Camp Bisco 11 is coming up this weekend in Mariaville, NY. Bassist Marc Brownstein and I got into it a while back about the successful evolution of Camp, what it's like building Conspirator, and all the weird stuff that happens when you're making music, like catching a whiff of deemsters come up from the audience right before a "Crickets" jam.
He spoke about living for the moments when it feels like everyone in the room is connected, and the philosophical approach it takes to get there. You can also hear the other side of the spirited improviser: a brilliant marketer and business person. Once you get into it with him about the music scene, it's easy to imagine that if he wasn't making great music himself, he would be making something happen for artists that were.
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Let's get into it: You got another record out [Conspirator - Unlocked: Live at the Georgia Theatre].
Yup, I like the live one because you don't have to go into the studio to record the album. You find out after it happens that you already recorded the album -- it's the best.
How does it feel considering it was recorded about a year ago? You've been touring a lot since then and it's still a relatively young band -- does it sound strange? You must feel like you've come a long way.
Yeah, the band has played a lot since then. But that was the show. When we heard it we were like, "Yeah, this is what it's supposed to be like. This is what we're going for." Now, it's just a matter of honing it, writing new songs, and getting more and more chemistry onstage. We've pretty much had KJ Sawka play all of our shows this year, so a lot of it's been about getting the chemistry between this particular four-piece -- which we haven't had an extended run over the last two years with any one drummer, so that's been exciting because now we're really starting to see where it can go musically.
What kind of stuff is happening now onstage?
Well, KJ is getting to the point where he's starting to pick up little intricacies of the rhythmic interplay between me, Aron [Magner] and Chris [Michetti]. He's starting to play off of it. He's starting to highlight it. This is happening in the song sections and the improvised sections. You can now tell he's listening to every little thing that we're doing and enhancing it, rather than just playing a beat under it. That's important, especially if you want to take it to the next level. You need all four members being one unified thing, and that's where we're heading right now. We're one being instead of four parts, you know what I mean?
So a lot of surprises are happening on stage?
We like to keep it fresh. For instance, at Rock 'n" Roll Resort we had this whole Led Zeppelin theme for one of the nights. We'll take a Conspirator song and do a mash up with a classic rock song. You'll hear Girl Talk do mash ups or Pretty Lights will do mash ups, but we're like DJing our track and then mashing it up live in an improv setting. It's really high concept improvisation going on. And we got the ideas and inspiration from other people, but we do it… my history of being in a band for sixteen years has always been about to interpret those things, those concepts different. There's Umphrey's McGee, who are just so unbelievably talented at recreating what a cover song sounds like, but that was never our intention. From the very start the idea was to take the cover song and make it our own and make it completely different. That's what we got out of a tune like "Run Like Hell."
A lot of DJs do mash ups, and we're taking that concept one level further into improvisation on top of DJ tracks. It's pretty cool. So, when you ask if there are surprises, yeah, I'm surprised [laughs]. With Conspirator, there used to be no surprises -- it used to be me and Aron and the DJ tracks and we would play through the songs. We would get through the show. It would be high energy and a lot of fun. Now there's a whole other thing going on.
That's good to hear. It must be interesting to be at a point where you're building a band again.
Well, let me just say that I'm super grateful to be in the position we're in. Building a band was the most fun thing I ever did in my life. Building a band, I think, is significantly more fun than having a band that's built. That might be the reason you see so many successful bands stop doing what they're doing, you know? [laughs] You know, the thrill of the chase. It's with girls, or guys if you're a girl. It's the thrill of the chase. And sometimes when you get it, it's not all you thought it would be. I don't know… that's just one theory I have.
The reason I'm saying that is because building Conspirator over the last year and half has been some of the most fun we've had in years. Why would it be fun to be doing 200 people in like Charlotte, North Carolina on a Sunday when you're coming from some place that's so much bigger than that? And god, I wish I had the answer to that other than that there's something exciting and exhilarating about taking a blank canvas and creating something onto it.
Are you finding it a humbling experience or at times a frustrating one? You've had a lot of success. And you have a lot of loyal fans that might not get into it or understand why you're doing it.
No. No, because I try to see all of the hate as love. Because that's all it is. On the one hand you have hate and on the other you have love -- you learn about in Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee was talking about it, you know? Radio Raheem. When somebody is saying that they didn't like something, it's because they have super high expectations. If they didn't have high expectations in the first place, then you haven't been delivering the goods. You want them to have high expectations, and in that situation of high expectations, inevitably there's going to be certain things that don't meet those expectations. And you are going to hear about it. You got to be able to take it. You got to see what it is, which is just people loving you. Look, we think Conspirator is great over here. Chris, Aron, KJ and I have something special going on and right now we're on the back of the bus making a list of everything we want to do. What songs we want to learn on this tour. A lot of this tour is about the new album and trying to promote the new album, but at the same time we want to push forward and move forward and add new things. We're sitting back here with our instruments working on music, learning songs. You can't beat that when you're… I just turned 39, and to have the passion of people to be all together and working on it and making it better every day. It's cool too to have a new project that needs to get better, you know? Part of the fun is making it better. If it's four guys just starting to play together, you have so much room to grow. That's the best part. There's so much room to grow in Conspirator. Every day that's happening. And little by little, the fans are catching on to it. We had a listening party on Turntable FM the other day, and so many of kids in the chat room that we were talking to were like, "Dude! I didn't expect this. This is so much better than what I expected." So, on the flip side, there's really low expectations for Conspirator [laughter]. And by playing together every single day, we're becoming a really a good band. If you really want your band to get good -- and I've said this in a couple of interviews recently -- get out on the road and play a lot. Because when you play every night and you practice before the shows and you sound check, you end up playing hours a day. That's how you get a band to get really good -- especially up on stage. You don't want to rehearse on stage, but it is what it is -- you play two hours a night, twenty nights a month, it starts to add up. And that's what's happening right now and we're coming out and exceeding the expectations of the average person who's coming in to check it out. And it's starting to play to our advantages recently. People have been coming up to my face and telling me that it's not what they expected. At Rock 'n' Roll Resort these kids were saying these were the best Conspirator shows they've seen, and not like last night was better than the night before, but all of these nights are better than anything else we've done previous to two months ago. Every night now is better than anything we've done in the past. That's the vibe out there. But don't let anyone's expectations get too high now, I like going out there with low expectations, it's fun. [laughs] Low pressure. But no, we don't treat it like low pressure, we want to go out there and blow it up every night.
What do you think is happening on your end as a live player?
Well, the music is so different. There are moments when we crossover and it starts to sound like the Disco Biscuits, but the music is so new. We're coming out and playing a whole new set of songs. It's exciting. Those are the best parts of the shows -- when we're playing the newer, Conspirator only tracks, the stuff that's unique to Conspirator. That's when it's the strongest. It's not like you're sitting there comparing it to anything. This isn't what I'm accustomed to hearing -- I'm not talking about the fans, I'm talking about me -- I'm not comparing this interpretation of the song to my other band's version. For me it's the most fun and super pure to just play the Conspirator songs, especially the last year and half with Chris in the band. Because it's going in a different direction, it's more modern and current in terms of synthesis and sound, as compared to when we made the Key.