Courtesy of Dave Hoffenberg
By DJ Dave Hoffenberg
Turkuaz makes its Killington debut Thursday night at the Pickle Barrel nightclub. I’m really looking forward to this show. A few weeks ago when I interviewed Rob Somerville of Kung Fu, he spoke very highly of them. That — and the songs I’ve heard online — make this a don’t miss show. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dave Brandwein who plays guitar and sings in the band, and learned the history of Turkuaz. Joining Brandwein in the band are: Chris Brouwers (trumpet, keyboards), Greg Sanderson (tenor sax), Craig Bridhead (guitar, keyboards), Joss Schwartz (baritone sax, vocals), Taylor Shell (bass), Sammi Garett (vocals), Shira Elias (vocals) and Michelangelo Carubba (drums). Everyone in the band is in their early 30s.
For those unfamiliar with Turkuaz, Brandwein described the band: “We have a lot of energy and a lot of sound. We have nine people up there. In addition to being a rich, sonic experience, it’s also a very visual experience given the number of people on stage. We have a lot of sections, we have the girls, who, in addition to being awesome dancers, are also great singers. We trade around lead vocals a lot between them, myself and Josh. Everyone in the band also wears their own unique color which creates a bit of a rainbow effect on stage which people definitely respond to. The visual element of our show has always been a big part of it. That and the music is what keeps people coming back.”
I like when a band switches up vocals, because it keeps it fresh. Having so many strong vocals in Turkuaz allows them to do that. Brandwein elaborated, “It came naturally to us. There’s a lot of vocal power in the band. It’s funny because people, often by default because they stand together in kind of a section and have dance moves, think of the girls as backup singers, and they’re really anything but that. They have songs that they sing lead entirely on. Even within songs, we trade around people. It’s really a nice feature of the band that we can do that so much.”
Schwartz joined the band primarily as a sax player, but they knew he could sing. He started doing one or two songs a show and the reaction was great so they continued to use him more over the years. Now he contributes to the writing, too. Brandwein said, “It’s really exciting to see him get more into that process. It’s really great to have that group dynamic.”
Turkuaz has four studio albums of original songs to its credit, and a fifth on the way, plus some live recordings and a cover album. Everyone contributes to the album-making process in one way or another. Branwein explained: “Usually a song will come from one or two of us in the form of some kind of a demo or groove. I’ll take it generally and write over it. Historically, I’ve written most of the lyrics and vocal parts. Lately, like on this new album that’s coming out later this year, it’s been more collaborative than in the past, which is really exciting.”
The band originally started in Boston in 2012 and that is where it got its name. They lived across the street from a Turkish market which was called Turkuaz. Brandwein said, “To this day I really have no idea why we thought that was a good idea. We went with it and we’re doubling down on it.”
Very shortly after that, they all moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. That’s where they really started playing more often. By the end of 2012 they started touring, taking the show on the road and becoming a full-time band. Now they tour all over the U.S. and have added Toronto to the mix. Brandwein talked about the touring and some cities stand out. “We have special shows all over the country. We love Burlington, Denver, and San Francisco. Obviously playing in hometown New York is really fun, and playing in Chicago is great. The good thing about our shows is it tends to be a really good time.” This tour extends through March, is off for April, and resumes with a spring and summer tour that will include some big festivals.
The shows are definitely a party, but Turkuaz is more than just a party band. Recently they’ve got into some cooler, more conceptual stuff with writing and making albums. Brandwein noted, “That said, the show itself is definitely a party atmosphere. I know it’s something people really look forward to when we come through their town. It’s a night that they can push their cares aside and have a really great time. That’s the most rewarding part for us— that we can do that for people. The goal is wherever we go, we bring that experience with us.”
All bands have musical influences — and Turkuaz is no different — but what puts them a step ahead is they have nine people in the band, so they have more influences than most and that makes the creative process better for them. Brandwein grew up on British classic rock like The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. He then evolved into Steely Dan and moved onto funk with Herbie Hancock, James Brown, George Clinton and Parliament, Sly and the Family Stone and Bootsy Collins. That’s quite a bit of good music already, and then he mixed all that with Peter Gabriel and the Talking Heads. Just recently, they had two songs produced by Jerry Harrison who is the keyboardist and guitarist with the Talking Heads. “That was really cool to work with someone who is such a big influence,” Brandwein said. “On the Run” was released this past October and there’s a really cool music video online that goes with it. The other is on the upcoming album.
Connecting with the audience is what Brandwein likes most about playing these shows. He added, “Musically there’s a lot you can do recording while being at home and writing. That is what is my first love and what I always thought I’d be doing. I’ve produced music for other bands as well and I love that side of music, and that’s kind of where I came from, but the thing I found rewarding about playing live is definitely the connection with the audience and hearing from people how much it means to them — to come celebrate life with us, and be in the moment and come have a great night with us. The fact that we’re able to provide that for people all over the country and hear what it means to them is by far the most rewarding thing about it.”