Cool Cool Cool is Shira Elias, Sammi Garett, Chris Brouwers, Josh Schwartz, Greg Sanderson, Michelangelo Carubba, and Craig Brodhead. It would also be accurate to say that Cool Cool Cool is the seven members of funk nine-piece Turkuaz who left the band en masse last fall, bringing the group’s story to a sudden close. But in this new band, the individuals hold equal power to the institution—a strategy that takes into account the rocky road they left behind a year ago.
“We saw it was going down a bad road, and we weren’t all going to be friends with each other if we kept on doing what we were doing,” says Brouwers of the final months with their former band. “We did what we did so that we could continue to make music together and love each other and be a family.”
In Turkuaz, they were long-term contractors contributing significantly to a grand design that was largely not their own. While they acknowledge the joy they used to get from the band, they all concur that it had disappeared by the time they split. With Cool Cool Cool, they hope to reclaim some of their old group’s bygone magic—this time, with equal control of their individual and collective fates.
“I would call it aggressively democratic,” Brodhead explains of the new band’s operational approach. “Even to the point of nonsensical. It’s almost to prove a point. We’re being idealistic with the concept. We’ll see if it actually works, but that’s how we’re trying it.” Adds Carubba, “Every decision we’ve made as of yet has been discussed thoroughly between the seven of us. That already is a culture change.”
“We’re not a monolith, we’re seven different people with seven opinions and seven perspectives on the whole situation,” says Elias. “That’s kind of the opposite of how Turkuaz was represented, so it’s paramount to us that it’s like, we’re seven individuals.”
“We’ve all done the super-jams where you just fly by the seat of your pants and whatever goes goes,” Brouwers continues, “and there’s an aspect of that … but also, this is a new group for us and something we’re excited to bring, so we’re doing songs, we have material that we’re going to bring to the table.”
“People have asked us, ‘What are you going to play?’ And everyone’s got their own individual music that they’ve been working on and recording, so we’re going to play a bunch of that stuff,” Elias explains. “We’re going to play some of Sammi’s songs, we’re going to play some of Shira’s songs. We’re going to play all sorts of different things. … I think one thing that we’re all excited about for Cool Cool Cool is that we now get to bring all of these different things in and be in charge of our own fate and play what we want to play and be able to show all these things that we can do.”
Working with these “amazing, talented, fantastic people with great ideas,” Garett says, “it’s like, ‘Cool, you have an idea. Let’s do it. What’s this song? Bring it to the table. Let’s all do it.’ … I feel like people are going to see more of each of our individual personalities and why we were in a band for that long and we’ve been friends for so long.”
“Man, I’m just excited to have the energy of us together in front of people,” Brodhead muses. “That’s exciting to me to get that feeling back, even if it’s not the same.”
“It’s new, but it’s also so familiar,” Elias adds. “Sammi and I have been sensing each other’s movements for years, even from across the stage.” Sammi smiles, “You can give me a look and I know exactly what it means. It’s like a special twin language or something.”
The members of Cool Cool Cool are confident that the bonds they spent years building with fans will continue to strengthen under the new banner. “I think one of the things that has really become clear to me since we left [Turkuaz] is that people invest in people, they don’t invest in a product,” Carubba says. “That’s something that I’ve seen happen with the seven of us: people are investing in us as people.”
“There is no more Turkuaz and that product is gone,” he continues, “but [fans] have faith in us as people and they are excited for us as people and that, to me, has been the most encouraging thing. Without that name behind us anymore—or, now that that name is behind us—people still want to be a part of what we’re doing, and the seven of us don’t have to depend on anything or anyone to make our careers work and to pursue our dreams successfully.”
It’s now a Turkuaz Cinematic Universe of sorts, a collection of self-sufficient storylines that intermittently intersect to thrilling effect. “We’re like the superhero, Marvel s—,” Shira jokes, “and now we all get to make our own movies where we’re the squad.”
The path forward from the Turkuaz breakup was a mystery at the time, but each of the seven departing band members quickly found his/her footing on stage and in studios. Now, with Cool Cool Cool, they each bring to the table a new set of experiences beyond the ones they shared with the hard-touring funk band for a decade.
Sammi Garett (vocals) has been working on her debut EP with longtime collaborator Freekbass as her producer, performing her material alongside his at various festival appearances and tour dates. On a recent trip to Colorado, they wrote three songs in a day and recorded them live to tape at Color Red. “It was an intense and extremely rewarding experience! I am so proud that I wrote and recorded three fantastic songs in just a few days,” she says. “It was really great getting to work that songwriting muscle and work with musicians who are incredibly talented and supportive. I am so proud of what we created together in the studio!”
Shira Elias (vocals) has remained busy with solo music of her own, playing various festivals and club dates as she rolls out her latest EP, Services, the companion piece to 2020’s Goods. She had made Goods while she was still living in New York and touring with Turkuaz. Services, she says, will reflect her journey since then—the move to L.A., the split from Turkuaz… “All of where I’m at,” she explains.
Elias also spent several months on the road with The Motet (alongside Brouwers and Schwartz) as part of George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic‘s One Nation Under A Groove tour. “I think across the board, people are so surprised because they’re getting to see us all in different capacities,” she reflects. “Singing with The Motet all summer, being sort of the ‘front person,’ people are just like, ‘Oh, I had no idea. I didn’t even know you could do that.'”
