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The Disco Biscuits Change the Anthem


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By: Brian Bavosa

The Disco Biscuits

It's only hours before the lineup announcement for Camp Bisco 9 as I speak with bassist Marc Brownstein. A world-renowned festival hosted by The Disco Biscuits which originated in 1999, the annual event has seen its share of evolution over the years. Built slowly upon the roots of a regional party, big name artists like Snoop Dog, Nas and Damien Marley have made recent appearances. Maybe that's the reason Brownstein is bubbling with energy and excitement during the duration of our hour-plus phone chat. As he gushes in his notoriously raspy, smoky drawl over this year's Camp headliners - Ween and LCD Soundsystem, along with the Biscuits - he explains, “[We] had been trying to get [these bands] for years." For a festival steeped heavily in the jam/live-electro scene, the inclusion of artists like these speaks to the Biscuits' commitment to change and evolution.

“If you don't change, you get left behind," says Brownstein.

Nothing represents this notion more than The Disco Biscuits' latest studio effort, Planet Anthem (released March 16 through Diamond Riggs Records) (JamBase review). In many ways, Planet Anthem is an extension of the mentality of Camp Bisco and its lineage over the past decade. Brownstein, with bandmates Aron Magner (keys), Allen Aucoin (drums) and Jon “Barber" Gutwillig (guitar), started Camp Bisco over a decade ago. Once a small affair held on the farmlands of Pennsylvania's countryside, Camp Bisco has developed into arguably the preeminent electronic-related music festival in the country. The first fest to allow - and encourage - both “jam bands" and DJs on the same stage, Camp Bisco has seemingly found a home in Upstate New York at the Indian Lookout Country Club, where it's been held since 2007. In fact, Camp was where Simon Posford, a producer on the new album, made his first appearance into the jam scene, winning over a legion of fans with his Hallucinogen in Dub set and returning the next year with his Younger Brother live band.

This year's festival will be held from July 15-17 and will again feature multiple stages. Brownstein feels it is by far the best lineup yet. When talking about LCD Soundsystem and Ween, he says, “We didn't expect to get both of them, but then we got both of them. So, when that happens you take them both!" He's also quick to point out similarities between the Biscuits approach to Planet Anthem and LCD Soundsystem. Both acts have been searching for ways to incorporate a wide mix of styles without loosing their electro edge.

The Disco Biscuits at Camp Bisco 2008 by Vann

Brownstein explains how Planet Anthem, a labor of love that also began in 2007, shaped up the way it did.

“We made four albums while we were making this album! We very carefully chose the songs while we were making this album. Out of 50 songs [these 13] were all chosen for a reason. They were chosen because as time went on it was a two-and-a-half-year-process, and when we got to the end of the two-and-a-half-years these were the songs that stood the test of time," he says, “songs that are still relevant in 2010. Shit is changing fast in the music world, and being relevant in 2010, the only way to do that is be aware of what kind of music is out there and be influenced by it. That's the key!"

Planet Anthem draws on a multitude of genres, from rock to hip-hop to electronica to everything in between, and that's one of the reasons it's so daring - or may seem confusing to casual or even experienced Bisco listeners. It's all things Bisco delivered in a very un-Bisco-like package, featuring guest singers, new arrangements and heavy production. Another difference on this album was the decision to not road test the material and instead record new songs largely unheard by fans. Brownie promises “Big Wrecking Ball," a true rock song at heart, will make heads roll when the fans hear it live.

Brownstein even contends that Planet Anthem seems to fit in with the band and their overall timeline.

“If you know The Disco Biscuits, you know that we started out as a jam band with no electronic music. And if you really followed us, you watched us start to incorporate trance, then dub, hip-hop and all different styles of music over the years, you know, classical, the whole nine [yards]," explains Brownstein. “You've seen us go from a band that would play jazz standards to a band that never plays jazz standards. You've seen us go from a band that has electronic music in our jams to playing songs electronic the whole way through. And all [the way] back again to writing songs like 'Big Wrecking Ball' that are just rock songs."

What makes this studio effort unique is how it mixes and matches so many elements together, while holding true to the band's trademark top-flight musicianship. “It would have been very easy for us to go in and attempt to make an all electronic album," he says. “That's what everyone is doing now. They've dropped the music."

The Disco Biscuits at Camp Bisco 2009 by Vann

In line with their mantra of anything goes, the band also employed the help of many local and, in a few cases, world renown names to help contribute, tweak or produce. These names include Simon Posford, Harry Zelnick, Tor Hyams and longtime friend and side project cohort Tom Hamilton (Brothers Past, American Babies).

“The thing that I love about The Disco Biscuits is that you get in the studio and there are no barriers, no walls, there is nothing stopping us from doing anything in any direction," says Brownstein. “[We're] four guys who all write music regularly, plus a team of our producers - Harry, Tommy, Alex, Simon, Tor - a team of the top musical people in our city AND some of the top in the world coming together to kind of guide the sound, and the sound goes in fucking twenty directions at once yet it works together!"

One of the major and immediate results of this approach was the band's initial music video for “You and I", which has been in steady rotation on MTV2. “I don't know if in ten years I'm going to look back and say this was a good thing or a bad thing, or even a thing, but if we had made that other album [referring to typical Bisco releases] then we wouldn't be talking about MTV!"

As we rub up on the topic of fans, evolution and that video on MTV, Brownstein is eager to discuss more upcoming videos. The next clip is for “On Time" (catch a preview of the video here), perhaps the catchiest tune on the album, a club-banger that could bring a whole new type of fan to the party.

“There's four more videos on the way. We're even making a trilogy of videos," says Brownstein. “It's 'Fish Out of Water,' 'On Time' and 'Widgets.' The three songs are all tied together in video, and it's the story of a robot who picks up this really, really bangin' girl in a club. It's a really, really crazy looking video and it's done in animation, and it's really, really hot. In addition to the 'You and I' remix video that we're going to do, we're going to have four more videos coming out. So, we're looking at five or six videos for this album."

Regardless of your opinion of The Disco Biscuits or Planet Anthem, which many fans will likely hate due to the unexpected, almost unrecognizable nature of the material, it's hard not to be impressed by the band's willingness to try new things. The Biscuits have been doing this for well over a decade and the last thing they needed was another album that tried to capture what they already do onstage every night.

“We're not even swinging for the fences," says Brownstein. “We're just making different music. Our goal was not to make a massive album. Our goal was to make a good album. Our goal was to make good songs."

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