The king is dead, long live the king. That contradictory idiom has been used for centuries when one monarch dies and gives way to the next. It represents both finality and possibility, raising a glass to the end of one act and clearing the way for whatever comes next. It speaks to both the decisive nature of endings and the ways in which they echo into the future—never quite the same as before but not entirely different, either. A version of that saying could be applied to Turkuaz.
That band as we once knew it—a nine-piece funk ensemble famous for its colorful, party-starting live shows—ended abruptly on November 2nd, 2021 with a message posted to the band’s social media accounts signed by seven of its nine members. It began, “We have made the difficult decision to step away from Turkuaz.”
The exodus left the band crippled from a touring perspective, but its co-founding nucleus of Dave Brandwein (guitar/vocals) and Taylor Shell (bass) remained. While they acknowledged the stark reality of the situation, they stopped short of calling this the end of the band. “I look forward to playing and releasing more music, whether it be Turkuaz or the many other new, exciting projects I have in the works,” Brandwein wrote in a statement of his own the same day.
For a while, there was silence. After Dave’s initial post on behalf of himself and Shell, both remaining members largely went off the grid while the seven who left made their way into various notable musical endeavors. Shell went on to join Ghost Light in March of 2022. All remained quiet on the Turkuaz front.
Then, in July of 2022, the band’s pages came back to life for a surprise announcement: Dave and Taylor had finished mixing the two albums the nine-piece recorded before the split—the presciently Heaven- and Hell-themed Paradiso and Apollyon—and were set to release them this fall.
“Turkuaz is releasing these records from beyond the grave,” Brandwein said at the time.
The news created a sort of dissonance for fans, a mix of excitement, confusion, and concern. The idea of a large batch of new music from the now-defunct nine-piece was enticing, but the implications of the release were messy. The situation within this seemingly joyous party band had been bad enough to prompt seven talented musicians to walk away en masse, leaving behind not just the material in question but the security of a steady job in a successful act with considerable upward momentum. Was listening to this “new Turkuaz” akin to crossing a picket line?
That range of emotions surrounding the two “posthumous” Turkuaz albums grows ever more nuanced when you hear from the individuals involved. Ask each one the same question and no two answers are exactly alike. In a series of conversations conducted before and after the release of Apollyon and Paradiso, Live For Live Music asked the members of Turkuaz—both those who left and those who remained—to reflect on what went wrong, the lessons they’ve learned from a year’s worth of perspective on the situation, and their complicated feelings on the music left behind.
“I think unfortunately, obviously, we all have a pretty different perspective about what happened,” Taylor Shell reflected during a call with Live For Live Music. “Everyone knows Turkuaz as this live band, but there was a lot that went on behind the scenes and underneath.”
To onlookers, the band’s abrupt split had created two opposing groups—the people who left (singers Shira Elias and Sammi Garett, horn players Chris Brouwers, Greg Sanderson, and Josh Schwartz, guitarist/keyboardist Craig Brodhead, and drummer Michelangelo Carubba) and the people who remained, Brandwein and Shell—but that delineation had existed since the band’s inception.
Dave Brandwein and Taylor Shell started Turkuaz as college students in Boston and remained at the helm as the project grew in size and stature. Beyond steering the band’s creative direction, Brandwein and Shell owned the Turkuaz LLC, paid the bills, assumed legal liability for the outfit’s debts. The other seven members served as long-term contractors, offering significant contributions toward a vision that was largely not their own.
While the technicalities of the band’s ownership had always created an imperfect environment, the nine members spent a decade holding things together in order to help the project thrive. “It had a life. A life that I was very much a part of,” Michelangelo Carubba wrote on social media in September. “I gave my own life to that band. … I declined going to surgeons to repair torn rotator cuffs and broken feet, so that tours wouldn’t be cut short because we couldn’t afford a substitute that would have charged the actual going rate of a working drummer, versus what I was willing to accept for the love of the game, and the shared goal we had.”
As Shell explained, “We had all this [momentum] that enabled us to continue doing what was a difficult feat of keeping essentially 13 or 14 people relatively full-time employed and on the road for a decade-plus.” When the pandemic hit and touring ground to a halt, he said, “the wind came out of the sails.”
