by Ashleigh Dunseath
A chance to sit down with three of the members of Master Thieves – though a wonderful time – felt far too brief. Chuck Dorgan (guitar/vocals), was joined by vocalist Denise Shuart, as well as bassist and vocalist Jacob Alaniz. Sitting across from the three you can feel the closeness, care and admiration they have for one other. That same feeling is also palpable on stage with all five members, which they all agree lends to the joy of creating and performing music together.
Dorgan is the first to admit that putting a band together is no easy task, one that takes patience and perseverance. Lately, from what this writer has seen, that patience is finally paying off. Jokingly, he states, “I think the band is on version 4.2.,” noting that he first formed the group in 2006 with an entirely different set of members. There never seemed to be a “meeting of the minds,” however, when it came to the musical aspect.
Dorgan met Shuart at the Syracuse-based Shenanigan’s during an open mic hosted by a mutual friend in 2007. From there they decided to perform an open mic at Shifty’s, and shortly after the guitarist decided to bring her into the fold, after getting on stage for a tune or two. Shuart herself is a classically trained vocalist (opera) and also studied viola and violin, always a treat to see brought out for a song or two during a gig. With musical influences such as Pat Benetar and K.D. Tundstall, Shuart taken the time to learn the background of the singers she emulates and was surprised to find out they are classically trained – or the product of classically trained parents – as she was. Shuart also laughingly points out that singing in a band like Master Thieves is extremely enjoyable. It’s a credit to her talent and dedication as the only woman in a group of musically talented men and the ensemble, as a whole, has a great amount of respect for one other.
Drummer Eric Tozer, first asked to join a bluegrass band due to Dorgan’s reluctance with the way things were going with the Thieves, subsequently joined the band. It was an easy transition for the drummer – who joined in the fall of 2009 – bringing along some straight-up funk, with influences including greats such as Galactic, James Brown, Karl Denson, the Meters and the Greyboy Allstars, just to name a few. Songs he would like the band to tackle, said Tozer Deep Banana Blackout’s “God Made You Funky”. And while the summer of 2012 has been a bit dry for the band (as far as gigs go), Tozer did get to marry the love of his life, wife Renee. Now that the dust has settled, however, the band is ready to knock some socks off.
Guitarist Brian Golden, of Norwich, NY, Tozer’s best friend, best man and long-time fellow musician, was brought into the fold shortly after the group’s then-lead guitarist exited to pursue other avenues. Golden, said Dorgan, brings “a very bluesy feel to his music,” much of which is influenced by the artistry of Hendrix, Clapton, Derek Trucks and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name a few. As for a tune Golden would like to cover with the group … Hendrix’s “Bold As Love.” The band, added Dorgan, would love to see its lead guitarist relocate to the Syracuse area (where the various other members are based), a sentiment shared by Golden himself.
Bassist Jake Alaniz, who stepped in at a crucial time in the band’s development (the recording of its first album, Robbing the Blind) said it was tough to step in and re-record someone else’s bass lines, yet it was necessary for consistency in the album. Once completed, Dorgan said it was like trying to give up a cute puppy; it was just too hard to do. Alaniz’s bandmates all agreed it only made sense to add the inspirational bassist to the group. Alaniz – who also performs with the popular CNY, Grateful Dread tribute band Dark Hollow – has been more than willing to share his musical talents. With a strong background in music – much thanks to his father the late David ‘Ese’ Alaniz – Alaniz said he finds inspiration in all different types of music, encompassing a wide range of artists. When asked, he couldn’t name just one song he would love to cover, because it changes so often. He did say, however, that he walked into rehearsal one day and proclaimed the band needed a reggae song, a genre that’s a clear focus on the group’s latest release, Nature of Gravity.
A true sign of a natural leader, Dorgan spent most of the interview highlighting his fellow bandmates’ talents. To be fair, Master Thieves is a labor of love for the guitarist, singer and songwriter. His inspiration, he added, was The Band, and he modeled much of his hopes on what the band could accomplish on that group’s success. Other inspirations? The Grateful Dead, Phish, and every other band that takes the stage knowing that soul – more than anything – makes for good music.
On Nature of Gravity, the band also has two other members who step-in for much of the album. Young saxophonist and guitarist Mikey Dufresne (I was very impressed considering he is in his mid to late teens) and keyboardist Mark Nanni (known best for his work with Los Blancos) both added their talent to the new release; something that truly creates an amazing, dynamic sound. And while Master Thieves’ debut recording, the aforementioned Robbing the Blind, was a good start, Nature of Gravity is much more of a collaborative effort, said Dorgan. From blues to rock, reggae to Americana, the songs have the ability to make you laugh, cry or inspire one to dance (or hula hoop!)
Camaraderie, said Shuart, is the most important element of the band.
“We can be playing … and we know each other well enough to know that each member is given the ability to have some freedom to freestyle, but when necessary there are moments to hold back,” she added. “Yet there is never a feeling that we are stepping on each others’ toes. When there is a disagreement, the issue is dealt with and [we] move on. The band works very hard to make sure they know the sound we are going for … we thoroughly practice, and are fully prepared, before stepping into the studio.”
Dorgan said he feels that Subcat Studios really enjoys having the band record there because its members arrive “fully prepared to knock out each tune. The Nature of Gravity CD release party, kindly hosted at the Redhouse, was a wonderful experience, said the band’s members (during the show, the band teased fans by telling them about a seventeen minute jam near the end of the album, what I consider the icing on the already rich red velvet cake).
Most of all there is a palpable sense of love, joy and kinship shared among this group that makes it feel more like a tight-knit – and functional – family unit. Such feelings are translated beautifully to their music and their performances.
The band has a few gigs lined up this month:
September 7th, 9:30pm @ Limp Lizard in Liverpool NY
September 15th , pm @ 58 Main in Brockport NY (Dorgan’s hometown)
September 22nd @Tipp Hill Music Fest time TBA
The band has a few favorite places they like to play in the CNY area by the way, including The Westcott Theater, Bull and Bear, Thunderbird Lanes and Coleman’s. The band is hoping to make it to more locations around CNY, such as Al’s Wine and Whiskey Lounge and Dinosaur BBQ, among many others. The Thieves most recent CD is on sale at the Soundgarden (and at every gig they play), and don’t forget to pick up your very own t-shirt (and other merchandise) that the group has for sale. Be sure to look up Master Thieves on Facebook and Reverb Nation to catch a taste of the group’s unique sound and stay up to date with what’s going on by visiting masterthieves.net