Back to Bisco: Introducing Allen Aucoin
It’s been a whirlwind two years for the pioneers of trance fusion. In November 2003, after almost a decade on the road, founding drummer Sam Altman privately told his bandmates that he planned to enroll in medical school, leaving the Disco Biscuits’ future in a state of permanent flux. Following through on a promise the band made after Marc Brownstein’s temporary split in 2000, the Disco Biscuits agreed to keep Altman’s departure a secret for a year, in order to allow the drummer ample time to privately weigh his decision. Staying close to home, the Biscuits played sporadic gigs while Brownstein and Aron Magner busied themselves with an electronic experiment that eventually crystallized as Conspirator. Jon Gutwillig, by contrast, shied away from the spotlight and, as explored in Relix’s April/May cover feature, spent time “getting his head together.” After officially announcing his departure in November 2004, Altman began to take pre-med classes on Long Island, officially resigning after the group’s semi-annual Camp Bisco festival in August. Meanwhile, the Disco Biscuits began a series of auditions, later hosting a public “drum-off” at Atlantic City’s Borgota, in mid-November. Based on the crowd’s response to the two-night affair, a clear frontrunner emerged: Allen Aucoin.
In his first interview since joining the Disco Biscuits, Aucoin clues contributing editor Mike Greenhaus onto the group’s new sound, his six-month audition process and why Harley Davidson bikes might be a fixture at future shows.
MG- First off, can you give our readers a little information about your background?
AA- Well, I’m 27 and originally from Columbus, GA, though I currently live in Auburn, AL. My dad was in the military, so we moved all around when I was younger, but he retired to Columbus. I studied for a few years at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and that’s where I met the bassist in my old band, Skydog. We did some touring around the United States—-mainly in the southeast—- but we did venture out to Colorado. We were a jamband. We played funk and we did do some electronica, but it was more jungle than trance. That band kind of finished out a few years ago and I have just been playing in various cover bands and blues bands——looking for something that actually had some worth and wholeness to it
MG- How did you score your first audition with the band?
AA- I knew the light and the monitor guys for the Biscuits, Johnny and Patrick. They actually were the sound guy and light guy for Skydog. Johnny started out as our web designer and then he wanted to try out lights. When our band kind of dissolved, he went over to the Biscuits and then a few months later, they picked up Patrick.
MG- Were you a Biscuit fan prior to auditioning for the band?
AA- I was, but I didn’t listen to them too much. It was more like whenever they were around I’d go see them. Actually, the band I used to play with opened up for them a few times in Atlanta in 2002. But, I didn’t really listen to them because I was always on the road and concentrating on what I was playing. But, I listened to a lot of electronic music and jazz in general.
MG- Talk a little about your audition process
AA- My first audition was in May . They gave me a list of songs to kind of work up—-“Svengali,” “Floodlights,” “Story of the World.” “Chemical Warfare Brigade,” “Reactor,” “Save the Robots” and “Housedog Party Favor.” Then I went home and they called me back in July and then again in September. They gave me another list of songs to kind of work up and it went really well. At that time, they were auditioning a bunch of other drummers and they didn’t really have an idea of who they wanted to go with. Then, I got a phone call, and they flew me back up in November to rehearse a bit before we did the Atlantic City shows. At the time it was down to me and another guy——they really couldn’t make a decision. We kind of hung out and jammed for a week after AC and then they sent me home and the other guy came up. Then they called and gave me the wonderful news on Saturday [December 10].
MG- Did you try to emulate Sammy’s style or bring your own touch to those tunes?
AA- Well, I actually spent a lot of time learning their songs. I spoke with my boss—-he actually wanted to be a drummer, so it was easy to convince him—-and told him what was going on. He gave me two months off from work and I just practiced. I was working for Harley Davidson Motorcycles in the parts department. People would come up to me and give me a problem with their bike and I would have to diagnose it. During those two months, I would practice between 8 and 12 hours a day, learning their songs, working out transitions and experimenting with various styles. Jon [Gutwillig] had a lot of ideas about various jams and themes to work out in those jams—-different rhythmic things one can do to make the jams build and peak—-a sort of hills and valley type of thing. We also just worked on being able to feed off each other in the various improvisations. When I got the phone call from Dan in May, I pretty much absorbed myself in the Biscuits’ style and Sammy’s drumming. They’ve been a band for 10 years so, if I was going to come in, I didn’t want to completely change up their sound with my drum style. Especially for their fan base, Sammy is so essential to the Biscuits’ sound, I didn’t want them to lose that.
