Marc Brownstein: Bisco Revival and Conspirator’s Arrival
How have you felt this new approach has helped the band’s dynamic?
The last couple of runs that we did have felt the freshest we’ve felt in so long. I felt like we were just killing ourselves with practice for a while—we’d practice so much. Other bands that I’m friends with just don’t practice. So, it occurred to me that maybe we were overworking ourselves a little bit too much. Practice gets tense too, and you’ll end up getting into a fucking unnecessary fight before a big show, and there are so many variables when you’re a band like the Biscuits where you have temperamental personalities. I tell young kids, if you want to be good, if you want your band to be good, practice seven, eight hours a day. But after fifteen years, take a step back.
I don’t know what’s right for other bands, I just know that for us, I’ve found that we work best when we practice mostly for a few hours before the shows because it’s about the improv. Whatever, if you miss a note or something, who fucking cares? I know people do, but I don’t. Whatever, that’s not what you’re coming for. You’re coming for the peak, the energy moment. If you’re coming to see ballads, you’re coming to see the wrong band. Wilco is down the road that way! We’re not that—we’re the peak energy band. We don’t always achieve it but it’s about getting the fuck out there and finding what works. I see the responses to our shows on Facebook.
I genuinely have a child-like glee about going to the 9:30 Club to play with my brothers. You get to that point where you think, “How can we make this work?”—keep the cash flow going, keep everybody happy and everybody wanting to do it. Bands don’t traditionally last 16 years—and I know there are some bands that have been around for forty years and Mazel Tov to them—but it’s not easy to keep a band together for even two years—let alone for 16, 17, 18 years. This whole year is about taking a deep breath and, when we finally do show up, being really excited about it.
We’ve been around for over 16 years, and it’s hard to keep that fire going. All the bands we grew up with—moe., String Cheese, Sector 9—have all put the brakes on the touring. Nobody has done it with as much fanfare as the Biscuits because I think there are all these “are the Biscuits breaking up?” vibes that are undercutting us and because me and Aron are out on tour with another band. Sector 9, they do that shit with such grace. They take time off so gracefully that you don’t even know they’re taking time out. They really do it well.
I think it is OK that our scene is taking a collective breath because it’s overkill. There are too many DJ’s, there are too many producers, there are too many live acts, there’s just too much out there, so it makes sense for our part [of the scene] to collectively take a deep breath and, dare I say, wait out the storm. For me it feels like when this whole batch of trends goes away, we’re gonna be left. We’re still gonna be standing there with fucking instruments. Jamming.
I think that’s true, if you look at the last height of electronic music in the late ’90s, right after that, the jamband/rock boom happened. Same thing with the late ‘80’s and early 90’s. It’s like a pendulum.
MB: Right. It’s a cycle. There are trends and cycles in style, and it’s fucking awesome to be able to kinda ride the fence between the different genres so that we never really become irrelevant. When bands come back into style, we’re one of the bands. When the electronic stuff comes back in style, well, that’s our shit too.
You mentioned a few songs you are thinking about playing with the Disco Biscuits. Are there other areas of the Biscuits’ songbook you want to focus on during this limited run of shows?
MB: Well, it’s like I said to my buddy Dennis the last time the Biscuits had a run in Mexico [earlier this year]. I kept asking him, “what should we play?” and he goes, “Honestly, at this point, just play a fucking Disco Biscuits song.” Nobody cares anymore! Nobody cares what songs we play, it’s just not about that anymore. It’s about, “play some shows so we can go watch our favorite band play.” That’s the vibe. For a while I was uncomfortable with our [classic jamband-style songs] like “Therapy.” As the Bassnectars and Big Gs and all these electronic bands started to blow up, those songs felt less relevant.
I kind of understand where Trey [Anastasio] was coming from when he was like, “I never want to play ‘You Enjoy Myself’ again” or whatever that was about. I guess I kind of identify with that a little bit, on the level that it is hard to keep your music relevant after 16 years as all these styles change. That’s why so many acts stop playing and start new bands—they want to have a chance to stay relevant as different music gets popular and the music changes.
But we’re not doing Conspirator because we wanted to do what was popular, we legitimately are into that. We’re into the electronic scene. Before all this shit became popular in 2004, we were starting to try to figure out how to get to where we are now. It took almost eight years for it to come to fruition, but this was kind of what our vision: a band that didn’t sing, that was all electronic. Now that we have that, we don’t have to try to force the Biscuits to be that. I’m much more comfortable letting my songs be what they are and playing them. When we played those shows at [New York’s] Best Buy Theater in April last year, it was almost cathartic to play those old songs.
“Therapy” is the song that sticks out the most, but there are a lot of them. Of the songs that I wrote, a lot of them that are in that same range of rock songs where I really like the melodies, and I like the choruses and I like the harmonies and the chord changes and shit. But the reality is that they, that I felt they were outdated in a certain point of time. I just got sick of playing that style of music, and a lot of those songs just never got played—they got buried. And we’d just play like, “Cyclone,” “Gangster,” “Caterpillars” and “Rock Candy” and the new stuff like “Catalyst.” But now I’m eager to get that out and play “Spectacle” and “Hot Air Balloon” and “Mulberry,” all of which are Jon’s songs—they’re the best. I can’t wait to play Jon’s songs. Playing those songs with him is one of my favorite parts of my career. Now, I love the shit we’re writing in Conspirator, too. Chris is a whole different person with a whole different set of ideas, and he’s brilliant. I said it before, we’re so fortunate to be able to play with such brilliant people from Jon and Sammy to Allen and Chris and all these people.
When I was a kid in college all I wanted to do was play music but wasn’t really good at it. I needed to go to music school and really dedicate myself. Almost twenty years down the line and this is where we are, and we’ve had all of this success and it’s still going, and we’re starting to have it again with a different band. We built a sustainable model with the Biscuits over a long period of time and are lucky that selling tickets was our bread-and-butter, not record sales. It’s just, sometimes you need to take a step back and take a deep breath and smile and enjoy what has been accomplished. And we’ve certainly been doing a shitload of that this weekend.