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Published: 2004/05/29
by Mike Greenhaus

The Buzz on Big Fuzz

For Fuzz, Deep Banana Blackout's hiatus has been a time of growth. Jumping between jazz-fusion combos, acoustic settings, and a strange stint with the Tom Tom Club, Fuzz has played around with his trademark sound since Deep Banana peeled off the road in 2002. Recruiting longtime friends Rob Somerville (vocals & sax), Benj Lefevre (bass), Barry Seelen (organ), and Andy Sanesi (drums), Fuzz has also organically grown his own rock-based outfit, simply called Big Fuzz. Recently, the Connecticut based guitarist also released his latest album Exercising the Demons, a collection of rock songs and layered ballads recorded over the past two years. Sharpening his skills with each side project, Fuzz feels more confident then ever about his funk, gearing up for a busy summer in several settings. In the coming months, Fuzz will divide his time among solo-gigs, acoustic duets, and a pair of anticipated Deep Banana Blackout reunions.

Where did the idea for Exercising the Demons grow from?

We actually started the project quite a while ago—-the summer of 2002. Dave Shuman, who has worked on all the Deep Banana records with me, happened to have a friend in Sturbridge, MA who asked him to house sit. He also said he could use his studio whenever he wanted. He had this place for a couple of weeks and, at the time, I was writing a lot of this material. So we went and did all the basic tracks for free. We were gigging at the time with Deep Banana, so I basically found this four or five day period to record the tracks. Then he had to put it aside for a while, while I was busy touring and finishing out the year with Deep Banana. After Deep Banana went on hiatus, I found some studio space and did the overdubs and stuff.

Did any of these songs wet their feet onstage before you entered the studio?

No. The only live experience with the music was when I got together with Andy [Sanesi] and Ben [Lefevre] and the three of us played the material as a trioa sort of rock thing. We never performed it in front of an audience, but we played in the recording studio three or four times to get it gelling. We recorded in that fat little pad in Sturbridgewe stayed up there for like three or four days on this farm. We were basically living at the studio, hanging out, rehearsing, and recording.

What is your favorite track on the new disc?

"Never be the Same." I had never done anything like that beforeit's a very bluesy ballad. Not to mention the fact that it has a lot of different arrangements—-gospel choirs and what not. I wasn't sure how it was going to come out, but I was happy with the whole thing in general. Although, we can't bring the choir on tour [laughs].

How does Exercising the Demons gel with Deep Banana’s sound?

It's a bit of a change. I've gotten mostly good reaction from it, but some people have been a little surprised with it. The last CD I did solo had more of a jazz-funk feel, but this is what I am into at this point. I have really been focusing on songwriting, not funk and instrumental music. I hope people can enjoy it for that—-it's not Deep Banana. It's songs, the old R&B and Motown stuff done with a little edge. It's about everyday life.

How have you adapted your studio songs to live settings?

The live show is a little more like going to see Deep Banana. We're doing a lot of the old material as well to fill out the show. I also have some new songs I'm adding to the mix and we do the same covers as we did with Deep Banana. So I guess the show has a little of the funk-party feel. It's live and you want it to be a little exciting.

Exercising the Demons features several members of Deep Banana Blackout. Does your musical relationship with these players change depending on projects?

In a lot of ways, it's the same thing. The reason why those guys decided to work with me, and vice versa, is because we have always had this relationship where we appreciate each other's playing. It's a different dynamic, but basically it still feels like we are just a band together. They know that I am trying to push the music in some new directions, but, in a lot of ways, it's the same old bag [laughs]. We are just moving forward. It's definitely a new thing for me because my role in this setting is a bit different than in Deep Banana. It's more on me to carry the torch [laughs].

What’s the current status of Deep Banana Blackout?