MG- The Disco Biscuits have one of the most extensive canon’s in jam-rock. How much of their material are you familiar with?
AA- About 30 songs right now, but we are hoping to have about 60 ready by New Year’s. I actually wrote up drum charts—- that’s how I learned the music. I would sit and listen to the music and write out charts—- especially for something Sammy would do—- or a particular fill or a type of groove he would play.
MG- Have you met Sammy?
AA- I was fortunate enough to be in Philadelphia when a friend of the band had a birthday party. I got to hang out with Sammy and chill for about an hour.
MG- Did he offer an pearls of wisdom?
AA- Well, he told me to cover my ass, but I’m not exactly sure what that means [laughs]. He was a really, really nice guy and he wished me the best of luck. I should be a resident of Philadelphia by January 10th.
MG- As an outsider peering in, how would you describe the Disco Biscuits’ rehearsal process?
AA- Well, very professional first off all. The band I was inwe’d get together and jam and that was all there was to it. But, the Biscuits have micromanaged the jam. They know where they are at any point in jam. It’s kind of like they have taken a jazz-form approach and adopted it to their style. It’s always improvised, but they always know where they are going
MG- Before the band’s unofficial hiatus, the group seemed to be moving away from the electronic sound it cut its teeth on. Do you feel like the Biscuits are returning to more electronic-based music?
AA- I think we are. We are definitely going to stay with the song-influenced music, but they want to go a little bit further into electronic music —-maybe even have a few sequencers onstage. Magner has been using those a bit, and I have been using those myself, but they were talking about trying to incorporate them in a little more instead of just using them as a coloring —-kind of like “Caterpillar,” but a little more elaborate.
MG- What electronic music do you most often listen to?
AA- Well, I am a humungous fan of L.T.J Bukem, Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Goldie—— and stuff like that——when I would practice, I would throw on a Goldie CD or an L.T.J CD or something like that and try to emulate it. I was kind of the one who brought the jungle sound to my previous band —-we loved to get down and dirty and jam—-but we were kind of jazzy or Phishy. But, when I would go home, I would sit in front of my computer for 8 or 12 hours and practice. Those compositions tended to be more electronic.
MG- At the Atlantic City drum-off, the Disco Biscuits debuted a pair of new songs. Since then, has the group introduced any new compositions during its rehearsals?
AA- Yup—-there are some completely new songs coming up that haven’t been heard. Right now, they are Barber compositions, but they might morph into more group jams. But, they were definitely Barber’s ideas.
MG- Have you written any songs of your own?
AA- Yes, actually. I have a whole bunch of electronic songs that I wrote on my computer. I think that if any band could play them, it would be the Biscuits. I hope I can introduce them to the Biscuits and hear how they sound.
MG- As of now, what is your favorite Biscuits number?
AA- Ooh, it’s hard to say. Not really being a Biscuits fan, every song I put into my CD player I was floored by how awesome it was. Everything from the composition of the songs to the lyrics to the jams. “Housedog Party Favor” was a favorite for a while, as well as “Save the Robots,” because I get to play some jungle in the middle of that and some drum and bass. I am also really excited to play “Digital Buddha.”
MG- Earlier you mentioned that the band gave you a number of live shows to listen to while you rehearsed. What shows were you given to study?
AA- The 2004 New Year’s run, 5/27/05, 4/11/03 and 5/7-9/04
MG- Have you ventured into the world of the Disco Biscuits’ message boards?
AA- Well, [laughs] when I got done playing in Atlantic City, the two dudes I knew, Pat and Johnny, were like, “Allen, you got to see this.” I was stressing—-I really wanted to play in the band, but knew there was some stiff competition. So they had me come into their room and they showed me Phantasy Tour for the first time. It was amazing to see how people were reacting to my set—-I couldn’t believe it. Of course I became addicted to it for a while, so I had to turn it off, because it was taking away from my playing. You can turn on Phantasy Tour and look up and it’s been 3 hours.
MG- At what angle do you tend to turn your hat?
AA- [laughs] I am defiantly a straight up, normal baseball cap wearing guy. It’s usually a Colts hat and I know a lot of Biscuits people are more of the Eagles fans. But I am a hardcore Colts fan, so, hopefully, we can all be cool with that. Maybe if I make an angle with my hat, they can be cool that it’s a Colts hat!