Since their formation in 2006, the Buffalo, NY-based groove-rock band Aqueous has been steadily making waves all of their own. They have cranked out eight studio albums and even more live albums for your listening pleasure. Throughout the years, they’ve made tremendous strides both in their music composition and in their touring demand, becoming a household name in the New York music scene.
As the Buffalo boys expanded their national tours, the venues and crowds became bigger and the jams became longer and more intricate. And now, they’re selling out their hometown’s 1000-cap Town Ballroom to close out their biggest year yet, which also saw the release of their latest album, Color Wheel.
The rock quartet is scheduled to head out on their 2019 co-headlining winter tour with BIG Something early next month, which includes their first-ever all-improv set at Anthology Live in New York, on March 15th.
Live For Live Music sat down with frontman Mike Gantzer to recap 2018 highlights while also looking forward to what’s sure to be an exciting year for Aqueous.
L4LM: So 2018 was a big year for you guys, what was it like to close it out back home in Buffalo with 2 sold out shows?
Gantzer: Yeah it’s a trip man. The first night at Nietzsche’s was special for us because we’ve played there a bunch but it’s been a few years since the last time since we have outgrown the room. It was just for our VIP package, so it was really incredible to see so many familiar faces that we’ve been seeing for years as well as some new ones sprinkled in there.
L4LM: What was the general vibe and energy going from Night 1, a more intimate setting with longtime fans into a sold-out Night 2 at Town Ballroom?
Gantzer: Yeah, it was definitely a contrast. Night 1 had its own vibe where it felt very personal. There’s something about playing in that room you know, we’ve played it 33 times so there was a lot of nostalgia happening up there on that stage and we were picking up on that vibe. That’s where we kind of figured out our sound. And of course, a VIP show–especially in our hometown where there are some of our biggest fans in the world, there was such a tangible love and energy. I think that’s part of the type of room that it is, you know like Phish and a bunch of other guys played there back in the day. There’s always kind of a vibe in that room as it is, and there’s something that happens when we play in that room–it’s always explosive.
To paint a picture, it’s this very long narrow venue and there’s seating up top as well on either side of the stage where people are eye level with the band in this small 250-person club, so it feels like people are basically right on top of you. So between that vibe going on and us dipping back into the nostalgia of playing there previously, we did all kinds of bust outs. It was a recipe for a really special night. It ended up being one of my favorite shows we’ve played in quite some time which is really saying something because I’m pretty psyched on every show we play.
So then we get to Night 2, I think it was awesome to have the experience of night 1, which got us feeling more comfortable to play this bigger room. For us, in the past year or so, we’ve found ourselves graduating to bigger rooms in different parts of the country and it’s a vibe we’re still getting used to. I felt like that night this was one of the first times we played super well in a room that size and there was just so much love in the air. Our fans were super stoked and really ready to go. The two sets at Ballroom were really different from the set at Nietzsche but I LOVED that and I thought that both nights were really special.
L4LM: Yeah definitely, being at the Town Ballroom myself you could feel that energy and all you could see where smiles everywhere you looked. Now throughout both nights, you had some pretty interesting covers, ranging from “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka, The Grateful Dead, The Beatles, and even No Doubt. How the hell did that happen?
Gantzer: For covers, we always try to keep it fresh and we always try to do something we know will be fun for us to play and for the crowd too. We try to use these as opportunities to switch up the genres we play, we have our thing that we do but it’s nice to dabble in these other elements of music and see what result we get from doing that. A lot of times we’ll improvise from within that and it usually inspires something cool. *laughs* But about two days before the New Years run we had a fan request “Hella Good” by No Doubt. It was too late for us to really learn it, but we were in the middle of a jam and Evan started teasing the song she requested and none of us actually totally know it. But we started teasing around with the vibe of it and then we looked up and saw she was stoked so we went along with it and it was super fun. We always try to keep in touch with our fans and what they’re into, at least showing we’re listening and that we care and appreciate them, ya know?
L4LM: I can’t help but touch on the fact that you guys are inspired by hip-hop. Being that you’re heading to the West Coast, you guys should be ready to drop some classic 90’s hip-hop on ’em.
