Recently, Live For Live Music had the chance to speak with Brazilian Girls drummer Aaron Johnston, who has been keeping himself busy with a number of projects as of late. Johnston has been busy putting the final touches on a new Brazilian Girls record, producing an album for NYC-based soul-folk artist KJ Denhert, and putting together a new project of his own dubbed J.E.D.I. (Jazz Electronic Dance Improvisation). J.E.D.I.—also featuring keyboardist/producer Borahm Lee (Break Science), saxophonist Ryan Zoidis (Lettuce / Shady Horns), and bassist Nate Edgar (The Nth Power)—will debut later this week during a three-night Northeast run. (J.E.D.I. ticket information below.)
Johnston is also getting ready to announce a four-night Colorado run in January with long-time friend and musical cohort Michael Kang of The String Cheese Incident, Brazilian Girls bandmate and bassist Jesse Murphy, Big Gigantic’s own Dom Lalli, and NYC-based jazz guitarist Avi Bortnick of John Scofield’s Uberjam. The group has already announced one of the dates, with a co-headlining gig in Denver on Saturday, January 13th with Octave Cat (members of Lotus and Dopapod) at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom as part of the venue’s 15th anniversary celebration – get tix here. The busy drummer gave Live For Live Music the inside scoop on how this powerhouse collaborative project (a.k.a. Big Brazilian Cheese) came together prior to the official dates being announced later this week. Check out what Johnston had to say below.
Live For Live Music: What’s going on with Brazilian Girls at the moment? Any shows or new music in store in the near future?
Aaron Johnston: Yes! Definitely some great music coming in the very near future! I’m quite pleased with how this last record came out. It’s taken some time, as the band has been in four corners of the world now for several years, plus we did all the work ourselves in different studios around the world on our own dime. But we finished this fourth full-length album and 6 Degrees Records picked it up, and it’ll be released on April 13th.
Totally happy to get some fresh music out with Brazilian Girls. As far as playing shows, it’s much less than it used to be. You’re lucky to catch a BG’s show these days. We’ll be doing some South American festivals in December with bands like the Gorillaz and Arcade Fire in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Plus, we’ll be doing some promotional shows in the States after the record is released.
L4LM: Tell us about J.E.D.I., your new project. Are you looking to expand a bit more into the “jam” realm?
AJ: I’m completely stoked to see this project manifest itself so quickly and organically. J.E.D.I. is an idea I’ve been wanting to try for maybe a year or so. The concept is virtually a sonic change—still very much keeping the music live and interactive but creating more dynamics between the electronic and the acoustic world. I encourage all the musicians to bring their electronic “toys” without losing the beautiful tone and tambour they already have developed and perfected on their acoustic instrument. I also want to grab musicians whom I believe are advanced and are ready to push the envelope.
Because all of the musicians are such accomplished players, they’re naturally busy with various projects. Therefore, I expect to have different configurations over time. This is only the beginning. The plan is to build a consistent sound and overall experience for the audience and have a rotating cast of members that all are on the same playing field and want to expand the music together. The band could be a three-piece or it could be ten or more people on stage one day. And yes to expanding into the “jam” realm.” There are some truly incredible musicians in this scene.
L4LM: How did both J.E.D.I. and Big Brazilian Cheese come together? Each act has musicians with some serious chops, so you must be excited to explore with these guys.
AJ: Absolutely, can’t wait to get on stage with these guys! Not only chops but diversity and, most importantly, the maturity that each one of these cats brings to the table individually. It gives me a lot of confidence that It’s gonna be something fresh and killin’ right from the first gig.
Big Brazilian Cheese basically came out of my longtime time friendship with Michael Kang [SCI], Jesse Murphy, and Avi Bortnick. I called Michael up and said it’s about time we do something together again. Michael had then recommended to me Dom from Big Gigantic whom I saw perform at this past year’s Electric Forest. Jesse, Avi, and I have been playing together for practically twenty years, so there’s no doubt there is a solid fluid rhythm foundation right there. Although I don’t plan on playing the same ol’ songs with those guys, we can go anywhere—and I want to go forward!
L4LM: You and Jesse have collaborated with Michael Kang in the past as well as some of the other musicians, right?
AJ: That’s correct sir. Jesse and I had played with Steve Kimock along with both Michael Kang and Chris Berry several years back. I also had a side project with Michael even further back when I lived in the Bay Area called Comotion, with Jeff Sipe and Tye North from Leftover Salmon, plus Paul McCandless, Mike Marshall and Darol Anger. Jesse and Avi were also a part of John Scofiled’s Uber Jam from the beginning, and Avi is still going Uber Jam now with Dennis Chambers.
It’s a long list of musicians that all of us have played with over the years. As a musician, it’s always fun to play and explore with different cats even from different worlds sometimes. There are times things ride on the edge of destruction and times that things completely blow your mind. For me, I always come away with something positive from the experience and just try to continue to grow as a musician and a human being.
L4LM: What other projects are you currently involved in at the moment?
AJ: I have a solo project I’ve been working on for the past six months or so. The working title is called, Ya’ll Fired. I eventually want to play with that. It’s me playing live drums with electronics and keys and vocals at times—kind of eclectic and experimental. Besides Brazilian Girls, I’ve had an acoustic trio with Jason Darling and Jessie Murphy. That’s a crossover Americana-folk-country vibe with three-part harmonies. I’m also getting asked to produce more, so right now I’m in the middle of producing an artist now by the name of KJ Denhert, more in the soul genre, and I’m constantly playing local New York gigs and playing on people’s albums.
L4LM: Any plans to record new music outside of the upcoming Brazilian Girls release?
AJ: For J.E.D.I.? You bet I am! I love recording and producing new music! I’d like to get a few gigs under my belt with J.E.D.I., then put out a full-length and a live album. I’m happy that people are ready for some new music without an album for now though. I just want to keep the level high, and with these musicians I’ve got on board, it’s high. I would also like to express my gratitude really. I’m extremely grateful and honored that these amazing musicians have been so enthusiastic about being a part of this project. I look forward to bringing new music with these fabulous musicians in to this insane world!
J.E.D.I.’s upcoming run begins this Thursday, November 30th in Philadelphia at Ardmore Music Hall with Let’s Danza! (ft. members of Brothers Past, Particle, and CIA), followed by a special late-night performance at American Beauty in New York City on December 1st, and capping things off in Albany at The Hollow on December 2nd with Colorado-based space-funk jammers the Magic Beans. Check out tour info below:
J.E.D.I. Upcoming Winter Tour Dates
Thu 11/30 – Ardmore Music Hall – Philadelphia, PA * – (Tickets / FB Event)
Fri 12/1 – American Beauty – New York, NY (Late-Night) – (Tickets)
Sat 12/2 – The Hollow – Albany, NY ^ – (Tickets / FB Event)
* w/ Let’s Danza!
^ w/ The Magic Beans
J.E.D.I. (Jazz Electronic Dance Improvisation) is:
Aaron Johnston (Brazilian Girls)
Borahm Lee (Break Science / Pretty Lights Live Band)
Ryan Zoidis (Lettuce / Shady Horns)
Nate Edgar (The Nth Power)