Easy Answers: Aron Magner of the Disco Biscuits

Believe it or not, the Grateful Dead had a far-reaching influence that stretched way beyond their inner circle of improvisational minded bands.  Since playing their first shows 50 years ago the Dead have earned their place in the lexicon of culture as perhaps the quintessential American band. In light of their final shows, which take place 4th of July weekend in Chicago without lead guitarist Jerry Garcia of course, and to commemorate their legacy as a whole, we’ve decided to launch a special column that focuses specifically on the impact of the Dead within many different musical communities. In each installment of Easy Answers (get the reference?) we will question a different musician or band, ranging from the obvious to the not so obvious, about the importance of Grateful Dead on their own life and musical path. We could easily keep this column within the jam band community – and we will most certainly turn our focus to some of those acts – but the goal of Easy Answers is to get insight from musicians who most wouldn’t expect to be influenced by or fans of the Dead.

Regardless of whether you want to subcategorize them as “jamtronica” or “trance-fusion” or whatever, there is no arguing that the Disco Biscuits are about as jam band as you can get. However, given their leanings toward electronic music and lyrics that have been known to focus more on odd fantasy stories and the mundanities of suburban middle class adolescence as opposed songs steeped in American roots and folklore, the Biscuits may be one of the last jam bands you’d expect to connect with the Grateful Dead. Yet, somehow, members of both acts have found themselves to be kindred spirits as of late. On April 17 the Biscuits will be joined by the Dead’s legendary drummer duo of Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart at the historic Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado for their annual Bisco Inferno blowout. Keyboardist Aron Magner has also been teaming up with Kreutzmann for his Billy and the Kids project, a collaboration that also features Tea Leaf Green bassist Reed Mathis, Tom Hamilton of American Babies and Brothers Past, and Robert Randolph. Recently, the group blew minds with their takes on Dead songs at the Capitol Theatre in New York. As odd as it may seem to fans of both bands, it seems the Dead’s drummers are as enchanted by the untz as the Disco Biscuits are enthralled to be sharing the stage with such titans of the scene, which may be why Aron Magner was happy to take a minute and reflect on his love of the Grateful Dead.

How did you first get into the Grateful Dead?

I had an older cousin whom I idolized as a kid. If he ripped a hole in his jeans, I did the same. If he ironed a Van Halen patch on his jacket, I did the same. Luckily, as a teen in the late 80’s, he got into the Grateful Dead and therefore, I did as well. It was never just a passing fad for me though. I got on that bus at a very precocious age and never looked back. The passion I had for this band made me the musician I am today.

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Are there any personal memories of the band or a concert experience you’d like to share?

Second row directly in front of Phil during the first “Unbroken Chain” ever was pretty amazing. There was a  sense of bewilderment within the [Philadelphia] Spectrum that this sacred song was finally, decades after its studio release, played live for the very first time. The crowd erupted after the first few notes while fans began to realize what was happening. Seconds later the crowd hushed to listen and relish. That was a really special moment.

What is your personal favorite Grateful Dead song and why?

It’s a catalogue full of favorite songs; catalogue of not just quality songs, but a quantity of quality songs perhaps unprecedented in the history of recorded music. I connect with most of them for lots of different reasons. “Black Muddy River” was the last song I saw live, “Casey Jones” the first song I ever heard from the group that I originally assumed was a heavy metal band.

What is your favorite era of the Grateful Dead and why?

I got really into the late Brent era recently.  YouTube has been such an incredible tool for preserving history and its been unbelievable fun watching a slew of live performances. It’s really cool to watch the presence that he learned to command on stage with those giants of music.

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What Grateful Dead offshoot (The Other Ones, Furthur, The Dead, Phil and Friends, Ratdog, etc) did you feel did the strongest job of playing the material?

I didn’t realize this was a competition.

Pipgen, Tom, Keith, Brent, Bruce or Vince on keys and why?

Wow, this really is a competition. Ok…well…everything is subjective, no? I have never really gravitated towards the early era of the band. I have always liked Keith and his organic approach to the piano, but Brent is an absolute powerhouse on the organ. I was always a really big Bruce fan, so I really geeked out during his stint.

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The Disco Biscuits hit Colorado April 15 – 18:

April 15 & 16, 18 – Ogden Theatre – Denver

April 17 – Red Rocks – Morrison (w/Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart)

Tickets and more info: discobiscuits.com

Check out more Easy Answers:

Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth

Alex Bleeker of Real Estate

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