On Friday, February 8th I was invited to find out what the band Conspirator is up to, before their show in Asheville, North Carolina.
Marc Brownstein and Aron Magner of The Disco Biscuits, Chris Michetti of RAQ and Mike Greenfield of Lotus are Conspirator. The band has rotating drummers and as easily as this band gets labeled a “side-project,” they could quickly become the electronic jam scene’s equivalent of a super group.
Conspirator has reached another level. As a full band, the music is hitting new highs and killing in the live show. They produce a rapid-fire sound that blissfully combines ripping guitar solos which is culminates to a collection of live electronic rock bliss that is delving, twisting and diving effortlessly between house, dub-step, drum and bass, and electronica.
Conspirator has recently released a new EP entitled “Unleashed”. I was able to sit down and talk to Marc Brownstein before the show to find out with Conspirator was all about.
JBO: I’m really excited for the show tonight. I haven’t ever been able to catch you.
Marc: It’s going to be great; the tours been hot with this specific pairing of bands! We’re all together on the same bus so the energy rolling down the road is tremendous.
JBO: I’m fairly familiar with Conspirator’s history. Can you give me a rundown on when it all began and when it started taking shape? What prompted the new outlet?
Marc: For sure! When you’re in a band for 20 years, like we have been with The Disco Biscuits, which is two decades, I still can’t believe it. Inevitably, there are just going to be times when you don’t play as much. For me, I just always have to be playing. That’s all I have ever known since college so if there’s always these times; Like, when Biscuits drummer left in 2004, there was a year or 2 years when we were regrouping once every couple months. Conspirator began in 2004 as a way to fill that void. Because ya know, I’d done other side projects before but they always turned out to be exactly what The Biscuits did. At that point in my career it had been 10 years with The Biscuits. Then I had this epiphany that if I was going to be playing without The Biscuits, I should try to fulfill other wants and needs in my life, artistically, rather than copying what we’ve done. Some people just do what they do. I guess it’s just the safe way to be. For me, my passion and respect for Miles Davis has spurred a lot of things in me. Every ten years, he completely changed the kind of jazz that he played and in the process, ended up inventing this new genre, every time. That is all so mind blowing to me. Basically, there’s no one that’s going to change exactly what you know how to do and in trying to create something totally new. No one can stop you from doing that. I feel like that’s been the biggest inspiration of my career to always move forward and not be afraid of change. We had this outlet and 2 years ago when The Biscuits made the decision to go back to touring in an effort to save the band and to create a better foundation for our longevity, The Biscuits decided to pull back. We decide to do that every 10 years or so. We just say, “Let’s pull back before we get clearly burnt out.” And I started working with Conspirator a bit more frequently and it, very naturally, turned into what it is now. It happened without anything we were trying to do. We met our guitarist and he became our the main producer and guitarist for the band. One day, he happened to sit in with us and we always said “If we find someone who fit in, naturally then that’s it!” And that’s what happened with KJ Sawka from Pendulum. He’s one of the best drummers in the whole world and the fact that he can just play with any band is his specialty. Having those two guys in the band has completely changed what the band is about, what the band sounds like. We always are trying to be on the forefront and the cutting edge of whatever is happening in the now in electronic music and do our own thing by not copying it, but changing it and making it better, our own way. That’s basically the whole history or Conspirator.
JBO: I know the history with the band RAQ is very close to some fans’ hearts. They’re pretty popular here in Asheville. What’s your correlation with them?
