Brownie Unlocked: Conspirator, The Biscuits, Electron and Onward
Conspirator’s new live album Unlocked – Live From the Georgia Theatre came out a few weeks ago. The disc captures a performance by the group from October 6, 2011 in Athens. In conjunction with this release, we asked our readers to pass along questions for the group’s Marc Brownstein. Most of these focused on Conspirator, although a few veered into Disco Biscuits realm, with a stray Electron query as well. Brownstein was quite generous with his time and answered many of these.
Conspirator has a variety of festival gigs on the horizon, but before then will perform shows later this week, starting on May 10 at the Howard Theatre in Washington, DC followed by performances on May 11 at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville and on May 12 at The Norva in Norfolk, VA.
A number of folks asked some variation of this question: “Do you ever get exhausted from Facebook or Twitter?”
No. When I got exhausted from it I stopped using it for five months. When I’m using it, I’m not exhausted. I enjoy being in touch. I remember an artist writing a letter to [Bob] Lefsetz with something along the lines of, “Some of us just have a need to be connected to other people. It’s a part of who we are for better or for worse.” I just have this basic need to be a part of this web of people. I make sure I answer people when they reach out to me. Along with trying to be a good musician, I’m trying to be a good person.
Are you concerned that you role as a musician might just get swallowed up by the other side of things in terms of time and energy?
No, because it’s not like that. It’s not like you’re sitting on Facebook the whole time or sitting on Twitter. I wonder that about other people. I go on Twitter and I’m like “How does Deadmau5 or Porter Robinson or any of these guys have any time to make music?” Yet, they make more music than anybody, because it only takes four seconds to make a tweet. We’re not sitting thinking about what we’re going to say next. It pops into your head and you’re like, “I want to write that. I want to share that with people.” And then you share it and move on with your life and keep doing things. It’s not like we’re sitting in an office, bored out of our skulls and need to occupy our time by sifting through Facebook all day. I’ll go a couple of weeks without reading the newsfeed. For me it’s communicating my thoughts and answering questions I get from fans and moving on. I do it in breaks, that’s when you do it.
In terms of Deadmau5. what did you think of his Twitter battle with Madonna?
Somebody said to me the other day, I think [Aron] Magner said, “Man, Deadmau5 gets in trouble on Twitter more than you.” What he meant by that is Deadmau5 and I are similar in that we just don’t care. We’re not trying to be somebody that we’re not. Deadmau5 is just himself on Twitter. Sometimes he goes on and he’s like, “Guys, I’m having a nervous breakdown. I need a break.” Whatever it is, he just says what he thinks. It’s the best. There are so many artists out there that aren’t like that. They’re just trying to make an image of who they are. That’s fine too, it’s definitely a part of artistry, image. But, to me it’s just like be yourself.
These days it often feels like creating an image is a part of a bygone era.
It does feel a little bit that way because you have so much more of an in-the-moment connection with all the different artists in the world via Twitter and Facebook. I didn’t do Twitter for a while because I watched some people talking to each other and I just didn’t figure out the use for it. Our fans weren’t really on it in mass droves. I couldn’t figure out how to get in on the conversation. And then I realized, mainly what this is just famous people talking to each other and other people watching. Every once in a while other people respond and if you’re cool then you respond back to them. Deadmau5 responds to a lot of people, all those guys. That’s why I love following them because they’re real dudes. That’s what you love, that’s what’s ingratiating at this point. That’s what’s special about the relationships that we’re able to build. Most of these kids, I don’t really know them. Maybe they don’t really know me, but I hope they do. I want them to know what they’re getting. What you see is what you get. For better or for worse.
Here’s another one that few people sent in: As you listen back, In terms of the Conspirator live release, what most surprised you and what most impressed you?
What most surprised me was that it was fucking awesome. Listen, I love the stuff when I’m up on stage, but it’s been a long time since we sat down and listened to every single note of what we played. Conspirator is a different kind of band. We’re a studio band. I’ve heard all these tracks a million times in the studio, our studio versions of them. But by the time we got to the Georgia Theater we had played a lot of shows and we started to really gel as a four-piece. Which is the same situation we’re in with KJ [Sawka] now. We’ve played a lot of shows with him and it’s really starting to gel. Going back and listening to this, for one it just sounded so good. My first thought was, “Wow, this sounds good enough to be a CD. Maybe we should do something with this and make a bigger deal out of it than doing nothing or not releasing it.”
