The Disco Biscuits
with comments from Keyboardist Aron Magner
By Paul C. Doyle Jr.
The sole purveyors of Trance-Fusion, the Disco Biscuits will bring there jazz funk electronica mish mash with a killer triple bill that includes The Miracle Orchestra and Refried Confusion to the Higher Ground on Thursday, September 17th.
The red hot Disco Biscuits are a young four piece from Philadelphia who are tearing up Americas highways and music venues in their quest for nirvana. The quartet is comprised of Aron Magner, keyboards, 22, Jon Gutwillig, guitars and vocals, 24, Marc Brownstein, bass, 25, and Sam Altman, percussion, 24. Though youthful, their developed style gives the impression of a more experienced composite.
They met at the University of Pennsylvania where Magner reveals, "Only one of us actually graduated, although by the time we all left...we were of graduation age. We share our diploma with our drummer." Magner describes becoming the last link for the Biscuits, "it was late 94 or early 95, they were gigging around doing frat parties...looking for another keyboard player. A mutual friend...said, "yeah I know this great jazz pianist. Hes got a Rhodes and all the equipment that you want your keyboard player to have and his name is Aron Magnum." So here they are thinking that I am this 45 year old black jazz pianist named Aaron Magnum." If you are wondering if Magnum is a famous Jazz pianist, Magner continues, "not at all, just the thought that popped into their heads, the vision when they heard the name Aaron Magnum. Can you imagine their surprise, this slumpy little preppie 18 year old Jew boy walking in. I think I was even wearing a baseball cap at the time." Any alienation was short-lived. "I felt like the new guy for a very short period of time. I quickly became involved in that circle of friends, which made things a lot easier, Id say on both of our parts."
Around April of 96 they met Johnny and Martha Mazzoula who were influential in the bands development as Mazoula (Anthrax, Metallica) became the bands manager and Martha owned Megaforce Records with the subsidiary Hydrophonics which would becomes the bands label. Next on board was Randy Alexander for publicity. As Magner tells, "Its great, because we roll into all these cities now that we have never been to and there are articles in the papers there."
As Magner explains, each member of the band brings his own luggage to the trip. "I just listen to the Ozric Tentacles. Thats all. All I ever listen to, all I ever did listen to is the Ozric Tentacles. No, that was a crowd pleaser. I grew up as a jazz pianist. Then when I met these guys, I literally had to learn how to play rock, which is a really weird thing...Really a new genre of music to learn how to play, but certainly keeping my jazz influence within my playing. Marcs kind of a funk bass player, but also with a little bit of a jazz background. Jon has real eclectic tastes in music, but hes a big Jimmie Ray Vaughn, Stevie Ray Vaughn fan...Sam has a much more hard core edge to him. Hes the guy that will walk around in black...all day long listening to really heavy stuff...Weve all got extremely flexible and eclectic tastes in music and we are always opening up our years, especially now, to new things. Weve all recently gotten back into classical and some of the tunes that weve written recently are reflective upon that. Weve got an Overture."
The Disco Biscuits have a great new release, their second, Uncivilized Area, (1998, HYD, 1297) Magner says, "Were selling about 100 a week. We sell half that much at our shows and then the other half are picked up in the stores. Its really nice to see with all the press and with the internet of late the way that it is, that we can roll into towns like Austin and Dallas, Texas and have half the people there already have the CD. Never seen us before, know who we are...know at least some of the tunes."
Of late, most of the bands energy has gone to touring. Magner continues, "for all intensive purposes, weve been on the road for the last 18 months. We sit back and look at it a little bit like a game of chess...If we continue to tour and tour and tour, were going to get older and not have the time that we really want to put into songs to refine the songs the way that we need. So we made a decision about a month ago to take November, December and half of January off. With the exception of a few gigs that come in. Were playing the New Years run at the Wetlands in NY City."
The live playing is paying off however. Fan response has been very positive all over the country. Says Magner, "we make Wetlands our home in NY...Every time we roll in there are plenty of people that weve never seen and our number continue to go up. We really enjoy Charlotte, NC, a) because of the fans, b) the club down there is phenomenal, Jack Straws, and the best food in the country, at any club. Fans in Minneapolis, our first and only time, were incredibly receptive...to the point where we were able to bring some of the Minneapolis kids that saw us for the first time out to Colorado to catch a string of shows that played out there."
The band will use the break from the road to practice and work on songs at their new house in the suburb of Upper Darby, PA where "there are no bars, there are no girls, nothing...Weve got this gorgeous band room set up and the greatest part, finally, is that weve got all four guys plus our sound guy living in the same house, which makes us really susceptible to practicing as much as we can...With 2 ½ months off well have an ample amount of time to put into tunes that weve had in our heads for awhile, or mainly that Jon and Marc have had in their heads for awhile yet havent had time to talk to the other members about, and get [our] ideas on what parts to put in. As well as to put all four of our heads together and sit down and just play really, and see what comes of it. Then I think, when we come back in January, well really start to hit hard.
Magner further explains the techniques that the band uses to create new tunes. "Almost all of the tunes are derived from the minds of a) Jon Gutwillig or b) Marc Brownstein, including lyrics. With Jons tunes at least...sometimes hell have specific parts that he wants everybody to play that the players themselves will be able to refine because they know their instruments better than he knows them. So, for instance, the last four days we have been working on this overture and there were literally scored out parts for everybody. The other way that we work, and this happens often with Marcs tunes, hell come up with an idea...And hell basically play it for us and well come up with whatever we can and deal with it from there, in terms of feedback from the rest of the band."
Despite living and working together, Magner explains that they have a "Really nice group dynamic...You know what, were married to each other, so its kind of like this unconditional thing. Yeah, we get in our disputes every once in awhile...20 minutes later you make a joke and all is made up."
"We all have a lot of, how do I put this, weve all got a lot of intellectual curiosity and were all pretty smart kids so certainly using five of those heads together can cause some problems. For the most part its great and any problem that does get caused by...exist by putting our five heads together, is really of benefit in the long run. We go about music with that intellectual curiosity. We dont just like to understand why it sounds good, we really dissect it so after awhile we start to understand theoretically why some things sound better than others. What different colors does this chord provoke than another chord...Why does that extra bar sound much rounder than it would if we were to subtract that bar. All sorts of things to really try to get to the bottom of it to understand a) the tunes much better and b) why music works like that. Its really mathematical. Not to say that you can plug in a formula, but it can be dissected. Its getting scary for me, Im starting to play and see numbers. I got influenced by the movie Pi the other day...everything in the world is mathematical, even chaotic things. Nothing is more chaotic than some of the pieces that we play but I start to understand it after awhile...it takes me a really long time but sometimes I can see the piano in terms of numbers.
For more info check get on the web at: http://www.discobiscuits.com