Brooklyn band Turkuaz has always been a little bit quirky with their self-styled brand of funky soul music. On their upcoming album Digitonium, which drops This Friday via Techne Records, the group takes their sound in a vibrant new direction while definitely holding onto their signature grooviness. There is a feeling of electricity and explosive color that comes from sharp guitar riffs and horns, and a deep funky synth that brings to mind an 80s dance club. In fact, when comparing Digitonium to their previous work, guitarist and vocalist Dave Brandwein describes the sound as going from “black and white back into color.”
Visual proof of this comes in Turkuaz’ new video for their single “The Generator”. The video – which looks like it’s being played on VHS – features the band in colorful 80s garb doing silly dance moves and having a blast playing throwback funk. We’re excited to premiere the video for “The Generator” right here on Glide Magazine, and to get a better look at the “color” behind Turkuaz these days we talked with Dave Brandwein.
The album is called Digitonium. Where does this name come from and is there a significant meaning behind it?
Digitonium is a phrase that I borrowed from the Disney movie The Sword in the Stone. It’s in a song called “Higitus Figitus,” where Merlin quickly packs an entire home’s worth of things into a small bag by waving his wand and singing “Higitus Figitus Migitus Mum, Presti-Digitonium” (among many other absurd lyrics). I watched the film all the time as a kid, and in re-watching a couple years ago, that word just kept lingering in my mind. Digitonium. Such a weird and futuristic sounding word for a movie from the early 60s, and set in the time of King Arthur.
Though “presti-digitonium” is a play on “prestidigitation”, which refers to magic or specifically “slight of hand,” I started to ascribe my own meanings to the word Digitonium, and imagining it as sort of a modern day integration of human beings with the digital world, and learning to master it, instead of becoming a slave to it. First I wrote the song, and then decided it would be a cool album name that fits the sound we’re going for.
The theme runs (though sometimes very loosely) throughout the album, and often the Arthurian legend of “The Sword in the Stone” is woven in as well. We definitely stopped shy of a full-on concept record in order to ensure that the music was still the top priority and to not get too hung up on the story. Though it was fun to have some interesting concepts to mull over while writing a lot of the material. In the end, it started to seem a lot like a video game to us, which maybe we’ll even be able to create for real one day. For now, you can see the imagined arcade machine right on the front cover of the record.
You released an EP back in April. What made the band want to get another album out so soon after?
Well, it actually happened the other way around. We began working on Digitonium back in September of last year, and recorded most of it in two months or so. We knew we’d have to get back into the studio to finalize and mix everything after our long tour a few months later, and that the album wouldn’t be out for a while.
We had a few songs that we knew weren’t right at all for that record. They had a much more old-school soul kind of feel, and the album we were making was very hi-fi, synthy and a more modern sound overall. So later in the fall, we went into my studio in Brooklyn (Galaxy Smith Studios) for three days, and did the entire EP in that time. We recorded it all on tape, without using a computer at all until the very final stages to get it out to the mastering engineer. Because this was done so quickly, we put the Stereochrome EP out in the spring to give people something new to listen to, and to get some of that material out of our system before really switching gears for Digitonium.
There is definitely a 70s/80s influence on “The Generator”. Who are some of the acts you’ve been listening to that have inspired this sound?
I think “The Generator” definitely combines the sound of Quincy Jones/Michael Jackson productions, with a bit of Peter Gabriel. There are a lot of clear influences throughout the entire record, largely with an 80s sound, but a modern twist. The year or two leading up to writing and recording Digitonium, we definitely went on a big 80s kick and it kind of just worked its way into the music.
How did you come up with the idea for the video?
Dani Brandwein (Little Lou Productions) is our visual coordinator, which includes but isn’t limited to: wardrobe, merchandise, web design, photos and video. She’s been doing some great music video work in the past couple of years (I swear I’m not biased, even though she happens to be my wife), and we decided it was finally time to do a proper live-action Turkuaz music video.
One night on tour when he had the night off, we all went to a karaoke bar in Orlando, Florida. They were playing all these ridiculously cheesy/awesome videos that accompanied all of our 80s song selections, and Dani decided that this is the style we need to go for in the video for “The Generator.” It was decided we’d shoot it all in a big warehouse in one single day, and it was done on a Panasonic Omnimovie VHS camera from 1985! She directed the video and hired a great team of people to work with us on it (Good Look NYC). The whole thing was shot and then edited within a week’s time.
Grab a headband and a fanny pack and dance along to “The Generator” (best viewed in full screen):
As a whole, would you say the new album is a departure from your previous works?
Yes. I would say Digitionium really stretches the boundaries of what we can do as a band, and it’s our first foray into a much more modern production style. But while being really, really different, we also think it’s by the far the best work we’ve ever done, which is important when taking certain risks like this.
All in all, I think it still has the Turkuaz sound lurking all throughout the record, but surrounded by tons of new ideas, cool interludes, and lots of experimentation.
With such a big band and so many different parts to fill, how do you put together songs?
