I am usually pretty excited to interview a musician. I have never walked out of an interview more excited than I walked in. Until I got to chat with Mikey Carubba of Turkuaz, that is. I went to Catskill Chill festival back in September of this year, and it seemed like every time I looked, it was Mikey behind the drum kit. I saw him play with 6 different bands that weekend. (He actually performed 7 sets total). My intention was to talk with Mikey about that, and boy did I score big! Maybe it was just the right person in the right place, and the right questions at the right time? Little did I know that there are some HUGE things brewing for Mikey in 2017. I love when someone shares a snippet of privileged information with you, tells you “That’s all I can say about that right now,” and then proceeds to tell you all about it because they are so excited that they just can’t keep it under wraps. I walked away absolutely stoked and impatient for what’s to come in 2017. I don’t know who I’m more excited for, Mikey or my ears. The three of us are going to have one AMAZING 2017 . . .
George DiFabio for UMF: The reason I asked to talk to you specifically is that I wanted to talk about the Catskill Chill festival this year. I’m sure I didn’t see every time, but I saw you play 5 or 6 times in different bands that weekend.
Mikey Carubba: Yeah, that was the busiest 24 hours of my entire life . . . and everything prior with learning 128 songs and compartmentalizing and just trying to stay sane. It was the busiest 24 hours of my life, but also, at the end of it, it was the most rewarding. I played a lot of different kinds of music. There wasn’t a ton of different crossover in the musicians I played with which was great. I mean, obviously I have people that I love playing with. Danny Mayer and Taylor Shell I think were the only two musicians that I played with multiple times, so I got to be with a lot of my friends that I don’t get to see very often and play some great music. The last set was Danny Mayer Trio, and that ended at like, 10:30 on Sunday night and literally – we played the last note and I got up off the drums, and turned around and just collapsed on the stage . . . and kind of, insanely laughed for a while. I was happy it was over but then really happy I had done it and pushed myself, also really thankful for the opportunity to do that.
Mikey: I was running on fumes for the last two, but sometimes when you’re in that physical state and you’re in that mindset, you go to a place where . . . you go to this reserve tank that has all this crazy shit in it. And when you start playing from THAT place it can be super wild and really, really cool so the last two sets which were the Led Zeppelin Tribute and the Danny Mayer Trio . . . I don’t remember them at all. I remember most of the other ones, but I don’t remember physically those sets at all. Some people came up to me and were like, “Dude, you were just fucking crazy up there.” I don’t remember.
UMF: I saw the whole Led Zeppelin set and most of the Danny Mayer, and quite frankly, you didn’t look like you were dying for a nap.
Mikey: Yeah, it was funny – that Sunday was John Bonham’s birthday so it was especially a day where I couldn’t really . . . I didn’t have it in me to shit on the altar of John Bonham and I HAD to give it my all and I wanted to. I love Led Zeppelin and that’s kind of where I come from. That’s the closest – if anyone asks me who I think I most emulate or most often try to sound like, I would say John is probably . . . at least top 3 in my book for drummers I take the most from.
UMF: Was Turkuaz the first set you played at Catskill Chill?
Mikey: Yeah, Turkuaz and then Dopakuaz Yacht Rock were my only 2 sets on Saturday.
UMF: I’ve seen many Turkuaz shows and that was one of the best sets I’ve seen!
Mikey: Yeah, we were banging. Everyone was pretty fresh. We’d had a long break. The last show we had played was Lock’n Festival which was August 28th.
UMF: Super hot!
Mikey: It was 106 degrees on stage.
UMF: Mountain Jam as well. I saw you and I recall that the very hottest point of the whole weekend was your set.
Mikey: Yep, I remember the sun was just in the right spot to really cook us all. Sometimes that adds a little fuel to the fire. When it’s really hot, it just sort of makes me feel like . . . like high school football again. You’re bearing all the weight of the pads and the helmet and it’s hot and you still have to hit someone as hard as you can. I sort of treat the drums the same way in that situation.
Mikey: That’s a great tune to just . . . it comes out hot. We don’t do it often, but when we do it’s like jumping right into 3rd gear and hopefully we save those next 2 gears for the rest of the show but that’s the tune that sets the tone like, “We’re fucking here!”
UMF: The Dopakuaz set – from back at the drums, did you get to see any of the mayhem that was going on in the crowd?
Mikey: It was weird. At the top of the set, like right in the beginning, there was like, spider webs going all over the crowd. I had no idea what was going on. That was weird. And then someone on a raft, and then I saw Chuck (Jones) stage dive. That was a really mentally intense set, so I didn’t have a lot of time to look out at the crowd. It was a lot of eye contact with Fro and Eli. That was a very work intensive set. Pretty much all tunes we hadn’t played before and there was a lot to them so it really took a lot of focus. It was a blast doing it but it was definitely one of the more work intensive sets. It went great and it was received well too.
