Exclusive Interview with Galaxy Dynamite
By Elise Olmstead
The jamtronica band Galaxy Dynamite from Norfolk, VA, was seemingly everywhere on the festival season for a couple of years, but they recently took a break to revamp their sound and direction. The band has a new lineup of members, and a more focused approach to their music. Their music is taking an exciting new course with a comic book inspired storyline, and actual comic books to coincide with each song, and their festival Starfire coming up April 22, 2017, will also include comic book culture along with a lineup of stellar artists TBA. The band is hitting the ground running, already on tour and headed to DC this Saturday October 22nd at Ivy City Smokehouse. (Find more information about the show here.)
Appalachian Jamwich had the opportunity to briefly sit down with Michael Mahgerefteh, EJ Toudt and Eric Tuthill to chat about Phish, Coheed and Cambria, Dragon Ball Z , their upcoming graphic novel series and festival, and the past, present, and future of the band.
Tell me briefly about Galaxy Dynamite and its inception.
Michael Mahgerefteh: Alright. So…, I went to VCU living with Paul Shugrue’s (from NPR’s program ‘Out Of the Box’) son Joe during 2009-2010. I used to play music with one of my first friends Sam Wolffe during high school… and because we hadn’t seen each other in a year since I was at college, we decided to one day during my summer break to jam at my house. He called at the last minute and asked if his co-worker, Kevin Arroyo, could come and play with us and of course I said yes. So we jammed at my house all night and loved it. We loved it so much; we decided to do it again. After our third time we decided to play outside of my house…so not knowing what to do, I typed in ‘Open Mic Night’ on the Norfolk Craigslist and decided to attend the very first one I saw on the list. On June 1st, 2010, we walked into the open mic night at ‘37th and Zen’ and wrote down ‘Galaxy Dynamite’ on the list. Galaxy Dynamite is a combat move that a minor character uses in the anime series ‘Dragon Ball Z’. It was a name that Sam and I came up with the year beforehand as a potential band idea. After doing the open mic nights twice a week for 3 months, we decided to book our first show at ‘The Regal Beagle’ in Virginia Beach. That was the first time we ever played outside of the open mic night and our name was on a flyer, and we just ran with it ever since.
Eric Tuthill: I was actually the sound guy at 37th and Zen working that open mic night, and sat in with them a couple times.
MM: And at this other place ‘Tanners Creek’.
ET: I know! It’s actually pretty wild to think about.
Tell us briefly about the band members and lineup changes
MM: So I would say this is actually Galaxy Dynamite 3.0. So Galaxy Dynamite 1.0, the first lineup was Mike, Sam Wolffe, and Kevin Arroyo also known as Cheeseburger
MM: AKA cheeseburger. So when you listen to our very first published recording, ‘Live At The Jewish Mother’, it’s actually us opening up for The Mantras. Their sound guy, Matt Gordon, had set up their really nice recording equipment for their set and happened to leave it on during our set and captured the entire thing. We billed it as ‘Psychedelic Surf Rock’, because I always felt that Kevin’s guitar playing had a beachy and metal feel to it. Sort of like surf rock sped up with rage…or however we did it.
*Mike picks at his toe*
MM: So Kevin quit because he wasn’t in a position in life to put in the time for the band and decided he needed to focus on other things and we changed guitar players to ‘Baker Cunningham’. We had him until the fall of 2013. After that, we brought on Eric Tuthill to be our guitar player. In the spring of 2016 we replaced Sam Wolffe with EJ Toudt so it goes like this:
Galaxy Dynamite 1.0: Sam, Kevin, Mike
Galaxy Dynamite 2.0: Sam, Baker, Mike
Galaxy Dynamite 2.5: Sam, Eric, Mike (during hiatus)
Galaxy Dynamite 3.0: EJ, Eric, Mike
How would you currently describe your genre?
ET: It’s going to be ‘Dad Rock’ in 40 years.”
*entire band laughs*
EJ Toudt: It’s kind of a combination of everything we all listen to. Mike listens to ‘Disco Biscuits’ and ‘Ozric Tentacles’. Eric listens to that and also other things like ‘Phish’ and ‘Buckethead’ and metal guitar playing. I listen to a whole bunch of different genres like jazz, heavy metal and rock. We kind of say psychedelic spacey rock, and also electronic rock because we have a lot of electronics going on with metal guitar influences.
MM: I would say it’s like progressive electronic rock
Entire band: “Dad Rock in 40 years.” *laughs*
So what are some of your inspirations when doing this project?