We have a few things coming up. We just did a private function at this school and are doing Gathering of the Vibes [in Mariaville, NY] and Rynborn Blues & Funk Festival in New Hampshire. This is the Jen [Durkin] version of Deep Banana Blackout. Originally, we called hiatus at the end of 2002 feeling that the band ran its course then. Then we started getting a few offers. I think the first things that came up were Jazz Fest in New Orleans and Gathering of the Vibes. They were both asking, "Do you think Deep Banana would want to get back together to do a show?" My initial thought was, "We just called the hiatus, so it's kind of silly." But then I thought maybe the more exciting this would be to actual put the old group together—-we hadn't played shows since the summer of 2000. It went really well and everyone felt refreshed, so we were like "Why don't we do it again." We followed it up with a show at Toad's Place in New Haven in Thanksgiving and this past winter at Tuxedo Junction and at Higher Ground. I think what we are going to do, as far as the future of the band is concerned, is take an occasional gig and spread them out. It's still a special event when we do something because we are not on tour. It's fresh and exciting.

Has the Deep Banana’s hiatus widened your musical interests?

Definitely. Deep Banana Blackout was a very demanding project and consumed a lot of my time, thoughts, and creative energy. So, you kind of get into this little routine and it's kind of hard to get out of that routine. Once we took a break from that, I started exploring some new sounds.

Name one band you discovered and one band you rediscovered this year.

One band I found last year was Coldplay. I was actually on tour with Garrett Sayers, the bass player from the Miracle Orchestra and the Motet. We had a little project called Speaking in Tongues, which was kind of an avant-garde jazz thing. Garrett couldn't stop talking about Coldplay. Its funny, he is a real avant garde jazz player, but some of his greatest influences are alternative pop-rock. It put me in whole new mental state—-it's definitely not funk. A musician I rediscovered was Prince. I used to be a huge Prince fan in the 1980s, but then I kind of forgot about him. When I listened to some of the old recordings, I was like "this guy is a genius." We had been so into the old school funk with Deep Banana, we forgot about the new school funk and that whole second wave. He really is a funky mother fucker.

What have you learned from your time touring with singer/songwriter Stephen Kellogg?

I got a new appreciation for that soft setting, just guitar and vocals. I have always liked nice vocal layers. It made me feel even more comfortable on stage as well because we got silly and did some funny stuff. I dressed up in a tutu and stuff like that. I said, "If I am ever going to be crazy on stage, now is the time." It definitely was a liberating experience. On the record there is also an acoustic number. In fact, now I have been going out and doing acoustic gigs. They started out solo, but now my friend Carrie has joined me on vocal duets. We had a couple of really good gigs—-we opened for Blues Traveler and people were loving it. We do some of my material, some of hers, and some covers. It's all about the harmonies. When you can actually hear your singing, you can really fine tune your voice.

What was it like playing with Tom Tom Club?

I guess last year was my whole rejuvenation with alternative music [laughs]. I was playing guitar throughout the 1980s. I felt like my role in that band was kind of like Steve Stevens—-the guy who used to play with Billy Idol. It's a very texturalI obviously wasn't ripping up these avant-garde solos. It wasn't very blues-based either, more effects and things like that. It brought me back to the 1980s because that is where they are at [laughs]. It was a whole different scene. Sure, we did play some jamband festivals, but we also did some interesting events which were very un-jamband. We did this one festival in London called Return to New York, which was a total CBGBs reunion—-very punkish. I actually met Marilyn Manson. I didn't know it was him even. I was like, "Hi, I'm Fuzz, I play with Tom Tom Club, what's your name." He was like, [in a deep voice] "Manson."

Why add the pre-fix "Big" to your Fuzz moniker?

Bascially the reason why it happened is because Harmonized records said we are risking lawsuits or copy write infringement because there are bunch of Fuzz-things out there [laughs]. My first reaction, of course, was like "but that's my name, I've been Fuzz since I was eight years old." I used to have this friend growing up who called me "Big Fuzz" so I was like that might be a good name for band.

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