Ramping back up after the pandemic proved to be more challenging than imagined for the sizable operation. While the landscape of the modern touring market provided plenty of obstacles on its own, Shell explained, various personal struggles for Brandwein also became “cause for people to air grievances they’d had for a long time and hadn’t really felt the ability to express.”
Dave, a self-described “person of extremes,” referred to his relationship with his work as “not just perfectionist, not just obsessive, but tunnel vision.” He had always taken an exacting, emotionally charged approach to piloting the group, but those polarizing traits were amplified by a string of personal crises he faced during the pandemic, from his rollercoaster struggle with addiction, relapse, and recovery to his split from Dani Barbieri, his ex-wife and the band’s longtime creative director. As the fallout from his personal life increasingly bled into his leadership of the band, his former bandmates said, it created a “toxic” imbalance in the delicate ecosystem of individuals, personalities, and ambitions known as Turkuaz.
“It’s easy to feel like you just have to grind and work. It’s a compulsion. It yields really cool things, but it’s escapism sometimes,” Dave reflected. “I think I get really wrapped up in these projects. I work day and night for weeks, months at a time and drive myself absolutely nuts, and there’s upsides to that, but a lot of times it’s not really a good thing, and I think it just made me very unaware some of the time of my bedside manner.”
“There’s serious issues that he had, that he was going through. That’s a hundred percent true,” Craig Brodhead said frankly in the days following the release of Apollyon and Paradiso. “He was in the biggest crisis of his life. … But the thing was, he was in charge. He was in charge of everything. And when the guy that’s in charge is having big problems…
“I mean, listen, I loved Turkuaz,” Brodhead continued. “I was a fan. I used to go see them in Brooklyn before I was in the band. So me being in it, it was the best. I really, really loved it. And when the pandemic was happening, all I was thinking about was coming back to it. … Trying to come back after this pandemic, there were just too many things working against us, and it was too much pressure on all of us. It used to be, even when it was hard, it was still a joyful thing, and it just really was not that anymore. … I did everything that I could do. I tried to put us in the best position possible to come back strong, obviously made some great personal sacrifice to do that, and I came back and it was an extremely toxic, unhealthy environment. That’s really what it was about.”
“We saw it was going down a bad road,” added Chris Brouwers of the worsening situation within the band, “and we weren’t all going to be friends with each other if we kept on doing what we were doing.”
Taylor Shell’s position within the breakup dynamic adds nuance to his account. Although he and Brandwein held equal power in the organization, Dave often acted as its de facto figurehead while Taylor’s presence felt more like one of the gang. Shell readily acknowledged the issues raised by his former bandmates about Dave but explained that his personal and legal ties to Brandwein and Turkuaz precluded the option of stepping away.
“I think that there are things that he did and ways that he acted that he’d be the first to tell you were not okay, and that caused a lot of turmoil,” Shell said. “I felt like Dave was going through recovery at the time. … I felt like he’s my friend from the time we were 17 years old and the music that we were still making, I mean, these records we put out were great. So I didn’t feel like it was the right thing, with everything that had happened in the pandemic, to not give more time and more goodwill and energy and effort towards this thing that we love.
“I wasn’t ready to make that decision and legally couldn’t have made that decision to end the band, as it were,” he continued. “The band had extended itself into debt, during the pandemic especially, to maintain the expenses of trying to figure out how to bring it back online post-pandemic. In that way, it’s like I didn’t really have a choice, nor would I have wanted to end it anyway.”
In the immediate aftermath of the split, Taylor and Dave both went dark for several months. “It’s been challenging seeing people speculate about, ‘Dave, he’s down and out,’ or, ‘he did something crazy,’ or whatever,” Brandwein told Live For Live Music on a mid-September call. “It’s good, man. I’m taking a break. I just need a second.”
While they remained out of the public eye, Brandwein and Shell were left to decide what to do with the two-album, 26-song cache of original material the band had been recording.
“To me, there was no doubt,” Dave explained of the decision to complete and release Apollyon and Paradiso. “It’s like what, are we going to throw these 26 songs in the garbage, all this work? We were tracked. There’s always things that you do in the final process to tweak it and make it as good as you can, but the parts were down. What you hear is pretty much what everybody put down, and we just mixed it. If it had been a half-done record, we probably wouldn’t have been able to move forward with it.”
