Disco Bebop with The MacPodz
On the evening of Friday October 22nd, The Macpodz, Ann-Arbor’s premier 5-piece improvisational jazz/rock/funk outfit, threw down two high-octane sets of music at Thumpty in Ithaca, NY, exposing the audience’s ears to a unique fusion of sound that combines the sophisticated and experimental tendencies of bebop jazz with a distinct dance floor appeal, a genre the band has identified as ‘disco bebop.’
With extraordinary musicianship, The Macpodz effortlessly hopped through the different styles in their musical playbook, progressing through latin inflected tunes like “The Butcher,” to smooth head-nodders like “Give Me The Heat,” and a devastating one-two punch combo that included a cover of Reel 2 Real’s “I Like to Move It,” which dropped right into their funky haymaker “You Got Me.”
And while The Macpodz are the kind of musicians that could comfortably launch into long complex, exploratory jams, the group kept all their arrangements tight and precise, keeping the small crowd groovin’ right in front of the stage until finishing early Saturday morning.
And fortunately, The Macpodz’s bassist Brennan Andes and drummer Griffin Bastian were kind enough to sit down for an interview before the performance to describe the intricacies of their sound, their roots in Ann-Arbor, and maintaining the ability to get a dance floor funked up in the era of electronic technology.
Your sound has been popularly classified as ‘disco bebop.’ Where does that classification come from?
Griffin: (to Brennan) Did you coin that one?
Brennan: I sure did.
Griffin: Yeah, Brennan came up with that.
Brennan: I’m a jazz musician at heart, so I grew up playing bebop and studying bebop and learning how to play lots of jazz music and you know I studied it all throughout high school and what have you and then I got into this big disco kick, and started playing with Jamie Register (of Jamie Register and The Glendales) and she was all into disco. So I started getting into the two of them and I’ve been writing songs that were kind of funk and bop influenced the whole time because I like playing funk music, Parliament’s been a big influence in my life, so I really love funk, and I really love jazz and so when we played our first show at this co-op party in Ann-Arbor, I had the idea of playing a Charlie Parker song with a disco backdrop.
That’s what jazz is all about, signifying.
Brennan: So that’s what we did, we melded these two styles of music together. It’s like we played this tune, Dewey Square, which is a Charlie Parker tune but I was like…
Griffin: Put a disco beat on it!
Brennan: Yeah, put a disco beat on it (laughs). And we ended up doin’ the set together like that, and that’s kind of what started it off was actually playing this tune, Dewey Square. It’s kind of how ‘Bebop,’ which became the anthem for bebop just by being called ‘Bebop’ ‘cause nobody had a name for the style of music yet. And bebop got named bebop by the tune entitled ‘Bebop.’ So basically that’s how the name got started, or the style of music got started. It’s cause like, we were just f’in’ around with like, burning-ass jazz tunes and then climbing out and we realized that people don’t really dance to jazz anymore…but when we put that disco on it everyone was dancin’ their asses off…but the music was still complicated and interesting to play.
Griffin: It’s kind of also something people took and started running with it too. It was like, we were kind of just messin’ around, maybe saying ‘disco bebop’ on a couple of nights and it just kind of stuck. You know when someone asks me what kind of style we are, I do not say disco bebop. I usually say some form of fusion funk with latin influences and kind of you know…
Brennan: Disco bebop is an easy go-to for me, ‘cause it’s really hard to explain our sound because it’s extremely eclectic.
Well that’s why the term is interesting, because there’s so much that’s inherently encompassed in disco and bebop already.
Brennan: Yeah, the best way to check it out is to check it out, literally.
Your bio lists Ann-Arbor, your hometown, as one of America’s “great eccentric cities.” How have your roots there contributed to the Macpodz’s unique sound fusion?
Brennan: Hell man, I’m crazy enough to play music without a job for three years now. Haven’t had a job. Music is my job. And I feel like if I grew up in an institutionalized place that didn’t let me be free like that I probably would have another job right now, but I really love music, and I’m pretty sure everybody else loves music and that’s why we’re doin’ it you know. I got a daughter, you know what I mean. I’m not just messin’ around. I got a mouth to feed, so I’m definitely keeping it tight. I play five nights a week most weeks. I’m always working. Griffin knows what I’m talkin’ about, Griffin’s been gigging his ass off his whole life. We’re musicians first and foremost. Macpodz is kind of our exploration into our own selves.