Turkuaz are the innovators of the Powerfunk sound that is starting to boil over into a Powerfunk movement. Dave Brandwein is the mastermind of this funky 9 headed monster. Consider him the “Wizard of Kuaz.” (My apologies, I couldn’t resist the cheesy play on words. I will elaborate more on this in a future writing.) I sat down with Dave Brandwein of Turkuaz recently, before a performance at the Westcott Theater. After a long day in a Syracuse recording studio, Dave allowed me some time to probe him on Turkuaz’s latest EP Stereochrome as well as Digitonium, their new full length release due out this fall. We touched upon Turkuaz past, present, and future and Dave really left me waiting in suspense to see where Turkuaz will be taking the future of the Powerfunk sound.
George DiFabio: The first question is pretty standard, if I could just get a brief history of the band. I know you and Taylor met at Berklee School of Music and beyond that?
Dave Brandwein: Yeah, we met there and we were making a bunch of demos, basically, that turned into what would eventually become this, but we had no idea at the time. Our friend submitted them to our school’s label, Berklee’s record label. They loved it and asked us to do their annual showcase for the year. We didn’t have a band together yet. We just had a couple of us on the demo recordings so we called our friends. Five out of nine of which have been with us since the very first show, that one show at Berklee. A few months later, moved to New York and just kept at it and that’s pretty much how it started.
GD: You have a newest member, one of the females, right?
DB: Yeah, Shira joined last … basically end of fall into winter and just did our two month west coast tour with us. That was a nice way for her to dive in head first and get real familiar with all the material as well as everyone’s personalities and just the way the road is and she’s done awesome so we’re super happy about that.
GD: What happened with Geneva? Did Sami wear her right out? I know it’s hard to keep up with her.
DB: (Laughs) No, Geneva left last summer because she was having some vocal issues, developing some nodules on her vocal chords and basically hit a point where she came to us and said she couldn’t tour this much. Obviously a band with our schedule that was kind of a difficult thing so . . . as shitty as it was, you know?
GD: Sadly enough, she added substance to the whole equation there.
DB: Definitely! But, you know, we also knew that this is an ever evolving thing and we’d had past members leave before that we couldn’t ever imagine the band without them. And then all of a sudden a year later we can’t imagine the band without the person who ended up coming in and replacing them. These things happen when you have a nine piece band. You can’t obsess too much.
DB: Yeah, when it started actually; it’s funny we’re playing with Dopapod tonight but we had a bunch of shared members. There was a period of time where Eli and Neil, who is the previous drummer for Dopapod, were both in Turkuaz. At that time we had Neil playing percussion and we had a separate keys player and two guitar players. So that’s how that got shrunk down is basically we don’t have percussion anymore and Craig doubles on keys and guitar while Chris doubles on trumpet and keys. At that very first show I think we had thirteen. We started out a little bit more ambitious. For a number of reasons we toned it down. I don’t see us going below nine at any point. I think that would probably start to hinder what we do arrangement-wise.
GD: You guys are definitely one of the harder working bands around right now – you tour coast to coast to coast and back again and again. How many miles did you log last year?
DB: Last year was, I think eighty or ninety thousand.
GD: Finally we can talk about your new EP, Stereochrome. Available now, how is it different than your other releases?
DB: Well, two ways – one is it’s an EP so unfortunately it is a little bit shorter. Two – it was recorded with pretty much all analog technology. Recorded on tape machine, we didn’t even turn the computer on until some of the final stages when we had to get it to the mastery engineer to make digital copies out of it to distribute. So it’s a really different sound because of the nature of how we were recording it. We chose to use our material that didn’t really fit on our next full length that we are currently finishing up. This material is some of our older, more soul type of tunes. The type that, in our set list you might think are cover songs upon first listen, but they are really just made to sort of emulate music of that era weather it’s the 60’s or the 70’s. We chose that material because we thought the way we wanted to record it would complement that. Usually we work on albums for several months if for no other reason than we’re touring so much and we have to go in and do a little bit of it, go back out on tour and then go back in and do a little bit more. It’s never ideal but it’s just what’s necessary. This one we were in and out. In three days we did the entire thing which is really refreshing. While we were doing it, our singer Sami was listening back to the mixes and she was like, “Man, this sounds like Turkuaz in black & white!” So we toyed with that idea for a title for a little while. Then we eventually arrived at Stereochrome which is basically a smartass way of saying the same thing. And obviously that’s a theme we’ve been exploring the last several months with or website, merchandise, wardrobe, all that stuff.
GD: Did you produce this one like you had so many others?
DB: Yes, but this one and the next full length that we’re doing I actually have abstained from any official engineering duties. Stereochrome was done all at my studio in Brooklyn. The next full length album I produced along with co-producer Craig from the band and Jocko, who lives here in Syracuse – a bit of a local celebrity – he’s co-producer of the full length that’s coming out in the fall. But yeah I’m generally still making sure we carve out our time to work on albums, planning out the concepts ahead of time, putting together the schedule for it. So, in that sense, always producing but I’ve really enjoyed stepping back from all of the engineering stuff and letting other people handle the technical aspect so I can just focus on the music.
DB: Yeah, Josh sings vocals on “It’s So Hard” and Sami on “Tiptoe through the Crypto.” I did write those two songs for them specifically to sing lead vocals on. So yeah, I wrote those two. Of course the arrangement is done by the whole band. Just in terms of lyrics, melody, things like that, I did write those as well as “Gettin’ a Little Closer” which is a remake from our album Zerbert. And then the first track was a co-write. Basically the whole band just kind of improvised, well not improv but wrote a track in the studio. It’s the first track, “The Fader.”
GD: I really like that!
DB: Yeah, that seems to be the favorite so far. I’m glad we ended up starting the record with that one. That’s a new one that people haven’t heard anything of yet.
GD: In your promotional bit on your website you state that “Stereochrome opens the portal of the future of the powerfunk sound which will be defined by your full length album coming out in the fall, called Digitonium.” What is the future of the powerfunk sound since you guys invented and own it?
DB: You will find out. Digitonium, which we recorded right here in Syracuse, is by far the coolest thing that we’ve ever done. It’s very different though. I think Turkuaz fans are gonna be extremely surprised at what is sounds like but I think they’re gonna be extremely happy about it, especially after a listen or two. I’m hoping people don’t say, “Oh, what the hell is this? This is totally different.” And they may but I can almost guarantee it’s gonna be well worth it. It’s a much more futuristic, hi-fi sound. In fact, Stereochrome was sort of, strangely, a diversion that we’ve thrown in beforehand to just make sure people have no fucking idea what is gonna come next. It will be interesting when people hear it but I am extremely, extremely excited for it. Honestly, it’s hard to put into words, but you’ll get it once you hear it.
GD: Are Stereochrome and Digitonium companion pieces or totally different?
DB: Totally different, but also companion pieces in that we made them different from each other, being aware of both of them coming out the same year. It was like, “Let’s do something that’s totally in the other direction, super analog, old school sounding. Don’t even turn the computer on.” And then we did Digitonium, which is like all digital, crazy, hi-fi synth, future sounding. So, I think the goal is just showing the full spectrum of what we’re capable of.
GD: Alright, last question is the stupid one. The jumpsuits – retired or on hiatus?
DB: See what happens when Digitonium comes out. (Laughs) I’ll go with a tentative hiatus on that one.
I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait to see what comes out in the fall! I am loving my copy of Stereochrome in the meantime. Highly recommended, grab a copy today!