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The Interview: Lead man and guitarist of Turkuaz, Dave Brandwein

In late April of this year, I had the chance to experience Turkuaz for the first time, an 11-piece funk and soul band based out of Brooklyn (of course!) –that had me grooving like I’ve never grooved before. In a nutshell, they’re pretty dope. A couple of weeks later at their studio in Williamsburg, lead singer and guitarist Dave Brandwein chatted with me about their sound, their funk swag and where they would like to be in five years.

Let’s get it straight: you guys (and girls) are not a cover band, but you do incorporate covers into your set?

I would say on average, we do two to three covers per set. And sometimes some of our songs come off as cover songs because they sort of have that old school feel to them…but, some of those are actually originals. So we have about two or three covers per night.

I hear a lot of funk and soul going on but there’s a lot of other stuff going on too.

It’s funk-based in terms of the groove but once the lyrics start being written and the melodies are written, I think we draw from a few other influences like the Talking Heads, and other stuff. Having seen Stop Making Sense… are you familiar with that at all?

No, I’ve never heard of it. What is it?

It’s the Talking Heads, it’s a movie and a concert they did with half of Parliament Funkadelic. So it’s half them and half P-Funk. And in some ways I’m sort of hesitant to mention it because it sort of gives away where we get some of our ideas from [laughter]. But you know everybody draws inspiration from somewhere.

But you know growing up I listened to…well I only got into funk and soul in the last five years or so. Our bass player Taylor got me into it, but I come from a background of The Beatles, Led Zepplin and Radiohead. And then I sort of got into jazz and from there went into Herbie Hancock and it [music] sort of led me in this interesting direction and then I went back to James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone, stuff like that. But I like to try and combine that kind of sound with some of my other influences. Plus I like to write lyrics that are not the type you’d usually find in funk and soul; they’re a little more weird and quirky and you can’t really tell what they are about a lot of the times, which I kind of like. So I’d say it’s a bunch of different influences but we’re out to make people dance and have fun.

You certainly accomplish that! So when you’re writing lyrics are you thinking, this is what I want people to dance to. Or is it just something that naturally happens?

I’d say it’s probably half and half. I think of the vocals as another instrument, so if I have to sacrifice meaning for sound, I’m willing to do that sometimes. I’d rather have something sound really cool or really funky or rhythmic than to be easily understood lyrics. In fact, sometimes I’m even willing to have it make no sense at all!

We’re not really listening to the lyrics anyway! We’re just dancing.

Exactly! It doesn’t matter when you’re waving your head around anyway. So a bit of both in that I’m willing to do anything lyrically as long as it sounds good.

Do you ever write with anyone or is it just you?

In terms of the lyrics and melodies, so far in Turkuaz I haven’t written with anyone; it’s just me. But in terms of the band and the instrumentals, everyone has a lot of their own say. Sometimes the horns will write their own parts; I’ll be like do whatever you guys want to do, and the same with the keys and drums, and stuff like that. Occasionally, I will say I want this exactly in this form because the song is written in this way but for the most part, we’re pretty open. It just so happens with the vocals, I’ve been the only one writing those parts.

Where does the name Turkuaz come from, and how does it represent the group?

When we started this band we had a home studio; we started up in Boston and we just basically had a house there where we made a studio out of it. That’s where we started making the recordings that spawned the band. We started just recording and we didn’t have a live band [or a name] and at the time where our house and studio was, across the street was this place called Turkuaz Market, and we used go there and buy cigarettes and stuff. I don’t smoke anymore but at the time we use to go there and we were like Turkuaz, that’s an interesting name. We didn’t have a name so we were like let’s just use it. So one day I just went across the street and asked the guy at the market if we could use the name…no sorry, I told the guy that we were going to use the name for our band. And he was like Alright, let me ask my boss. And I was like No, I’m not really asking your permission, I’m just telling you [laughter]. I was like I’m pretty sure we’re allowed to use it until we enter the same realm of the business world. But anyway, I wish it was a more amazing story, but really we just stole it from the market across the street from our house. It was wildly uncreative of us.

I mean it’s an unusual name and you guys have a slightly unconventional style, so it works.

It sort of plays up our style in some ways; but it means turquoise in Turkish, which is kind of cool.

Your funk and soul swag is kind of off the charts, but why funk music?

A lot of us went to music school and were sort of bombarded with all of these reasons you have to play music: why you have to be good at it different things and you have to know how to read music, and you have to have the right sound and you have to play like this and that. It just sort of sucked the fun out of it for a lot of us.

I mean we’re all glad that we went there [Berklee College of Music] because we all met each other while there and a lot of really good things came out of it but, I think we all came around and said we just want to play music that’s fun, music that’s fun to play and fun for people to listen to. It’s not overly technical and you don’t have to think about it too much at all. Sometimes I joke and say it’s too easy because you’re really only playing one chord over and over again but in reality, I think that there’s something really important and deep about playing music that is that simple and still finding ways to keep it interesting. I think I just got tired of music that took itself too seriously. It’s just really, really fun music.

On you guy’s Myspace page you have a quote that says, “To dance is a protection, funk is your connection…so don’t forget that shit!” What does that mean?

The first two parts of that are from a Sly Stone song [“Babies Makin’ Babies”], and the “don’t forget that shit!” was our little add-on. But yeah, we stole that one. I can’t take credit for that…it was our bass player Taylor’s idea.

So where do you see the group in five years?

In the next few years we want to be able to go out on tour with a band that has some sort of a national following. Maybe a band like Jamiroquai or even a band we’ve played with around Brooklyn like Soulive we’d love to tour with. Or even The Dap-Kings, they are two entities that are based out of Brooklyn that we’d like to play with. When a band goes out on tour and doesn’t really have a national name, you’re going to lose money if you just try to go out on your own. So ideally we like to start in the next year or two by opening for a bigger band on some kind of semi-national tour. From there build up a following; we have our own label called Galaxy Smith we launched a couple of years ago and its going to be re-launched by the Fall.

But as much as we do our own recording and our own releases right now, eventually we would like to get some acclaim on a tour where we could go in a studio and work with a producer that we like and get some kind of budget for that and make a really good album. But I guess the ultimate goal would be in five years time, to headline our own tours. Just to be selling more records and to keep having fun and making music. But anything beyond that is just a bonus.

Any upcoming albums, EPs, singles, or tour dates for the summer?

We just finished our first album as Turkuaz. Like I said before we made some recordings back in Boston that was mostly just a few of us; it was mostly demos but we actually released them as an album, it’s called Dollar Store. You can buy it on iTunes under Turkuaz or on our Myspace or Facebook page. But that sounds really nothing like the live band we have now. What we’ve done in these past several months is recorded the same seven songs that are on Dollar Store but we recorded them with this band as we sound now. So we’re done with the recording process and we’re going to be mixing and mastering it within the next two months and then that’s going to be released. But we have a lot of good things in the works.

Turkuaz will be playing The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on July 30th; as well as Music Hall of Williamsburg, August 14th. But to find out more about the band, definitely visit their website.

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About ND McCray

ND McCray is a former Brooklynite, now St. Louis-based writer, penning pieces on arts, culture and other stuff.
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