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Marc Brownstein Talks City Bisco, The New Normal and Jim Carrey, Too

To pick up on your DJ work, you have a busy week coming up playing with a variety of projects. In addition to Irving Plaza and Coney Island, you have a late-night DJ set on September 23 for Brooklyn Comes Alive and on September 24 you’re doing this supergroup with Aron [Magner from the Disco Biscuits], Joel Cummins from Umphrey’s, Mike Greenfield from Lotus, and Ryan Jalbert from the Motet.

Yeah, six shows in five nights. It’s definitely a lot, but you get into it. Once you’re getting prepped for one of these things, it just makes the other one better, you know? For me, the grind has already happened—I just have to show up and execute on Wednesday. The grind was when Lockn’ ended, and I came back home and looked ahead and saw I have six shows in five days. And I want them all to be awesome. So how am I going to prepare myself both musically and on paper? One of the things that’s really nice about the Brooklyn Comes Alive show—the supergroup show—is that we chose a bunch of music a couple weeks ago, and in choosing that music I sort of got into a deep hole of funk, groove and soul, and new soul and R&B. I sat down in my studio and got so deep into the world of bass guitar and learned so much. I discovered so many different musical groups that I had never discovered—stuff that we’re not even playing at these shows. Like the Sugarman 3—I listened to them all night and this morning—which is this guy Neal Sugarman, a saxophone player. It’s kind of just that new funk and soul vibe.

One of the beautiful things about Spotify is that if you throw on The Greyboy All-Stars or something, Spotify will suggest you seven or eight different groups in that world that you may have never heard of. Some of them are totally legit—completely legit bands that I’d never heard of. Maybe they’re popular in France or in the UK, and they play funk and soul; maybe one of them is from Germany or something, you know? The point is you get so deep into the preparation mode that by the time the shows come around, the grind is over. Now it’s just: get out onstage and let your fingers do the talking. If you’re prepared, it’s pretty do-able. The way we work right now, you have to be very disciplined. You have to stay on your game, just like anything else. Music is like sports or writing: you have to be disciplined to be on your game. If you were Jim Carrey, though, you’d say none of this shit matters—it’s all bullshit… Which it is, right? He’s kind of right about it all. Everybody’s like, “Is Jim Carrey crazy?” I’m like, not really—it sounds like he’s on it.

He woke up, yeah. Jim Carrey has it all figured out.

Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. He’s being pretty awesome right now.

You scaled back touring for a little while there, whereas in the last few years you’ve ramped it back up for these weekend events. I’m curious how this new schedule feels on a personal and creative level. And is this the new normal for you guys?

It’s not just the new normal for us; it’s the new normal for everyone. If you look at the history, you really get a sense of what this is all about. The musicians of yesteryear—many of them didn’t survive. It’s just not healthy to go out on the road… And how many of these mainstream arena acts do you hear about cancelling a tour for “exhaustion”? It’s an untenable situation. The lifestyle is uniquely impossible. I think that when you look at a lot of artists around us, they’re sort of getting into this as the new normal. If you look at Pretty Lights and Bassnectar—who are kind of the stalwarts of the EDM world that crosses over with the jamband world… I hear a lot of people say that the Bassnectar scene is like the Dead scene back in the day. And Bassnectar toured a lot to get this way. But not that long after we started doing what we started doing, I noticed that Lorin had moved over to an event-based touring schedule, and Derek has moved over to an event-based touring schedule, with the Pretty Lights episodic event tour package. And you know, Phish did a residency thing, and they do shorter tours.

The days of gigantic multi-month tours, multiple times a year is over. And if you want to go and see what it’s like—because we did this just a couple weeks ago—go and look at the Grateful Dead’s touring schedule. And what you’ll see is that they went on a summer tour, and then took off three or four days, and then the fall tour started. And they would go around and come back to New York, even though they were in New Jersey or New York a couple months before that. And then they’d make it to the end of that, take off one week, and the winter tour would start. And it never ended. They’ve talked a lot about why they did that. They had to do it because they had full-time employees—lots of them. You know, fifty or something full-time employees working in an office. And they shackled themselves to a touring lifestyle. So you can set the business up in a way where you have to be on the road until you go into a diabetic coma, and then ultimately die, leaving the rest of us heartbroken for the rest of our lives because our jam band overlord is gone. Or you can learn from the lessons that the Grateful Dead are trying to teach us—they talked about this in Rolling Stone and in their books. They’ve changed the way they do business to where they outsource; it’s a completely different business model. We were already there—just sort of accidentally. I don’t want to say accidental: this is just what we figured out that worked for us.

