There’s a lot of on-stage information to take in at a Turkuaz show: a massive rhythm section, horns, singers, colorful outfits, layers upon layers of relentless, dance-funk sounds, and countless smiles.
The nine-piece Brooklyn band has been going hard since 2012. Before that, Turkuaz was just a dream project, cooked up by singer/guitarist Dave Brandwein and bassist Taylor Shell in a Boston studio. Ten years later, much has changed; the band’s latest single, “On the Run,” was produced by Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads, one of Brandwein’s idols.
Turkuaz performs at College Street Music Hall in New Haven on Dec. 30 at 9 p.m. We spoke to Brandwein about working with Harrison and the band’s early days.
Q: My research shows 2018 will be the 10th anniversary of the band. Is that accurate?
A: Well, we didn’t start touring until 2012, but 2008 is when [bassist] Taylor [Shell] and I made our earliest recordings and started playing a little bit around Boston, some very, very early shows. So that is true.
Q: Were the first four years then just a slow, unrolling of the band, writing, finding the right people, that sort of thing? Did it always have the same musical goal?
A: Definitely. And it really always was the same musical goal. You hit on some of what was happening during those four years. We were figuring out how to have a band, how to actually make it work. Early on, it was, “OK, just start writing, play a few shows, and the rest will follow.” We learned a lot in those four years about how much work it takes, how difficult all of this is, to run a band and a touring operation, especially when it’s this size [nine people]. We were figuring out who were the right people to go on the road with.
There were some hard times too, losing some people who were a big part of it from the get-go. We learned how to accept it: “Hey, this is what it takes, to take this on the road and make it a full-time thing.” In some ways, I didn't mind it so much, looking back, because it served as an incubation period.
Q: Through it all, you and Taylor knew you wanted to work with each other. That never wavered?
A: That never wavered, no. Early on, we had a whole recording studio in Boston. I was working for a bunch of different artists. I still do to this day, but whenever we played music with each other, it was always funk or something danceable. He was the one who pushed me early on to do something like that. I think the first thing we made was a demo for one of our songs called “Back to Normal.” Right away, it was really fun, and I could tell this was something worth doing.
Q: Everyone asks you about the size of the band. I’m interested in what it means musically: what does size allow you to do, and what does it prevent you from doing?
A: Size has mostly been an enabling thing. Logistically, people ask about the disadvantages, but musically, I find that is mostly has advantages. Just in terms of the sonic spectrum, it opens up the possibilities for how you can do an arrangement live. Believe it or not, we’ve still found ways that we challenge ourselves live, even though we have 18 hands and 18 feet to recreate things that are on the records. Still, it’s liberating to have so many hands and feet available on stage to do so many different musical parts.
It also opens up what we can do in terms of covering material, which we’ve done a bunch of times, and I think that has played a role in teaching us some writing and arranging ideas for our own music. Overall, I think the size of the band has been a net positive.
Q: Does the band’s size also give the audience more license to let loose and explode? They see so many people on stage having fun.
A: Definitely. I think for those who really like to watch what’s going on onstage, it’s good for them, because there are so many different things happening. They can have a pretty different show if they go over to the left side of the room to watch the horns, versus going on the right side of the room to watch the girls, or if they go to the middle to watch me and Taylor and [drummer] Mikey [Carubba]. You can have a pretty different show experience depending on who you gravitate towards watching.
For those who come just to let loose or dance, or whatever they want to do, the fact that there’s already a bit of a party happening onstage is pretty attractive. I’d say it’s split down the middle between people who are intently observing what’s going on and those who are having more of a reckless abandon type of show. Both play an important role for us. We’re glad that we have both elements of it. If it were only one or the other, I think we'd get a little tired of it.
Q: You worked with Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) on the single “On the Run.” How did that come together?
A: During those early days we were talking about, [Talking Heads] was maybe one of Taylor's and my top picks for what type of band we should have. ... When it came time to branch out a little bit, in terms of people we wanted to work with, [Jerry] was one of the first people that came to mind. We reached out, kind of cold, and lo and behold, he was actually kind of interested. He played with us [at a show in San Francisco] and we followed up and set up a session, which yielded two songs. We released one [“On the Run”] so far. It was a cool experience.
It’s funny: sometimes, no matter how much you idolize someone or love the idea of working with them, if you are a stubborn person creatively, it doesn't work. ... It was liberating to have someone who I did respect enough to just sort of be willing to listen and to try something that he wanted us to try. I think the results are good. The songs are different than what we’ve done in the past, and that was kind of the point. Otherwise we would have just done it ourselves.