With the help of Rob O’Block, who is listed as a co-producer with Brandwein on Paradiso, they set to work finishing the albums for release. “Putting these records out through what was a pretty arduous experience of ending a band that I started when I was 19 years old, the goal the whole time was, ‘We can’t throw this music away,'” Taylor confirmed.
“I just so hated that the way it ended, technically, was this big, ugly, unorganized social media thing,” he continued. “It felt very unprofessional and just not gracious to our fans, so my goal throughout this whole process was to try to put a bow on the band and on this time together with as much respect and care as I possibly could so that hopefully everyone that put so much love, time, and energy into it—our fans primarily, but also everyone in the band and all of our families and everyone that supported us through this whole process—got to experience some kind of musical closure. Certainly for me, that’s what it has amounted to.
“The whole point of it was for our fans and in some ways ourselves to a little more gracefully try to put this thing down that we’d worked so hard on collectively,” he added. “Now, unfortunately, they weren’t there to be a part of that. And I wish that they had been, or I wish they had wanted to be.”
Apollyon and Paradiso have clear Hell and Heaven themes. Examinations of the duality of life and the theoretical nature of what follows death run throughout the two records. “The big picture concept is that Heaven and Hell are two human constructs,” Brandwein said of the double-album when it was released. “Life isn’t as simple as black or white, this or that. It’s not binary. We’re all a little bit of both… Beautiful and tragic chaos.”
The lyrics on the albums seem to so squarely portend the band’s implosion that it’s difficult to believe they were written and recorded prior to the split. Apollyon, the “Hell” disc, closes with “The Next Phase”, on which Garett and Elias chant, “We’ve got to go, got to go.” Paradiso, the “Heaven” set, ends with the uplifting “Crystal Ball”, a dreamy dance track anchored by lyrics like “I believe in starting over.”
“It’s like the cycle just keeps going around and around again,” Brandwein said of the two closing tracks. “Even when relationships end and things change in life, I feel like we do end up living a lot of the same things over and over again. … Sometimes you realize that things aren’t sustainable the way they’re going and things have to change, and you try to break those cycles. But I think those two songs connecting the two records and being the final track on each of them, there’s definitely a reason for it.”
As they worked to finish these two albums about the afterlife by a band that had already perished, the morbid continuity of the situation was not lost on Taylor Shell. “I think that the reality is this band was started with Dave and I in our apartment that we lived in together for years in Boston, and that’s kind of how it ended, in putting these records out,” Shell reflected. “[Dave] and I sitting there and finishing these final mixes together. … Going through that process was cathartic in some ways.”
Those who departed the band last November are less inclined to refer to Apollyon and Paradiso as vehicles of closure or catharsis. The sense of detachment they felt toward the “final Turkuaz albums,” Shira Elias said, underscored the systemic issues that had long contributed to deteriorating relationships within the band. “It always felt to me and still does feel like it was Dave and Rob O’Block’s project,” she noted. “Obviously there was a long build to the breakup so, in my opinion, the whole project was worked on during a very tumultuous time and there wasn’t really much unity in general, let alone in creating together.”
“For me,” Chris Brouwers added, “we made it really clear that [the unreleased music] was something we walked away from, so obviously it’s up to them to do whatever they want to do with it. I don’t want Turkuaz fans to be disappointed. I hope for them that they enjoy it. But yeah, similarly, it was never something that we were all a part of. … If someone thinks that this was something that we all did together to celebrate the years we had, that’s not the situation.”
Even after the release was announced and the album rollout began, the seven ex-members had yet to hear the finished products of the last Turkuaz songs they recorded. “If fans like it, that’s great. I’m never going to discourage anyone from listening to some music,” Michelangelo Carubba told Live For Live Music in the days before the albums’ release. “It’s just the way that it all shook out. This second part of this two-album release [Paradiso] is something I don’t think very many of us had a real big part in. It’s a mixed bag of feelings. The one record [Apollyon], I do feel like it’s me. I haven’t heard the masters yet, but I might share one of those songs publicly on a social media platform. The other album [Paradiso], frankly, I don’t really give a f— about.”