So the new normal isn’t just for us. A lot of people are realizing that if you want to do this— if you want to do it forever, and you want to do it well and put your all into it—you have to do it the way that works for you.

That’s a really good point about how it kind of just snowballed out of control. It got to the point where it became this machine that was too big to handle. Yet, in addition to Biscuits, you also have all of these other creative avenues. You have Conspirator and Breaking Biscuits and your DJ sets. I’m curious how you organize your thoughts and creative energy into all these different funnels? How do you click into DJ mode, or Conspirator mode, or Disco Biscuits mode?

It’s all about inspiration, to be honest. Not to sound cliché or anything. There are moments in your life where you’re inspired by stuff artistically, and when that happens you have ideas. I’ll have a hundred ideas over the course of the year about things I could do or things I want to invent; things I think that could make the bathroom a better place to be…you know, just anything. From the time I was younger, I’ve done it like that. I know some of these ideas I’ve had for inventions, I know I’ll never do anything with it. But with music or musical ideas, when I have one I’ll say to myself, “This is my world. This is where I am. This is where I reside.” If I’m inspired in the moment by funk and soul, I’ll try to put together a funk and soul project. If I’m inspired by electronic music like we were at the beginning of Conspirator, we put together something in that world… Just to learn electronic music. To make ourselves better and to make the Biscuits better—to make ourselves better as musicians and better as producers. I have a whiteboard and a to-do list with a series of projects on it, some of them in the music industry and some of them outside the music industry.

And you have a new side project in the works, is that right?

Just a one-night thing. I had an idea last week, and I was like, “Oh, that’d be so much fun to do.” And you know what, I’m just going to do it, rather than being the type of person that’s like, “Oh, you know it’d be fun if I did this…” I’m just going to do it. I’m going to find the time and make plans—where we’re not overlapping with Biscuits or with other things we have going on—and put some dudes together and set forth this new idea I have. The whole thing is in my head, everything from the setlist to how everyone’s going to look, to who I would like to be in the band, even though I don’t know some of the people. But in terms of what I envision for the instruments—the instrumentation and style of what each of those instruments are going to play—I have some ideas, some feelers out to musicians who will hopefully fit the bill stylistically. It’s a little different from what I normally do, and it was just a moment of inspiration where I said to myself, “You know what? It’d be awesome if I could have this be a setlist, and just kill it.”

Is it tribute stuff, or original material?

I’ll tell you when I’m closer to having it be a reality. One of my problems is I just start talking about shit, and then not everything happens. So I’ll say things like, “Oh, we’re totally going to play in San Francisco before the year is over.” And then it won’t happen, and people are wondering why we didn’t play San Francisco. And it’d be something where I really thought we were; the intention was there but the execution wasn’t. So maybe I’m trying to grow as a human.

To be honest, I can’t say anything at all without hearing Jim Carrey in my head. Every single thing I say is followed by a Jim Carrey voice in my head, going, “None of this shit is real!” That’s the problem. This is my first post-Jim Carrey interview. My life is being sorted into two very distinctive time periods: before Jim Carrey, and post-Jim Carrey. And now that we’re living in a post-Jim Carrey world, I feel like it’s hard to say anything and be taken seriously, because he’s exposed the world— the world of entertainment and beyond for what it is. He’s exposed it all.

We could sit here all day and talk about how cool the way we jam is, or how smart the business model is—all of that other meaningless stuff. And in a lot of ways, right now we’re in a weird time in America. I promised myself a couple weeks ago that I would start posting funny dog and cat photos on Twitter, instead of re-tweeting every single progressive left-wing political thing that comes through my feed. And certainly I have decided that—despite wanting to engage people through HeadCount and get them out to vote—I want to give my fans a small reprieve from the barrage of political information that’s being sent through the airwaves at this point. I hadn’t even thought about it until my sister-in-law posted on Facebook that her doctor had recommended she stop watching the news, because her blood pressure had risen like 20 points since the election. So I thought about that, and I’m in particularly good health for myself, compared to other times in my life. And I just thought I should stop talking about politics.

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