Chris Brouwers (trumpet), Greg Sanderson (alto/tenor sax), and Josh Schwartz (tenor/baritone sax) formed The Horn Section, a plug-and-play brass trio, and were quickly swept up by Zac Brown Band for an extensive stadium tour. “The production is unlike anything that we’ve ever been a part of before,” Brouwers says. “I think 13 trucks is what they have at every show, including Zac’s gym, which is one of them. … I think they have just about as many tour buses for all of their band and crew. There’s, like, hundreds of people running around every show. We just did Citi Field in New York, which was a little bit larger than the other plays that I’ve done personally in New York City [laughs].”
“We’ve been having a blast just bouncing back and forth between that and [playing with The Motet on George Clinton tour]—that was pretty, pretty awesome just to be around those guys and the chaos that is P-Funk—and then also playing other shows with our friends that we’ve known for years in the scene, TAUK and Aqueous, and we’re in discussions with other groups to jump around and play different shows here and there,” he continues. “So, we’re just keeping on the touring grind and playing as much as we can.”
Craig Brodhead (guitar/keys) has played a number of buzzed-about gigs with Richmond, VA soul outfit Butcher Brown, continues to hone his house music craft under his DJ persona, Yesmann, and puts in work with a number of regional acts out of his native Cleveland, OH like Collin Miller & The Brother Nature and Nathan-Paul & The Admirables. “Fortunately, I started those other things before,” Craig explains. “When I wasn’t on the road with Turkuaz, I was still doing all kinds of side gigs all the time, so the only thing that’s changed is I’m doing that a hundred percent of my time now.”
He’s even in the process of writing a set of dance music with The Horn Section as Yesmann. “It’s something totally different, something new,” explains Brouwers of the new collaboration. “We’re all playing together and continuing to write music together in all sorts of different iterations.” The Horn Section and Yesmann made their live debut during December 2022’s North Beach Music Festival in Miami, FL. Their late-night performance was the talk of the festival, stoking excitement for further collaborations on the upcoming Jam Cruise 19, where Brodhead is scheduled to play a pair of 2:00 a.m. DJ sets.
Michelangelo Carubba (drums) linked up with Ryan Stasik (Umphrey’s McGee) and Mike Gantzer (Aqueous) to form punk/metal power trio Death Kings and record the group’s debut album at a familiar studio in Syracuse, NY. While Death Kings was initially conceived as a 2020-style remote collaboration, Carubba explains, “I said, ‘Nah, this stuff sounds too good. I want to do it right.’ … It turned out really, really great.”
Now, the drummer fondly known as Thunderfoot is taking a step back from that heavier lane—and the funk-forward style for which he’s long been known—to explore a new sound entirely: singer-songwriter. “I have been touring recently as Ryan Montbleau‘s drummer. He likes what I’ve done to his sound, and I think he has a re-energized look at what his live band can sound like. … It’s a new muscle that I’ve been able to work out, and it’s a new side of me that people are getting to see. I’ve had people come up at Ryan’s shows that are fans of mine and they say, ‘I’ve never seen you play like that before. I didn’t know that you had that in you.'”
He’s also doing some work with Collin Miller, who joined Cool Cool Cool at its debut show at Brooklyn Comes Alive for some added vocal power while Josh Schwartz was on his long-delayed honeymoon. While most of Miller’s gigs with his group, The Brother Nature, have been regional so far, the members of Cool Cool Cool have a particular perspective they feel can help guide the soulful singer and bandleader. “It’s a big operation and he’s young and he’s sort of steadying himself on how to operate something like that, [and] our group, Cool Cool Cool, certainly has some experience with working with a giant group of people. So, I’m looking forward to that,” says Carubba.
“That’s been really cool and gratifying for me,” he adds, his thoughts drifting to his former (Turkuaz)/current (Cool Cool Cool) bandmates, “to show people that none of us are one-trick ponies. We’re not just a big, loud, bombastic band. We can do whatever we want at the highest level.”
While they haven’t performed together as Turkuaz since late October 2021, the seven members of Cool Cool Cool have still found opportunities to play as a group in the time since. In addition to special appearances like Live For Live Music‘s New Orleans Jazz Fest late nights, they have continued to play Remain In Light shows with Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew—a high-profile gig they had accepted leaving behind when they abandoned their former band. Those shows have helped bridge the gap for this collection of musicians, affirming to them that they could maintain their connection without the official Turkauz thread holding them together.
“That was the first time that we really performed as sort of this group with a couple of extra friends,” Carubba says of their first post-Turkuaz Remain In Light show back in April 2022 in Sarasota, FL. “That was the first big family reunion.”
“The last show that we did with Turkuaz was a Remain In Light show,” adds Brouwers. “So it was kind of cool to come back to that and have that be the first thing that we all did together and be like, oh yeah, we’re still a band. We still do this. We’re just as strong as we ever were.”
In early November, that realization came full circle when Adrian Belew and Jerry Harrison announced a lengthy 2023 Remain In Light tour featuring Cool Cool Cool as both the opening act and the headlining set’s backing band.
You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?” There is more to this story, of course. The musicians’ emotions surrounding their former group’s unceremonious split are complicated and varied. They have bared their souls about the many factors that led to Turkuaz’s split, their complex feelings on the band’s “posthumous” double-album, and more, but with Cool Cool Cool, they hope to leave the past in the past. For now, they’re happy to celebrate where they wound up on the other side: something a little bit new, a little bit familiar, and completely within their control.
“The Universe is crazy, huh?” Sammi reflects. “It’s pretty cool,” says Shira. “I’d say it’s Cool Cool Cool. It’s a cool evolution to see us all grow like this. It’s really beautiful.”
[A version of this article was published 9/15/22]