The 7th Annual AURA Music & Arts Festival is right around the corner, taking place at The Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida from Thursday, March 3rd to Saturday, March 5th. As a part of our coverage of the festival, we are sitting down with a handful of this year's performers for a series of interviews called "The Road To AURA". Next up is Josh Schwartz (bari sax, vocals) of Turkuaz.
Turkuaz has quickly become one of the most innovative, exciting acts in the jam/festival scene, fusing together elements of funk, soul, R&B, and pop as a 9 piece band. How and when did the idea for this band come to life?
Josh: Around 2008, Dave (Brandwein), the lead singer, and Taylor (Shell), the bass player, were finishing up at Berklee College of Music in Boston and had the idea to make a kind of disco funk studio album just for fun. They got some other musician friends together and put together this album. Unbeknownst to them, someone submitted the album to Berklee's student record label, Heavy Rotation Records, and the label loved it. So they approached them about performing at this big showcase in front of 1000 people, and they were like, "Ok well I guess we have to put a band together." There had already been a bunch of us who were jamming pretty regularly at a house that I was living at in Boston with a bunch of musicians. So Dave and Taylor just kind of put together the musicians that we had already been playing with, and we formed the band, and our first show was in front of about 1000 people. We really liked it, and the crowd seemed to really like it, so we decided to give it a go. However, that being said, we only started touring pretty heavily about three years ago. So we formed in 2008, but it's only been the last few years that we have really been touring nationally.
Has the lineup remained fairly consistent, or have you had many members come and go since 2008?
Josh: There are five of us who have been it in since the very beginning: Dave, Taylor, myself, Greg Sanderson, who plays tenor sax and the EWI, and Chris Brouwers on trumpet and keyboards. And then Mikey (Michelangelo Carubba) on drums has been with us for a bunch of years. The same goes for Craig Brodhead on guitar and keys. Sammy Garrett (vocals/percussion) has been with us for a few years now, and Shira Elias (vocals), who is our newest member, has been with us for about a year and a half now.
Watch Turkuaz perform "Tiptoe Through the Crypto" at Telefunken Studios":
You mentioned that Greg plays both the tenor sax and the EWI. Can you tell me a little more about that instrument?
Josh: Yeah so EWI stands for electronic wind instrument. It is a strange looking thing that kind of looks like an electronic clarinet...mixed with like a giant e-vape thing. So once we started touring in support of Digitonium, Greg started bringing out this EWI device. It's crazy. He plays it like a saxophone, but he has it hooked up to a synthesizer, which he uses to modify the sounds and tones that come out. It's wild, and it kind of sounds like a synthesizer and a saxophone. He just goes to town and rips it up. He can do all of these crazy sweeps and jump up and down octaves and do all of these things that wouldn't be possible with a traditional saxophone, because of the limitations and mechanics of it. So people have been going crazy when he busts it out and seem to be really curious, asking "What the hell is that thing?" I always get a kick out of explaining to people what it is. I think you'll probably be seeing it at AURA.
This past October, the band released its latest studio album, Digitonium. How did the recording process differ on this album from your past studio efforts?
Josh: Well with this one, we were so fortunate to be able to actually live in the space that we recorded. So for about a month, we set up shop in Syracuse, New York at More Sound Studios. The engineer was this guy Jocko (Jason Randall) who is such an amazing person and producer. He's truly the king of vibes. So we lived there, recorded there, and actually wrote a lot of the stuff there, for that month. Whereas, for most of our past recordings, we did a lot of them at Dave's (Brandwein) studio in Brooklyn called Galaxy Smith, which is an awesome studio, but the nature of our schedules when we were home made it so that it was kind of a piece-by-piece recording process usually. The horn section would come in for an hour this day. The rhythm section would be in another day. We all have our own crazy schedules at home, so it was never a full band living and working for an extended period of time in the studio.
So doing it this way for Digitonium was such an amazing experience. It allowed us to really flesh out some ideas and add on to other people's ideas. You know, like the horn section would be recording a part and Craig (Brodhead) would be listening and have an idea to improve our part. A lot of things like that, with a lot of cross pollination between different sections of the band. There was no rush, no sense of distraction. We didn't have to leave for other jobs or gigs. We were there to make the best album we could, and I think it really shows with the finished product.
Over the years, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park has become the home to many of the nation's most anticipated annual music festivals. What is it that differentiates Suwannee from other festival sites and makes it so special? Do you feel the atmosphere has a direct effect on this music?
