The recruits and rumors behind a Disco Biscuits side-project
What does a working musician do during downtime? If you ask Conspirator founder and bassist Marc Brownstein, the words “down” and “time” exist in his vocabulary but never combine into one.
When not on the road with his home project, Philadelphia electronic jam band Disco Biscuits, Brownstein is a father of three and co-chair of the voter registration group Headcount, all while nurturing numerous side projects—one of which is Conspirator, the brainchild of Brownstein and Disco Biscuits keyboardist Aron Magner. Since 2004, Brownstein and Magner have been creating instrumental electronic jams slightly more stern than the playful Biscuits sound.
Conspirator’s only studio release, 2005’s The Key, carries an ambiance that teeters on the dark side with moments of club-energy drum and bass intermixed with New Age mystique. However, with no recorded tracks from the latest incarnation of Conspirator, which now has a full line-up, interested parties will have to catch the band when it makes a stop at Moe’s Alley this Sunday, Feb. 13. Joining will be a rotating cast of all-star drummers of the jam band scene, including Lane Shaw from Pnuma Trio and Adam Deitch of Break Science. To the delight of a legion of locals, Brownstein hopes to recruit members of Santa Cruz’s own Sound Tribe Sector 9 to join Conspirator for some California dates in light of their recently canceled tour due to the shocking cancer diagnosis of STS9 bassist David Murphy.
Brownstein himself was hit hard by the news of Murphy’s health battle. “It’s weighing heavily on [the jam band] scene right now,” he says. “Our whole entire world is kind of in shock … We’re all kind of on the edge of our seats, waiting for more good news. All of our love and prayers are with his family and his band.”
Another official Conspirator member is RAQ guitarist Chris Michetti. The inclusion of Michetti, who filled in for Disco Biscuits guitarist Jon Gutwillig after he broke his hand last year, has stirred a frenzy of break-up rumors amongst the Biscuits’ fan base.
“I love this rumor,” Brownstein says. “Our fans are bugging out, but what’s better for a band than rumors that they’re breaking up?” Still, Brownstein can’t help but admit, and perhaps gloat, that the Biscuits “are in it for the long haul.”
Michetti’s guitar rock influence certainly brings new elements to Conspirator, which may or may not be well-received by fans.
“Once every five days or so, I’ll get a ‘Why did you add guitar to Conspirator?’ message on my Facebook,” Brownstein says. “But I think, overwhelmingly, the vibe is ‘Wow, Conspirator is turning into
a really, really sick band.’”
With an emphasis on abandoning the “press and play” electronica that compromises excitement for precision, Conspirator is committed to creating a unique show every night with a wide array of songs woven together with interchangeable elements. Brownstein boasts that Conspirator co-founder Aron Magner is largely to thank for the individuality of each show, calling him “a master in composing electronic music.”
“In terms of the songwriting, Aron is the glue that holds this whole thing together,” Brownstein says. “He runs the whole Conspirator show off his computer. He works on Ableton Live and, over the last few years, has really started to master the program and cut songs up into pieces so we can work them out. So every time, even though it is electronic, there’s a little bit more performance going on and a little less just pressing play.”
And, of course, the live collaboration of other jam band masters is also a huge ingredient in Conspirator’s explosive presence and energy.
“We’re always open to bringing in guests,” Brownstein says. “That’s kind of what the whole band was based on five years ago. A conspiracy. To conspire with these other musicians we’ve met in the scene.”
Conspirator performs at 9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 13, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 479-1854.