Marc: Chris Michetti is actually the guitarist from RAQ. John Gutwillig, the guitarist from The Biscuits got injured on a tour a couple years ago, and we had a really huge sold out show the next night and someone suggested Chris to me as a stand in guitarist, and he flew out and we played together for an hour or so and we were just like, “Yes! This is going to work!” That was all! He sat in with us for a couple weeks. That was after RAQ stopped touring so he was with The Biscuits for a while and then we were both playing at a festival together, RAQ and The Biscuits. That was really where all this started. We were together at a festival, he’d already played with us for a couple weeks, and we asked him to play a set with Conspirator and played the whole entire set with us. After that, he was in the band. There was never a time when we went back to not having him in the band from that one sit in. Sometimes in life, you just have to roll with the way things are. You can’t try to control it too much. Sometimes people ask me, “How did it go from The Biscuits all the time to Conspirator all the time?” You know? I’m not really sure. That’s just how it is and everyone seems happy. That’s all we’re looking for, is for everyone in our band to be happy. It’s easier for the smaller bands to cruise around and pick out fans in Mississippi and Alabama. It gets harder when it becomes a bigger footprint. It’s harder to just go around to 30,40,50 shows. It’s a bit more lighthearted in the beginning of the year. We’re really just trying to find a balance but yeah, RAQ is a huge part of what we do. It’s funny, because they were around for all these years and never really knew them until they opened up for us once in Connecticut and did a JamCruise with them once and hung out with Chris twice and in Langerado he actually says I blew him off. He says this happened at the festival in Florida where he came up to talk to me and I totally just walked away from him so that happened. I still can’t believe I missed out on listening to the great music of a friend now, for 10 years, ya know? We were right around each other for ten years but never became friends. We could’ve had all that extra time together.
JBO: You also did a short stint with Ben Samples and Dr. Famous right? How does Break Science fit into it this year?
Marc: Yeah, we did that last year. That worked out really well because our drummer had to go home but we had Dr. Famous opening for us so we had a drummer. We always like to have a really great drummer with us which happens to be Break Science. If there was ever a time we needed a drummer, now the time because we have two amazing ones on the bus with us.
JBO: You’ve played with some pretty big names at some pretty big festivals, Ghostland Observatory, Shpongle and others. Did a lot of these relationships start at CampBisco?
Marc: With Simon Posford, one of our really close friends from college is friends with Benji Vaughan from Younger Brother and that’s how we got hooked up. I was given Benji’s email and I spent like 2 years trying to get him to agree come to Camp Bisco and eventually, without authorization, started throwing numbers out, and eventually he said yes to one of them and I had to go back to the Camp Bisco production people and was basically like “We gotta come up with this kinda money to make Younger Brother come because I promise it to them.” It actually worked out because we’ve become great friends with them and I was even in the band for a year and a half, making a whole album with them. Being in the studio with Shpongle, ya know? GOSH! That Posford guy is a real genius. Being able to spend two weeks in the studio with him was such a learning experience. CampBisco is great for meeting people and collaborating. It can be any festival, really. It could be Bonnaroo or Moogfest. Speaking of, at Moogfest we actually played at the same time as Shpongle. That wasn’t ideal. You never want to be playing at the same time anywhere with Shpongle. Mostly, because it’s someone that I’d like to be seeing.
-JBO: Since we’re talking about festivals, what’s one of your favorites and why?
-Marc: Man, it’s gotta be Bonnaroo. There’s only one festival in the country where when we go and play it, I stay for the entire time. Well, you know, that’s not true. I love ElectricForest. I always stay for the whole time for that one. You know what? Festivals are so great.. that’s such a loaded question, it’s not even fair. I always want to stay for the whole time at any festival but I can’t ya know? I’ve got kids. I have a hard time justifying staying 3 days at a festival when my wife is back home taking care of 3 kids, ya know? If I don’t have a show I really try to be home for them. In the case of Bonnaroo, hopefully I can bring them with me. The Biscuits have played 4 times so if Conspirator ever plays there, I need to bring them. It can be overwhelming. I don’t really know if I would ever go unless we had been playing there but I get so excited to play it because it’s an excuse to play it and I wouldn’t necessarily go but once you’re there, it’s like I couldn’t imagine NOT going. It’s like, all of a sudden Chris Rock is doing stand up on one stage, and anyone from Stevie Wonder, Radiohead to Jay-Z on another. Bonnaroo is great, but if you haven’t been to ElectricForest, that is really special. They have a forest that’s literally filled with lights and always a great lineup. It’s incredible.
-JBO: So, this upcoming CampBisco will be number 12. Do you have any spoilers? What are we going to expect?
-Marc: I can’t! I wish I could. I want to say one thing about it though. It’s hard to balance between booking DJ’s and booking live bands and I saw the lineup, and I’m so stoked because I love DJ’s and the type of stuff we get at Camp Bisco like the late night shows that they put on in tents there, is totally incredible. The fact that we get that level of talent at our festival is great. I also love the bands, and this year I looked and I saw a lot of bands on there! That’s as much as of spoiler as I can do. Our fans should be really psyched to hear that!
