Q&A: Conspirator's Aron Magner on the Disco Biscuits' Future
Just as the Disco Biscuits reached the height of recognition of their 16-year career and seemed on the verge of even more, founding keyboardist Aron Magner and bassist Marc Brownstein began focusing on a side project called Conspirator. Off-and-on since 2004, the group explores
technologies and techniques to make more "true to form" electronic
music, which is in contrast to the Biscuits' improvisation-based,
electronic-infused, "rock band" approach -- sometimes referred to as
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"trance-fusion" or "jamtronica."
Extra-curricular bands are nothing new, but these days, it seems to many that the
two are focusing on Conspirator because being in the Disco Biscuits
full-time is not an option. Even though Camp Bisco, their annual festival
in upstate New York, grew from a 900-person
get-together in 1999 to 25,000 attendees this past summer, not all members are prepared to continue moving that band forwards. On Conspirator's website, it even states that the band
"can no longer be considered merely a side project."
of a world without the Disco Biscuits has caused many among the band's long-time "rabid" fans -- who follow as obsessively as Grateful Dead and Phish devotees -- to express concern and vitriol on message boards, such as Phantasy Tour. Some Conspirator threads go so far as to
call for a boycott, but one online poster sums up many fans' rage: "No one
would be bitching if the Biscuits were touring." Recently, Brownstein posted an infamous Facebook comment stating that
he "miss[es] the Disco Biscuits too," and wishes that they would do a
"real fucking tour."
Ahead the Conspirator's late-night, post-Yom Kippur show at the Culture Room on Saturday, County Grind had the opportunity
to talk with Magner about the "rabid" fans,
Brownstein's "candid" comment, and some of the uncertainties swirling
County Grind: Conspirator has always had a rotating drummer's chair. How were these recent shows with K.J. Sawka in that spot?
Aron Magner: Oh God, do I miss K.J. Sawka! K.J. Sawka just left four hours ago, and I miss him dearly. He contributed the fact that he's my long-lost best friend that I never knew. K.J. plays with fervor and intensity and precision. Aside from the actual crazy musical skills that he has, he's a showman, first and foremost, and that's the way a drummer should be.
Do you think that eventually anyone may settle into a permanent role as Conspirator drummer?
We talk about it a lot, man. There are a lot of different reasons why we do this rotating cast of drummers. The best reason is that we're almost forced into having to do this. It has everything to do with all these drummers are in other, very successful bands.
You and Marc Brownstein are obviously in another popular band as well. Could you describe the difference between the Disco Biscuits and Conspirator, both in artistic intention and product?
Two definitely, completely distinctive bands. What the Biscuits do is bring a certain improvisational aspect to electronic music. Conspirator is basically a little more true to the actual electronic feel. It's definitely a little more true to the art of electronic music.
So there is intentionally less improvisation?
You and Marc Brownstein have been playing together for 16 years or so...
Oh God, it's been so fucking long!
Can you describe your relationship and why your creative partnership works so well?
Huh. Good question. Um...[pause] I think that we have an ability to actually communicate with each other. That kind of lends itself towards a relationship that allows us to write music together for long periods of time. Or at least to play in the same band for large periods of time. At the end of the day, it's unconditional love with pretty much any bandmate. It's about being open and being honest and having communication. Those are the key pieces you need to have any relationship, musical or otherwise, work. It's the ability for us to communicate both verbally as well as nonverbally, meaning musically, that's allowed us to prosper for over 16 years.
There is a lot of vocal communication happening in the fan world. Your fans are madly dedicated, analytical, critical, vocal. Does it ever become a challenge for you to appreciate that without letting it become too distracting?
Our fans are really intense, man. They're incredibly intense. They're incredibly opinionated. They're incredibly rabid. But they're all in all very loyal. Because of all of those elements [laughs]... that make up our fan base, they're very, very vocal about what they'd like to see in their favorite band. And they'll talk about it constantly. I think every band has their intense fans [laughs]... I think our fans definitely surpass that a little bit more with intensity and fervor. It definitely can have the ability to backfire.
Because of the intensity, a lot of times, if you have anything to bitch about and you're hiding behind the internet and some sort of avatar, it's real easy to bitch and complain about whatever you want to bitch and complain about. That's for sure. And people seem to like having negativity over the internet as opposed to positivity over the internet. So it seems on pretty much any messageboard. When you think about it, people just kind of like to bitch as opposed to show appreciation. It's an interesting phenomenon.
In terms of actually reading it and looking at it, you kind of have to take everything with a grain of salt. I think that we, as a band, really respect our fans. And we cater to our fans pretty much all the time. We're always listening to what they have to say.
