Aron Magner is one of the masterminds behind jamtronica juggernaut The Disco Biscuits. September will be a busy month for Magner, with the keys player slated for appearances at two New York festivals—Brooklyn Comes Alive and the band’s own City Bisco—as well as a Biscuits’ run at Ford Amphitheater on the 22nd and 23rd. We had the chance to catch up with Magner ahead of his Brooklyn Comes Alive performance, which will see the keyboard wizard performing with Biscuits brother and bassist Marc Brownstein, in addition to Umphrey’s McGee keyboardist Joel Cummins, Lotus drummer Mike Greenfield, and Motet guitarist Ryan Jalbert for a special supergroup set on Sunday, September 24th. During their chat, Magner talked about what makes Brooklyn Comes Alive so special, as well as recounted that time Joel Cummins got tackled at a Conspirator show and spoke a little on the Disco Biscuits’ ongoing prank war with Umphrey’s McGee. Check it out below!
Live for Live Music: You’ve got a pretty busy weekend coming up in September with City Bisco and Brooklyn Comes Alive. It has got to be a lot of fun to get to do your thing for five nights in a row like that.
Aron Magner: Five Nights!?!?! Damn, it is five nights at three venues. And, for sure. Definitely excited.
L4LM: Well, let’s talk Brooklyn Comes Alive first. You made your debut there last year. What’s the vibe like, with so many different musicians and all these unique collaborations going on?
AM: I feel like all of us musicians, we are like circus performers. We go off and perform in some kind of crazy traveling circus act, particularly in the summer time. Over the course of that time, you form these friendships or admirations for the other musicians that you see performing, and a lot of the time, those friendships or that admiration of a fellow musician leads to another side project. You slap a name on it and that becomes some kind of thing that you do once for a special occasion or it becomes some new thing that catches on—it can go either way. What’s cool about Brooklyn Comes Alive is that it forces you into that situation. You’re forced into forming one of these cool side projects or even better, a lot of times this cool side project is formed for you. It’s making something happen that wouldn’t necessarily happen organically, and that’s what cool about Brooklyn Comes Alive. It’s thinking outside the box a little bit to separate it from a lot of other festivals and events. That’s the ethos behind it—the unlikely pairing of musicians together.
L4LM: So you mentioned sometimes these collaborations are formed for you. How does that work? Do you get a call saying you are going to play with these guys, or do you get put in your ideas on it?
AM: Both! And that’s what’s particularly cool with what Kunj [Shah; founder of Brooklyn Comes Alive] has assembled. He plans this far enough in advance so that you can kind of do whatever you want to do and make whatever you want to make of it. You get a call six months out or whatever saying, “We want you to play on Brooklyn Comes Alive again. Do you have any ideas?” Now when I do have an idea at some point over the year, I think, “Hey, this could be cool to do for Brooklyn Comes Alive.” It’s a lot of “are you into” talk. So I’m not necessarily hired to do a specific thing, like say at the Jammies. And by the way, what ever happened to the Jammies?
L4LM: I know, right?
AM: They need to come back. Every now and again, I’ll see a clip of The Disco Biscuits and, like, Travis Tritt, and I’ll think “Wow, that’s awesome.”
L4LM: Country Boy’s out of his mind again.
AM: Country Boy’s out of his mind again, yes.
L4LM: Well, this year, you are playing with Marc Brownstein [The Disco Biscuits], Joel Cummins [Umphrey’s McGee], Mike Greenfield [Lotus] and Ryan Jalbert [The Motet] on Sunday, September 24th. You’ve obviously got a lot of history with Marc and Greenie, but what can we expect with Joel and Ryan thrown into that mix? I can’t remember you and Joel ever doing a gig like this together. Is this your first time playing on a project like this together?
AM: Ryan and I have done a few different and cool things together in the past. I’m pretty sure they were all based in Colorado, especially with what we’ve done with you and J2G Live for the Dance Party Time Machine stuff. Ryan’s a great dude and great player. He puts in his due diligence by charting stuff out, which is a godsend on a gig like this where finding time in everyone’s schedule to rehearse is at a premium. Having a guy like that who will step up. I’m not saying he has to be music director on this one, but he is just great to work with.
And it can’t be the first time we’ve played together with Joel on an official project like this… but, maybe? All the other times I remember being on stage together with Joel, he’s been sitting in with us or I’ve sat in with them, so maybe it is. You want to hear a great Joel sitting in story?
AM: So, Conspirator was playing Chicago, and Joel was there. It was the usual “Hey man, you wanna sit in tonight?” conversation that happens, and Joel says “Sure, I’d love to.” I can’t remember whose idea this was or who is to blame, but let’s put the blame on Joel for this one. [laughs] So Joel was like, “You know what would be funny? Rather than giving me the usual, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, from Umphrey’s McGee…’ kind of intro and bringing me on stage, let’s pretend I am just some random dude from the audience who jumped on stage and started to play.”
So, we agree that is the plan for when it’s time for him to play. When that moment finally comes, I’m at a keyboard that is looking at the band and not at the crowd. I hear a ruckus, and someone yelling my name. I look over, and Joel has got half of his torso on stage and his lower half is being tackled and dragged back into the crowd by the bouncer thinking he is some random guy trying to rush the stage. Joel is just yelling “Magner! Magner!”
L4LM: That’s great. Did he make it up there?
AM: He made it, but I felt awful!
L4LM: So Umphrey’s and The Disco Biscuits have always seemed to have a good-natured rivalry with each other. You guys toured back in ’07, and there has always been a fun back and forth with the band and crews. Have you seen the laminates and stickies that Umphrey’s had for their summer tour this year [which featured Disco Biscuits guitarist, Jon “Barber” Gutwillig, passed out on a couch]?