JBO: Tell me a little about your organization “Headcount”.
Marc: Here’s the basic background- In 2004, right when we were about to start Conspirator, we were also right about to go to war in Iraq, and I was really frustrated about it because it just seemed like we were going to war on the wrong country. It just seemed like it wasn’t right. We were attacked by one group of people and were retaliating on another group of people who weren’t involved. At that point, it seemed obvious that we were really about to declare war on the wrong side. I got really frustrated about that and that nobody was really doing anything about it. There were neocons that basically laid out their plan for going to war from earlier and now it was all out in the open, and it was all a conspiracy theory and hindsight 20/20 we know now it wasn’t. This is all true, we actually went to war on the wrong place. They were planning all this from the beginning, and it’s all true. There are basic facts that back it up. So, I didn’t know what to do and one of my friends came to me at the time and was like, “What is there that we can do?” So we thought about it a lot and we decided to be super non- partisan about it and decided to harvest the power of the industry that we were in, and use it for positive social change and we settled on voter registration. Over the years, we have registered hundreds of thousands of people and it’s been great because in the 8 year period we’ve been doing it, we’ve seen the numbers in our demographic have gone up the most in any in terms of voter turnout. These numbers were at an all time high in 2008 and that’s our goal, to get people out to vote. We aren’t for democrats or republicans, independents or the green ya know? We are all about civic engagement. We are trying to get the youth demographic more politically engaged. It seems to be working because when we started in 2004, especially in the jamband scene we were rooted in, there was a general idea that politics and music didn’t mix, that was where we had come from in the past ten years, at least in the 60’s and 70’s there was a lot of politics and music combining through activism and music was tied into it. Towards the late 80’s and 90’s, people just wanted to go to their concerts and not be told what to do, who to vote for, what to think about, they just wanted to go and party and have fun. It was like a collective conscious of everyone coming together in the mid-2000’s due to the direness of the situation. Everyone started getting the word out and everyone saw that it started to become cool. Edi Veder, Dave Matthews, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Weird are all doing it because on stage, it’s people on stage talking about participation. That’s what we are all about. Over the years we have expanded to being more about specifying actual social issues that this demographic is interested in.
JBO: Conspirator has definitely marketed a different sound to your fans, where and how did you stumble upon what Conspirator is and how is it different than what The Biscuits are all about?
Marc: Well, in 2004, we just wanted to make computer music. We were always playing mostly electronic music in The Biscuits so we realized we wanted to play real electronic music, that’s what inspired us to make the music other than The Biscuits sound. We wanted to come to The Biscuits from a more knowledgeable place. If we are going to be making electronic music, we should really know how to make it. Now, it’s never about marketing the music to the fans, we market the shows, but for us, when we’re in the studio, it’s about what inspires us. We listen to music in the studio about equally as we make it. We have music we love and we just sit and listen and listen. We go back and forth from what we’re making to what we like. We try to figure out the difference and what we can take from what we love to make our music better and what we can add to the styles we’re listening to, to make it more organic. Right now, we’re making music for us and what we’ve found as always, when you change your style, (which is what Conspirator has done from our first album to our new album) you find, people pushing against that, wanting us not to change or rehash what we used to be. We also have found an enormous growth from the artistic side of things to what’s inspiring you from that moment and time is agreeably going to connect with others who were inspired by the same things in that moment and time. As long as you’re open to being influenced by current things, you’re going to connect with fans. You can’t help not connect with them. We’re all in this together. We’re all listening to the same things, enjoying the same parties, seeing the same acts. How can you go to ElectricForest and see Shpongle, Skrillex, and Big Gigantic, and not, be a total sponge about it? You take it all in and go back to the studio the next time and let it out. If you’re not letting it change you, then there’s something wrong. As an artist, you’ve got to look at the great visual artists of the 20th Century and 19th Century and look at their careers, and it’s the same with musical artists. Look at The Beatles, you compare “Love Love Me Do” to “Sergeant Pepper”, it’s ya know? It’s obvious they were fans of “Love Love Me Do” when they started taking acid and freaking out in the studio, i’m sure there were some early Beatles fans who obviously were all for it, and some who were against it. I’m not comparing us to The Beatles or anyone, I’m just saying those are my idles. When I look at objectively, I think, “Look at what all of the greats did.” All the greats! Pink Floyd from the beginning of their career to the end, if you look at it, it’s just so different. They were great musicians and visual artsits, so I don’t know if we are a great artist, but I’m trying to follow that trajectory of change, influence by staying current and open minded. It’s like being a doctor. Imagine going to medical school in 1974, then saying “Okay! This is how I’m going to be a doctor for the rest of my career!” And then as all the new technologies came out you are saying, “No! No! This is how it’s done!” Like, new cures came out and you’re like, “No. No. This is my method over here.” It doesn’t happen man. You have to change with the times.
