossi Piamenta, who played with JM2 at the Jammy’s post-party.

The Hasidic Hendrix! I had met Yoshi's brother Avi in Italy two summers ago. I was in Venice and met Avi Piamenta at a Kabbas event on Shabass. We were up there checking out the Jewish ghetto in Venice and ran into some people and they realized we were Jews. Our wedding had just passed and it was still within our bruchas. We went out to this party that they threw for us and Avi Piamenta was there. These guys are famous in Israel – rock stars. I kind of saved the day actually. They didn't know how to set the stage up for Avi. They had wires coming out of their payis. So when Yoshi came to us, I was like, "I got to do this." It worked out great and Billy [Nershi] got to use his equipment.

Had you ever performed with Bill Nershi before the Jammy’s post-party?

No, but we've crossed paths a lot. Billy is one of the top guys in the scene. I'm not just talking about musically. He's just a doll, such a wonderful guy, so positive. It's great to get to jam with him because it's such a different thing. Bringing a guy like that and putting him in an electronic setting is a totally different vibe. He was having fun and we were having fun. It was great. I saw Billy at the Jammys and invite him over and he came. We were surprised because it was so late. For the Jamband kids, it must have been a thrill because it was so unexpected.

What member of the Jamband community that you’ve never played with would you most like to collaborate with?

Warren. I love Warren. Personally I love Warren, professionally I love Warren, and artistically I love Warren. It's almost happened like five times because we've been on tour with Phil and Friends, but it's always a cluster-fuck in situations like that. I definitely regret that it hasn't happened yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if it isn't too long before we get Warren onstage.

If you weren’t a professional musician, what would you like to be?

If I wasn't a professional musician, I'd probably be a professional snowboarder. I'm not much of a day job kind of guy. I love to do artistic things and turn them into pleasure for me and other people. The thing I am artistically the best at outside music has got to be snowboarding. I make good snowboarding music too. I know we've been on a couple of surf compilations and videos.

Once and for all, what is the appropriate angle for a Biscuit Kid to turn their hat?

The appropriate angle would be at 0 degrees forward. But in the Biscuit scene, I started the cocked-hat thing and I think a 45-degree angle is right— 45-degrees in any direction that is.

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