UMF: Not to apply any pressure, as if you need any, but you do realize that Dopakuaz has become one of the main attractions of Catskill Chill that people anticipate and look forward to, right? It’s becoming a big thing.
Mikey: Yeah it is. Dave Marzollo and Larry Siegel and Josh Cohen have always wanted Catskill Chill to be a collaborative festival. They have always wanted to have it be an event / concert experience that you’re not going see anywhere else – It only happens at Catskill Chill. And then when we did Studio 54 two years ago, that kind of set the precedent of like . . . that was the best collaborative set I’ve done in terms of combing a couple of bands. Having a lot of people who have said, fans and musicians alike were like – That was one of the best collaborative sets they’ve seen. So I think that sort of set the tone now.
UMF: You guys are just so tight it’s almost . . .
Mikey: That’s what we’re fucking doing now. That’s just how we’re gonna roll.
Mikey: You know, I think we only cut one. We knew exactly how much time we had and we didn’t really stretch the tunes out too much, so we had a pretty accurate time stamp on how the entire set was gonna go. We really didn’t have to trim much fat because we designed the set list to fit right in with that time slot that we had. I mean, at the very beginning we had tossed around ideas but in terms of what we agreed to play, it’s pretty much exactly what we planned.
UMF: Do you guys have next year’s theme already picked out?
Mikey: No, we have so much going on. I mean, even right now with our tour with the New Mastersounds. Remaining are 26 or 27 shows are all with them. We have a lot to think about with that. We have our New Year’s show in Providence – we’re doing 2 nights in Providence. We have Jam Cruise in late January, so we got a lot to think about before that . . . Jazz Fest . . .
UMF: I didn’t know if you guys already had a long dream list picked. “First we’re gonna do this, then we’re gonna do this . . . “
Mikey: You know, the way that it’s kind of gone the last two years is it’s sort of a brainstorming session between our camp, the Dopapod camp, and the Catskill Chill camp. They always pitch an idea or two. Something they might wanna see or something that they think their specific fans might enjoy. Then we workshop it and brainstorm it and come to agreement. That usually happens around April or May. Then we start listening to the tunes throughout the summer, throughout festival season. All those long drives we start actively listening to the possible choices for that theme. Usually by the end of the summer we have the theme and the set list locked down and then we have a month to get a couple rehearsals in. By September it’s Chill time!
UMF: I saw a silly rumor on Facebook somewhere, I don’t recall exactly where, that Dopakuaz is doing a Spice Girls set in 2017, which didn’t really make sense to me. Did Spice Girls have that many hits?
Mikey: No. Not to mention that I would NEVER do that. You could offer me . . . anything. I would not do that. No offense to the Spice Girls but that is not my bag at all.
UMF: It didn’t make sense to me when I read it.
Mikey: Yeah, that’s bullshit loud and clear.
Mikey: Actually, for the 7 sets I played there was 2 Dopakuaz rehearsals and 1 Led Zeppelin rehearsal. Everything else we showed up and played never having rehearsed and that is more of a testament to that professionalism and that level of musicianship where you do your homework and you show up knowing it. At that level, you can’t . . . the stage isn’t a place to practice.
UMF: That’s what I mean, did you guys rehearse on your own and then just show up and it comes together what appears to be perfectly?
Mikey: For the whole month of September, I had a gig probably every other day and it was at least an hour drive from my house to whatever gig it was. I was going to Northampton to Boston to Albany to all over the city, so for me it was listening. That was my rehearsal. I had a play list on Spotify for every set that I was doing and I was just listening. I would listen to a song 15 times in a row. I would listen to 1 song for an hour straight. Just repeat, repeat, repeat, until it’s just in you. It’s sort of like . . . you don’t learn something until you don’t mess it up. You learn something to the point where you CAN’T mess it up. I just pounded it into my brain as much as I could so that by the time I sat behind the drums it just kind of came out of me. So it was all done, really in the car, just listening over and over.
UMF: Maybe a little air drumming while driving?
Mikey: Steering wheel drumming. At a stop light I’ll tap my feet along on the brake pedal maybe.