JBO: So, would you say your music with Conspirator has brought your name into another crowd of people it would have otherwise?
Marc: Well, I don’t even know if it’s a different crowd, it’s definitely different people though. Last Summer, we were at Electric Forest, Gathering of the Vibes, we were at all these places that had obviously never seen our other band before so it has to be a different crowd just by statistical probability. We are getting our name out to a whole new group of younger kids and we’re seeing that it shows. Some people like to come back to meet Conspirator and be like, “What’s your name?” And I’m like, “I’m Marc. What’s your name?” Most kids don’t even know about our other band, which is cool.
JBO: For someone who hasn’t experienced your live show, how would you describe the collective creativity that goes on? How would you say they differ from any other band?
Marc: Well, it differs from every other band. That’s the really cool thing about Conspirator. What we are doing, no one else is. I say that humbly because I am out on the road and I see what other people are doing and I can just see. There’s a lot of bands out there that just use computers for their shows but there’s very few bands that are basically mimicking the DJ show straight up. A lot of what other bands are doing is, playing their songs but augmenting snippets of electronics computer samples. We are the exact opposite. We are basically DJ’s. Between Aaron and KJ, drummer and Keyboard player, they pretty much are the DJ’s. As we’re DJ’ing the set, we’re playing along with it. Every now and then, we’ll DJ into something where it’s all instrumentation and live and on the spot. There’s so much improv and a great DJ has to be able to read the crowd. What’s a good DJ? Reading the crowd, they can change the moment, they can change their setup based on what’s there. You have to be able to do that. That’s what we used to do in The Biscuits. Well, we still do. Read the crowd, change it up and improvise as you go along, just like a DJ would and go from song to song to song. In Conspirator, we’re DJ’ing and going along with it which is really cool because it opens up a whole new world of possibility. It terms of production, every tour we add more. Like this tour, we’ve got Nikki, our lighting director. She was at Summercamp Festival last Summer and I sought out who was doing lights and it just seemed right to me. It took me 2 months to find the person who was doing lights at that festival and eventually found her, verified it, and we hired her. During that set, I was like “This person gets it. Whoever this is, we need to hire him.” I was hoping whoever it was, they weren’t already hired. Like, “Who ever this is, I hope it’s not Jefferson Waful” ya know, someone totally unavailable? It actually had been suggested to us that she should work with us and we knew she was a possibility. Finally I was like, “We need to track down the person that did lights for us at Summer Camp and that’s our answer.” She actually turned out to be the person that was suggested to us. So it’s one of those situations where everything just came together. I mean, did you see Beyonce during the Super Bowl? Her whole entire band was girls. That was so cool! It’s great having a girl work for you because girls have it more together sometimes. I just knew The Biscuits had worked with her before and she’s definitely with us now, which is great because we’re fully solidified. We’re finally, very naturally coming together. It’s becoming a thing where we’re like, “This is the band.” We’re not talking about what’s going to happen next tour. This is our band. We are all “The Band” now. It’s so exciting to watch stuff build! I feel like tonight will be a really great show. Asheville is great. I woke up this morning, took a shower and walked all over town, went to eat breakfast at like 3 in the afternoon. It’s such a great town. I could live here. But overall, the show is one of those things you just have to come to, and see it. You can talk about it forever, but it can’t really be boiled down to one word. Just get there.
Conspirator is currently on tour! Check out Conspirator’s latest EP, “Unleashed” head to their website- http://www.conspiratorband.com/