Getting To Know Schema: Charleston's Experimental Funk Project March 06, 2018 16:06

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Photo by Taylor Czerwinski
Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
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The core mission of Live & Listen has always surrounded providing a platform for both established and up-and-coming bands to reach new demographics and build their audience. Whether it's a nationally touring act making stops from coast to coast, or a regional act looking to break out, we strive to play a vital role in promoting the music we love. For our latest interview, we caught up with JP Treadaway  and Ryan Bresnihan of Schema, a four piece prog funk-rock band native to Charleston, SC. The band weaves improvisation into all of their live music, ensuring that every show is as exciting as the last.
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Schema plays their first Friday night headlining gig at The Charleston Pour House on Friday, March 9th with support from The Groove Orient. You can also catch them on March 17th at Sky City in Augusta, GA, as well as May 12th at Roasting Room in Bluffton, SC. Schema is Ryan Bresnihan (guitar), Matt Jackson (bass), Adam Coyne (guitar), and JP Treadaway (drums). 
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Artwork by Drew Massey
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Share this post directly from our Facebook page and tag a friend in the comments for a chance to win a pair of tickets to see Schema + The Groove Orient at The Charleston Pour House on Friday, March 9th!
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Let's start off by discussing the formation of the band. How and when did the journey of Schema begin?
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JP: The band started in 2012 but disbanded shortly after in 2013. As the band began reforming about a year ago, I joined on drums. The band already had a local following, and we met playing various shows together in Charleston. 
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For those who might not understand experimental funk, how do you guys go about your original material? What makes this concept special, and why is there really no room for vocals?
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Ryan: Here's a good place to start with that question. Me, Adam (Coyne), and Matt (Jackson) all took lessons from the same teacher, and he was a jazz player. We all kind of steeped out self in a jazz a bit when we started playing. I guess that is the main source that it comes from. A lot of jazz music...it's an instrument playing the melody, and not necessarily always a jazz singer singing vocals. 
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So coming from that background, it's not exactly a far fetched concept to have purely instrumental music. In a mainstream since, it's not exactly common. The other thing I'd like to mention is that the Charleston local scene has not just good instrumental music being played, but a great collection of jazz players. The gospel cats around Charleston are really good. They play small gigs, but it's all over town; every night of the week. 
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We're not in that same vein or genre as them, but it's some of my favorite music to go see around town. Guys that don't even play under a band name, but they're all just really phenomenal musicians. So I guess that is what kind of what inspired how we started, but also, there is really no other band in Charleston doing this 'experimental funk/improv', as you said. 
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A lot of the writing process...that really comes from our jazz background. We compose things in similar fashion to a jazz tune. Develop a chord progression and a melody to put over it. When we all sit down to play it together, everyone has their own ideas to add in. Things just happen. Spur of the moment stuff. You know, "What if we did this?" It can turn into a whole other thing. 
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The majority of the material is written by Adam, our guitarist. Me and Matt have brought in plenty of ideas. JP obviously comes up with a lot of the rhythmic concept. It's really a team effort when it comes to the final product. It's a fun process that takes place with all four of us. 
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So you're a little over a year into the relaunch of this band. How much original material have you guys composed? I'm sure each night is unique, but how is a Schema setlist taking form at this point?
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Ryan: That's a really good question. At this point, we have eleven or twelve total originals. We're actually writing a new one right now, so I'd like to count that one. We just finished another one recently. Some of them are older. One or two songs carried over from the older Schema days. Most of them have been written in the past year. Schema 2.0 with JP is a totally different animal than it was before. 
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We like to put a lot of covers in are set as well. Not only does it get the crowd going...obviously people like to hear music that they know. But as an instrumental band, I think it's really crucial for us. Without vocals, you do lose a little bit of people. It's surprising to me even to this day how many people can appreciate what we're doing. We like to throw in stuff that people are going to recognize. 
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We do some 80's tunes like "Owner of the Lonely Heart" and "Everybody Wants To Rule The World." We also cover a couple of Radiohead songs. All instrumental, so even though it's not quite the same...it's just making the whole point to people that it can be done instrumentally. While we don't sing, we can still play all of these songs and play the melody instrumentally, and it still sounds awesome.
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Watch Schema's take on The Beatles' "Elinor Rigby" here:
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Tell me about your approach towards improvisation. I'm sure there is plenty of room left with your evolving catalog of both originals and the covers you mentioned.
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Ryan: Right. So we always have a predetermined point in a song where we will start an improv section. It'll go...let's just call it intro > verse > chorus > verse > chorus, and we then have a planned transition into an improv section. It always starts with Adam and I kind of droning on a note to set the mood. It's kind of crazy, but we put it all on Matt and JP to start a beat and create a bass line. We just build from there. 