Josh: First of all, I do have to say that Suwannee is my favorite setting for a festival that I have been to. Something about that area in Northern Florida, with the Spanish moss trees, and the river and the lake. Something about it is different. Maybe it's just that I'm used to the Northeast festivals, which are beautiful, but it's just such a nice change of pace. Especially those Spanish moss trees. Something about them...the first time we went down there, I couldn't stop staring at them. I felt that it lent a serenity and a positive vibe to the festival, which I think carried over to the festival goers. I found that the crowd there tends to be more positive, and there are families at all festivals, but I'd say slightly more family-friendly, but without sacrificing any coolness, for lack of a better word. People definitely party there, but they do it in a way that is conscious of others and of the surroundings. I've been to so many festivals where people are just trashing the place or are just there for the partying, rather than the music. I've found that the two times we have played at Suwannee (Bear Creek x 2) there is just a positive vibe that I think the beautiful, natural setting helps to instill in people.
In terms of how it affects the music, when the artists are happy, they're going to play better. And it's hard to not smile when you're surrounded by such beauty, so yeah I can definitely imagine that it produces some sets that are pretty special that you might not get in a different setting.
This year marks the 7th Annual AURA Music & Arts Festival. You have been a part of this scene for long enough to see many festivals come and go. What do you feel are some of the most important factors in establishing and growing a successful music festival?
Josh: Hmm...that's a good question. Let's see...I think making sure that there is a solid infrastructure to make both the fans and the artists safe and comfortable. That might be a boring answer, but it's something that I've found that a lot of unsuccessful festivals don't pay attention to details. Like for one thing, planning for inclement weather and making sure that the bands' equipment isn't going to get rained on and destroyed. Especially in the Northeast, it seems like there is rain at every festival. I have not been to a single Northeast festival where it hasn't rained at some point, even when it's supposed to be all clear! Then making sure that the campsites are comfortable and safe, with adequate water and food vendors. That gets some of your basic, boring stuff out of the way.
I think that the artists that are booked obviously play a big part. Having some variety is probably good, even though a lot of festivals are kind of geared towards a certain niche. So if it's a DJ festival, maybe working in a few full bands to round it out. I think it makes for a festival that is memorable, and that people will want to return to. Let's go back to the setting...like with Suwannee. That's just such a beautiful place. Having a festival in a place that is memorable in itself, and that people want to walk around and explore in.
I also think that incorporating art in an interactive way is really important. More festivals are starting to do this. A great example of this is Joshua Tree Music & Arts Festival at Joshua Tree National Park in California. We played there last year, and there was just art everywhere. The stages themselves were handmade, and there were statues and paintings everywhere. It kind of felt like you were walking through an awesome Burning Man village. It creates a sense of adventure, playfulness, and creativity. I think it encourages more interaction with both the space and setting, but also with other people. It gets the creative juices flowing for people.
Watch Turkuaz's official music video for "Generator" here":
Turkuaz is scheduled to play The Porch Stage from 10:45 to midnight on Friday night. How does this band go about determining the setlist for a major festival set vs. any other night on tour?
Josh: So Dave (Brandwein) is the one who writes the setlists. But as the person who has been typing up them up after he makes them for several years, I've talked to him a little bit about it. It seems like he tries to anticipate what the vibe of the crowd is going to be. For instance, if we're playing a new market, and it seems like the crowd is going to be a mix of older and younger people, that will be a much different setlist than if we were playing an all ages show in a college town. So for a set like the one we have coming up at AURA, like you said, it's pretty prime time party time. People are gonna have their rage faces on. So we're gonna definitely make sure to play some of the heavier hitting tunes that we have. I'm sure that you'll be hearing some of the songs from Digitonium, since a lot of those lend themselves to the upbeat, party vibe. It's all kind of figuring out and getting in the mindset of the average person that's gonna be in the crowd, which can be different from venue to venue and festival to festival. We are super excited for this set, and we'll definitely be bringing the heat with the setlist. We have The New Deal playing before us and Thievery Corporation playing right after us, and I am honored to be in between those two bands. Those are two bands that I respect very much.
This year's lineup features a notably diverse variety of the festival scene's most exciting groups. What do you think this lineup says about the depth of this music scene in 2016?
Josh: Well, jamtronica and the EDM scene can and does coexist healthily alongside more of the funk and non-electronic type bands. Aura has bands like Thievery Corporation and The New Deal, who I think blend electronic and live instruments beautifully, along with bands like Tom Hamilton's American Babies and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, which are more jam bands. I think it shows that there is becoming less of a separation between the "electronic world" and the "jam world." I like to put both of those in "air quotes" because both of those terms are very fluid. On Saturday night you have Snarky Puppy before The Disco Biscuits. People at the festival can appreciate both. A few years ago, I would have said that was impossible, but I think that it's showing the openness and growing maturity of the music scene. People don't feel like the have to pigeon hole themselves into listening to and supporting one band or one genre of music. If it's good, and it gets you moving, than it deserves to be played at a festival.