Taylor Shell, who has largely not spoken to his former bandmates since the split, felt differently. “I think that’s crazy [that they feel detached from it] because they’re playing the whole time on all of it, but I get that they feel that way because after they quit the band, they didn’t come over to work on mixing sessions. But nothing was tracked over. There was no re-recording of anything. They were part of every recording session that went into that with the exception of the final overdubs that we did, which we would’ve done either way.”
“People being confused about the new records is frustrating sometimes,” Dave lamented. “People don’t know how to feel. I definitely know fans who are like, ‘I can’t really listen yet,’ and there’s some frustration in there when all I want is for people to just crank it and enjoy it, but I got to respect and in some ways be in awe of how much emotion is tied to us as a band for people. … As tough as it is to navigate this post-Turkuaz posthumous release world where everybody feels differently about it, it’s like, at least everyone’s feeling something about it.”
“It’s a very strange feeling to be proud of songs you helped write with someone you haven’t spoken to in a year for a band that no longer exists,” Josh Schwartz considered. “I couldn’t help but tear up a bit as I scrolled through the tracks, thinking of the many years we all spent together touring the country and internationally. It was very bittersweet. Overall I thought the albums sounded good. I’m proud of Dave, Taylor, Rob O’Block, and anyone else who helped push this big project across the finish line. I know it couldn’t have been easy given that the band broke up during the process. I’m also proud of the other seven former members for our contributions to the albums. We sounded great on our parts.”
“I’d say by the time I heard it, it felt more like Turkuaz than I expected it to, if that makes sense,” Craig Brodhead explained soon after the albums’ release. “I didn’t expect that [Dave] would treat it like that. I thought that there might be some, I don’t know, vindictiveness with the material, but I didn’t really feel that. I think that he was very respectful in the stuff that we played. … It sounds like us, and it’s hard to listen to in some ways.”
Brodhead’s complicated feelings on the process are tempered by his previous experience co-producing the band’s 2015 album. “Dave and I worked really closely on Digitonium,” he explained, “and I still think that’s the best thing that we did, record-wise, and him and I proved that we worked very effectively together. And then, starting with the next record, I don’t know why, even though we worked really well together, that was gone, and he was working with Rob O’Block—who I have nothing against as a person, I really respect him in terms of he’s a great guitar player and he’s a friend—but it was just weird to me that [Dave] increasingly was going outside of the band. And I’m like, dude, we’re right here. … [Apollyon and Paradiso were not] that different from the last album, other than the fact that the band broke up in the middle of it.”
Dave’s perspective on that change differed from Craig’s account. While Craig felt that he was being boxed out by Dave, Dave saw the shifting dynamic as a result of diminished effort on Craig’s part. Brandwein claimed that he urged Brodhead to be more involved in the recording process in the band’s final years, but to inconsistent avail. “Did he stop contributing because he got replaced,” Dave considered, “or did he get replaced because he stopped contributing? It’s a chicken and egg thing. … From my perspective, he was disinterested.”
Still, Brandwein was quick to praise Brodhead’s post-Digitonium contributions, which included co-writing the eventual lead single from the double-album, Paradiso‘s “Strange People (Strange Times)“. As Brodhead said when the single was released, “I am completely stoked on how it came out. I actually think it’s one of the best recordings we’ve ever done and it brings the exact funk party vibe that I always loved so much about the band.”
“I don’t know if I do this more than any other group of people in the band, but I’m always thinking about, ‘What could we have done differently to save it?’ And I’ll think of little things,” said Craig Brodhead. “I think that everybody could have behaved better, to be honest. But I think if somebody’s like, well, ‘I was good and they were bad,’ that’s always bulls—. ‘The buck stops here’ is a phrase that exists for a reason. It sucks to be in charge. That is true. I don’t forget that for a second.”
“To Dave’s credit,” said Shira Elias, “it is a really f—ing hard thing, especially in this day and age, to run a touring band, let alone of this size. That is no easy feat. And look [how far we were able to get] under his leadership.”
