As pioneers of ¨trance fusion,¨ as they like to call it, electro-jam rockers the Disco Biscuits have made a name for themselves as innovators of the perpetual groove. By focusing on electronic effects, the Philadelphia-based group is known for finding creative ways to extend chords and sidestep the jam-band label. And while they rock out on stage and are at least loosely comparable to Phish or the Grateful Dead, at times they play so straight-edged that on the band´s recent live albums, you might not realize you´re listening to jam music at all. They´ve been touring together since the mid ´90s and have legions of fans around the country who show up religiously at their shows. Last week, New Times had a lively chat with Aron Magner, the band´s affable and funny keyboard player.
New Times: It´s interesting that Disco Biscuits was managed by John and Marsha Zazula [founders of Megaforce Records, who´d worked with a slew of ´80s thrash bands, including Metallica and Anthrax].
Magner: We hooked up with them in a pretty interesting way. Fuckin´ really eccentric couple -- definitely visionaries. They were friends at the time with the editor of Relix magazine, who was telling them about some of the new fresh bands that were coming up in the jam-band scene. This was ten years ago, and jam bands were kind of looking to take off. Everybody was like, ¨It´s gonna be the new section in Tower Records, and it´s gonna be huge.¨ They wanted to basically get their foot back in the door and start to capitalize on something that was just about to break, just the way they did when metal was about to break. The editor brought them out to one of our shows. We broke the tail end of one of our old songs, which is ironically a very dibbity-bop type song, and tagged on a Metallica-esque section, knowing full well that the old manager of Metallica was going to be in the audience. [laughs] We hit it off, they picked us up, and it was definitely at the time the smartest move for our career. They did really well by us, considering how young we were. We were with them for three years and moved on amicably.
One of your albums from that time was recorded by, of all people, Rob ¨Wacko¨ Hunter from the metal band Raven. It´s hard not to imagine Wacko at the mixing board in his football helmet and pads.
Ha ha! See, my vision of him... he told me this one story. They were on like a Europe tour. He was out one night completely wasted and picked up a girl. I think he was still in his football gear, and he brought her back and starting banging her. He looked at himself in this full-length mirror and realized this woman must have been in her mid-50s. So he got nicknamed Granny Fucker. [laughs] And he´s like [mock incredulity in British accent]: ¨Here I am, this fuckin´ beached whale in a football helmet, completely zonked off of anything I could put in my system, and I´m fucking a grandmothah!¨
Coming from a jazz background, you´ve said you literally had to learn to play rock in this band. How´s that going for you?
[Laughs hard. ] Going quite well, thanks. It´s a lot more fun and definitely requires a lot less thinking. As long as you keep true to your roots and everything like, I´ll still sit down with my piano and run through a bunch of standards. But playing rock is just a hell of a lot more fun. We were in the studio recording all last week, and the songs we recorded in the session are really simple songs. You could bring in a monkey with good index fingers and play the same two-note lines. You might not get the same feeling, but it´s a simple line. Listening back, I was like, ¨Fuck, man! Rock music is fun.¨
There is some pre-planning in your set. How does the band keep a balance between jamming and straight renditions of songs?
I think it has everything to do with where it is in the set. I don´t think it´s conducive for a show if you start off with a 35-minute jam.
You want to let people´s mushroom buzz kick in.
[Tentatively. ] Suuuuure... I wouldn´t recommend printing that, but in any crowd, you need to have the delicate balance of captivating them immediately and almost, like, clubbing them over the head, like ¨Watch me; you are going to love it!¨ but you can´t just jump out there and take your pants down.
You kind of have to think like that comedian Gallagher.
Yeah, you´re not gonna smash the watermelon when you first walk out on stage, because you´ll have nothing else to go to after that.
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