Disco Biscuits - A biography
With the release of The Wind at Four to Fly on SCI Fidelity Records, the Disco Biscuits enter their second decade as one of the most successful acts on the jam-band circuit.
In the years since the band sprang out of the University of Pennsylvania party scene in the mid-'90s, the Disco Biscuits have brought together the worlds of jam bands and electronic music with its "trance-fusion" sound that mixes the free-form improvisations of jazz with the hypnotic rhythms which provided the soundtrack for rave culture.
In the process, the band has garnered critical acclaim and a loyal fanbase. Its 2002 effort, Senor Boombox, was named the "best studio record of 2002" by Relix magazine and one of the "10 best Jam band records of all-time" by Guitar Player. The band closed out 2003 by selling out New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom on New Year's Eve, capping a holiday season run in which more than 12,000 tickets were sold.
But in the midst of such heady success, the quartet hit the wall, with each realizing it was time to take stock and reconsider where their lives were headed. "I think there was The Window in the band where we all sort of woke up and realized that we were no longer college students, that we've been a rock band for a number of years. It just sort of sneaks up on you," says guitarist/vocalist Jon "The Barber" Gutwillig. That's when founding member and drummer Sam Altman realized he wanted to do other things with his life. Bassist Marc Brownstein had already weathered his own crisis, leaving the band temporarily, but he returned to the fold. Gutwillig and keyboardist Aron Magner each faced their own issues as well, but ultimately realized there was nothing that they'd rather be doing than playing music together as the Disco Biscuits.
Altman broke the news to his band mates in late 2003, when the band was mixing its cover of "Give Me Three Steps," its contribution to Under the Influence: A Jam Band Tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd, but stayed with the band for another 18 months, marking one of the most bittersweet periods in the Disco Biscuits' career.
It was during this phase in which The Wind at Four to Fly was recorded. Although Altman ended up playing more than a dozen more shows with his old college chums before hanging up his drumsticks, at the time he believed he was playing his final shows with the Biscuits and he played as if his life depended on it. "For those shows," Gutwillig says, "his head was in the game. He played at his best."
The title of the double-CD live set is taken from "Morph Dusseldorf," the Biscuits' classic that closes the first disc with 12 minutes-plus of psychedelic weirdness. "It's a colorful lyric from that song that illustrates the kinds of changes that are the theme of the album," Gutwillig says. "Although it's sort of a nonsensical line, we felt it suited the album."
The 11-track set manages to span the band's career, although the bulk of the material has never been officially released. While the Biscuits continue to offer downloads of nearly all their shows on their website, www.discobiscuits.com, The Wind at Four to Fly is something different. "When you get something off of our download site, it's an awesome version of the show, but it's not produced in the same way the album is produced," Gutwillig says. "We know that The Wind at Four to Fly sounds great. We put it in the studio, we've taken all the tracks apart, we've tweaked it out, and it sounds as good a live album as any live album in the world sounds."
Don't, however, think that for a second that The Wind at Four to Fly is the quintessential Disco Biscuits performance or their swan song. "A guy like Peter Frampton can make one seminal live album, because he pretty much plays the same set every night," Gutwillig says. "But our stuff is so different from night to night. We get bored doing the same thing so we always do things with different keys and different rhythms."
The Biscuits continue to evolve with some new blood. Although the band was sad to see Altman go, it's re-energized thanks to the addition of drummer Allen Aucoin, who in true Disco Biscuits fashion landed the gig after a live "drum-off" gig in November 2005 in Atlantic City. By that time, Aucoin had already quit his job selling Harley Davidson motorcycles to devote all his waking hours to honing his skill for the Biscuits.
With the new blood also comes a new home base. The Biscuits have regrouped in their own studio, formerly owned by fellow Philly homeboy DJ Jazzy Jeff, and the band is reaching creative heights it hasn't hit since it shared a house together in the late '90s, practicing up to 10 hours a day and writing new material for their next studio effort.
Aucoin played his first shows as an official member of the band over the 2005 holiday season at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia and the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, where it sold more than 10,000 tickets. According to many on the scene, the Biscuits have never sounded better and the band plans to tour heavily in 2006.
While The Wind at Four to Fly marks the end of the band's chapter with Altman behind the kit, the future of the Disco Biscuits is still being written. Don't miss it.