June 12 – 14, InLiquid presents Art for the Cash Poor 16. This year, Go Mad for Change as InLiquid invites community partners to teach the public about their programming as well as participate in arts-related activities. AFTCP16 Friday night preview, June 12, 5:30 – 9 pm, acts as a fundraiser for AIDS Fund.
Disco Hootenanny, live entertainment for the preview night, is a party band changing up your perception of disco from their base in West Philly. They took a break from their practice set to answer a few questions about their upcoming performance.
Alex Jones: Most of our practices are stupid puns and word jokes.
Do they get thrown into your songs at some point?
Alex: Most of our songs are covers. But they’re interpretations, arrangements.
Joel Chartkoff: I think calling us a cover band is deeply misleading. If you love 70s disco, you may well love our band, but if you’re coming to hear some sort of recreation of what you think 70s disco sounded like, you might not love the band. We’re not a cover band in the traditional sense.
Nathan Edward: What are you looking for in this interview? Pithy quotes?
Gregg Might: Pity quotes?
It’s just a sketch of what you are – as a band, as people.
Alex: How many words?
How many would you like?
Alex: I’m trying to get an idea of how much information we should give.
It really ranges. It depends on how awesome you guys are. The pressure’s on you.
Alex: We’re looking for about 1500 words.
Best way to start out is with your background – how you guys met, how the band started?
Nathan: A couple years ago, I could play accordion, and I liked it. So I sought partners in crime.
Alex: And so we got together at Gregg’s house. And we were like this is non-terrible enough to keep trying.
Nathan: The goal was not to form a disco-polka band. The goal was to have realistic, accurate arrangements of songs that we love with non-traditional instrumentation.
Gregg: I never really listened to too much disco before this project, so it was interesting for me to hear that some of the computer noises were actually string parts. They were new keyboard sounds of digital strings, or sometimes they were chambers of string musicians. And when you’re listening out of context, you don’t know what it is, it’s just a little computer noise. Especially to a non-musician. Non-musicians listen to music differently.
Joel: There were a lot of live strings.
Gregg: We definitely are an abstraction of the original tunes. But we’re also the most weirdly accurate band I’ve ever been in. Nathan literally transcribes all those little flutters onto sheet music and passes it out to all of us. Most bands that I’ve ever been in, you sit around for a few months and jam until somebody remembers what they did the day before, and then you do it twice, and you have a song. But we’re all musicians in our own right, so everybody took it their own personal way, and we’re all playing weird instruments for a pop band, but not necessarily disco.
Nathan: At one point, we had up to 11 members. The original point was get as many different people and instruments to play as many different parts in these songs. The disco arrangements are complicated.
Alex: There’s a lot of power in the studio.
Nathan: We had a harp, a couple of strings.
Alex: We had a trumpet for one day.
Nathan: Alex plays the glockenspiel too.
Alex: We had a dedicated string section, which through life circumstance we lost. We always want more melody instruments. We’re always willing to add another voice to the band.
I feel like you guys are disco conservationists.
Joel: I think of it as sort of a repertory band, which is similar.
Alex: They’re not all WOGL hits that people have heard over and over again. A lot of disco people haven’t heard these songs.
Joel: I knew almost all of them, but I was alive.
Are you the one who selects all the music?
Joel: None of my selections ever make it.
Nathan: Typically I do because I’m the one who transcribes them.
Alex: It would take us a week to do what he does. A lot of the time 70s disco songs are positive, they’re about getting relief from the work week, seeking escape, being positive, looking forward to the weekend, and just having fun.
Joel: The 70s were a hedonistic decade.
So we all missed out, the ones who didn’t make it there.
Joel: Those of us who were five.
Alex: Joel, tell us about it.
Joel: Studio 64 was amazing. The night would start at 11 o’clock and there’d be 300 people waiting in line, and then if you were with Andy or Liza it didn’t matter, because the guy at the door wanted them to be in there. The truth is that when I was a kid my parents had a subscription to Newsweek, and it seemed like every week there was a picture of groovy people at Studio 64. Except that every week it was the same six people. It was always Liza, Andy, Bianca, Halston, Truman was there sometimes.
Gregg: The poet. Not Harry Truman.
Nathan: Are you getting anything useful for this interview?
Alex: Disco originated with oppressed groups, and then trickled into the mainstream. There are a lot of useful themes that you can carry out.
Joel: And what’s very important to disco is to have people dance and feel not miserable.
That’s the vibe we’re going for at the party. Don’t go beyond that though.
Nathan: We’ve played basement shows, park shows, art shows are some of our best. You don’t want to watch us.
Alex: You want to be a part of us. No one is too good to dance with us. And no one is too un-good at dancing.
Joel: The roots of disco are in Philadelphia soul of the early 70s. It was a bridge between the soul music of the 60s and early 70s, and disco came later in the 70s.
Now where does the Hootenanny part of the band come in?
Alex: A hootenanny is a big party with music.
Nathan: This was a dumb joke of mine that got out of hand.
Joel: A hootenanny isn’t just a party though. It comes out of folk music roots, and since we have folkish instrumentation, it was a way of describing that we were going to play disco, but it wasn’t going to sound like disco. It was going to have an acoustic, folk roots aspect.
Nathan: It’s a description of the service we provide.
Honestly as soon as I heard the name, I thought, we need to get them to play.
Alex: For me, this was what I studied in college. I was going to be a professional tuba player. And then I was like, no I’m not. It was my way of being able to use something that was a big part of my life for a long time. I’m really happy to be playing funky base lines for my eight years of tuba playing in school.
Natalie McGarvey: I pretty much learned this to be in the band. I showed enthusiasm for the concept.
Nathan: That was your primary qualification.
Natalie: And I said I own a ukulele. And a month later they actually needed to build a rhythm section, so they said if I wanted to learn it…And I said alright no promises.
Now how long did it actually take you to learn it?
Natalie: I had a training period of three weeks before I was allowed to play with the band.
Joel: It was a probationary period.
Gregg: Natalie and Alex never make mistakes. Natalie never has sheet music, but she knows how every song goes. Alex never misses a beat.
Alex: I can play anything you put in front of me. We don’t do a lot of improvisational stuff. I get to learn the part, and a lot of times it’s the same measures over and over again. It’s like doing yoga, when you’re holding the same pose for a long time, you’re inside yourself. And you’re perfecting it, because you’re going to play it a thousand times. Gregg is a really rock solid drummer. I’m used to listening to the percussion section as the bottom to the score. I’m conditioned to be in tune to what the rhythm section is doing. It’s really easy to listen to Gregg and lock in.
You’ve played other fundraisers. Do you feel playing fundraisers is important as musicians? As artists?
Joel: We like to play party atmospheres.
Gregg: If there’s going to be a party for a cause that we’re into, hell yeah.
Alex: It’s also a new audience for us. It’s not our usual West Philly crew.
What are you looking forward to most about playing Art for the Cash Poor?
Alex: We want to meet everyone.
Gregg: Didn’t you also mention a beer garden?
Alex: And who wouldn’t want to play at Crane Arts? It’s nice to play part of a community that is a differently-purposed space.
Gregg: This is an entertainment band.
Joel: We’re more fun than Radiohead.
That’s the title of the interview right there.
Joel: Disco’s full of love for everyone.
Alex: If people don’t pay attention to us, we’ll still be having a fun time.