Conspirator's Marc Brownstein on Hulaween 2014, His New Act Electron, and Social Activism
Andrew Scott Blackstein
As Halloween draws nearer, so does the annual, aptly titled Hulaween Festival at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park. It's four days of camping and jamming out to Medicine for the People, the String Cheese Incident, Thievery Corporation -- the lineup goes for days.
But there's only one man with the power of two bands seeking rain check redemption after last year's fest, and that man is Marc Brownstein. Opening the festival during the Thursday pre-party with Electron and guaranteed to keep your feet moving throughout the days ahead with Conspirator, the Disco Biscuits' bassist sat down with New Times to talk about what it's like to help create a genre and how the misspelling of his name lead to his proudest Halloween costume to date.
New Times: What are you looking forward to most at Hulaween?
Marc Brownstein: I am very excited about Hulaween. I don't know if you know this story, but last year, we drove all the way down to the Spirit of Suwannee for Hulaween with Conspirator, with a 12-hour drive ahead of us up to Alabama. So we're hanging around with our pals from Big Gigantic as they are getting ready for their set and were so set to collaborate like we always do when we play festivals together and then the storm hit. It was just biblical style flooding, all the way up to the stage. We were still hanging on to this idea that we would still be able to play and we just couldn't.
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We really wanted to perform and when we didn't get the chance to do it, we were really bummed out. So we are just really looking forward to the chance to get up there and do it.
Our Hulaween redemption! And this year I am lucky enough to play with two bands!
Are you dressing up this year?
Is there a reason to? Oh! Right, Halloween! For a minute, what went through my mind was, "Is there a secret bar mitzvah? Is someone getting married?"
No, we aren't playing the festival on Halloween, so I probably won't dress up. We will be in Atlanta. I do always dress up for Halloween though. There's always some semblance of dressing up. At least for a song or two.
What was your best costume?
There was some sort of spelling error one year where instead of Marc, my name was spelled Marn. It became a thing with the fans. Everyone started calling me Marn. I ended up coming up with a rap about Marn and dressing up like him for Halloween that year. So when the time came, I felt like I had an artistic obligation to fulfill the Marn 3:16 character. By the time I put the costume together it was like Jesus mixed with Jeezy.
It was great. It felt good.
In an interview recently, you mentioned that you feel less pressure when you play with Electron than you do with the Disco Biscuits or Conspirator because the end game is a little different. Can you explain what the end game is for Electron?
I think that with Electron, it isn't something that we were ever trying to build into a career. It has happened a little bit, but you know at this point, there is Conspirator and the Disco Biscuits, and if the goal was to be "successful" creating music, I can say I feel like I've been able to do that with the Disco Biscuits. So when I play with Electron, it is mostly just about having fun and making music. Adding any level of pressure or stress to that would defeat the purpose. We are comfortable with the success we've achieved personally, so there's less pressure in the Electron situation.
It's become that with all three projects at this point. I feel like I have a lot of time now to dedicate to other things, Electron being one of them and even Head Count.
Can you describe Head Count and how you became involved?
My best friend and I co-founded an organization to get people registered to vote. He just called me one day and said, "We have to do something." Once we started exchanging ideas, it came down to that. It was a non-partisan kind of thing where we could engage people and be socially active.
Do you consider yourself a social activist?
I think someone could just consider me a social activist simply because I helped found a political organization, but I do consider myself an activist.
The Disco Biscuits did form the Bisco Power Mission where we raised a lot of money to help move solar power into a school in Philadelphia. The whole water heating system is run on solar power, which is so cool.
A lot of activism is the spread of ideas and concepts, but actually seeing the tangible evidence of our fundraising was motivating.
Do the Biscuits plan to move forward with the Bisco Power Mission at all in the future?
There are a million things we want to do. I have been pushing for Bisco Power Mission to become more of a thing. I have a dream of an initiative called Solar Sundays, which would become the norm in the music industry.
The way I see it, working is that if you're touring and play a show on a Sunday, the band gives back by taking a percentage of the profits from the show and donating the money to an organization that furthers the solar power agenda. Bring it to public schools, community centers, or places that can't afford to bring solar power to their community.
Is there anyone you'd be interested in jamming with from the festival?
Without skipping a beat I can tell you I am really excited to see Big Gigantic and String Cheese Incident. As far as jamming, it is one of those things we won't know about until we're all in the same place and start exchanging ideas.
You've got the opening night of Hulaween with Electron. Are you pumped to set the tone for the festival on day one?
Yes. The cool thing about Thursday nights at festivals like this is that people are fresh and full of energy. No one is dragging after three days of partying because the party just started!
Do you have any weird stories or memories about Florida?
We don't really get there that often. We always have an amazing time when we come down though. Florida does get really weird when I go to visit my mom in Delray. She's always telling me to go downtown and check it out, "It's so great. The people are so young! It's wonderful!" I don't know... Boca too. No offense to those places or people, but these places are just different from what I am used to!
Miami is unreal. It's unique, how's that? Florida is unique. Like when a real estate agent is trying to tell you a house is small, but they use the word cozy...
With Conspirator, you guys have been playing like nuts for the last year. What have you learned on such a long run of shows?
I feel like anything I have learned I may have already known, but it is just a matter of relearning it. Kind of like when you're on Facebook and you're trying to tag someone in a post and sometimes it tags people automatically. But when it doesn't, you're typing their name and wondering why it isn't tagging, then you realize that you have to put the "@" symbol there, and there's that "Oh, yeah!" moment.
There was a moment like that on tour when we started focusing more on the instrumentation, and I realized I forgot how much I really love to jam!
If nothing else, I have learned that it really is just who I am and I need to not forget. Own who I am as a musician. Be confident with what we do and what we are capable of.
Did you ever think that the classic jam sound would mix so ingeniously with the electronic element?
We hadn't seen anyone do it when we first started doing it, so I think we really did bank on the idea that it would take off. Once we got the sound together we were so blown away.
Off to the races, this is us! Now it's a whole genre.
Hulaween, with Conspirator, Electron, the String Cheese Incident, Thievery Corporation, Big Gigantic, Beats Antique, Shpongle, and many more. 5 p.m., October 31 to November 2, at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and Campground, 3076 95th Dr., Live Oak. Tickets start at $209. Visit suwanneehulaween.com.
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