Interview with Marc Brownstein of The Disco Biscuits and Conspirator

Photos by Christopher De Cotis

Amid a circus of DJs, 20-somethings with computers and dubstep bands, the art of live electronica has been lost. The creation of electronic dance music by a band and not solely on a computer, is an art form few have mastered. Kraftwerk, Justice, Simon Posford, The  Chemical Brothers, Sound Tribe Sector 9 and the Disco Biscuits are in a class of their own. However, from the decreased touring schedule of the latter has grown a 2004 side project that has taken itself and audiences to new heights in the development of live electronic music. Conspirator, fresh off the release of their live album Unlocked: Live from the Georgia Theater, tour 60 or more shows a year from coast to coast, opening the door for the band to make a case as the best live electronic touring act in America today. Numerous festival appearances this summer will likely cement this journey that founding Biscuits’ Aron Magner and Marc Brownstein has taken with guitarist Chris Michetti and a rotating cast of drummers.

While the show itself was outstanding and a cadre of intensely dancing fans came to check out Dirty Paris and Blockhead open up, the interview with Marc Brownstein shed light on Conspirator, electronic music, and the current state of The Disco Biscuits. Marc said at one point, ‘It’s great to be inAlbany’, even though we were in Clifton Park. This just goes to show how big the Albany music scene is, stretching to Troy and points north, meeting up with the high peaks sounds of Saratoga.

Conspirator 4/26/12, Northern Lights, Clifton Park,NY

Setlist: So Much More > Step Inside, Hands Up, Countash > Feed the Wolf >Brooklyn Bridge> Hard Acid > Commercial Amen > Caves > Orch Theme > Liquid Sawyer, Gypsy Lane, Neck Romancer E: Fascinate

Orch theme video

Interview with Marc Brownstein:

Your new live album, Unlocked: Live from the Georgia Theater was released recently. What is it about the creation of live electronic music that leads to such a kinetic response from the crowd?

Electronic music in general gets a kinetic response from the crowd. Doing it live just brings in that element of surprise, and that’s the thing that we’ve always been used to having in our world, so that’s one thing that I’m not ready to give up and moving into just playing electronic music with an element of surprise in there. You can create it DJing for sure without instruments; really great DJs are great because they construct their sets the way the great bands of all time have constructed their sets and they’ve made the show flow through, they’ll play half of one song then go into another song then maybe they’ll bring in a little piece of one song over another song, and its like they’re doing the same stuff at this point that the great jambands did back in the day, and still do.

What is the origin of the band name Conspirator?

It’s mostly about collaboration. The whole idea was just to collaborate with everyone out there that we know, Joe Russo to the guys from Umphrey’s to the different drummers we’ve used, Lotus, The New Deal, KJ SAWKA and Adam Dietch. It’s about Aron and I having the chance to bring in these different influences and elements over the tracks that we produce and interpret them differently with different musicians.

There are quite a few songs that stretch from Conspirator’s debut album, The Key, have been played by The Disco Biscuits as well. Is there a difference between playing them with two different bands, even though two members are common between them?

It depends on the song. For Portal (to an Empty Head), the difference is that we’re not singing but we’re playing without any tracks, but (Digital) Buddha we’re not singing but we’re playing a whole different version, a computerized version of it and made a track for it. We made a computerized backtrack of Buddha and broke it up, it can be triggered and its totally loose, we’re not stuck on it, we can use it and improvise with it and tweak it, but it makes them completely different from the Buddha that we play in the Biscuits. And then there’s the ones in the Biscuits that we do without any track like Commercial (Amen) or Liquid Handcuffs or Orch Theme but over in Conspirator we play them the way they were written. In the Biscuits we interpret these electronic songs into rock form but in Conspirator we’re playing them as electronic tracks and adding rock instruments to that but staying true to the fact that they’re electronic tracks.

What are the origins of Orch Theme? How did the song develop into such a slow building aria?

The song was named for the sound on the keyboard that it’s based around, so the actual sound of the theme of Orch Theme was called orch theme on the computer so he (Aron Magner) named the song after the sound, which happens sometimes. It’s not the first time its happened where a sound has dictated the name of the track; after all it is music.