MM: I think that, for me, the main inspiration of doing it is this: Every day you turn on the media and see a bunch of bullshit being spewed at you. You constantly hear bands talking about politics, environmental issues and social injustices. And I wanted the band to be a tool to get away from all of those things. A lot of bands try and capitalize on issues like recycling, not smoking cigarettes, and I feel like the main reason you listen to music in general is to just get away from all of that. It’s not really for a cause… I guess the cause is ‘just enjoy the moment you are in right now”.
ET: I always look up at the stage and think of how cool it would be to share my energy with the audience and band together as one.
How long have you been taking your ‘Hiatus’ and why did you take this break?
ET: “It’s really called a ‘Spirit Walk” *laughs*
So when did you guys start this ‘Spirit Walk’?
MM: So in April 2015, we found out our bass player Sam was pre-disposed to have stomach cancer and was going to be going through a surgery to totally remove his stomach. So because that process would take a year, we decided to wait a year for him. We still played some shows during that year, but we mainly just learned a single set and played big opportunities like opening for Lotus at The NorVa or playing at events thrown by close friends of ours like Camp Barefoot or Pink Moon. Anybody who knows me at all knows that I shout about things and I am really good at getting the word out. And so I consider the ‘hiatus’ to be the time when I didn’t really shout about anything. We never really stopped playing completely, but we just did not actively book ourselves or shout about anything new that was going on during that time period. I would say that time period happened between the beginnings of 2014 until April 2016 really. It was like two years that we really were not ‘gung ho’ about it. If you look at our tour during the summer of 2013 we played 76 shows. I would call it a hiatus because we never really STOPPED, we just paused the creative process and promotion work.
What prompted you guys to start it back up?
MM: So after the surgery, Sam found an extremely attractive job offer that he couldn’t pass up in California. One of my favorite bands in the area was a rock band called ‘The Kill Circuit’. When Sam initially found out about the surgery in 2015, EJ from The Kill Circuit was the very first choice to replace him. It was either EJ, or we go on craigslist and put up fliers looking for a new member. He was a nice guy, but most importantly I loved his band, so because his band was so good I knew that he knew what we were looking for in our sound. When Sam found out about his job offer, it wasn’t 3 minutes before I called EJ on the phone asking him to join us. So I would say right when we added EJ, it started back up immediately. We still had to take 4 months to write out music, and more importantly we planned an entire year in advance every with single week listing what we would do for an entire year… when we would do a residency, when we would do a festival, when we would record and come out with material, it was an entire year we planned out in advance, that way we didn’t have to worry about it all along the way. But I’d say we have been ‘Back Back’ and started actively playing and booking shows this month.
What was your first show back on tour? How is your sound refreshed?
MM: Our first show back at it was at ‘622 North’ in Blacksburg for a Camp Barefoot benefit show opening up for RipeJive. Our sound is refreshed because… ok. You need to realize that Galaxy Dynamite started at an open mic night. We were literally billed as an ‘improv’ band. When you went to go see Galaxy Dynamite, you saw 3 dudes go on stage for 60 – 90 minutes and figure it out. Also, we really did not have a lot going on it was just Guitar, Bass Drums. We never had solid song structure; a Galaxy Dynamite ‘song’ was a one minute intro and then ‘figure it out until the end’. How we do it now is way different: our stuff is mostly made on a computer that we trigger live. There is a lot more going on and a lot more layers for us to play with. Also we have a guy who plays guitar and keys and not just guitar. More importantly, we are more vocals focused where we actually have songs and lyrics I am really proud of. Before, we were just improvising without words, so it was so hard to pick out a particular song you liked. When you went to go Galaxy Dynamite, you went for the promised experience and you didn’t really go to catch a song you really liked. I felt like people liked the idea of us and not just a particular tune they were chasing. But I feel like now, our songs have way more depth and you can say ‘Oh I like this song” as opposed to just the jam that we were doing at that particular time.
EJ: We still have songs that don’t really have words and jam.
MM: Right. But there is more to those songs than just playing an intro and hoping for the best. There is never a point where we are sitting on stage and hoping for the best, and it’s by design.
EJ: Not saying we won’t take those kinds of risks in the future in the future.
MM: I’ve been jamming improve for 6 years, so I’m all about it. But I felt like if we were going to continue this project, we needed direction… Direction in our thought process, writing process, and also direction in what we were going to do for the band in the future and direction in our music. We are trying to make every step of the way as deliberate as possible.
Tell me about your new concept album and your single “Back to Square One.”
MM: Alright so… we are publishing a graphic novel series titled ‘Starfire’. The album is a concept album which goes along with the graphic novel series. Every single issue in the series is named after a song on the album, so when you are listening to the whole album, you can follow along with the graphic novel series which are both in the same order. When you are reading an issue of the comic, you can listen to the song which goes along with what is happening in that particular scene.
