Interview: Phonosynthesis Discusses Long Awaited Debut Album Grüvhaus March 17, 2016 11:17
Just last week, Connecticut-based jam quartet Phonosynthesis released their debut album, Grüvhaus. The album not only showcases the band member’s musical prowess, but also their creative and incredibly catchy songwriting abilities. Band leaders Isaac Young (sax/keys/EWI) and Jon Dostou (bass/vocals) teamed up with Tommy Furdon (guitar/vocals) and Nick Charlton (drums) and brought together old and new original tunes to create a phenomenal album that captures the bands undeniably unique sound. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with the guys from Phonosynthesis to learn about the bands background as well as the new album, Grüvhaus.
Interview by Taylor Pack: Live & Listen
The band name Phonosynthesis is new but you guys have been making music in Connecticut for quite some time now. Tell me a little bit about the history of Phonosynthesis.
Jon: Isaac and I have been working on different projects together for years. We have a lot of the same sensibilities and interests in music and we’ve worked with a few different iterations of the similar lineups, but now we have a new thing. We’ve got our guitarist Tommy Furdon and drummer Nick Charlton who just joined us at the end of last year. So we have a new album and a new band as well.
New England has a rich history of incredible jam bands and is the birthplace for jam veterans such has Phish and RAQ, to younger bands like Twiddle and McLovins. What about that northeastern pocket of the country lends itself so well to the creation of great bands and what will makes Phonosynthesis unique?
Isaac: I think the physical geography of New England really lends to these collaborations. Here, we are all so close to each other, whereas, if you go south or west, the states are much larger so the physical area of a city takes up much more space then Connecticut where within an hour you can be in any corner of the state.
Jon: We run into a lot of people, especially being that we are all so close to each other and that there are so many music schools. Just in Boston alone you get a lot of people who have studied many different versions of the music trade. They aren’t too far apart from each other, so we get a chance to play with dozens of different people. It doesn’t take all that much to find them, just at jam sessions and stuff like that, but I think geography is a huge part of it.
Isaac: But I also think your right, mentioning all these bands like Kung Fu, Phish and Twiddle, and all the ones that we – you know Dopapod even, because those are all Berklee guys – there’s something about following in the footsteps of those who came before us. Personally, I am a huge Phish fan; I’ve been following them around for nearly two decades. But watching them take the North East by storm you look at it like “hey man, we can follow in those footsteps too”. I just think the collective attitude up here is really receptive to taking experimentation to a new level and taking risks musically.
Listen to "Na$daq" by Phonosynthesis here:
The music on Grüvhaus is a concoction of rock n roll that leans heavily on jazz foundations with a healthy dose of funk. All this delivered flawlessly in a very exciting jam band package. Tell me a little about your backgrounds as musicians as well as whom your biggest influences are.
Tommy: Well my musical background is pretty vast. Me being a guitar player I have been listening to stuff coming from every direction from Zappa and Vai to Scofield and even Pat Metheny or Pat Martino. I was a big Dead fan and I listened to Jerry and then saxophonists came into play for me and it just keeps going and going you know. But Cannonball Adderley is probably one of my favorite soloists.
Jon: I definitely love some of the stuff Tommy threw in; Pat Martino is one of my favorite jazz guitarists. I get a lot of influence rock music, from The Beatles, from Steely Dan from Frank Zappa and you know, tons of the guys from the 70’s. I also love big bands and large orchestras and yeah, it’s totally vast. The thing is we all went to music school and were exposed to a very wide array of styles from classical music, to world music, to popular music, and popular music from different periods of time. The way music education has become it almost produces a certain sound of musician. Sometimes you can tell when someone went to music school [chuckles] when you start to listen to their stuff. It is its own tradition and we all generally come from that place. I guess my favorite bassists are Jaco and Geddy Lee. Those guys are awesome.
Isaac: I grew up listening to Phish. I will never forget being given my first tape when I was 8 years old and all of a sudden my eyes were bugging out like “Holy shit, what is this music am I listening to?!” and I think that I was hooked on the improvisational thing. I grew up in a household that was deeply rooted in jazz. My dad had a massive big band record collection that I can remember thumbing through ever since I was a little kid, ever since I could turn the turntable on myself.
Then I branched out into a bunch of other things like rock and roll. I got really into Zappa; I think that we all collectively love Zappa in this band. Because I went to the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz and got my degree in saxophone I listened to a lot of guys like Dexter Gordon and Hank Mobley and you know, Michael Brecker and Chris Potter and all the monstrous players. And obviously Coltrane and Bird and all those guys but like, realistically the ones that really connected with me were the ones that were not necessarily the limelight musicians, but the ones that were pushing the boundaries in their own way like Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman and things like that.
