Time for Twiddle
Castleton, Vermont’s Twiddle is a contemporary quartet that utilizes almost the full spectrum of genres, shifting in out of bluegrass, jazz, classical and the bands greatest musical conquest—the fusion of funk and reggae.
When asked to describe the band and their music, keyboardist Ryan Dempsey relays the essential objective, “We want to give our fans a musical orgasm—that’s our goal.”
Alongside keyboardist Dempsey are guitarist Mihali Savoulidis, bassist Zdenek Gubb and drummer Brook Jordan. Together, these four have started a beautiful commotion on both coasts in the jam scene—and some might even call them the new boys from Vermont.
After a recent rooftop performance at Relix (and a signing of the poster I had purchased at the show the night before) I had the chance to sit down with all four members of the band and chat about what’s really within Twiddle’s box—that has propelled these boys to be able to continually create some of the most beautifully unconventional music in the jam scene today.
As the interview unfolds, I learn not only of the onstage dynamics between the foursome but also of the way that each of them reacts to one another in a social environment. Remarkably, the dynamics are one and the same.
Just as they so fluidly build off of where each other’s jams navigate to onstage, they can tell the direction in which one another’s thoughts are headed—and finish their sentences. Both have almost become second nature to them.
In tune to each other’s thoughts and feelings, the back and forth banter made for a hilarious interview.
So come indulge in Twiddle as they talk about their voyage to success, extensive touring and songwriting, upcoming festival performances, the “Frends,” Vermont and of course, a little bit about “doinkinbonking.”
But most importantly—discover where the compass points in the evolution of Twiddle.
The band’s next record, Live At Nectar’s, is set for an album release party June 2 at Nectars in Burlington, VT.
How has the music changed since Twiddle first formed?
MS: It took us a few years to really find our sound and settle into what is Twiddle opposed to what it initially was like when we formed the band in 2004. I consider when Zdenek joined the real start of the band because that’s when we actually really started trying to tour and take it more seriously. So from that point to now our music has changed in our approach to songwriting and improvisation and simply by playing with each other so much we’ve learned each other’s style so well that it’s second nature.
ZG: We all have developed our own style that relates to each other which allows us to react well to each other and in turn continuously transforms the music through time.
Can you tell me about your musical backgrounds and influences?
ZG: I really dug everything but my biggest influences came from my mom and my brother and that was Earth, Wind and Fire and The Bee Gees. Then I got into Metal like I think most pre-teen guys do. My biggest influence is Les Claypool—that’s who really got me into bass. I feel like music works for me the same way it does with the Frank Zappa quote, “Your mind needs to be like a parachute. If it’s not open, then it doesn’t work.” So I really listen to anything.
RD: I was brought up playing classically and was trained by a teacher. It only lasted two years because she found out that I was cheating and learning classical by ear and she wanted me reading it. [Laughter]. I knew how to read music but she wanted me to read it like I could read a book and I just wanted to do my own thing and write my own songs.
I was in the jazz band in high school and played in two bands of my own as well—the first was called Laughable Butane Bob. But once I started college I thought I would be done with music, until I met Mickey. My biggest influences are Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Hiromi, Phish and The Bad Plus—those are all keyboard players that I really admire. I would love to play with Hiromi one day.
MS: I liked Michael Jackson when I was really little. Then I really got into Nirvana. Nevermind was probably the first CD I ever owned. I was into louder screaming, distorted stuff until my brother got me into Dave Matthews Band. I really started to listen to a lot of the early Dave when I began playing guitar.
I learned all of his [Dave] guitar parts on guitar and pretty much tried to mimic him and sing his songs a lot in my early playing. It was then through Dave that I got into Phish and the lead and electric guitar. I started taking guitar lessons my sophomore year of high school to try and study jazz. I pretended I knew what my teacher was talking about with theory but just like Ryan when he would give me assignments I would use my ear instead of reading them. So I got a little bit of jazz sound from that and then from there I would make playlists and try and solo over whatever songs were on the playlists and play the melodies.
I listened to a lot of the prominent jambands of the time, Phish, String Cheese Incident, moe. and then that’s when I went to college to start a band and I met Ryan.
He [Ryan] blew me away with his piano and stuff and I knew right away that I had to convince him to start a band because it was the right combination. Brook was still in high school at that time and our original bass player introduced me to Brook and we started the band that way.
MS: Going into the music I really wanted to do harder instrumental stuff like the early Phish stuff, that’s what I was really into—trying to prove our worth as musicians, that we had chops and we can play difficult stuff.