EJ: ‘Back To Square One’ was written with the thought of the band going back to square one. We are pretty much starting over with regards to writing the songs, and I personally was going back to square one starting over with a new band so we were all going back to the beginning and starting over new with the project. When you go back to square one, your mind is blank and you don’t know where to go…and you pick one part and run away with that idea.
ET: Also we are nerds and love reading comics. A lot of bands we love use concepts like this like Coheed and Cambria.
MM: Ok so I used Coheed as a huge inspiration. They have a huge complicated published backstory which takes a lot of time to fully get into and they also excessively sing entire chapters in their songs. Phish was also an inspiration to me, because they have this universe called ‘Gamehenge’ It’s a universe/story they created, but you can only really know about it if you are a big fan of the band because they only really talk about it during live sets in between songs and very slyly lightly reference it in their songs like ‘Wilson’; as opposed to Coheed where the entire album is literally word for word an entire novel.
ET: Also like Pink Floyd and Disco Biscuits who put out epic rock operas.
MM: So what I wanted to do was the best of both worlds: a very simple storyline that was easy to understand and get involved with. Instead of making it an inside joke like Phish did with ‘Gamehenge’, I am going to put it out the same exact way as the album. When you hear about ‘Galaxy Dynamite’, it’ll be two things, the music and graphic novel series. There is no way you can know about the album without the graphic novel series, and there’s no way you can know about the series without knowing about the album and band that goes along with it. I think we are only going to do the graphic novel series for as many issues as there are songs on the album, and once both of those come out we are going to put that project to the side. The concept album and novel is a project and once we developed the project we will stop and it work on the next thing.
Tell me about your festival Starfire announce for April 22. Why did you choose this location and date? What sort of lineup can we expect?
MM: I felt that it would be good for the local music community and for the band if we had our own festival. I always admired The Mantras (MantraBash), Pigeons Playing Ping Pong (DomeFest), Manifested (Luna Light Festival), Big Something (The Big What), The Magic Beans (BeanStalk) and other bands which threw their own festival. I always admired the discipline and work ethic is takes to do a band project and on top of that run a music festival. So we decided to throw our festival to celebrate the release of the first issue of the graphic novel series and the release of our next album. We called it StarFire festival named after our upcoming series ‘StarFire’. This festival is a blend between the traditional ‘hippie’ transformation music festival experiences with a comic book convention. Imagine yoga classes mixed with cosplay contests mixed with video game tournaments, mixed with L.A.R.P’ing (Live Action Role Playing), live painting and fire spinners. I wanted both of those experiences in one place. We decided to work with O’Connor’s after seeing Josh Coplon’s ‘Lava Festival’ at the same venue. They are great people and amazing to work with, and most importantly they have a 3,500 capacity indoor/outdoor facility. It makes it a lot easier to throw a festival there because most of the infrastructure is already accommodated so we can focus our attention on the entertainment and not “how are we going to work out thousands of people coming to the middle of nowhere for a weekend” April just seemed to fit and it was on earth day so it worked out all around. In terms of the lineup you can expect: you can expect bands that you’ve heard of that are making their mark on the lineup, you can expect TNT entertainment acts (my booking agency), and nothing but the very best from everything to acoustic acts, live bands, and DJ’s. You can also expect 2 sets of Galaxy Dynamite with a special ‘daytime’ set and nighttime headlining set.
Tell me about the show coming up at Ivy City Smokehouse on Saturday, October 22nd in DC.
MM: One of the very first times the band played out of town was in 2010 with a group of guys who had recently formed a production company called ‘Heady Entertainment’. We were blown away with how much work they put into our show, from advertising, to making custom artwork hanging from the ceilings, and just the thought and love they put into making their bands feel comfortable. They are celebrating their 5th year anniversary in working in the Washington metropolitan area, and we decided that it would be a great idea for us to celebrate together. Also we reached out to James who works with the venue and he was going above and beyond to accommodate us for one of our first time playing out of town since our hiatus.
Where is this venue, have you played it before?
MM: It is located righti n the heart of Washington DC, and while I have never personally visited I have heard great things from reputable sources and am impressed with the pictures I see online. It looks like a great stage and space with delicious food.
What are the other bands that will be playing and why are you excited to play with them?
MM: We are actually thrilled to play with 3 local DC acts who we have never met before. ‘Buffalo 40’ is a rock band out of DC which influences from classic rock, funk and blues. ‘Albino Rhino’ is an unforgettable funk band with elements of jazz and improve. ‘Surprise Attack’ is a 4-piece improve heavy funk-jazz-rock band.
Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us, here are some links that our readers can use to find out about the show and we look forward to seeing you all at Ivy City Smokehouse in DC on October 22nd with Surprise Attack, Albino Rhino and Buffalo 40!
Ticket Link: https://www.giftrocker.com/secure/Order/?h=4a30557c