Gantzer: I mean that’s the source man. California, that’s the spot.
L4LM: On the West Coast, are there any dates or spots that you’re looking forward to? How spooky do you guys plan on getting at the Stanley Hotel?
Gantzer: I’m looking forward to the whole thing. I haven’t spent too much time out there but the times that I have, they’ve been completely mind-blowing to me. It’s almost like a different world, every city on the tour looks amazing to me. We’re always stoked to go back out to Colorado.
Playing at the Stanley is going to just be insane. I think it’s so cool that they’re doing shows there and you know touring with Big Something is going to be a joy for us too. Those are guys we know very well, they are very sweet and really good so it’s always fun going into a tour with a group like that that you already have history with. There’s no feeling it out, we can just jump into having fun right away. We both have done sit-ins with each other’s band so I’m excited to see what comes of that. There’s a lot to look forward to.
L4LM: Now when you guys get back from the West Coast you guys are headed to Rochester, NY for 3 sets, one of which is your guys first ever all-improv set. Seeing that you guys are so versatile, what do you think fans can expect from a set like that?
Gantzer: Man if I knew I would tell you. We’ve done stuff like that in rehearsal spots but in front of an audience, I think that’s going to be what dictates it. I’ve always thought of improvisation as a two-way street. The musicians are there creating it, we’re basically feeding off what people are and aren’t responding to. It becomes this push/pull mentality. There’s just this energy getting thrown around in the room and it’s our job to pick up on it and be conduits from the audience and from each other. We aren’t planning any of it, we want it to be completely authentic and I am very excited for that. I think it’s all about taking risks, I think there are going to be moments where amazing things happen and there may be moments where we fall on our face but I think that’s awesome. I think there’s something so honest about that, I’m so excited to go on that journey with people. It’s not just the band up there, we’re all going together.
I remember seeing a quote from Trey [Anastasio] talked about being a vessel for energy and the music. I think that improv is when that concept shines the most clearly. When you’re playing through the composed parts of the set it just feels like your plan is trying to play the music correctly, you’re trying to be sharp, you’re trying to be on point and tight. That’s on one side of a musician’s brain that’s important, but the other side is the side that is musically is basically energy and you are supposed to channel it and get your mind out of the way. You have all of your musical knowledge, on any given night you have all the thoughts you’ve had on your mind all day which emotions you’ve felt and this and that, but the idea is to be as present as you possibly can. You have to turn your brain off and just, GO. Let the energy flow through you, put yourself and your ego inside and just be a conduit for that energy.
L4LM: Now as we get ready to dive into 2019, looking back what were some of the highlights of 2018?
Gantzer: Oh wow, well I agree with what you said that 2018 was one of our biggest years yet. There were so many moments to choose from but some that really stick out to me were our show at the Bluebird in Denver. This last summer I got to sit in with moe. at Saranac Brewery which was really cool for me being a kid from Buffalo because these guys were THE Buffalo band. Those guys have been so good to us and anytime I get to play with them is really special to me. Another cool moment was having Andy Farag of Umphrey’s McGee sit in for a whole set with us in Chicago, he is so talented, and we had a blast with him.
L4LM: What sort of stuff do you guys have cooking for 2019?
Gantzer: Man, we’ve got a lot going on. We take January off every year because we’re just coming off months and months of touring. It’s nice to re-charge and especially being a Buffalo, NY band, it’s just dead here. We take the time and spend it with our significant others and with our families. In that time everyone has been writing and we are starting up rehearsals for the upcoming tour.
We’ve got a lot of plans for new music which is very exciting and festivals that are coming together. We’ve got a great summer lined up already, we’re already actually planning our fall and there’s gonna some really awesome stuff going on with that. There are no signs of slowing down and I think you’re gonna see a lot of new music form us even though we just put out a new record last tour, all kinds of good stuff – full steam ahead!
2019 is looking to be another monumental year for Aqueous as they bring their high-energy live show to all coasts of the US as they continue to capture the hearts of thousands. This is a band that refuses to settle as they constantly challenge themselves and evolve year after year. Be sure to catch them when they come to a city near you!
Grab tickets to their upcoming tour from the band’s official website here.