Exclusive Interview with Turkuaz
by Elise Olmstead
No one can deny the power of music that makes you move, and the funk freight train Turkuaz takes booty shakin’ music to the next level. Their high energy tunes packed with the joyous sounds of horns, keyboards, guitars, funky bass, drums, and soaring vocals will put a pep in your step as well as a smile on your face. The unique story of how these skilled musicians came together starts with a single demo song that turned into an unstoppable force of musical magic that took over New York, eventually turning into a nationally touring band with an impressive repertoire of originally composed music. I saw that you guys were recently at LEAF festival, I’ve heard great things about that fest, how was that?
It was fantastic! It’s a different setting than most festivals that I’ve been to, very family oriented. It was pretty much all ages, from babies all the way up to older people. It was a little weird at first, but it made the whole thing a little more friendly in general. It was good vibes everywhere. It’s a really good feeling when you feel like your music is connecting to people from many different generations at once. The festival grounds are beautiful as well, I enjoyed it quite a bit. We also got all our minds blown by Bootsy Collins, who played on that Saturday night.
I saw that Dave has been dealing with a hand injury, how is he doing?
He’s doing okay. Now he’s seeing some specialists and having it looked at. Some potentially serious problems that we thought it might be have been ruled out, so that’s definitely good news. The bad news is that he still doesn’t have mobility in his hand, so it’s not clear how long he’s going to take to recover fully, but we’re all hopeful that it’s going to be soon. But it’s going to be an obstacle this summer. That’s for sure.
When did that happen?
It was actually the last day of Jazzfest, it was the Friday that we were playing. We set up our gear and were doing our soundcheck earlier in the day and everything was fine, then we went back to the hotel to get some sleep, because our set started at 4:30 in the morning. Later on, when I was backstage warming up and one of the guys came up to me and said “Dave’s hand doesn’t work.” I was like, “What do you mean his hand doesn’t work!?” He pulled a muscle or something and pinched a nerve – it was a freak accident. So we’ve been dealing with it and finding ways to use our ensemble to get through it. We called Eli Winderman from Dopapod to join us for three gigs, and he is fantastic, those gigs went well.
Yeah, I’m a big Dopapod fan so I would have actually loved to see those shows, I bet that was fun.
It was! He’s actually going to play a couple more with us. He’s going to be playing with us at Summer Camp and Colordance Festival in Ohio. They happen to be at those so he’s just going to jump in with us. Also Mike Gantzer from Aqueous is going to play some tunes with us at Domefest. We’re just finding friends along the way to help out, and it’s a cool way to collaborate while Dave is dealing with this very unfortunate problem.
What’s it been like for you taking a different role in the band? It seems like you all are very versatile musicians.
Yeah! That’s the cool thing about this group, there’s a lot of varied talent that we have. From last summer up until this point (trumpeter) Chris Brouwers and myself had both been also doubling on keyboards, which I enjoy a lot. Because of Dave’s injury I’ve been playing primarily guitar again, so that aspect of the ensemble is still coming out strong. It’s been different – you learn to compensate for different things. We’re a big enough band that we can adjust, though it’s not the same as having everything at 100%. You also have to change the repertoire quite a bit and find songs that can work with those specific instruments.
What’s it like touring with such a large group of people? Do you all travel in the same vehicle?
We all are in one van together. It’s a 15 passenger van, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in one of those – its big but not that big. There’s nine of us in the band, plus Zach who is our lighting director, so there’s 10 in the van, plus people’s significant others/spouses or people working merch or whatever. So it can get up to 11 or even 12. So it’s definitely intense, it can get tight in there, but it’s also fun. Eli was just with us and he was noticing…he was saying that the cool thing about having a lot of people is that it’s always like a party. It’s like, you roll into a club and you’ve already got 10 people to hang out with. I’ve learned to have the perspective that there are just as many advantages as there are disadvantages to having that many people. It’s tough because it’s tight on space, you split the money that many ways, but you also have that many people with different talents. When we have van problems, for instance, we have a few people who are good with cars. We come equipped to deal with all types of situations.
