When It Rains It Poors: Twiddle’s Mihali Savoulidis Looks Back At 2016, Ahead To 2017 & More
Welcome to another edition of The Art Of The Sit-In, where we mix it up with the scene’s most adventurous players and hear some stories from the road. For more, check out our recent interviews with Joe Russo, Oteil Burbridge, Joel Cummins, Marco Benevento, John Medeski, Marc Brownstein and many more. (A full archive of The Art Of The Sit-In is here.)
It’s no longer quite accurate to speak of Twiddle as “up-and-coming.” Twiddle is here. And while the jammy foursome from Vermont has its share of skeptics — not unlike plenty of bands that have crossed the threshold from buzzed-about curiosity to nationally recognized touring act on their way to the jam band vanguard — they’re gaining new fans all the time, headlining sell-outs from Port Chester to Boulder, playing a host of festivals and gaining the respect of scene elders, some of whom have obliged the band with sit-ins and public acclaim.
Twiddle has two more shows at The Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York tonight and tomorrow night, and then a New Year’s stand in Albany and a slot aboard Jam Cruise to kick off what will be another action-packed 2017.
Here, for our final The Art Of The Sit-In of 2016, is Twiddle guitarist, singer and co-founder Mihali Savoulidis on the record.
JAMBASE: Mihali, it was a big year for Twiddle. What was your personal highlight of 2016?
MIHALI SAVOULIDIS: Tumble Down, our event this summer. [Phish keyboardist] Page [McConnell] came out and played with us as everyone knows, but overall it was a really successful weekend. It has been a great year.
JAMBASE: What if anything has changed about the band in these last few years of growth?
MS: We’re just kind of going with the flow and doing our best. The change in venue sizes has meant a lot of upgrades to our gear and the overall live sound. Mainly it’s just figuring out how to play in bigger venues, and account for technical details like stage volume in theaters. Personally, I had a baby this year, I got married, and well, the band, all of us have gotten a bit older. The whole thing is a little more tightly run. Rehearsing is tough when we’re on the road, and a lot of our days are working in the studio. What time we have left we want to spend with our families.
JAMBASE: Did you guys have a moment in the past few years — can you pinpoint it — where you knew you had a national audience?
MS: I think the first big Colorado shows, the ones at Red Rocks and The Boulder Theater. It was when we started doing those that I started noticing. But back East, The Palace Theater a few years ago when we opened for moe. That was my first big theater to play in. We’re going back there for New Year’s, that will be very cool.
JAMBASE: As you’ve gotten bigger, like a lot of bands that follow this path, you have folks who just don’t get it and are vocal about that. Does that weigh on the band much?
MS: We seem to be a bit of a target of that, yeah, especially me. But it’s OK, we all understand it comes with the territory. It comes with the Internet existing. We try not to let it bother us, and we try not to read any of that stuff. There’s definitely pressure that comes with building a fanbase.
JAMBASE: Do you guys feel that pressure to step it up every time, say, you come back to a place like The Cap after proving you can sell it out?
MS: No, no, I think it’s still all based around the notion of fun and a good time. I think that’s how we go about it, always. The live shows are really what we love doing. The opinions differ so much; some shows I think are great and the other guys in the band weren’t that big on and the fans think something different. I hope people think we play great at the Cap and that we meet everyone’s expectations.
JAMBASE: So looking back, what did that Page McConnell sit-in mean to you and the band?
MS: I mean, it was awesome. It was one of the people I listened to a lot growing up and who was a big influence on the music we play.
JAMBASE: Did you know Page at all before?
MS: No, not really. The Vermont music scene is small but no, not before.
JAMBASE: Did you invite him down to sit-in?
MS: You know, I’m still not really sure how it all happened. We knew he was coming down about an hour before. It was super quick — really random — and Ryan [Dempsey, keyboardist] asked him if he wanted to sit-in. We looked at the setlist and decided on “When It Rains It Poors,” and it was really like two minutes of quick conversations.
JAMBASE: That’s 2016. What’s on tap for the new year? What’s going to define success for Twiddle in 2017?
