The Disco Biscuits’ Aron Magner Talks The Ogden, The Joys of Collaboration, and His Hobbit-Like Feet

Disco Biscuits

This weekend, pioneers of Trancefusion Rock, The Disco Biscuits return to Denver for another 3 night run.  Despite some turbulence and turmoil in locking in a venue (not at all the bands fault by the way),  the Philadelphia based quartet will once again play to 3 nights of sold-out Ogden Theatre crowds.  We spoke with keyboardist Aron Magner about the Biscuits love for Colorado, what makes The Ogden so special, the joys of collaboration and, among other things, his Hobbit like feet.

Listen Up Denver!: It seems you love to play  here in Colorado. Between The Disco Biscuits, Conspirator, and a few of your other projects You’ve been out here over 50 times in the last 5 years   What is it that keeps drawing you out to Colorado to play?   

Aron Magner: Colorado is kind of a breeding ground of music just waiting to happen.  There are so many different music fans out there and fans that are just so open to different stylings of music.  They are about the music, not about, “well this is my favorite band and thats not.” It’s about people really loving music.  The [Disco] Biscuits aren’t the only band that really likes CO, they aren’t the only band that loves coming out there and has a lot of fans there.  Its a common trending thing right now. And its fucking colorado… you know…   It doesn’t even matter what season it is, its always awesome out there.

LUD!: I think its safe to say this has been a chaotic few weeks for you guys but you’ve ended up back at The Ogden.

AM: Laughs…. uh huh. uh huh.

LUD!: Over the years The band has delivered the goods there.   What is it about that room that brings out the best in The Disco Biscuits?

AM: I don’t know.  I don’t want to get too hippity dippity about tapping into the energy of a room, you know, but there really is something to be said about that.  There is some sort of…unspoken thing about certain rooms and obviously The Ogden is certainly one of them.  You know,  there is an energy that exists and we just end up playing great shows there.  Again I am really trying not to get too hippity dippity, but certain bands just tap into certain energies in different rooms and their fans know that when such and such band plays in such and such room its always a special event.  Seemingly, when you look back at all the times we’ve played The Ogden, you know,  they are always really good shows, particularly good shows.  Maybe it sounds good on stage, maybe its the intimate nature of the upper balcony and the people hovering over you, people are right down there on the floor and its always packed. Everybody has a good time and nobody has any complaints about that venue.  Its not something I even realized until the last time we played The Ogden and its like, oh yeah we always end up playing fun fucking shows there you know? [laughs]

LUD!: Switching gears a little bit…A lot has been made by fans about the lack of touring over the last few years.   That said it seems you guys have settled into a nice groove of select runs every few months and festivals in the summer.    Can you talk about what led to going in that direction and what it has done for the band?  

AM: I don’t necessarily think that it was a fully conscious business decision…you know like lets scale back on the touring and lets only do X amount of dates a year.  It just naturally started happening that way.  We hit the road hard from the very beginning of our career and even at the very beginning of our career when we were logging 200 plus days a year or 180 shows a year whatever it was, we realized very quickly, even at 20 years old, that we were going to burn out if we played that many shows, you know?  The only time you can really do that crazy thing of playing 180, 200 shows a year is when your fucking 20 years old! [Laughs]  If its starting to fucking annoy you and that is going to be your demise then don’t put yourself in that situation.  I think that part of the longevity of The Biscuits right now.  We can succeed playing shows like this.  I am NOT saying that we are not ever going to tour.  I mean god-damn-it man I get it,  the Pacific Northwest,  I wanna come out there too and I wanna go back down to Florida and hit up the Carolinas, and I want to do all this stuff so we are not ruling it all out but, you know, as for now, playing these shows where we are able to bring everybody who wants to come from the Pacific Northwest, from The Carolinas, from Florida, from Colorado if we are playing in Philadelphia or from Philadelphia if we are playing in Colorado is a really fun way for us to be able to do all these shows.   Its like, listen, we are going to set up camp for 3 days in one city and EVERYBODY come on out and lets have one big party, come on,  lets go.  You know?   Its much easier than, ok Pacific Northwest, we are coming for you, ok North Carolina we’re coming but don’t get off your couch, we’ll be there in 3 weeks.

LUD!: It seems like that has permeated on stage.  It seems like when you have all your friends and hardcore fans in the same place at the same time that you guys seem to have more fun.  There are a lot more smiles and hi fives on stage then you would have say in Lawrence, Kansas on a Tuesday night or something like that?

AM: Yeah, I’ve made that point before.  Listen, for any band, regardless of your fucking size its all about that Friday and Saturday night.  Maaaybe the Thursday, Friday, Saturday,  Maaaybe the Friday, Saturday, Sunday nights, but its all about hitting those big markets on Friday and Saturday night.   You’re obviously going to get more attendance that way, you know?  So you pick and choose what markets you want to hit on those Friday and Saturday nights.  What does that mean?  When you have your entire touring infrastructure, you know, on a Tuesday in Lawrence Kansas,  to get you out to Denver on Thursday, Friday, Saturday its GRUELING.  Its like you are hitting those, and no offense Lawrence Kansas, [laughs], we do love you, its a great college town that I don’t want to ignore, but being there on a fucking Tuesday when you have your entire business with your crew and your production team and your buses and all these things that have huge daily costs and you are playing not as big of a show and you are going to play on Friday and Saturday…. it just gets fatiguing.

