The past few years have seen a burgeoning Jam Music Scene starting to take shape around Buffalo, NY. Atop that mountain of amazing, original, Buffalo-bred jam bands seems to stand Aqueous. A young band with an eclectic array of sounds, ranging from a strongly progressive base, to some funkier sounds and even at times showing their heavy side, all while still maintaining a strong, jam centric approach to live music. Starting out of North Tonawanda High School as teens, to 6 years later in Summer 2012, playing moe.down in Turin, NY, a festival created by another jam band with heavy roots in Buffalo, moe., these guys are poised to become the next hot jam band with a huge following. Having just released their newest live compilation “Live Nugs Vol. 3” at moe.down, Aqueous is now getting ready to release their follow-up to 2011’s “Giant Something,” their newest Studio Album, “Willy is 40.” To celebrate the release of “Willy is 40,” Aqueous is having a CD Release Party on Saturday September 29th at Nietzsche’s on Allen St. in Buffalo. The other day I got the chance to catch the end of an Aqueous practice, and then have the guys sit down to answer some questions about the new album, as well as questions on some Aqueous history. Aqueous consists of Mike Gantzer and David Loss on lead guitars and vocals, Evan McPhaden on bass guitar, and Nick Sonricker on Drums. Their manager Josh Holtzman also answered some questions for us as well.
CC: How long has the new album been in the works?
MG: Since May 18th?
NS: Thats when we started recording it. But writing wise, I guess its been a collection of songs we’ve been playing live at least a year, or a year and a half.
DL: Almost 2 years, really.
MG: Some of them are older, and some of them were created in the last couple of months. So there’s a bit of a range since the last one came out. The last one we released in April (2011) so we had been working on that from before. When we were still writing new songs during that period, and some of the stuff is from that point, so its kind of older. A lot of them we have really been able to refine really well live, and then it was kind of neat to crunch them down into a workable studio piece. The title track “Willy is 40” we wrote over the past 6 or 7 months. The first weekend we were playing that, was when the Jeff Miers [Buffalo News] article dropped, that was the first time we ever played that, then we decided to have the album based around that. So, we went in the studio in May to actually record it, and we tracked for pretty much a week straight. And then just did overdubs, and then mixed and produced etc.
CC: Where did you guys record the new Album?
MG: on Franklin Street in Buffalo, it’s the Goo Goo Dolls studio.
NS: GCR Audio, Yep.
CC: What can we expect to hear soundwise, out of the album?
DL: I think it sounds alot more like how we sound live now, as opposed to “Giant Something,” which doesn’t really sound as much as what we sound like now, as we’d like it to. I think its more representitive of the kind of sound we were looking for.
MG: Yeah, because like 80% of the tracks were done live this time, like where we were in a room together and we were just sort of making sure we captured that live, sort of, feeding off each other. So it’s actually dynamic, I think that’s the difference we were looking for. The last one we tracked most everything separately, so we layed down drums and bass, then like added this guitar part, and that guitar part.
DL: There was a whole lot of layers last time.
MG: A lot of layers, and I think we were sort of trying to emulate dynamics with the last one, where with this one, we were all sort of working as one unit, or at least that’s what we were going for.
DL: It helped that GCR, the room was really comfortable to be in. We weren’t really sure, we didn’t know how it was gonna go. We had gone to the studio before we decided to record there, but you never know what’s going to happen. You know?
NS: Another thing to mention too, is that this is our first album we recorded in an actual studio. Everything else has done has been done in my basement, with Pro-Tools, like you saw. “Giant Something” sounds pretty good actually, but we put so much work into it, that I didn’t want to stress again like that.
MG: It’s actually hard to even listen to because we went so insane, because literally every step of the process was done by us, and mostly him [Nick]
NS: We just nitpicked the hell out of it, and then it’s like “Ah, I don’t even know if it’s good anymore.” Now this time, it was nice, because we recorded the whole thing there in a week. And then we brought it back to the house to add a little vocals and maybe some percussion, keyboards and then we shipped it back to him and he got a pretty rough mix going, and then we went in there and kind of solidified it.
