Disco Biscuits' Aron Magner on making every Bisco show special and what defines a jam band
The Disco Biscuits aren't just about the jam scene - this year's installment of their summer music festival Camp Bisco will feature, among many others, LCD Soundsystem, Method Man, Ghostface Killah & Raekwon and Denver's own Pretty Lights. The Biscuits have actually been incorporating electronics in their music since their inception fifteen years ago, but only recently have they started to seriously absorb other sounds, from indie rock to hip-hop.
Their most recent studio effort and most commercially successful, Planet Anthem, was eight years in the making. And, unlike past albums, it was predominately born of studio craftwork, rather than live experimentation. We recently spoke with keyboardist Aron Magner about the importance of the live show, what to expect at the Inferno and what defines a jam band.
WW (Kiernan Maletsky): Were you trying to expand your fan base with this most recent album, or is it just a matter of what was inspiring you musically while you were recording?
Aron Magner: Something that was definitely in the back of our minds was to start gaining more of a fan base. I don't think we were ever trying to make our songs more palatable to the masses; it certainly was not like that. What we set out to do was to make a dance-y album, an album with hooks. Making sure that each of these tracks were built well enough that they had hooks. And if you get yourself a good hook, and it passes the memory test, and if it's a dance-y tune, then it's going to reach a lot further than the esoteric fan base that our music can garner.
WW:When you're playing the new stuff live, do you play it to the record of expand on the ideas?
AM: We're definitely trying to start breaking these tunes open when we play them live, that's definitely the goal. Some of the songs need to marinate a little bit in our live setting before we find the perfect places to really open them up.
"Fish Out Of Water" is a perfect example of that. The song is what it is. It's a perfect four-minute and two-second song, or whatever it is on the album. Whatever it is, when we start playing it live, it took us a couple months to really find where and how to execute a jam into that song.
Same with "On Time." The song is what it is. It's songwriting 101; you get verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. That's straight out of a textbook, but that's not the Disco Biscuits to play just that. We're going to constantly try and evolve the song, find a jam point for it, find a launch pad where a song like "On Time" can be a heavy hitter in our set.
WW: Do you have anything planned for this year - guest performers or stage show stuff or anything?
AM: Of course. We've always got a few tricks up our sleeve, especially for big shows. It's interesting for the big shows you constantly want to do something that tops last year's performance, whether it's a show like New Year's Eve, where we always pull out some kind of antic. Whether it's musical or production or whatever it is, you're always trying to top the previous year.
It always amazes me that we can think of things, as last minute as they sometimes are, to throw into the show that makes it special. The goal with any Disco Biscuits show is to make it as special as possible. We put a lot of thought and a lot of concentration and a lot of money into really topping each year. So yes, we have some tricks up our sleeve.
WW: You've played more of the world's great venues than most other bands. Which ones stand out, and which ones are you still looking forward to playing?
AM: The special shows are the ones that stand out in my mind. The Camp Bisco, if you can call that a venue. Red Rocks is a place you dreamed about playing when you were a kid in the same way that I still dream about playing Madison Square Garden. Playing Fuji Rock was just crazy, all aside from the fact that we were in Japan. The set of the Field of Heaven Stage, specifically, was really unlike any stage at any other festival that I've ever played.
WW: Do you think place plays a big role in how the set sounds?
AM: Definitely. Think about any show you've seen in an outdoor place as opposed to an indoor place. The vibe immediately, from note one to the last note, is just inherently different. The way that a venue sounds and, of course, looks, plays a huge role. Whether we like it or not, regardless of what songs we put into a set list, if we're playing a venue that's set up more like a rock club, that's the vibe that we're going to at least tap into.
Not to say we're chameleons in these places, but you definitely tap into that vibe. In the same way that we tap into the vibe at Camp Bisco with 10,000 people in front of us, of like, 'Holy shit we're a huge fuckin' rock band. And we own this joint right now.' Without sounding too hippy-dippy, there are energies that you tap into in your location.
WW: It seems like you associate at least as much with bands outside the jam band scene as in it -- why is that?
AM: Every member of the band has a pretty vast musical palate and enjoys listening to different music. How a band like the Disco Biscuits is able to weave ourselves into the scene, if you will? I read an interview somewhere that John, our guitar player, did recently, where he was talking about how genres really no longer exist, you know? And whereas that was kind of an ethos of jam bands to begin with starting a decade ago. Promoters would even market it that way: An eclectic blend of jazz, fusion, rock, electronica, bluegrass, funk, whatever the fuck it is. That's kind of what jam band-isms where, a blend of various styles of music.
If you had asked me the question five years ago.... What defines a jam band? I would give the response, "Was Miles Davis a jam band?" Because he was able to play the head of a song, and then open it up into some sort of improvisational structure, where you didn't know where it was going only to come back to the head of the song. Does that make Miles Davis a jam band?
It's the same philosophy the jam bands have of opening up sections to improvise over. Now, when you listen to modern music, regardless of what quote-unquote genre it is, whether it's Justin Timberlake's pop or whether it's Vampire Weekend or MGMT, what's interesting is they're all blending various styles of music together that all kind of tap into two different elements.
One, there's a human side of it, where there's either a voice or an organic instrument. And number two, there's all these electronic elements that are being fused into it. And then you can take these two things and put it under a rock beat or put it under an electronic beat, overproduce the shit out of it, have a live band play over it. For chrissake, I just saw Jay-Z on Saturday Night Live playing with the most badass rock group.
Disco Biscuits kick off a three-night Colorado run this evening at the Boulder Theater (sold out), followed by a show tomorrow night at the Ogden Theatre and culminating with a show on Saturday night at Red Rocks, with the Glitch Mob, Booka Shade, the Crystal Method, Pnuma Trio & Aeroplane.