LUD!: Absolutely.  Speaking of big parties where everyone comes to you guys.   I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about Camp Bisco.  With no Camp this year, was that a conscious decision to take some time off from the festival or did that come about organically as well?

AM: It was kind of rolling with the punches a little bit for why we were not able to do a Camp Bisco this year.  I mean [sighs], it was obviously not a decision we wanted to make.  It didn’t come easy to have to make it but we kind of realized that we wouldn’t have been able to pull off the Camp Bisco that we wanted to present given the time restraints and other restraints that we had for this year.  We made the decision knowing that the only way to present the festival in the way we know it should be presented was to take the year off and regroup and do it again in 2015.  You know, that being said, doing our own festival surrounded by so many of our major markets bound us to not be able to hit a lot of other festivals. So it was kind of a elixor, and we didn’t realize it at the time,  but it was kind of an elixir to be able to play something like Gathering of The Vibes, and to be able to do something special with it too.  And to be able to say ‘lets go play Summerset’ and things.  It’s been kind of a while since the Biscuits have been able to play a lot of festivals because we were putting so much of ourselves and so much energy into playing Camp Bisco that it was really nice to leave a mark on that festival scene again.

LUD!: Definitely,  speaking of Gathering of The Vibes,  what was it like collaborating with Mickey (Hart) and Billy (Kreutzmann)?

AM: Really Cool.  It was a very cool musical experience.  That catalog of The Grateful Dead is something that I hold very dear to me.  I got into The Grateful Dead at a really early age and became really passionate about it very precociously and never really gave up that passion.  Its still one of my primary default stations on Sirius. I mean I’m wearing a fucking Grateful Dead t shirt right now for christ’s sake [laughs].  What’s also cool is I’ve never played in a Grateful Dead cover band, you know, my bands that I am in don’t really do Dead tunes.  I mean now we are starting to with the Biscuits doing Gathering and Electron covering “Shakedown (Street)” this weekend, so thats fun but I don’t have that song book in my repertoire.   You know, where I can just sit down and start re-calling songs  just because I’ve played them in Dead cover bands or whatever.  So, for me,  it’s such a cool experience to actually have a musical voice. To be able to study these songs, which doesn’t really even seem like work, and then play them with living members of the Dead is really fucking cool.

LUD!: What did you guys take away from playing with those guys either musically or personally as a fan?

AM: Having 3 drummers on stage, was like DUDE!  The Grateful Dead had 2 drummers on stage and that was fucking intense.  Having 3 drummers on stage is REALLY intense.   I think that Allen [Aucoin] did a great job of keeping the glue together and following Billy and Mickey when they needed to be followed and then leading them as well when they needed to be led and never stepping on anybody’s toes.  It could have very easily been way too much drums, you know?  Any time you have that much percussion, it could have been too much.  So it was a really interesting experience having the ability to communicate about how we were going to jam from one song to another, what song selection we were going to do…. Thats a pretty cool thing to be able to do with members of the fucking Grateful Dead.

LUD!: On that same thought,  you just wrapped up a performance with Billy (Kreutzmann), Oteil (Burbridge), Col Bruce Hampton, and Tom Hamilton, among others, at the LOCKN’ Fest this past weekend.   What is it that you think is so appealing to both fans and musicians about these kinds of performances?

AM: Well, number one that music is completely timeless. Those songs are really powerful and meaningful, whether you are someone like me where it takes you back to high school, or a teenager that is just beginning to get exposed to the catalog of the Grateful Dead.  Those songs are the truth and they speak across many generations.  Also, the collaborations are unique.  You are seeing artists perform with other artists that they don’t normally…. What’s going to happen when you mix apple juice and orange juice?  I don’t know! [laughs] Everyone would make potions when they were kids [laughs] and that was the coolest part.  You discover that some of them don’t work but a lot of them do work and the fun part about it was seeing what happened [laughs].  What does it taste like?  What color is it going to be?  What does it smell like? [laughs[  It’s the same from the musicians perspective as it is from the audience perspective.  Its the same concept that even The Jammys had.  They just took it to an extreme hyperbole of like, well what happens if we put Travis Tritt with The Disco Biscuits?  I DON’T KNOW?!?!?   We ended up singing “Country Boy’s out of his mind again”  and his drummer (David Northrup) was so excited to play “House Dog Party Favor” and play in ⅝ and ¾ and go back and forth and climax the jam,  [pauses]  he was soooo excited about playing that,  you know, and not to knock Country music in any way but its not the most complex music.  Its very powerful music and meaningful but its probably, and I say this kind of naively, not the most complex of music. So, from a musicians perspective, when you are coming from that world, and I am speaking specifically about Dave Northrup, thats the fun part of collaboration and thats the fun part from a musicians perspective and from a fans perspective its like,  holy shit,  what is going to happen?  Thats pretty awesome.

