Last month, we were lucky enough to sit down with Dave Russo, singer, banjo player, and mastermind of The Primate Fiasco when they played a show at Funk ‘n Waffles downtown Syracuse. It’s no big secret that they are one of our FAVORITE bands and absolutely a band you should know if you don’t already! Join us as we take 15 minutes to talk about their new band member, new songs and new sound, as well as an update on the next installment of Dave’s cartoon, “Adventures of The Primate Fiasco. . .” in which he chronicles the story of the band, while portraying them as superheroes fighting evil.
George DiFabio: You guys are famous for always bringing something new to the table. This time you present us with a lot of new things. First and foremost, you brought a new drummer, Will Sigel. How did you settle upon him? I know it took some searching.
Dave Russo: We actually spent all winter trying different drummers because we didn’t know what sound we wanted. We only had one drummer, while everything else has been replaced several times. Chris was our only drummer, so he kind of helped us develop our sound and our identity. So to think of losing him – we actually couldn’t picture what that would be like. It’s like breaking up with your first girlfriend. You can’t imagine what your next girlfriend will be like, you know? So we played with some great drummers all winter and they were all very different. We learned a ton and then right at the deadline, right as our season was going to start again, Will moved to our area and found out we were looking for a drummer so we said, “Sure, why not?” We were almost kind of burnt out on trying people at that point. Really, we were just anxious to get started and we tried him out and about 30 seconds into the jam, we were looking at each other like, “Oh yeah, this is EXACTLY what we’ve been looking for this whole time!” We just had so much fun at that first jam. We were like, “This is how it HAS to be from now on.” So it was a pretty quick decision once we found him. It took forever to find him, but the first few bars in we were sold.
GD: He certainly brings a lot to the table, and he really fits in. After seeing your show yesterday, he doesn’t sound at all like you grabbed some guy and had him quickly fill this spot just so that you could make some shows. Sounds like he’s been doing his homework. He fits into his part well and brings some fresh new life to the whole.
DR: What’s funny is the first gig he played with us, he was doing exactly that. Just cramming in and faking it and learning it all with hardly any rehearsal. That was his first show with us but since then, he’s a quick study. He learned all the stuff pretty quick and then we were able to tweak stuff. Once he learned it, we were like, “All right, now try it this way. Now put your own stank on it and see what it sounds like when YOU do it.”
GD: Another thing I noticed that’s new – your sound seems to be taking a shift. I don’t know if I would say darker, or more driving, maybe heavier in a certain way.
DR: I think of it as heavier. Yeah.
GD: Is there anything driving that?
DR: I think it just might be the nature of having just banjo and accordion being the lead instruments now instead of a horn section. Horns are really great at a certain thing, but unless they were all blasting at full volume it doesn’t really get crunchy or dark. Now we have the ability to do that. In fact, it works better for us to do it that way. I don’t know. I don’t think we ever necessarily have a direction that we are trying to accomplish. I don’t think we ever say, “Let’s sound more like THIS.” I think we usually just see what happens. We have an idea. We start going with it. If it ends up being dark and heavy, great. If it ends up being light and fluffy and bouncy and fun, great. Our only rule is really no rules. We just see what happens. And that’s what’s been happening is that dark heavy feel.
GD: I didn’t know if that was one of the by-products of a stressful situation of losing a drummer and having to get back on track.
DR: No, I don’t think the sound is affected too much by that. That’s the kind of thing that drives lyrics and other art that’s on the periphery, but as far as our sound – I think it’s like one quarter of each person and what manages to happen.
GD: Funny you mention that, you must be reading my mind segueing into the next question. The other new things you brought to your performance at Funk ‘n Waffles last night was a couple new songs. Obviously you are creatively moving. One of your songs was an instrumental which was great, and the other one, I think it was called “Little Arrows” – I was trying to catch all the words. That seems to be a little different than your average Fiasco song as far as subject matter. It comes from a different place. I think the line that stuck in my head is, “There’s no place like home. I wear too many hats to hang.” That sounds like it comes from a different place than what we are accustomed to hearing.