MS: Honestly, I’d like to keep growing in numbers and writing good music and performing well, and do our best to continue to enjoy all aspects of it. I don’t really have anything new there, I’m so happy with where we’re at now and I would be happy if it stayed that way. I’d love to go back to the West Coast and play those markets more.
JAMBASE: Are you going to record again next year?
MS: We’re just finishing up the second disc of our album Plump and we have a lot of new music. The question is are we going to wait until it comes out to play a lot of those songs, we’re debating that one right now.
JAMBASE: Is it typical of you guys to wait?
MS: The only CD we ever waited on playing is this one we’re finishing. We have probably nine or 10 songs that no one outside of the band has heard. Usually we’d play them live and let them develop, but for these we didn’t do it that way, we’ve wanted to keep it a surprise. We hope fans like it. We decided we wanted to just get back together and write music together for a few weeks and create new stuff. It was a fresh start.
JAMBASE: For folks who know the Twiddle catalog, what do these new songs sound like?
MS: Some of it’s very reminiscent of our earlier stuff. We’ve got a few instrumentals on there. We’ve each written more that one piece on the album and we’ve all written together. Some of it’s really new and quirky, and different, and some of it has a familiar sound.
JAMBASE: Think you’ll slip some into the upcoming shows?
MS: I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a slip or two, yeah.
JAMBASE: What do you guys have planned for New Year’s?
MS: Right now it’s top secret. We’re back at The Palace, which is one of my favorite rooms to play. Aqueous is playing with us, and they’re awesome. Maybe we’ll get together and do something really cool together.
JAMBASE: You and the band have told the Page story, but what else is in your sit-in memory bank? You with another band or someone with Twiddle.
MS: I sat-in with theNEWDEAL a long time ago. It might have been 2009, maybe even 2008, at a small festival in Vermont. That’s the one I think of whenever we talk about sit-ins because they were super nice, and they let this kid sit-in with them that nobody knew. For me, that was the coolest thing ever. It was just one of those situations where they had never heard me play but it was like, alright man, come on up, do your think, and maybe we’ll say your name again, or maybe it won’t really work out. But I think it worked out.
JAMBASE: Do you enjoy sit-ins?
MS: I do. I try to say yes every time I’m asked. I like playing on my toes. Every time I’m asked, I play differently. It’s why I really love doing things like Everyone Orchestra with Matt Butler, that’s a new group of players every time.
JAMBASE: When did you first hook up with Matt?
MS: The first time was on Jam Cruise. I’ve done a bunch of them since then.
JAMBASE: And you’re headed back to Jam Cruise of course, with the full band.
MS: We are indeed there. I’m very excited.
JAMBASE: Conversely, do you like having people sit-in with Twiddle? I ask because a band like yours has a certain chemistry and it’s tough to add new players to that. I get surprised sometimes hearing how many bands that regularly have people sit-in don’t actually like it so much as feel obligated to do it at festivals and things like that.
MS: Oh, I think we love it. I’m all for it. I understand where you’re coming from with that, though. We do it a lot, and I’ve heard some fans want that less and more of just us. Some fans love it, some don’t. The overall opinion of the band is that we love having guests up. It does change the chemistry. Sometimes it makes it better — it makes it really happening.
JAMBASE: Who’s someone you’d most like to have sit-in with Twiddle? Your gut reaction: the first person that just came to mind?
MS: Man, for me, Ernie Ranglin. That jazz and reggae, that early reggae shit. I had the fortunate pleasure of playing a show with him earlier this year. You asked me what the highlight of my year was, the highlight might truly have been getting to meet and play with him. I found his playing when I was 13 and it was way before I ever learned to play lead guitar — hearing that was the “oh man” moment that made me want to start going down that road. I can’t play at all like him but that sound was what drove me to get going, more so than the tone of other people. Ernest, you know there’s not much out there about him — you really kind of have to dig to know his story outside of the albums, and it’s such a cool story. I really admired and loved his playing, and by no means did I ever think I would get to meet him, let alone see him play, let alone sit in with him. Those things a year ago didn’t even exist for me.