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Sometimes we get on something that we might know. Last night, we were playing at The Commodore, and all of the sudden, we started playing "Breathe" by Pink Floyd. We had never rehearsed that song or even talked about playing it. Adam hit this one specific chord, and I knew exactly where he was going. The melody just somehow came out of me. I figured it out on the spot. It was pretty cool. 
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You guys seem to be approaching enough material for a full album. Have you had a chance to spend any time in the studio yet? 
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JP: We definitely want to hit the studio soon. We just want to go in fully prepared and go in with a rock solid plan. We will probably work with one of our good friends, Thomas Kenney, who plays with Terraphonics, a local band around here. He's also the guitarist in Ryan Stasik's new side project, Doom Flamingo. The material is there, but we want to have the song structure down and have a set game plan. So yeah, hopefully we will have something out by fall. We definitely need something out there, but the music has kind of been speaking for itself honestly. Turnouts have been strong. I'm excited to see what an album could do. 
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Have you been able to do much live recording at this point?
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JP: Yes we do. We've done a lot of live recording. Pretty much every show. We're going to be super tight about the way we want to release it. It does need to get released, and we have a ton of shows. It's just a matter of which ones we want to put out there. It's probably more realistic to have some sort of "Best of..." or "Schema's Greatest Hits, Live"...something like that.
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Is there accessible material out there for people to listen to?
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JP: Right now, I believe there is one show on archive.org. It was from a while back. Other than that, we have a few videos on YouTube. We're just waiting to see what we want to actually release.
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Watch Schema perform "Ometape" here:
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You mentioned the jazz scene in Charleston. There is an abundance of original music coming out of Charleston. There are some great venues as well. What has been the benefit of being a young, aspiring band in Charleston? What opportunities have you had to play in other markets?
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Ryan: Like you said, Charleston really has a bustling music scene. I feel like it's really thriving right now more than ever. I've been going out to see random bands in bars downtown since around 2010. Over the past eight years, with all of the growth here in Charleston, I feel like the music scene has really grown too. Kind of like I said earlier, there are a lot of really amazing players here that don't really fly under any banner of a certain band. They are more of session players, and they make their money playing gigs, weddings, and that type of thing. Those guys tend to stick together and play together. 
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For all of the great musicians in this town, it's just really cool to be in a band that is native to Charleston. A band that people have actually heard of now. For a while, we were just doing our thing. Whether people liked it or not, we were going to play stuff we like. It really is an inspiring feeling to be a part of a growing band. We've really only (with JP on drums) been going at this for one full year, yet there seems to be a great buzz going. Like JP said earlier, the music is kind of speaking for itself at this point. We're just getting more and more opportunities. We're slacking in the album department. We just got our first load of merch. But yeah, we're taking our time. When the moment comes, we'll be ready for it. It's only been about a year, and I think we're really honing in on our sound. It's gotten exponentially better as time has gone by. 
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I'm really interested to see how far we can take it. Not that I have a point to prove, but there have been a lot of naysayers and doubters about the whole instrumental thing. I believe in this music though, and I know that there are tons of successful instrumental bands out there. Look at everyone from TAUK to Snarky Puppy. That's my outlook on this. Some people want to doubt that there is enough of an audience. I disagree. We've found some people in Charleston already that like it. I think we'll find more, and I hope to expand from there. We're taking over (laughs). 
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What have been a few of the highlights in this first full year? What bands have you had a chance to share the stage with?
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JP: We did an all 80's cover set before Same As It Ever Was, which is a Talking Heads tribute. The Major Rager Afterparty in Augusta was pretty special. We played with Funk You after The Flaming Lips. We played a great set on the Pour House deck before Everyone Orchestra last year. This upcoming show is probably going to be one of my favorites, because it's my birthday weekend. I'll be on stage playing music when the clock strikes midnight. I think that's gonna be a great night. The Groove Orient is coming up from Florida, and that's an incredible group of musicians. Should be one for the books.
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And this is Friday, March 9th at The Pour House?
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JP: Correct. Our first official Friday night headline at The Pour House.  
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Very cool. So we've already talked a little about your plans for the studio, and perhaps a live album, but what else can people expect from Schema in 2018?
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JP: It's all going uphill, man. We're all investing money into our equipment. Matt just bought a new bass. I got some new cymbals. Ryan got a new amp. I think the more that we invest into our sound...that will impact our overall approach to the music. Definitely a live album and a studio album by the end of the year. 
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Getting your music in front of as many people as possible, I'm sure...
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JP: Exactly. And like Ryan said, a lot of people at first are like, "Wait a minute...there's no singer?" By the end of the show, they're up dancing and having a blast. It's cool to see people's reactions evolve like that. 
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I've always found that when you have a successful instrumental band, there is really no need for vocals. The music flows in a way that it really leaves no room.
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JP: Exactly. We joke that our music sings for itself. So yeah, you're exactly right.
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Photo by Kathryn Monroe