And then over the years being in this scene and seeing what works and what doesn’t, I still love writing that kind of music and it is important to our sound and to who we are as a band but I also kind of fell back into my earlier roots and rediscovered Dave Matthews again and started listening a little more. I began to realize that the way I wrote songs naturally were influenced by him subconsciously just because he was the first I really listened to. It even influences the way I pronounce words when I sing. People think I’m from the south because of the way I pronounce certain words when I sing but it’s just me mimicking him in my subconscious, which is bizarre. I found a blend between the two worlds where as I think that there is an importance to writing a good song with good lyrics that will touch people and mean a lot to them but there’s also a balance where you can do the Phish thing too—the electricity, the big climax and energy put forth by the music itself. I feel like if you can get the energy put forth with the lyrical aspect of it like Dave does and the musical aspect like Phish does and try and make both worlds work without overdoing it on either side you could have something really special. So that’s kind of what I’ve been focusing on.
As far as guitar playing goes my biggest influence is Jamaican Jazz musician Ernest Ranglin. He pioneered reggae music and basically invented ska. He is an incredible jazz player and played all over the world. He gave Bob Marley his first guitar lessons and was rehearsing the Wailers before they were anything. He’s on every prominent reggae album, his guitar work is everywhere but you would never know because he was a session guy.
MS: Bob Marley and Sublime are big influences of mine as well. There’s a lot of reggae in our music and that is like the base of that—it was because I was so obsessed with Sublime and later Bob Marley, you know Exodus Live, I love that album.
MS: John Scofield and Trey are also big influences of mine. Later in my career I listened to Jerry and kind of understood the relevance of his sound and what he did. So it’s just been the same for me as any guitar player—you take your influences and you take whatever you love about them and try and work it into your playing and that’s why you sound like you. I think the ultimate goal, as a guitar player is to have your own sound where if someone were to walk by a store and hear 10 seconds of your guitar playing they would know that it’s you. You know like Santana—I can hear three notes and know it’s him, Jerry, and Trey too. I think that’s kind of why they are who they are because Jerry’s influences were much different than Trey’s influences, which were much different than my influences.
BJ: I feel like I never really got pushed in a direction by my parents but music was around me all the time. My Dad went to ridiculous shit like Floyd on Animals tour, Billy Joel and Elton John but I never got pushed in one way or another. When I first started listening to music I was turned on by pop like Hootie & the Blowfish, Sugar Ray and early Smash Mouth music. Smashmouth’s Walking on the Sun album and the Sugar Ray album were both you know parental advisory and those were some of the first albums I got.
I still remember when the Sublime self-titled album came out. I was actually very influenced by my cousins too who got me to start listening to Rage Against the Machine and 311. The drummer from 311, Chad Sexton—he’s still been an influence on my snare work and stuff. Dave Grohl as well, he’s definitely like an idol.
So the early stuff for me was kind of pop alternative rock stuff. But then when I started to skateboard a lot I got into punk and hardcore. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I started to get into all of the jam music. My friend came home from prep school with the Europe ’72 from the Grateful Dead and my other friend got Story of the Ghost by Phish from his older step brother and then that all came together and then I just never looked back pretty much. I still appreciate so many kinds of music but once I heard jam music and heard what Jon Fishman does on drums it changed my thinking of how I could actually play music and be an actual melodic player even though my instrument except for the toms, you know they all have tones but you can’t change the tone like any other instrument. But now I love everything, you know I’ll throw on some GRiZ, Tipper or Pretty Lights and then I’ll listen to John Mayer of something. I run the gamut of what I listen to. I love Mumford too. I go through these phases and it all influences me.
MS: Another thing about Ryan—he had no knowledge of these other types of music we were introduced to so when he plays it’s just him and just what he knows, it’s just Bela Fleck and classical music and Christian rock but that’s it and that makes you the kind of unique player you are, which is awesome.
ZG: Everything is really an influence. We all love music. We take stuff from music we don’t even really care for. We listen to, we hear it and somehow it gets involved in what we’re doing too.
Yeah it has like a subconscious influence?
BJ: Yeah even the pop stuff we hear on the radio. We make fun of it wherever else but there’s a reason it’s on the radio and people listen to it. Even for people like us that hate it somehow it gets stuck in your head and as a musician that’s always something still that even if you hate it and you think it’s fucking shit but then you start singing the song later in the day and you’re like, “Why is that? Why is that? I need to know why that is,” you know? [Laughter] It’s all an influence.
Mihali, you mentioned Nirvana and I saw that you guys played Unplugged recently at Nectar’s. Could you guys tell us a little bit about that show? How did it go?
MS: It was Zdenek’s and my duo project called Gubbulidis and we decided we wanted to do it because it’s 20 years later and we wanted to do Unplugged.
Ryan did the entire accordion and string parts and Brook sat in for a song. When we put the band together it was a bunch of musicians from Burlington and Zdenek and I. We never really rehearsed it—that was the coolest thing. I forgot how important Nirvana is to our generation. There were so many people there that I don’t normally see at Twiddle shows. It’s such an important piece of music for us.