I think what I liked most about it was the consistency of the play throughout the entire show. It was all of our bangers, there wasn’t a down point in this particular show. Not that there’s a lot of down points in a Conspirator show, but sometimes the setlist we choose will be mellow or more jamband oriented or we’ll play older stuff from The Key. If we play three or four of those songs in a row it’s still electronic, but it’s a little more jammy. It’s not electro-house. The thing about this particular disc is, much like The Key which was made in 2004 out of popular styles of electronic music of that time, this has a lot of popular styles of electronic music of this current time. Electro-house and dare I say it has some dubstep on it.
I don’t want to scare people off by using the wrong word. I have kids that say, “I hate dubstep” after a Conspirator show, but they won’t be talking about Conspirator. And they’ll be like, “That show was incredible!” We’ll talk and they say they hate dubstep. “Well do you know we played four dubstep songs?” When you put instruments over it, it’s just hard rock. Once you add all the instruments into it, it starts to sound like heavy metal, which is what it is. Dubstep is the heavy metal of electronic music. When you put instruments on it, it sounds like heavy metal and people aren’t scared away by that in our scene. It’s all these styles of current music melded together. To me it was just like, “This is it. We’re doing something here. This isn’t our side project right now. This is good!” That was what I thought.
In terms of heavy metal and those other styles, it seems like Chris Michetti is well suited for Conspirator, given with what he’s done and where his head is at. Can you talk about his evolution with the band?
It’s been a two-way evolution. It’s been us reining him in, in terms of his soloing vibe. From the very start with the Biscuits it was like, “We need to teach you what we do so that you can do it with us. So it won’t be three guys doing one thing and another soloing on top.” Because that’s the whole thing about what we do, it’s not a solo. It’s a locomotive. It’s a steam train. Everyone’s chugging along together making one sound.
When we first started we talked about this a lot. There were a lot of long nights, until seven or eight in the morning. Just talking in the back of the bus. Talking about music, talking about theory, playing examples, singing it. At first he was trying to fit in. Then little by little he started to bring in his own thing into it, bringing it back around to where he’s bringing in his influences. He also taught us so much. He’s a master of synthesizing sounds in the studio. He’s made Aron [Magner] and I such better producers. I’m a songwriter, but he’s taught me how to be a producer. So there’s been a combinations of his influence in the studio and our influence in the live performance. It’s come together to make this whole entire new sound. It’s cool to me that we’re going out as a new band with all new songs. That’s daunting. After 16 years of being in a band and having all of these fans that love it and just want to hear those songs.
Can you imagine the Grateful Dead, not saying we’re anything like the Grateful Dead, but can you imagine if Bobby and Phil decided to get together and just write all new songs and go out and tour on that? I’ll tell you where they wouldn’t be playing: MSG, that’s for sure….or maybe they would, Bobby and Phil are pretty much geniuses. But, I gotta imagine that there would be some backlash from the Dead fans if they went out and didn’t play one Dead song. We play a couple Biscuits songs, we intersperse. And the Biscuits play a bunch of Conspirator songs so maybe that’s why we get away with it. Because kids know “Orch Theme” and “Commercial Amen” and “Liquid Handcuffs” and “Boom Shanker.” So maybe we’re getting away with it a little bit, because of that one aspect.
It’s a daunting thing going out and trying to launch a whole new project with all new music. I think it’s a beautiful thing when we get to the end of this two year process and we see the growth and we see the fans starting to come around. Even today on Facebook one kid wrote to me, “Just finished listening. Good shit brownie. I’ve been on the line with Conspirator, but this is pretty epic.” That’s what we’re starting to get from the Biscuit fans. I was in Tahoe the other day and there was a lot of resistance to Conspirator. And it was expected. We have to persevere through that. There’s a lot of online resistance because we’ll show up and there will be 550 people there on a Wednesday night in New Haven and they’re going nuts. Zach from STS9 said this to me in New Mexico, “You know there’s four thousand people at the show going nuts, but if you read the internet you would think every single one of them hated it.” It’s like, “Where are these haters? I’m looking out in the crowd…”
That’s why you have to be grounded in reality. The internet is a part of reality, but it’s not the whole picture. This kid in Tahoe said to me, “Man, thank you so much for coming out here still even though the Biscuits aren’t touring right now. We really appreciate it. We’re starved for Biscuits out here.” And that’s so nice to hear because so many times people are like, “Fuck you for playing with Conspirator, bring the Biscuits back.” He pointed at the stage and said, “That did not suck.” Thanks man. I saw it in his eyes. He did an entire Disco Biscuits tour with his girlfriend a few years ago and they live out in Tahoe and barely get to see us anymore. And I could see them freaking out during the show. It makes it all worth it, even if it’s just one fan. It’s why the experience of knowing your fans is so special. It makes it so meaningful to know the people a little bit, because it puts everything into perspective. Who is that person? How much has he dedicated to my career over the years? What’s he getting out of it, despite the fact that it’s a different band?