By: Chadbyrne R. Dickens
Finally, the urban festival called City Bisco is upon us. With The Disco Biscuits poised to take over Philadelphia’s Mann Center over October 5-6, I caught up with keyboardist and co-founder, Aron Magner. The local boy, along with the band mates he met at the University of Pennsylvania, will be supported by powerful acts including Papadosio, Diplo, Brothers Past and Wyllys. In a lengthy and fruitful chat where we as Deadheads discussed hearing renditions of “Funiculi Funicula” and Phil once instructing us to “take a step back”, the “euphoria of playing with Jamie “mother fucking” Shields and attempting to be a father and responsible grown-up, I asked some questions of the keeper of the keys for the monster jam act about to unleash it’s fury on his hometown in the most-anticipated festival in the livetronica scene this year.
JamBase: You enjoy listening to EDM, but I heard you grew up with the classic rock experience with acts like Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead and The Doors. Do your roots in classic rock and jam music currently influence your career?
Aron Magner: Interesting that you ask that because I have two 10 month old boys and been wondering what kind of music I will want to expose them to as they grow up. So I am revisiting a lot of classic rock right now as songwriting isn’t what it used to be, whereas that classic rock shit is amazing, not just the production technique, but the songwriting in the rudimentary form. The actual form of the song is genius and that just doesn’t exist that much anymore. I enjoy singing along with my kids. But it was The Grateful Dead that got me into this and having seen my first show at 12, like chaperoned and everything, I became a Deadhead at a very early age. But the Dead channel on Sirius is my default these days and I’m amazed how much I know about this band. The Grateful Dead have had a tremendous influence on my life and and continue to do so.
| The Disco Biscuits|
My 40 year old friends with a wife and three kids in the suburbs are long time jam band fans but remain clueless as to who the Disco Biscuits are, yet would love you guys, how can one spread exposure about the band outside the immediate fanbase?
Like anything in the jam band scene, it’s something you have to experience live. It sounds so trite and cliché, but it’s just the deal. You don’t necessarily get the first time, and certainly not going to get it by watching a You Tube video or listening to an album or even a live album. You can kind of demonstrate what a band is like live on a live album, like “The Wind at Four to Fly” from the Biscuits which captures some of the energy.
Clearly on this tour with the performance covers of The Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” and Jimi Hendrix’ “Fire’ as well as the long-time cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”. How were these covers chosen and is any of the decision dependent on trying to garner more jam friendly fans?
Well, “Proper Education” is actually a cover of a cover. We are covering the version by DJ Eric Prydz. “Scarlet” and “Fire”, as a band who dig the Grateful Dead have always like the tune and wanted to do a twist on the traditional segue by performing Hendrix’s “Fire” instead. It is a lot of fun.
You are well known for collaborating with so many artists of varied styles. What is a better way to musically get off on than that? Who is your favorite artist you have performed with or one that you desire to seek out?
I never really that of it that way, very interesting. I’ve never thought who I’d like to play with. Dave Dreiwitz was just telling me how he sat in with Donovan. He couldn’t have ever imagined that would ever happen, right? That is what was kind of cool about the Jammy’s too, pairing some people who would never be put together is awesome. The scene we are in cultivates partnerships and camaraderie among musicians and not competition, like our recent show gig with Umphrey's in Louisville. I am lucky and honored to be able to play with so many talented musicians regardless of whatever project I’m in. They are musicians, but I also call my friends.
| Brad Mehldau|
As one who thrives on the keyboard, knowing that the days of piano players like Elton and Joel in the forefront are gone and mostly all music in the scene is heavily guitar driven, who do you admire as a keyboard player?
I was just listening to Brad Mehldau, who just released an album of covers. He’s onto something, and I don’t want to insult anyone in the hardcore jazz community, as they are continuing a legacy, but there is only so far you can push the envelope in jazz, there are only so many traditional jazz covers and styles and when you try to go free or Avant-garde, you are somewhat limited, but it still kinda ends in the genre of cacophonous. What Brad did, which is really cool, is fuse pop songs with jazz, which has been done before, but he has sort of perfected it almost as an art.
With the revival of side projects, like Sucker Punch, is there any chance of another revival of Magner’s Gnarly pool party?
Haahaahaahaa! I think we’ll just let Magner’s Gnarly Pool party be what it was, a great moment in time that we will remember as an amazing band name and a really fun time as well. Isn’t it funny that something that happened once a decade ago, is still remembered so fondly by so many people?
Do you like the means in which music has changed since our youth?
The coolest thing about streaming music these days is you can be exposed to a lot of new stuff you wouldn’t normally be exposed to and also to dig um old stuff you haven’t heard in ages and have maybe forgotten about like Paul Simon’s Graceland. You put on Spotify or Pandora and all of a sudden you are hearing “Mississippi Shines like a National Guitar” – best opening line ever!
You once said that a goal of yours was to get the band to a position where you would play Madison Square Garden. Can you comment on your upcoming New Year’s run and compare it to similar runs in Philly and Chicago?
Yes, Madison Square Garden. Do you have to say ‘The Theater” much softer? (Laughs) For sure, I mean I think its kinda cool to switch it up. Exploring Chicago was a blast and something I’d like to do again for a special show like NYE, but we have kinda made Philly and NYC our home for NYE and its fun to alternate magical venues.
| Conspirator by Steven Limentani|
In the Disco Biscuits and Conspirator, who does most of the composing?
We all do. In Disco Biscuits, Barber and Marc and then me. Conspirator is a collective effort and they are often introduced usually as “here’s an idea and lets flush it out as a band” which works as ego rarely comes into play. Conspirator is more of a group approach, but Michetti due to his excellent production skills, is at the steering wheel or driving seat when writing these songs, but we put together writing weeks where we all get together and one can almost guarantee that when we put us all together in a room we are gonna come up with some good stuff. Early in our career we knew the ability to last a long time was dependent in our being able to write new songs.
How did you get started on this musical path?
I started with classical, as my dad brought me down to Temple University for piano lessons at a very early age, but I was too young to have a fond appreciation for it and stopped playing piano after 7 years. But, after a year off I got curious about jazz and at 13 delved hardcore into it. What 15 year old spends a summer at Eastman School of Music in the Jazz Studies Department getting really into jazz? I stayed at Penn just to maintain my jazz contacts in Philadelphia and remain in the circuit and get playing experience. Of course the butterfly effect, is if that hadn’t happened I wouldn’t have met my band mates and played rock music and learned how to dumb down really complex jazz chords, weird ass notes like sharp 11ths, crazy chord expressions and the colors within it to its rudimentary form of like a triad and take out all those color tones and play a rock instrument. I loved Floyd and the Dead, but got exposed to electronica music and here I am.
Thank you for your time, Aron. I speak for many when I tell you we are all very excited to be back at the City of Brotherly love catching you and the boys at City Bisco
Thank you man. I am very excited for this one!
JamBase | City Bisco
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