As of late I am branching more into this new wave of jazz influenced hip hop and I’m digging Kendrick Lamar like crazy and Flying Lotus and also Vulfpeck, and guys like Kamasi Washington has been my heart throb for the past year now so there are a lot of these new bands that I have been trying to dig into as much as tipping my hat those who paved the way before us.
Listening to Grüvhaus track by track is the ultimate experience. One minute I am in awe of he individual musical prowess of the band members, as well as the overall cohesiveness of the band. The next I am chuckling out loud at cleverly devised lyrics and lighthearted song writing, translating to a very fun musical experience. Tell me a little bit about the bands creative process and how you approach song writing and composition.
Jon: We worked in various stages of either being together or being apart. A lot of the time we will come up with an idea that we all agree on and we work on it a little bit and sort of see if it fits or if it can go somewhere. Then one of us might take it and expand on it a bit more and then there are some tunes that we write entirely separately.
Isaac: Like Jon with “The Promise Man” and “Nocturnal Displacement” -- which are totally his tunes -- he comes to the table with these ones and I wrote “The Road to Smyrna” and “Birth of a Machine”. So we have a lot of collaborative works and a lot of works that might be coming in as a skeleton one day, and the next day, collectively, we all work it out and flesh out the parts.
Jon: And I think that process actually helps to compose an album. We’re lucky to have some of the people that have heard it all say that it works as an album, not just a collection of songs. That was a conscious effort, so when we decided what tunes we were going to use it was nice to have a healthy mix of pieces from different places and different projects. That tune “Dow Jones” is something I worked on with my friend Andrew Davis some years ago and then more recently Isaac and I wrote “The Na$daq” together. There are structural things - because I worked on both of them - wherein I was able to take elements from each tune and connect them together. They are close together other on the album, so there are some nice built in things that we didn’t necessarily plan for but are definitely a part of how we wove everything together.
Tell me a little about the nuts and bolts of Grüvhaus. Was it recorded over time or did you guys knock it out in a few planned studio sessions?
Isaac: The composition side of it is a collection of work dating back to what, 2010? Maybe even earlier.
Jon: I’ve got some stuff from 2004.
Isaac: Yeah, I think even “Birth of a Machine” is from 2007. It’s just been a wide stretch of time and compiling of these songs. But the album itself took 9 months of recording at our producer Nate Faulkenberry’s studio. And then we were very lucky that Telefunken Elektroakustik, which is based out of South Windsor, Connecticut, gave us a huge microphone package on loan for the whole recording process. That alone was a wonderful endowment from them.
JD: Yeah, we pulled out as many of the big stops as we possibly could to make this album [band chuckles].
Well, step number one is complete. You guys have successfully created and recorded a beautiful studio snapshot of Phonosynthesis material. But as the godfather of jam bands Col. Bruce Hampton puts it “can you put spirit in a room full of bodies?” Tell me a little bit about the live experience. What can fans around the country expect to see at a Phonosynthesis show?
Jon: Um, antics! [chuckles] Look for lots of antics and lots of sounds. Just walls of sound and hopefully an experience that is positive. I don’t know exactly how to put it, but it has to be more than just the sum of its parts. The spirit can sometimes come with the people. Sometimes the audience can give life to a performance, especially when going to a new place for the first time. It’s hard to know exactly what kind crowd we’re going to have; but if we go to a new place and there’s a crowd that is ready to be engaged by a band that is playing, then they are the ones who bring the show and we are just there to help them have a good time. We hope that happens more and more as we go to new places.
Isaac: Also we follow in the tradition of all of these great jam bands where we never repeat a show. We rotate new songs in continuously and we bring out ones we haven’t played in a while. We have tapers follow us and they put stuff on archive.org. We are really fortunate to have a core group of people that help us out with that. But I mean, we just try to transcend the moment live and bring you to the level of complete escapism and also complete moment of bliss and to try to have as much fun on stage and impart that sense of fun and joy to audience as well.
What will the rest of 2016 have in store for Phonosynthesis? When will fans of the new album have a chance to catch this stuff live in their own home towns?
Jon: We are working on building up a summer tour. We’re bouncing around the New England area up through June right now. We’ve got a couple prospects on expanding our reach into new places in the mid to later summer months and into the fall, but we do have a nice healthy group of places that we play in Connecticut and around Massachusetts. Now that we have an album we’re going to hit some of the places that we’ve played in New York City as well. Having this recording as a physical commodity that we can take on the road is definitely what we’ve been waiting for!
Isaac: We’re excited to reach new ears and expand our reach as far as possible. We’re starting to reach further and we hope to make waves in these new markets.