So Chris (DJ Omen) and Aron wrote the theme together, then we brought it into the Biscuits, dropped everything except that Orch Theme sound and then we turned it into what we do, which is stretch it the fuck out. Sometimes we even play it without ever playing the theme, we’ve actually put it on the setlist and just played through the whole entire thing and never got to the theme and just left it and went somewhere else. Then at the end of the show we’ll be like ‘we never played that’, and we just got so far out in the jam that we felt like the actual song didn’t even get played.

(After the show, I asked Aron Magner for his take on the origins of Orch Theme and he gave some more details to the creation of the song)

“Orch theme I wrote in 2005 and at that time Lord of the Rings was the best thing ever, as it still is right now. I was working in the studio with DJ Omen and I was wondering if we could make some thematic and cinematic music, I wanted it to sound like electronic, like the orcs are coming in. as I was browsing through patches, I was like ‘oh my god!’, ‘Orch theme’. The motif is trying to say orchestra theme because it has layers and layers, the bottom half of the keyboard has tympanis and the upper half has violas and in between has brass, there are 36 instruments laid out throughout the keyboard that double each other depending on their range so that’s the Orch Theme. So that’s how it came about.”

Recently, electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk performed their albums at MOMA. Did their music hold and influence over your early interest in electronica and if not, who were the first bands that turned you onto electronic music?

Well, Kraftwerk was a thing I found out about later when people used to say that we were the first band to play electronic music, when Kraftwerk was doing this decades before we came along. So they had no influence, it was like a collective unconsciousness of ‘dude, people have been doing this for a long time”, but for us it was mostly for us, Simon Posford, the person who was our earliest influence, via our friends from England who were friends with Posford and were playing us Hallucinogen and Shpongle back in the mid-late 90s. We had heard house music but it didn’t appeal to us as much as psychedelic music. Clearly, that was the bridge, between rock and electronic, that’s why Posford was the bridge, for all of this, for real. A lot of people attribute us as a bridge in America for bringing rock and electronica together, for pushing the styles together at Camp Bisco and by forging a rock and electronica festival, but the bridge came from similarities between the psychedelia of trance and the psychedelia of the jamband world; it sounded very different but the idea was the same, to try to tweak people out.

Your drummers rotate, including Lane Shaw, Mike Greenfield, Darren Shearer, Adam Deitch and KJ SAWKA, currently playing this tour. How hard has it been to interlace through different drummers and keep the music consistent from one night/tour to the next? 

It’s been much better since we’ve had KJ for the last six months. Having one drummer is what we want, it’s preferable, and the band is getting better and better. Last night was one of the best shows we’ve ever played, we know each other now, and we can communicate with each other. It’s great.

Is Conspirator, initially conceived as a side project becoming the main touring act? Will we see Disco Biscuit tours again?

Well, when the Biscuits aren’t playing this is certainly going to be the main act. But I’m assuming there’s going to be more Biscuits tours. That’s the assumption I’m running my life on. Of course there’s going to be more Biscuits tours. We wanted 2011 off and we didn’t get it, it just didn’t happen. We wanted to take the whole year off

You mean including Camp Bisco as well?

Yeah we were going to take the whole year off and then we talked Jon into doing Camp and we talked him into doing Inferno and then we talked him into doing Nokia and Identity and before you knew it we played 50 shows and said “Well that wasn’t a year off.” I played another 80 on top of it, I played 130 shows and so at the end of that I think we were just like “OK that didn’t work, the only way to do this is to legitimately try to not to talk anyone into playing any shows. For me, I have to be very disciplined, “OK, I’ll book myself to play with Conspirator and play these shows because I have a lot of energy and I put a lot of effort into trying to get The Disco Biscuits out on tour all the time for years and years and years, I’m always just driving it forward and pushing shows, booking shows, pushing festivals, so for me I just have to be disciplined and say “We’re taking time off, I have to accept that we’re taking time off.” I don’t know if I’ll ever take time off myself, personally. I just don’t see the point in taking time off. I get for other people they have to but for me personally, I just don’t…yeah, there’ll be more Biscuits shows.

Update 4/30, 11pm: This article has been updated to correct the name of a co-writer of Orch Theme. It was Chris Edmonson, AKA DJ Omen. Apologies for the confusion

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