Mikey: Yes, absolutely! The last one they just did for Brooklyn Comes Alive – unfortunately we were on tour while it was happening so he called in good buddy Adrian Tramontano from Kung Fu and Mike Greenfield from Lotus, and Mike League, the bassist from Snarky Puppy. But the original and semi-permanent line up is Roosevelt, Rob Compa, Eli Winderman, Taylor Shell, and myself. We’re developing our schedules for this next coming year far enough in advance where we can block out some really good time for it and come back and hit all these New York markets. Roosevelt is easily one of my favorite people to play with . . . awesome dude . . . the sweetest dude. Rosey’s one of a kind. I would call him a national treasure in terms of his musical history and the kind of music that he’s keeping alive and the way that he’s interweaving it with the music that’s going on now. I have a solo project that’s going to come out in 2017 and Roosevelt is a big part of it.
UMF: You’re leading me right to my very next question, which is – do you have any other collaborations that you want to tell our readers about?
Mikey: That’s as much of a hint as I can give. The producer that I signed on for and my co-writer is – that guy’s a legend too. He’s a big time dude and he’s a great friend of mine. He’s been a mentor of mine for a while. The other musicians – some of them collaborated with me for my VIP set at Catskill Chill. So that solo thing in 2017, I’m really excited for that because it’s gonna be my music for the first time.
UMF: Is it drastically different than what you’ve been affiliated with in the past?
Mikey: I think that you’ll hear the common threads. You’ll hear the things I’ve done with Turkuaz and what I started with Dopapod and all the other acts that I’ve played with in the interim and still collaborate with now. You’ll hear the common thread, at least in my playing, but I think that it will be unique because people have only heard my rhythmic voice and people have never really heard my melodic voice, my lyrical voice. I’ve always just been a drummer to everyone and now people are gonna hear the music that is in my head and not just the drums. That’s what I’m most excited about. Yeah. I’m really stoked about that.
UMF: Back to Catskill Chill – tell me a story about the VIP set. That’s the only set of yours that I missed.
Mikey: Sunday at 1 o’clock it was Michelangelo’s Sunday Sauce, which is just a throwback to every Sunday, growing up for 18 years, all of my family would go to my grandparent’s house. My grandmother would make a giant pot of sauce. And it was lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, neck bones and just all this stuff and it lasted all day and it was a real special time where, people I didn’t see all the time – THAT was the one place I would go to see them. When Dave Marzollo asked me to do a VIP set he asked me, ”Do you want to do it on Sunday?” Right when he said it was on Sunday, I just knew what I wanted to do with it. It was all just right there for me. So it was Nick Cassarino from Nth Power on vocals and guitar, Nate Edgar from Nth Power on bass, Roosevelt Collier, Steve Molitz from Particle on keys, and Nikki Glaspie came up and did some singing. It was really, really great. I tried to pick music that was completely different than what was going on at the festival and what especially bands that I was playing with were doing. I wanted it to be completely unique and it was. It was the first time that group of musicians had ever played together as a group, so I think a lot of people, including myself and the musicians onstage, heard things that they had never heard before. I think Nick Cassarino and Roosevelt had a really amazing time playing together because Nick is a beautiful singer and a really powerful guitar player and Roosevelt sings with his instrument in a similar fashion. We played this BB King tune, How Lonely Can You Be? It’s a real down tempo blues tune and you don’t hear a lot of that at Catskill Chill but if there were two motherfuckers that were meant to do that, at least out of the people that were there, it’s those two. And they just went off to a point where the rest of us on stage . . . we all just kind of wanted to get up and let ‘em do it. Some people crying in the audience ‘cause they were just getting after it and I saw that happen I was like . . . that kind of made something click for the future.
UMF: Well maybe that sparked something that will come around again sometime huh? (wink, wink)
Mikey: Yeah, that was a huge part of me really wanting to do this and being confident enough to actually take it on. I knew that those were voices that I heard, before I heard THEM do it. When they came to me, I met them, and I heard them do it for the first time, and as I’ve played with them . . . they have the voice that I hear in my head and I’ve been hearing in my head since I was a little kid. And now I actually have the people that are now dear friends of mine that I can do it with and that’s just the most exciting thing.
UMF: That is exciting! I CANNOT WAIT to hear those things!
Mikey: I’m SUPER, SUPER stoked!
I think anybody in their right mind who read this far is super stoked. Already stirring up the collaborations during time off, you can catch Mikey at Flour City Station in Rochester on Thursday January 12th performing with Dopapod’s Rob Compa, Mike Gantzer of Aqueous, as well as Willy O’Riley of The Niche and James Searl of Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. It’ called BORG Party 2017 and it is the ONLY New York performance = Don’t miss it!
Your next upstate Turkuaz fix can be found when they make their return to The Haunt in Ithaca on Thursday, March 23rd! Stay tuned for more information!