LUD!: As a fan I agree and on that same point you will be back out here in November to play a show with Marc (Brownstein), Allen (Aucoin), Dave Murphy and some of the stalwarts of the Denver music scene.   For those who might not know, can you talk about The Dance Party Time Machine?  It sounds fun to say the least.

AM: Right!!! Its the same thing!!!.  Along those same lines of pairing different musicians together and seeing what happens but this time rather than leaving it up to the musicians to be like “uh ok what do you want to do , well what do you want to do?” and hope that in that collaboration somebody steps forward and is a leader who says “this is what we are going to do” or the musicians come together and it naturally happens that you choose a couple of cool songs or a set list,  this time it is a little more scripted which is really fun for the musicians because that rarely happens.  Where someone says “Hey, you are playing this song” especially when those songs are awesome songs from the past that have nostalgic value to anybody.  I don’t care if you are 19 years old or 39 years old, but these songs from the 80s, and 60s, and 70s have nostalgia. Which is really cool and they are AWESOME songs you know,  whether they are awesome because they are hokey or awesome because it reminds you of when you wore fluorescent wrist bands and nylon pants that zip up on the sides, those songs bring back memories even if its like “Oh My God,  that song!!!”or “look at that video, look at what he is wearing, look at his hair and the way he is dancing!!!”  [Laughs] So its kind of cool to have it scripted for you with these fun songs from the past and pairing up musicians together that are unlikely musicians to play together and sometimes musicians that don’t even know each other.  Its really interesting to meet somebody for the first time and be like cool, what do they sound like?   Your introduction to their personality is strictly based on music.  You don’t know anything about them, you don’t know whether they are the greatest person in the world or the biggest dick in the world but you are playing music together and thats your exposure to their personality.  Thats really fucking cool.

LUD!: Its funny what you can tell about a person just based on that musical personality.

AM: Well, you have no preconceived notions about somebody.  I noticed that this weekend with The Kreutzmann Allstars; there was no pre-existing drama from being in a band for years and years.  There were no preconceived notions about somebody’s personality about stupid stuff like “God damn it man, when you woke up in the hotel to take a piss you left the light on and flushed the toilet” and whatever stupid shit that exists when you are in a band like that.  It was purely about the music.  Thats what is so fucking cool about it.  Going back to the [Dance Party] Time Machine, getting to play with musicians that you don’t know for the sake of playing music without having any preconceived notions about them… Like “Oh my god, that guy only eats candy.   We went out to this nice restaurant and he had a coke then went across the street to 7-11  and got fucking candy,  what kind of guy is that?” [Laughs].  There is going to be none of that.  Its only going to be like “Holy Shit, that guy just ripped a solo over the craziest fucking song that you never would have thought would even have a solo to rip over.”

LUD!: Well, we are definitely looking forward to that one.   So to finish off, in preparing for this interview I asked the people who originally turned me on to The Disco Biscuits if they had any burning questions they needed to have answered.   I’m not sure if you remember the Wisco Bisco crew that saw almost every show between ‘01-’04, but this is what they had for me.   If you will indulge me,  we can go rapid fire on these.

AM: Rapid Fire? I love Rapid Fire”

LUD!: How close was HBO to using “Spaga” as the theme song to Game of Thrones”

AM: [Laughs] Next Season

LUD!: When will the Digital Buddah actually come for us and what will happen when he arrives?

AM: It will be either Armageddon or he is the Messiah [Laughs]

LUD!: Is I Man still on the loose or has he been captured and what has years on the run done to his choice to make his stand?

AM: [Laughs]  Umm… I don’t know about the stand but he is definitely still on the loose

Who cuts your sideburns?

AM: My right hand [laughs]

LUD!: If you could replace any leading actors role in a movie with yourself, who would it be?

AM: [no hesitation]  Frodo

LUD!: Frodo?

AM: I’ve got the hairy feet already. So I’m good to go.

LUD!: Last one,  if you weren’t in The Disco Biscuits, what would your job at Medieval Times be?

AM: [Laughs] Ummm,  official food tester of the king.   To make sure nobody poisons the King.

LUD!: Well thanks for taking some time with me this morning and I think I speak for most fans when I say thank you and the whole TDB organization for making the best of a sticky situation out here this week.  

AM: Lemonade Man!!!  I think we made some lemonade and everyone is getting a pretty full blast of lemonade.

You can catch Aron and the rest of The Disco Biscuits this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at The Ogden Theatre then again on November 14th with Marc Brownstein, Allen Aucoin, David Murphy and members of Euforquestra, YAMN, Ryan Bingham Band, Rose Hill Drive, Fox Street, Kinetix, Tiger Party, Analog Son, Mountain Standard Time, Filthy Children and more at The Dance Party Time Machine.    $20 early-bird tickets go onsale this saturday at http://www.axs.com/events/253910/the-dance-party-time-machine-feat-marc-brownstein-aron-magner-allen-tickets?skin=ogden.

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Who Is Gary Mellini

Gary is a lifelong music fan raised in Chicago. He is the "G" of J2G Live, a Denver based music production company that brings you "Dance Party Time Machine," "Revenge of the 90's" among other great events.