“I’m sure we can’t really find too many human beings, or at least people who do okay in the world, who aren’t always trying to get better,” Dave Brandwein noted. “We are absolutely imperfect, pretty much all of us, and I am certainly no exception. I might even be a little crazier than your average bear. [But I’ve] learned that I can get through a lot more than I thought, I’m a little bit stronger than I thought, but I also need a lot more self-care and a lot more… I don’t know, humility I guess would be something. My pride doesn’t want to admit it, but I think that’s something I need a little bit more of in my life. … I am not a perfect person by any means, and I am always on a continuous and difficult journey to look inside, improve myself and try to be the best version of myself that I can be. ”
While the one-year anniversary of the split just passed, Dave still felt “too close to really understand it. … I’ve had long stretches of feeling great and a little more settled about everything that happened this last year, and then some days all of a sudden you feel angry. You feel confused or stressed. It just starts bubbling up. It’s not a linear process. I don’t think there’s an end point where it’s like, ‘Okay, now I’ve processed it and I feel better.’ I think it’s like you slide down for a little while and then back up, and slowly but surely, maybe… ‘get over it’ is not the right word, but you get the perspective that you need to move on and feel okay about yourself and about the situation.”
Dave Brandwein’s process of “getting over it” has been readily apparent to Taylor Shell. “I mean, he’s been in such great health and spirits and shape now for a long time, for a while,” Taylor said. “And to me, this is all well and good, but the health and happiness of my friends comes first. That was my focus throughout and remains my focus now. The band was great and I love the band, but nothing matters if somebody is struggling to live at a basic level.”
The former band members expressed a similar sentiment regarding their difficult decision to leave Turkuaz. They saw their decisive exit as their shot at a clean break from an unhealthy working environment that had taken a considerable toll on their mental well-being. “Leaving was not an easy decision,” said Sammi Garett. “It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made.”
“It’s just tough,” Taylor added. “I’m sure you’ve experienced people doing things in your life that [made] you feel wronged or [that] you disagree with. Finding a way to forgive and move on while maintaining what it is that you think is right or wrong about a situation is very challenging. … I’d love to have everyone just be cool and everything to be great, but without certain conversations, it’s hard to just have that be because it’s not how I feel.
“But on the other hand,” he continued, “I think about all the things that we shared as a group and it’s like, man, so much lifetime was spent with one another. And it’s so strange not being in touch with them in that sense, but maybe that’s what needs to happen for whatever the future holds. I mean, there’s no way that this is the end of our connection on this planet.”
While the past year has presented different paths for the former bandmates, their collective outlook on the legacy of Turkuaz, both for themselves and for the fans, remains positive.
“We wanted to leave it so that everyone could remember and love Turkuaz for what it was,” Shira Elias said during a group call alongside Garett, Carubba, and Brouwers. “Regardless of what happened and what went down, Turkuaz was a really special thing that we created together, and what it did for us, what it did for the fans and for the community I think is going to be remembered as a positive thing.”
“It brought us together,” Sammi Garett interjected. “What is more amazing than that? You are all my family. I met Greg [Sanderson] at my Turkuaz audition in 2012, we have been together ever since, and now we’re getting married! Turkuaz is and was so special to all of us. Doing what we love, playing music for amazing people who I consider my friends in amazing places all over the world. … We toured for ten-plus years together and that’s something very special to me.”
“It really did feel like lightning in a bottle that we captured sometimes, especially in our finest moments, and that’s tough to hold onto for a long time,” Dave offered. “In some ways, the fact that we went out with a bit of a bang here is not unlike us. I’m not saying that conflict is something to be celebrated, but certainly we did it in a dramatic way.”
“Turkuaz was a many-sided, complex, insane rollercoaster ride that took me around the world and let me touch the hearts of thousands of people, many of whom I now consider friends,” added Josh Schwartz. “In the end, the downsides strongly outweighed the positives for us, but that doesn’t erase the positives from my memory. I don’t regret anything about my time in Turkuaz.”
“The thing that has mattered most to me all along is the fans and the quality of the music and the sort of hopeful legacy that we leave,” said Taylor. “I love the music that we made together and I’ll always feel that way. There are details that cause feelings—sadness, hurt, anger, whatever—but those are all fleeting. At the end of the day, the music isn’t.”
The band is gone, but the music lives on. The wounds are still fresh, but the life lessons learned from this shared time in the trenches remain. This tumultuous chapter has come to a close, but these musicians’ stories are far from finished. I believe in starting over…
Turkuaz is dead, long live Turkuaz.