“We would not be coming to Charleston if it wasn’t for the fans telling us to come,” says Marc “Brownie” Brownstein, bassist for the Disco Biscuits. “There’s no other place in the country that’s sent us multiple daily e-mails, for months, like we got from our fans in Charleston. We had some epic shows at the Music Farm back in the day, and we’re really excited because y’all are really excited. Plus, Charleston is sweet.”
Brownie, along with bandmates Jon Gutwillig (guitar) and Aaron Magner (keys), formed the group 12 years ago at the University of Pennsylvania. After nearly a decade, they experienced a shake-up when drummer Sammy Altman announced he was leaving for medical school. They announced a “drum-off,” and current skin-thumper Allen Aucoin took the prize.
“It wasn’t until very recently that I started to get the feeling that we were really the Disco Biscuits again, instead of three guys with a new drummer,” says Brownstein. “It took a while and it was scary while it was happening. We spent 10 years developing a machine. What do you do when Allen’s not reacting to something you’re saying musically that the old drummer would pick up on? Now we know how to react to each other. Our sound is significantly different than it used to be because Allen’s a significantly different drummer. With all due respect to Sammy, Allen blows him out of the water.”
The Biscuits are putting the finishing touches on their first studio album since 2002. Despite their reputation as an electronic jam band, Brownstein says the release is more of a straightforward rock record.
“I think everyone expects us to get more electronic and end up like Sound Tribe Sector 9, but we’re just rock musicians who happen to love electronica,” he says. “Our music will continue to grow.”
Brownstein explains that the band even has “Disco Biscuit scales” that only they use, and that “haven’t been used in popular music thus far.” He talks about learning Eastern scales, which include more than 12 notes, and his personal efforts to improve.
“I know obviously that I’m not such an amazing singer, but I take vocal lessons. You’ve got to just keep plugging at it and trying to improve. There’s always room to improve. Why does Alex Rodriguez get up at 4 a.m. to work out for four hours, when he’s already hitting .350 with 60 home runs? How can you be better than that? The best never stop trying to get better.”
Last month, they embarked on their first European tour, an experience that Brownstein says brought them back to their roots of playing for intimate, small crowds.
“If we were in Memphis and 150 people showed up, we’d be bummed out, but 150 people in Berlin felt like selling out Madison Square Garden. I told the kids how much we appreciated them coming out from the stage. At home, it’s hard to get 3,000 kids on the same page. They all know songs like ‘Helicopters,’ but they don’t know new songs like ‘The City,’ so when we play it, they’re like, ‘What the f*ck is this?'”
About 75 American fans joined the Biscuits in Europe, traveling on a bus between shows, and Brownstein talks admirably about the friends of all ages he made on that tour.
“I wish everybody in the music scene could have been on that bus to see what supportive, open-minded, classy fans we have,” says Brownstein. “I was so proud.”
Part of the Disco Biscuits reputation has been based on drugs and “schwilly” kids dubbed “Parking lot rats.” Brownstein admits that in the ’90s, the band compared their influence on ecstasy use to the Grateful Dead and LSD during the ’60s.
“I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t eat acid every time before I went to see Phish, but you don’t need drugs to enjoy music. Good music makes you high,” he says. “I listen to Phish every day, and it gets me there. Do I think people are sitting at home taking ecstasy and listening to the Disco Biscuits? No. People party when they go out, and it’s okay. But you have to use moderation. It’s called partying with class. I’m so sick of people who can’t formulate a sentence. Those are rats — I don’t even know what they’re on, just that me and my friends don’t ever look like that.”
Brownstein advises fans to keep their heads on straight by not staying up two nights in a row, keeping their composure, and partying with class. That shouldn’t be a problem in fan-favorite Charleston.
“I hope it works out great,” says Brownie. “Because if it does, we’ll be back.”