Charlottesville, Virginia, based band Disco Risque has been quite busy lately — recording a new album and playing the mega-jam fest Lockn this past August. This album will be the first with their full current lineup that includes vocalist and trumpet player Ryan Calonder, so the band is very excited to debut it at a special CD release show this Saturday October 6th at the historic Jefferson Theater in their hometown of Charlottesville along with bands People’s Blues of Richmond and The Folly. We talked to them about their music and their experience recording this new album.
First of all, can you tell us a little bit about your band? When were you formed, who are the members, and how did you all meet?
First just want to say thanks for doing this with us, we’ve been looking forward to working with you again. Disco Risque was started back in 2014 when long time friends Charlie Murchie (guitar) and Robert “Slim” Prescott (drums) decided to quit fartin around and actually commit to making a band and giving that life an honest attempt. John Bruner (bass) was added shortly afterwards, and together the three of them wrote our first album “Disco Risque.” Ryan “Swimsuit” Calonder (vocals/trumpet) was brought on in early 2015 to do the vocal tracks on that album and that’s been the full lineup since.
How would you describe your musical genre? Who would you cite as influences?
Early on Slim coined the phrase “Funky Rock ‘n Roll Dance Party” and we think that does a pretty good job capturing our sound. We try to make sure our fans aren’t getting too much of any one side of us though. Sets can be pretty different from one night to the next; one day you’ll see a bunch of goofballs playing tongue in cheek funk tunes, and the next day you’ll see a much more aggressive set of dudes playing heavy riffs.
Our influences vary with what’s going on in our life. We made a point going into this new album to make sure that some of the songs we were putting out were marketable. We love the first album, but long heavy instrumental tunes are harder to get people to bite at if they don’t already know you. We were all kind of surprised when Bruno Mars became our biggest influence for a while…the dude knows how to write hits, and right now we’re all about that. Naturally we have our standing influences as well and those include Umphrey’s Mcgee, Led Zeppelin, Animals as Leaders, Phantogram, Between the Buried and Me, Neil Young, White Denim, etc.
You all recently played Lockn, that’s amazing! Tell me a little bit about how you were booked for that and the experience playing there.
So Lockn was a wild ride. We got a slot there by winning a state-wide competition called Rockn to Lockn that’s held every year for bands that reside in Virginia. Its a three round competition, with the first round being online votes, followed by a regional battle of the bands determined by in person voting, and a final battle of the bands also determined by in person votes. We were one of four bands to take the prize and as a result got to open up the festival on Saturday morning.
It was prettys surreal getting up on that big stage, and even more unbelievable was the fact that the Grateful Dead were doing their morning soundcheck beforehand. The band members weren’t out there, but it was sweet to be backstage watching everything get checked, and taking pictures with John Mayer’s guitars. Our set went really well, and we’ve already had a number of people come to shows just because they caught our set at Lockn, and you really can’t ask for more than that. Also it will always be cool to see that we got to play on the same stage, the same day as People’s Blues of Richmond, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Big Something, Tedeski Trucks Band, and Dead and Company. That’s just a cool day of music to be a part of.
You are releasing a new album soon which is very exciting! Where was it recorded? What is the name of it? How did you decide the name?
Yeah we’re really excited about this release. We recorded it in Richmond, VA at The Ward with Ricky Olson. Matt Volkes (bassist for People’s Blues of Richmond) gave us a heads up on the spot and basically just said if you’re looking for somewhere this is the place. Want to give a big shout-out to Ricky because he really made these songs sound HUGE, couldn’t have been easier to work with and just knocked it out on his end.
We’re calling it “If You Don’t Like Hits You’re Gonna Hate This” and arriving at the title was kind of a long process. We had a pretty long list of names but this one was on there early and we always thought it was both funny and accurate. Its definitely a cocky title, but so much of this album is just that tongue in cheek showmanship that really isn’t supposed to be taken particularly seriously. We picked 9 songs out of about 20 that we had finished and were basically ready to record, and these ones definitely represent the more pop/funk side of the band…the “hits” side of the band.