AM: I haaaaave… and the shots have been fired. [Laughs] There will be revenge.
L4LM: Do you think this is retribution from pranks from years past? I thought you guys kind of had the kill shot when you secretly hung a dildo on the stage for their set at that Masquerade show.
AM: I don’t think they have ever forgiven us for that. [Laughs] Perhaps eight years later, this is their revenge—but they are just perpetuating a cycle of things that we are going to win.
L4LM: Well, it sounds like it will be a fun way to cap off a pretty crazy weekend for you. As we mentioned, The Disco Biscuits have City Bisco going on that week, with two nights at Irving Plaza the 20th and 21st, and then two nights on Coney Island at the Ford Amphitheater the 22nd and 23rd. Coming off of some pretty amazing runs like Colorado and Camp Bisco, how excited are you to get back out and play some more shows?
AM: I’m always excited to play more shows. I look forward to playing Disco Biscuits shows like I would hope a ravenous Disco Biscuit fan would look forward to attending them. Perhaps that’s because we are not constantly on tour, so it’s just enough shows to stay warm and communicative both on and off stage. It’s not like we play only a few shows a year. It’s averaging out to about one long weekend a month right now, and when that run is four or five nights like this one will be, I really do anticipate that.
L4LM: The last time I got to see you guys play was when you were out here for the Colorado run in June. That Red Rocks performance was easily my favorite show you guys have played up there. The Ogden shows had some pretty rave reviews as well. Do you share the feeling a lot of fans have right now that the band is sounding as good as it has in a really long time?
AM: Sure, I mean, I think there is something to be said about when fans think that we are playing really well. Everything is subjective, even among band members, as to what we think is a good show, but when fans collectively agree “That was a great show” or “Wow, they are really playing well together”, it’s usually because it was a great show and we are playing really well together. There is definitely truth to that.
L4LM: It’s definitely a great time to be a Disco Biscuits fan, and you guys have a pretty busy fall, nothing for New Years yet, but…
AM: There will definitely be something coming very soon about our New Years run, so yes, there will be a New Year’s Run.
L4LM: Last thing on the Biscuits front. To the delight of a lot of people I know, you guys recently just dropped a bunch of new shows on Spotify. Is that something the band has been wanting to focus on, and can we expect more “Steele’s Reels” now that you guys are stepping things up on that platform?
AM: Yes, we’ve definitely had the deliberate motivation to increase our presence on Spotify. Obviously, if you are a Biscuits fan we have almost every soundboard we’ve ever recorded available on the Nugs.net app, which is a great app that I use all the time too. We wanted to increase our presence on Spotify with all the action everyone has on there. That being said, on top of it being something we’ve waited to do. We’ve parlayed it with this amazing thing that Rich Steele, who has been a long time fan of the Biscuits since the 90’s, was doing. He has been and still is one of our more voracious fans. He has a keen musical ear, a really good memory, and can be really analytical about what we played, how we played, and why it was special that night—then pair that with the technical ability that Rich has both mixing shows and doing live sound. The Biscuits are actually using him while our long time sound guy, Pat Hutchinson, tours with Odesza.
Rich has been doing this amazing thing on his own volition by using Archive.org, and he goes back, takes these shows he recorded way back in the day, and uses his new found technical abilities and new technology to produce these amazing remastered sources. He’d put them up and then give a detailed recap of the setlist and what was so cool about that particular show. So all this stuff kind of came together at the same time, and someone had the idea to brand it as “Steele’s Reels”—like our version of The Grateful Dead’s “Dick’s Picks.” We asked him to do it as a deliberate effort from the band, using his name and using his liner notes, about what makes these shows special. So yeah, we are definitely going to continue these efforts and specifically curate shows that are worthy of taking more listens to, remaster the source, and put some context to why these shows are being chosen.
L4LM: I think it’s really cool because for a lot of fans it lets them take a stroll down memory lane, while for other fans who came along in the Allen era, it gives them some insight on the legendary Sammy-era shows that we all love.
AM: Yeah, definitely.
L4LM: Well as I said, it’s an exciting time to be a Disco Biscuits fan and it’s really cool to see you playing with so many great musicians on events like Brooklyn Comes Alive. We can’t wait to see how it all turns out.
[Photo: Dave Vann]
Inspired by the vibrant musical communities of Brooklyn and New Orleans, Brooklyn Comes Alive is set to take place across three venues in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (Brooklyn Bowl, Schimanski, Music Hall of Williamsburg) on September 23rd and 24th. The unique homegrown event puts the focus on the musicians, curating dream team collaborations, tributes, and artist passion projects for two full days of incredible music both new and old.
The 2017 lineup is set to include hand-selected band lineups featuring all-star musicians like John Scofield, George Porter Jr. (The Meters), Vinnie Amico and Al Schnier (moe.), Bernard Purdie, Joel Cummins, Ryan Stasik, and Kris Myers (Umphrey’s McGee), Aron Magner and Marc Brownstein (The Disco Biscuits), Mike Greenfield and Jesse Miller (Lotus), Jason Hann (String Cheese Incident), Alan Evans (Soulive), Cyril Neville (Neville Brothers), Henry Butler, Jon Cleary, Reed Mathis (Electric Beethoven), Michael League, Nate Werth, Chris Bullock, Robert “Sput” Searight, and Bob Lanzetti (Snarky Puppy), Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman (Trey Anastasio Band), and scores of others!
***Tickets Are On Sale Now!***
Brooklyn Comes Alive is now offering single day tickets, as well as a ticket payment plan for as low as $30/month. When checking out, just select “Monthly payments with Affirm” as your payment method. To find out more about ticketing, VIP options, and lodging, head to the festival website.