Was the intention always for the band to have so many members or did it just kind of fall together that way?
Well, the way it happened was, Dave and Taylor made a demo record just for fun. Then their friend that worked for the Heavy Rotation records (Berklee’s student record label) without telling Dave and Taylor, he just submitted it. They got accepted as one of the artists on their label, and when you’re accepted on the label you have to do a performance, that’s just the way it goes. They found out they had to do the show so they were listening back to what they had recorded they were like, well, we’ll need a horn section, we need female vocalists, we’ll need this and that etc…it’s because of the nature of what they recorded that they had to put together that ensemble. Amazingly, out of that ten people they picked to play that first show, five people are still in the band. It really just kind of came from those first recordings.
Oh, so it just kind of happened all of the sudden!
Yeah, it was totally by chance, but it turned out to be great. Everyone had a really good time and enjoyed it. They played a few shows in Boston after that, and then everybody went to New York, and everybody stayed together.
Is that where everyone lives now, is New York?
In and around. We’re all based out of there. Myself, because we’re on tour so much, I don’t have a permanent apartment, but I stay at different spots in North Brooklyn: Williamsburg, Bushwick and Greenpoint – that’s where most of us live, and that’s where lot of our mutual friends live as well. There’s a lot of musicians and artists, so it’s a good place to be, in a lot of ways. A couple of us live in Manhattan, Mikey lives in New Jersey. Because we do so much regional touring around the Northeast it’s a good location for us.
Besides some of the obvious influences in your music like Sly and the Family Stone and Parliament, who are some musicians that you grew up listening to that might be an unexpected influence?
Me, personally? Or the band? We’re all really all over the place, as you’d expect. I grew up liking all the classics like Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd, like a lot of kids. I was into Phish and that kind of music growing up – I was always into the Jam scene more than a lot of my bandmates. But I’m into more of the synth-y music as well – I like the band Air a lot. I play a lot of synthesizers so I listen to a lot of music that’s more that end of the spectrum. I also like stuff like James Blake and Animal Collective. I was really into modern Classical music like Steve Reich and Arvo Part when I was in college. Dave – he’s like a crazy Beatles fan but he also loves a lot of 80’s music, especially Tears for Fears – some of his favorite songs are by them. Taylor, he’s from the Bay area, so grew up being really into hardcore bands and punk. Mikey likes metal, especially Meshuggah, we listen to that in the van sometimes. Sammi likes this weird band called Grimes (who I also like) and Geneva is obsessed with Stevie Wonder. Josh goes to Burning Man so he’s into all this Electro Swing music he heard in the desert, and he also loves that Harry Belafonte song that goes “Its Okay, I believe you!” Chris loves Foreigner. And Greg likes a lot of jazz, I know he’s into Eric Dolphy. So it’s really all over the place, but it all kind of finds a place in there somewhere.
What is about funk and motown music in particular that inspires you?
I think that a lot of people look at that music (specifically Motown) as a Golden Era of American music. That’s the kind of music that everyone seems to agree upon in the band. There’s funk as a genre, and then there’s elements of funk that were present in the earliest jazz and blues music that you can trace into popular music of every era. That’s what you hear in Motown, even though you wouldn’t classify most of that music as ‘funk’ music. Those same things you recognize in funk music, that kind of bounce and feel, is sort of universal. Funk as a genre is like James Brown, Parliament, Sly and the Family Stone, that is what really defines it as a genre – that’s pure funk. I guess what inspires us about this music: It’s celebratory music, and that’s what we all relate to, that positivity that comes from dancing and partying. The best feeling I ever get playing music is when it’s fun and celebratory like that.
Tell me a little bit about your album Future 86. What was it like recording and how is it maybe different from other albums before it?
It was recorded in a bunch of different phases and steps because we were on the road so much. That, to me, is what the whole record is about. It’s about being a live band paying our dues, traveling all over the country and learning all those lessons, and getting that spirit into the music. That’s what makes it kind of different than the records before it, they were a little more carefree in a way, because they were recorded in New York and we were just hanging out and having fun. I still think they are good records but I don’t think we had earned our stripes yet.
