Marc Brownstein: Bisco Revival and Conspirator’s Arrival
The Disco Biscuits have been quiet this year. With the exception of a few festival events like Mayan Holidaze, Camp Bisco and the new City Bisco, the 17-year-old Philadelphia livetronica group had no 2012 dates planned until they scheduled a three-day Road to Camp Bisco tour a few weeks ago. During the Biscuits time off, bassist Marc Brownstein and keyboardist Aron Magner have toured nationally with their electronic group Conspirator while drummer Allen Aucoin has focused on his solo project DrFameus. Disco Biscuits guitarist Jon “The Barber” Gutwillig, who pushed hardest for some time off, has played out less frequently, with the exception of some sit ins and DJ dates.
But, despite online speculation, the Disco Biscuits are not breaking up and are ready to dig into their deep catalog in the coming weeks. Playing in Conspirator has also put the Disco Biscuits’ sound and unique career arc into perspective for Brownstein, who is currently preparing for tours with both acts. Shortly before the Disco Biscuits kick off a run of dates at Washington, DC’s 9:30 Club this evening, Brownstein discussed the Disco Biscuits’ future, Conspirator’s recent summer shows and much more with Relix and Jambands.com.
Before we get into the Disco Biscuits and Camp Bisco, I wanted to talk a bit about Conspirator’s summer tour. I saw some pictures of your set at Electric Forest this past weekend. It looks like one of the band’s biggest shows so far. Does it feel like when the Disco Biscuits were working the jamband festival circuit in the late ‘90s?
MB: Back in the late ‘90s or the early 2000s, when we’d get a slot at Gathering of the Vibes and play for 15,000 people, it was just the most exciting thing of all time. Conspirator has played a bunch of festivals over the last three years, but we’ve been building up to something like this. When Conspirator played festivals before, we weren’t anywhere near the biggest set at the festival. Electric Forest the other night was incredible. It was massive. It was exciting to see Conspirator have a massive crowd after all of the hard work we’ve been putting into it.
You always see what’s possible when you get to the summer, when you get to the soft ticket shows. People don’t see you by accident at festivals. I’ve played enough small slots at huge festivals to know that people go see who they want to see at festivals—they don’t accidentally find good music. Sometimes you do, but it doesn’t accidentally turn into a 15,000 person show. A festival crowd is not a guaranteed crowd. This summer has opened my eyes to our growth because it was not like this last summer. Now, people are showing up at the stage for the beginning of our shows, and that tells me that hard work is starting to pay off. It’s really refreshing. I hope you can hear it in my voice—we’re like freaking kids in the candy store. [In a weird way] now I’m coming off these gigantic festival shows with Conspirator and going to Biscuits club shows.
Electric Forest, in particular, seems to appeal to both the electronic and jamband crowds Conspirator has worked for.
MB: Dude, it’s right up our alley, it’s the perfect festival in terms of the crowd—both crowds Conspirator works with. Conspirator works the same way that Bassnectar and Big G works both crowd. That’s Conspirator’s style. That’s been our thing and now we’re starting to pump out songs in that style—their electronic songs, and they’re just getting better and better. We just put out four new songs and we played them the our last two shows, and it’s great to see brand new songs blowing up in front of people. We put up some videos on the Conspirator page, just a minute or so of the new tracks.
Are these totally new Conspirator songs that you guys worked on while on the road?
MB: No, we worked on those in May and June in the studio. We had five new songs and four of them are done. We went in with a goal of May and June to come out with an EP’s worth of new material—five or six new songs—and four of them are done.
Conspirator’s recording approach has changed a bit over the years. Can you talk a little bit about how you approached writing these songs in the studio?
MB: We just try to get in a room together, that’s the key. We have computers that we write songs on, so that we can start three songs and work on them separately. Once it gets to a certain stage, Magner can take the song into the other room and start changing the MIDI over to the audio while [Conspirator guitarist Chris Michetti] and I will start firing up a new song. So we have multiple stations going, but back in the day it was a one station thing and we’d all sit around a computer. Now we have multiple songs brewing at the same time. Chris is the main producer, whereas DJ Omen was the main producer when we were doing it back in the day. Part of the idea behind Conspirator is Magner and I, two musicians, are coming together through a producer. Chris is such a talented producer that it helps bring our ideas to life and take everything to another level.
But songs start in all sorts of ways. Chris could start a track or, sometimes, I’ll work on a track all the way to the end and Chris will work on a track all the way to the end. Sometimes we get in there where we’re sitting around a computer breathing heavily on each other. Mostly it starts from saying, “Hey, we’re writing songs this week.”
This time we had been working on them in the studio and Chris went to finish them, and I heard the finished product the night before Electric Forest, and we played all four of them there. I’m still learning them. They’re incredible. We’re just starting to get an idea—back then we were sort of screwing around with different styles of electro and dubstep, and maybe trying to do like remixes like Avicii things and Porter Robinson things. This year we’re just trying to concentrate on finding our sound and where it fits in the scene, where it fits in with the old sound, how they kind of intersect. [We want ti know] where the improv intersects with the electronic beat-making, where the DJ intersects with the instruments, and I think we’re learning. It’s a DJ show but we’re not DJs. We’re musicians, so we’re learning how to control the crowd on a DJ level.
You and Magner have spent the past six months touring with Conspirator. How has the band’s sound changed since this has been your primary project?
MB: We’re just trying to find our sound, and that’s exciting because it really is a blank canvas. What I was saying to these guys the other day is, “dude, do you know how hard it is to get into the pipeline? To break into the pipeline?” Usually, you’re a band and nobody knows who you are. It almost doesn’t matter what the music sounds like at this point and I say that knowing that we can make whatever kind of music we want at this point. We’re fortunate enough that we’re getting these incredible spots—Conspirator’s put time in. Even though we’ve only toured for one year, we’ve been a band for seven years, and enough people know us through the Biscuits that we’ve had this really, really incredible opportunity that I’m really grateful for.
It is scary to start a new band. I don’t really need to do it—we still have the Biscuits—but we are playing 150 shows a year with Conspirator. I just get really anxious when I have time off. I want to be making music, I want to be touring. You know me well enough to know that that’s just me—that’s who I am. I’m a road dog. I look at Warren Haynes and I’m like, “yeah! That’s how you fucking do it!”
Conspirator’s sound is changing, and it is getting better. I went back and listened to some of our old music. I know Biscuits fans always want to hear old Conspirator songs [which were adopted by the Disco Biscuits] and whatever. We play them all at this point but we barely played any of the old ones this weekend because we just don’t have enough time in the set. In our opinion, our new songs are the best shit we have. It’s exciting—I tell these guys everyday, “Conspirator has been around long enough that our songs from 2004 are old songs.” I feel like the songs we are working on will start taking off in 2013. It is like when you buy a car in 2012 and it is called the ’13.
An EP is going to come out sometime late 2012-early 2013. What we had done in the past is make the tracks in the studio, release them and add more instruments on them. So when we made our live album it was like the track had already been released but now it is bigger, thicker and fuller. Now, I think instead of releasing the tracks without the instrumentation, we’re going to take these studio tracks, play them live, learn how to play them live, figure out what lines the crowd loves and then bring them back into the studio.