There seem to be a number amongst your fans who are worried about Conspirator becoming the post-Disco Biscuits project. At this point, what do you think is the future of the Biscuits, and what would you like it to be?
[Sigh] That's also a tough question, man. The goal ten years ago, 15 years ago, like any rock band, was to make it to Madison Square Garden. What's interesting about the Biscuits is that we're almost there. It's almost in our scope. I think after 15 years of playing together that everybody's goals kind of changed a little bit -- what they're trying to get out of life on the road, what they're trying to get out of a band, what level do you deem is an appropriate level of success for a band. And then how to take that next step up towards a better level of success. I think that everybody's visions of that have kind of changed a little bit, and I think that being on the road for 16 years -- seven, eight, nine months out of the year -- was starting to take its toll differently on everybody.
Now, Conspirator... I enjoy being on the road, personally. I enjoy playing for our fans. I enjoy writing music. I enjoy playing music, whether it's my own, or whether it's Biscuits music, whether I'm playing Jon [Gutwillig's] songs, or Marc's songs, or my songs, I really, really, enjoy that. That's why I'm on the road. That's who I am. Not everybody sees it that way, and so we're not playing as many shows with the Biscuits. And so not playing as many shows with the Biscuits lends itself to do what I need to do as an actual musician. And here's a side project that I like because I enjoy playing music and seeing our fans and going around the country for them.
So that's why I'm here in Conspirator playing a lot of these shows. Now, I do understand that there's a lot of backlash because I'm playing a lot of shows with Conspirator and because the Biscuits aren't playing as many shows right now... but yeah, what are you gonna do? I like playing music.
Marc Brownstein made a Facebook post recently that has become a popular topic in which he said that he wished that the Disco Biscuits would do a "real fucking tour" and that he does Conspirator to "keep busy." What was your reaction to that?
Marc is a much more candid personality online. He's very vocal and he's very interactive with our fans. And sometimes he'll just come out candidly with it. And that's really what it is. The members of the band just aren't seeing eye to eye with what we need to do in order to take the current band to the next level. And I don't know whether that's going to involve taking a little breather for a few months or really what's around the corner from there, to be quite honest with you. But yes, that was certainly a candid post that he made on his Facebook page, for sure. Everybody deals with that differently. Marc likes kind of living his life with an open book. I tend to be a little more private.
Fans seem to think that [Disco Biscuit guitarist] Jon Gutwillig doesn't want to tour. Is that the case?
You know, man, that's gonna be a question that you should ask him directly. And let me know what that answer is.
I'll post it up on Facebook and tag you, man.
[laughs] Awesome, awesome.
If you wouldn't mind one more Disco Biscuits question, this one will be a bit mellower. Fans seem to have their favorite years -- '99, '01, '07, '09. Do any years stand out for you, and do you ever go back and listen to those recordings?
Sometimes. Personally, I enjoy letting a show be exactly what it was. Here we are at a certain moment in time. It is what it is rather than tearing everything apart and figuring out what we could have done better. We certainly have done that a lot throughout the years and continue to do it. But I enjoy letting shows be shows.
I think those are actually some phenomenal years because what you're actually witnessing is the evolution of a band. You're listening to us finally learning how to click in '99. And because of that, there was an incredible amount of experimentation, and it lent itself to some phenomenal, phenomenal jams. We were really getting confident and figuring it out, and that's what made that year so special.
By 2001, we had a lot more songs in our arsenal that were written with that kind of dynamic in mind. 2007 we were just getting comfortable with Allen [Aucoin], 'cause Sam [Altman] had left the band in 2004 or 2005, and it took us a couple of years to learn how to communicate musically with the new drummer. And then in 2009, we had more songs with the new drummer and we were kind of in the routine of "OK, this is who we are -- we're back; we're a band." As opposed to lamenting on the past. So that's why those years were definitely highlights. And there's going to be more to come, for sure. There'll be different evolutionary stages to every band that I'm in.
What music have you been listening to recently?
I've kind of been raiding [Conspirator guitarist Chris] Michetti's iTunes recently, listening to a lot of Porter Robinson, lots of Skrillex, there's some new Deadmau5 that came out the other week. I guess at this point, I'm trying to expose myself to as much new electronic music that is out there. It's interesting, 'cause the way I'm finding out about music is by blogs.
Finally, do you have anything special planned for the late-night show at the Culture Room? Should fans be prepared to rage an all-nighter and possibly wake up in a gutter?
It's going to be our only late-night show of the tour. We definitely have to bring the heat in order to get everybody out that late and keep everybody going even later.
Well, thank you. You definitely did your research and asked some intriguing questions that I may or may not have been prepared to answer [laughs].
Conspirator. 11:30 p.m. Saturday, October 8, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $23.70. Click here.
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