DR: It is a different place. It’s not light, pop, love song type of stuff, but it is a subject matter I’ve worked with before, just not in our more popular stuff. If you dig deep into old albums like Tap, there are some similar things. But that came out of our new position of being on the road more than we’re home and a lot of our closest friends, the people we identify with the most, are in other cities. I’ve personally lost touch with most people in my home town, which I used to be very connected with my home town, and now my home town is like, from Maine to South Carolina. (laughs) That’s where I live – in a van, on the highway, in the left lane, at 95 miles an hour. That’s my home. That’s where that song came from and I guess it’s sort of a visitation of all the places that I feel like I’m at home when I’m there. There’s a lot of cryptic storytelling of just personal stuff that you wouldn’t know unless you were there. It’s all in there for interpretation.
DR: Yes, lots of stuff actually! There’s 2 ways that new material comes about. One is that there is a groove or a melody or something musical that gets into your head and that starts forming and then you decide. Either it’s an instrumental or “I wanna put some words to this! What does this sound like it’s about? What am I thinking about right now that I should write about?” The other way is when you have a concept that you want to talk about, that you want to make a song about, and you don’t have a sound for it. You are just thinking of it and you’re thinking of what you would say if you were, like, giving a lecture on it. Once you start to have phrases of things, you start to hear a beat and a melody that fits what you’re saying. So, there’s the music end and the lyrical end. It can start from either end. There’s a list of concepts that I’d really like to have songs about. As far as melodies and grooves and chord progressions and stuff, I’ve found that with this particular line-up, that stuff comes automatically. We can just say, “New song – 2…3…4…” and then we’re playing a new song! (laughs) There’s this melody, there’s a bass line, and there’s a beat, and everyone has a lot of input. Sometimes I’ll say, “Here’s a chord,” and they’ll put their quarter in and if I’ve got the words ready to go we sometimes come out with a new song in the amount of time it takes to play the new song, almost like it kind of writes itself!
GD: Any other new things on the horizon?
DR: I would really like to make Episode 3 of “Adventures of the Primate Fiasco,” the animated version of us.
DR: I do a lot of work in my head, silently. I pretty much have it done start to finish before I pick up a marker and I would say it’s just about coming together. I’ve got the story. I’ve got the concept and the theme. Still looking at what characters I would like to cameo into it if we need it. I’m really looking forward to it a lot.
GD: “Questival, Episode 2” is entertaining and funny. Anybody who has never heard of you but is a festival junkie, I play that for them and they always say, “This is classic!” It touches upon so many little things.
DR: Well that’s the thing – it was a gift to the people that we see at festivals. I don’t think the next one is going to be about festivals. I think the next one is gonna be about identity because one of the things that we deal with is, what type of music are we playing? Everything wants to be categorized and labeled and it seems to matter all the time. “What type of band are you? What type of music do you play?” Because everything exists digitally online and everything’s got a pull down menu or a check box and a little word next to it. There’s different festivals for different kinds of music and there’s different venues for it. Tuesday night is this and Friday night is that. We either belong nowhere or everywhere depending on who you ask, and so I would like for the next episode to be about that. There’s obviously gonna be new superheroes in that episode, so it will be sort of an origin story of this particular chapter. Also how that translates to fighting the evil powers that be and how not having a clear identity might be a strength, and hopefully not a weakness. Sometimes it feels like a weakness.
GD: I’m sure it will be full of all sorts of weirdos that you’ve accumulated in your conscience over the past few years since you made “Questival, Episode 2.” Maybe a naked guy will zip across the screen, strapped to the back of a golf cart, screaming “I destroy worlds!” (Sorry for the visual. This is a running inside joke that actually did happen!)
DR: (laughs) I mean, that’s the kind of stuff that it’s supposed to be full of. The one rule I have about “Adventures” is that is has to be a true story. It can be as metaphorical and analogous as possible, but the story is always gonna be true. That’s the one main thing.
To keep up with the latest Primate Fiasco news and tour information, please visit their official website or Facebook page:
Watch the cartoon we were mentioning, “Adventures of The Primate Fiasco. Episode 2: Questival”
All Photos by Jerrie DiFabio