How might your live performances be different from what’s recorded in the studio?
That’s always going to be the case – its always going to be different beast because we are primarily a live band. That’s what we spend our time doing. Right around the time that we put out Future 86 we put out the record “A Live Affair.” I’m really proud of that record, it was recorded this past fall. It consists of a bunch of recordings made during our Brooklyn Bowl residency last September and some festival sets that we did around the same time. Obviously live you can stretch the songs and push the limits more. Our repertoire has increased quite a bit the past couple of years since we’ve played a lot of shows – that’s what happens when you play a lot. So we can go a lot of different directions with our music when we play live, and a lot of times we’ll write a set list and when we get out on stage there will be a different feeling than what we anticipated, so it will go in a completely different direction. I feel like we pass the ball around a lot, too. If you come to see us on different nights different people will kind of “be in charge” that night. We contribute pretty equally but depending on the set list and the way things are going, a different person might be the focal point on any given night.
You guys have a packed tour coming up including lots of festivals. What do you like to play better, shows or festivals?
I absolutely look forward to festivals, and I think we all look forward to festival season. You get to hang out with your friends, you play in front of a different crowd, you usually have a captive audience which is cool – at a club, the crowd can leave whenever they want, but at a festival, they’re kinda stuck there! You also have an element of competition which is cool as well, it’s the only time where its more like a sporting event in that you’re going head to head with these other acts. So you have to step your game up in a way, it kind of feels like you have something to prove sometimes, especially when you’re a little band like us. It doesn’t feel the same way at regular club shows because the people are already there to hear you specifically. [At a festival] You’re getting in front of people who don’t know you and you just want to play a good show, and don’t suck, basically. (Laughter) That’s goal number one is “Don’t Suck.” On the other hand, if you’re paying a show with your name on the marquee, you know that people came out to see you. Sometimes they sing along to the lyrics, and you can feel that sort of energy. There’s a freedom that you get from that. That’s really the best feeling, that freedom to be yourself because you know they already like you. It’s like when you out on the 3rd or 4th date with someone, you can kinda drop your guard because you’re pretty sure they really like you by now and you can just be yourself. But I guess the best scenario is when we’re at a festival AND they’re there to see us!
Any certain festival that you’re looking forward to this summer?
Oh, so many. Summer Camp is coming up pretty quick and that’s a big one. I’m looking forward to that quite a bit. There are a lot of bands that are sort our peers that we get to hang out with, and also you get to see bands that are legends that have been doing it so long. High Sierra is a big one for us, because its really our first festival on the West Coast. We’ve been going out there for a while, and we feel like we’re starting to be accepted by the people there. It’s still small for us out there but I think we have kind of camaraderie with some West Coast bands which is awesome. Definitely looking forward to the Mad Tea Party Jam – everyone had great things to say about it last year and so many of our friends are playing there, so that’s gonna be awesome. We just played Jazz Fest in New Orleans and that was unbelievable, we really want to go back next year. It was a huge experience for me personally, and I think we all took a lot home from that. Catskill Chill. I love Catskill Chill, it’s just the best. And Bear Creek of course is coming up in November. We were there in 2011 and have just been trying to get back there, so it’ll be good to be back there again.
Can you tell me a little bit about your June residency at The 8×10?
I’m very much looking forward to that, Baltimore has always been good to us. From the first time we went there, we were well-received immediately. And it’s its just a huge party every time. Baltimore knows how to party, for sure. Baltimore and Providence are America’s two under-the-radar crazy party towns. Anyway, The 8×10 is a great venue- it always has been. They just have a great culture of music there. So we’re just excited to be there in general. I know that ELM is going to be there, Consider the Source, and some other great bands will be playing with us. It’s going to be cool.. we’ve never done a residency in another city before, so it’s going to be fun. But we’ve done residencies in New York, and we know what it takes to keep people coming back every week, so we’ll put a lot of work into making every show special. We cant wait!