Tell me a little bit about the recording process – how long did it take, did you already have most of the songs written, is there a certain direction that you were taking with this album?
The recording process was dreamy. Just a gang of dudes playing music and telling jokes, if it was anything, its was a fun time. We knew going into this we wanted to make a more focused body of work than our first release. The first album is a double album with a schmorgesborg of tunes that have a large stylistic range, for this one we wanted it to be more concise and approachable. Something you could listen to on the way to work. Since our music generally goes between funky and heavy, we decided to favor the funk and give people something they could dance to. There are still some pretty heavy elements in there and tunes like “American Maestro” and “Gravity Mirror” will keep those fans happy.
All of the songs except for one were written before we went into the studio. There were still parts written in the studio just to build up some of the horns parts (the album is super horn heavy) or to fill out certain sections that we can’t do as a live four piece, but otherwise the songs were “done,” and ready to be recorded. “Gravity Mirror” was a late addition to the lineup and we worked on that while we were recording, but we’re all glad it got in there.
What song is your personal favorite from the album and why?
We all have a bit of a crush on “Gideon.” Its definitely a different kind of tune for DR. Its got a lot of pretty parts to it, the lyrics are personal and introspective, but there’s also a section in the middle where its just goes off the fucking rails. John initially brought the song to the table, and everyone ended writing parts that worked really well together. Also its a bit of a tribute to one of the band’s heroes, Mandy Patinkin.
You’ll be celebrating the release October 6th at Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville with People’s Blues of Richmond. Have you played at Jefferson Theater before? What do you like about it?
We’ve played at the Jefferson a couple times before. We’re based out of Charlottesville and that’s one of the best spots you can play a gig, especially if you’re playing inside. Its an old theater from the early 1900s that was converted, modernized, and reopened in 2009. Its a big room with a big stage, and we’re stoked to go in there and blow things up. Its also got a great staff that are really easy to work with.
Have you played with People’s Blues of Richmond before? Why do you think your co-bill is a good combination?
We’ve played with People’s Blues and number of times in the past. They’ve really been instrumental in our come up as a band, and we’re really grateful to them both as a band and as friends. They definitely slay and put on a rowdy ass rock ‘n roll show, and their fans go hard. As far as having a co-bill there’s really not much more we could ask for than that.
How do you feel you have evolved as a band from inception to this point?
The biggest difference is our professionalism. We show up on time, we answer our advances, we hustle to promote and push ticket sales, and we think its really paid off. Everyone in the band really does a good job playing their role. We’re currently self managed (but looking for representation for all you agents reading this!!) and we’ve developed a pretty good system, and not too much falls through the cracks anymore.
Our music has definitely evolved as well. The songwriting is a little less unleashed at this point. In the past where we may have written some crazy 16 note riff, we might take a second and decide that 8 notes or even 4 is far more effective. That’s not to say the crazy riffs don’t make it in, we’re just trying to be more selective, pay more attention to the details.
Do you have more fall tour dates planned? What are some dates you are particularly excited about?
We had a pretty busy September, so October is going to be a little quieter for us after the CD release. We’ll be coming back to Roanoke in November for Thanksgiving day weekend, and that’s where Slim and Charlie grew up so its always a good time.
What else in the near future are you looking forward to for the band? What is something in the more distant future you are excited about?
Well its not really band related but John is getting married at the end of October so we’re all pretty excited for that. We’ve also made plans to get back in the studio in the near future to get some of our heavier tracks recorded so our most brutal fans can be satisfied. Mostly though we’re kind of looking forward to tackling 2019. We feel like we have a lot of good momentum moving forward right now, and just want to ride that into the new year. Currently we’re trying to make plans to put on a cool 1 day event next Spring in Charlottesville, but its still in development.