It’s a good time to be a Disco Biscuit. Upstarts on the jam-band scene just a couple years ago, the band has risen to the upper echelons of the genre with their unique blend of jam improvisation and techno beats. They played one of the most talked-about sets of this summer’s massive Bonnaroo festival and released their fourth studio album, “Senor Boombox,” this week. Not bad for four guys who started out playing Ivy League frat parties.
I recently dragged keyboardist Aron Magner away from tour rehearsals for a quick chat about the band’s sound, its haters, and why you (yes, you) are wasting your time here.
A lot of jam bands spend years and multiple albums trying to replicate the improvisational sound of a live show in the studio, which is something the Disco Biscuits have done well from the beginning. But “Senior Boombox” has a much more studio-based, “rock ‘n’ roll” feel to it. Did you approach this record any differently than you did previous efforts?
Aron Magner: Yeah, every record has a different approach. We went into this record and just pumped it out Rolling Stones-style [laughs]. We went in there and rocked as hard as we could, brought in the bigwig producer from New York and flew him out to San Francisco. So that’s kind of what’s behind the sound of the record. We wanted to create this hard-core rock album.
You were one of the first bands to move away from the traditional rock and folk influences of most jam bands and incorporate elements of electronica into your music. Where did that come from? Who were your influences while you were honing what would become the Disco Biscuits’ sound?
I don’t think there were any real specific influences. It’s kind of just art-reflecting-life-reflecting-art. I mean we were just college kids having a good time. And [electronica] was around all of us as members of this generation; you can’t escape it. And we were just like a sponge, soaking it all up in that respect.
How do you see you sound changing in the future? Do you foresee a move toward either rock or techno?
Interesting, because I could make valid arguments for it going either of those two ways. And I honestly don’t know if [we] will move in one of those directions or if we will find a happy medium. But I do know that it will be different than it is now. A natural progression, you know?
Whether it was coincidence or not, you came onto the scene at the beginning of what has become a full-blown electronic movement in the jam band world. Groups like Particle and Vida Blue have really jumped on this bandwagon in the past couple years. Does this excite you, or do you feel at all ripped off or imitated?
No, I think it’s cool. I am definitely excited. It’s cool if we are at the forefront of this movement, and it’s cool if this movement is actually taking off. Do I feel ripped off that other bands are using this? I don’t know. [Pauses, laughs.] I’m going to stop there. But overall, it’s great.
Now your new tour starts up next week. What is life like for the band on the road? Shows aside, is it something you enjoy?
Oh, yeah. It has its pros and cons, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Touring around the country in a tour bus six or seven times is definitely a worthwhile experience– If you ever get a chance to be in a band and go on the road, I say go for it.
Now the band started out at a school that is familiar to a lot of students here: the University of Pennsylvania. What was it like making the transition from a college band to a professional one?
Well, the biggest transition for me was dropping out of school. [Laughs.] And my message to all the Ivy League students out there is that it’s never too late to drop out of school! But honestly, that really was a big transition, and I guess that as a band we try in general not to make decisions like that too rashly. And so far, it has served us well.
Very few bands in the scene elicit as polemic a response as the Disco Biscuits: feelings tend to be either extremely positive or downright nasty. What do you think about this? Is it something that you are proud of, to get such passionate responses both ways?
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I actually enjoy talking to people who don’t like us and try to figure out why. And you’re right: it’s funny because just as the people who really like us, really like us, the people who really hate the band, really hate the band. [Laughs.]
The band’s popularity has really exploded over the past couple years: the rooms have gotten larger, the buzz louder. But this has happened to quite a few jam bands in the time that Phish has been on hiatus. Considering their upcoming return to the scene this winter, how does that affect the strategy of a mid-level band like yourselves toward business, touring, etc.?
You know, I really don’t think it has or will affect us that much. We try not to think of our music and what we do in those terms. In those couple years that Phish has been gone, we have really collected a great group of fans that maybe have never had a chance to see [Phish]. And I think they will continue to be there for us– But I am glad the guys are back! Good for them.
What’s in your CD player right now? Who is making music that really turns you on?
You actually know what I have been listening to a lot? Eminem. I really think he is doing some cool s—. [Guitarist] Jon [Gutwillig] first brought it in. Then my girlfriend got his newest CD, then lost it and bought it again, then found the first one. So now I have a copy. [Laughs.] And I have also been listening to a lot of hard-core electronic music, coming up with new ideas. So those two have been taking up a lot of my time.
Lastly, how big do you want this thing to get? Is mainstream commercial success possible for or even desired by the Disco Biscuits?
You know, we don’t really cast anything out, but I don’t really see it happening.