Well, it varies at times, but essentially what almost always happens is someone creates a demo with a solid groove and one or two different sections to it. Then I’ll write lyrics over that, and bring it into the band in a rehearsal setting, where we continue to significantly flesh it out, add to it, re-arrange it, etc. This really has always been our formula.
It remained largely the same on Digitonium with most of the demos coming from me or Craig [Brodhead], but building on top of them and finishing the songs was hugely collaborative between everyone on this record. Because we did almost all of it up in Syracuse at a studio with an apartment where we all stayed and basically lived for three weeks (More Sound Recording Studio), everyone was there most of the time we were working on it, and a lot of the material was essentially written as we recorded it in the studio. We weren’t playing much pre-written stuff. It was a lot of experimenting, trying things out and really just having fun with it. This is largely what makes Digitonium so special. We were also thrilled to have our friend Nate Werth (Snarky Puppy, Ghost Note) on percussion, which added a lot to this record.
Were all of the members of the band originally involved in funk and R&B type musical projects?
If you trace everyone’s roots back to their very first band, I think the answer would have to be no. Some of the guys come from a more jazz background, lots of us started as rock musicians (which we still are in a lot of ways), and Taylor [Shell] started out playing bass in a band in the Bay Area hardcore scene. Funk really is just where we all ended up, rather than what we’re rooted in, but it feels really natural to us.
I know for me personally, after spending a lot of time writing and listening to stuff with a more serious tone in general, it just felt really amazing all of a sudden playing music that was pure fun and energy. What’s cool now though, is that we’re starting to find ways to work some of our old influences into what we do now as a “Powerfunk” band, and I think that will continue to evolve over time. There’s only so much to be said in the classic funk format, and we’re very interested in seeing how much we can expand that over the next several years.
Your fall tour looks like it’s taking you to some new markets. Did you feel it was ready to bring the band out to new places for new audiences?
It’s a lot of familiar markets as well as some new ones. We try and intersperse the new ones amidst longer tours piece by piece, to eventually get us to the point where we have a strong following in all pockets of the country. I think we’re finally at the point now where when we show up in places for the first time, there’s still a community of people there who know who we are, whether it’s from festival appearances or just word of mouth. So it’s getting safer and safer for us to expand into some new cities. The best feeling is showing up somewhere we’ve never been, and looking out into the audience to see someone singing along with a song.
I read somewhere that the band is “on the forefront of a new funk evolution”. Would you say this is true, and can you elaborate on what that means for audiences?
Haha. Well…that may be a little dramatic, and I’d have to let others outside the band comment on how true that is. But in the context of what I mentioned earlier, and our own funk sound evolving and growing, I agree there is more to be done with the genre, and we’re gonna always continue to use our abilities in an effort to enrich it and further it.
It does also seem that certain music audiences are gravitating back towards funk in a big way, which is very encouraging to us. I think the use of “evolution” vs “revolution” is key in that quote. It’s not like something completely new is happening in any given moment, but overall the funk sound is moving forward and has lots of amazing artists representing it right now. We are happy to be part of that in any capacity.
Digitonium comes out this Friday, October 2nd. Turkuaz kick off their huge fall tour tonight with a two-night stand at the Brooklyn Bowl. Check out dates below and visit turkuazband.com for more info.
Sep 30 – Brooklyn Bowl – Brooklyn, NY
Oct 1 – Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA
Oct 2 – Ardmore Music Hall – Ardmore, PA
Oct 8 – Last Exit Live – Phoenix, AZ
Oct 9 – Joshua Tree Music Festival – Joshua Tree, CA
Oct 10 – Orpheum Theater – Flagstaff, AZ
Oct 11 – Marble Brewery – Albuquerque, NM
Oct 20 – State 112 – Missoula, MT
Oct 21 – John’s Alley Tavern – Moscow, ID
Oct 22 – The Reef – Boise, ID
Oct 24 – Hangtown Halloween Ball – Placerville, CA
Oct 25 – Hangtown Halloween Ball – Placerville, CA
Oct 28 – Domino Room – Bend, OR
Oct 29 – Tractor Tavern – Seattle, WA
Oct 30 – Wonder Ballroom – Portland, OR
Oct 31 – HiFi Music Hall – Eugene, OR
Nov 4 – The Live Oak Music Hall – Fort With, TX
Nov 5 – Spider House Ballroom – Austin, TX
Nov 6 – Last Concert Cafe – Houston, TX
Nov 7 – The Parish at the House of Blues – New Orleans, LA
Nov 10 – Zydeco – Birmingham, AL
Nov 11 – Aisle 5 – Atlanta, GA
Nov 12 – Charleston Pour House – Charleston, SC
Nov 13 – Freeboard Live – Jacksonville Beach, FL
Nov 14 – The Funky Biscuit – Boca Raton, FL
Nov 15 – Crowbar Live – Tampa, FL
Nov 18 – The Rabbit Hole – Charlotte, NC
Nov 19 – The Pour House Music Hall – Raleigh, NC
Nov 20 – The Broadberry – Richmond, VA
Nov 21 – Baltimore Soundstage – Baltimore, MD