Brooklyn “powerfunk” band Turkuaz takes a modern approach to classic funk sound.
They have a few songs titles that seem apt to the genre—“Doktor Jazz,” for instance—but also unexpected titles such as “European Festivity Nightmare” and “Murder Face.” The 9-piece band tours constantly and has already been through Missoula twice. In anticipation of their return to the Top Hat tonight, we spoke with frontman Dave Brandwein about the modern funk band's style.
Tell me about how
Digitonium is different from your other albums.
It was an attempt to go for a more futuristic funk kind of hi-fi digital sound, and it’s a lot more synth-y than what we’d done. In the past, we were more organic or even more ’60s and ’70s-style funk. Digitonium
is more of the 1980s-style funk with a futuristic twist on it. I borrowed the word from the movie The Sword and the Stone
, actually. I thought it was such a curious word to be in this old cartoon from the ’60s about midievil times—it sounds so futuristic to me—so we kind of used that as concept to build the album around.
We also went into the studio without most of the material written this time around, which is a unique experience for us that yielded awesome results. We were able to write while we were recording, which made for keeping things really fresh and exciting and collaborative. It was definitely a new experience and our favorite one yet.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
I personally grew up listening to mostly classic rock: Stones, Beatles, Floyd, Zeppelin—things like that. And I kind of transitioned into some Steely Dan and some jazz and then came out the other end on the funk spectrum. But there being nine people in the band, so if you asked each person, they would have their own very different set of answers, which is one of the perks of having a large band. There are so many influences coming together, different sensibilities, different musical backgrounds that all contribute to the sound. But I think my classic rock influences our lyrics and vocals, which makes it different than a lot of funk.
Yeah, a lot of funk is purely feel-good music. It’s just about dancing. But your songs actually have some underlying tension and storylines.
That’s part of the thing I like. For James Brown it made sense. He was inventing and cultivating a new style of music and he wanted to talk about the funk and the groove. But for us it seems a little disingenuous to do that, so I try to get creative and more abstract with lyrical ideas, make more story lines and reference things that actually happened to us in our lives. I like to let the music speak for itself and the lyrics say something totally different.
What’s “Lift it Up” about?
Like I mentioned, the title, Digitonium
, is borrowed form The Sword and the Stone
and, actually, if you look at the lyrics throughout a lot of the record it’s pretty topical to that movie and the legend of King Arthur. That theme continues throughout the album. That song is sort of about finding who the future king is. It’s about the old king dying and about who can lift the sword out of the ground, basically.
Is that a metaphor or are you just into the story of King Arthur?
We actually created a metaphor for Digitonium
and how it sounds like a future word. I created this world referred to as “Computer World”—pretty blatant to our times, obviously—and so you see Computer World throughout the record, too. It’s an analogy to our modern struggle, like the idea of lifting the sword and being able to break the code and discover your own personality and reality amongst all this digital madness that surrounds us. And it goes along with the more literal King Arthur legend that’s described throughout the album. And of course a good amount of the album is just pure nonsense, as well. Not every word means something.
do you think about the digital madness right now?
The world is changing and that’s hard. I find myself a slave to it sometimes, not taking in what’s around me and forgetting to have the kind of experiences that I remember when I was kid, before everyone looked at their phones all the time and everything was about social media. I remember when people would actually have to call each other and be on time and learn how to break awkward silences. That doesn’t happen any more. I think getting back to that human interaction is an important thing. I don’t always succeed, but I try to remind myself everyday.
What’s the origin story of Turkuaz?
Most of us met at school in Boston, at Berklee [College of Music], and then moved to Brooklyn shortly after and formed the existing lineup that we have now. We started touring in 2012, doing about 180 shows a year. And we’ve been doing that ever since. Being on the road over 200 days a year, we’ve become a tight bunch. All of us are really good friends.
With so much touring, can you narrow down some of your favorite shows?
It’s always fun for us to play Brooklyn Bowl, which is kind of our home venue. We just did a three night run there to kick off this tour. We sold out Friday and Saturday and that send off was really amazing. We had some great festivals we’ve done over the years—High Sierra Music Festival in California and the Catskill Chill Festival in upstate New York where we did some really cool cover sets, like Sly and the Family Stone and Studio 54. Honestly, we’ve had great shows at the Top Hat. We’ve been there twice and each time has been really awesome.
You do a lot with costumes and choreography, too, right?
Each band member has their own designated color and that manifests itself in the form of a few different outfits. We have suits, members-only jackets, jumpsuits and sometimes we’ll just wear T-shirts and jeans if we’re feeling a little more casual. But it’s always color coordinated. There’s definitely some stage choreography as well. A lot of the choreography happens because one person does something and we all get into it. We don’t have a choreographer or specifically rehearse a lot of stuff. It’s a pretty organic thing. It comes out of having fun. And that’s what happens. Andbecause of the color and choreography I’d say the shows are equally visual as they are a sonic experience.
Turkuaz plays the Top Hat Thu., May 12, along with The