DL: Justin Rose was the Head Engineer, he was a great guy.
CC: Did you guys notice anything in the recording of your first album, that you guys went back and changed this time around?
MG: Technically we were a different band at that point, because we used to be a 5 piece. Nick was on percussion, and our old drummer Brad was on the drums. So this time I think we had gone through a lot, in terms of us making sure we were solidified after that, as a 4 piece. We had basically played live for about a year leading up to going into the studio, and I feel like this time we felt alot tighter. We felt like there was more of a vision and it was easier to execute things, and there wasnt a ton of stress in the studio. Alot of these songs have been played to a point where they got down to a good form, where we were able to say these are the best parts of the song, lets make a studio track out of it. That was sort of a challenge in a way, we spent a month and a half, or two months before we went in, pre-recording just to try and make sure everything was tight. Because you can’t do a 20 minute jam in the studio, so we would just bring it down to what we thought was a great form for the song, so then when people hear it, they know where we’re expanding the song live.
DL: It’s tough, because I’m always like “This part’s so cool, lets play this part” and “Well, this part’s even cooler, lets keep this.”
NS: That was a difference too, everything was written before we went in. Our practice sessions before going into the studio, which makes sense, we played every song on the album, every practice. Where on the last album, we were like “Well, we played them live enough.”
DL: I remember Eon Don, we wrote while we were recording the last album. We were like “Are we gonna put this one there, uh, I don’t know. Sure.”
NS: Because this time, we were paying for our time [in studio.] We had to have our shit down. Last time we had infinite time, so it was almost a bad thing.
DL: I think too many options, and too much time, sometimes is bad.
NS: So, that was a major difference, was paying. We only had a set time, so it was like we NEED to get this done.
MG: One other thing I’ll add to that, We changed it up a little bit on this one. We had a couple ideas in terms of other musicians. We ended up hiring an arranger, and put strings on the album for one song. That was a great experience, That was really cool. And then we put horns on two tracks as well. So, it was interesting for us, because we’re not classically trained anyways. We don’t have any background, we can’t read music or anything. We have like basic foundations in theory, and that’s really basic. So that was kind of an interesting challenge, was to work with these horn players, and get the lines that we wanted to happen to materialize. Sorta just communicating with words, instead of actually writing it out. So, that was kind of a challenge, but it worked out really well. So, we kind of stepped in a different direction with that.
CC: When you guys write new material, what is your process? Do you guys write lyrics first, then jam around it? Or write the words on top of a jam you’ve already been working on?
DL: It’s kind of different every time. Because sometimes, I know, we have a whole bunch of just riffs upon riffs of jams on his [Nick] computer, from practices. Because we record every practice, that’s what you saw, with Pro-Tools all loaded up and everything. So, sometimes it’ll just start with a riff, like, Mike will have a couple of different riffs, and I’ll have some lyrics, and then we’ll just play em all and kind of try to piece them together. When we need one little spot, one of us will be like “Oh, I have this one little riff, lets throw this in there” and that will link parts together.
MG: Sometimes when I’m stuck on a song, and I feel like I can’t go anywhere with it. I’ll ask him [Nick] to put together some riffs, because he will listen to all of the practices for me, and then give me a cd of riffs to listen to. And I’ll be like “Oh, fuck, there’s that one!” It’s kind of super helpful, because sometimes you’re not feeling creative. Alot of times, everything that gets pulled like that, were not riffs that we planned. They were usually just jams, and we’ll listen back and be like, “Oh, SHIT! Cool!” Because in a way, It’s sort of hard in a way, especially at the time when you’re doing it, to guage whether or not this is good. And, I feel like it’s a bad thing to do when you’re playing live, is to think about whether this is good or not. So you just want to let it all flow, and then listen to it after the fact. Like, for us, in terms of songwriting, it’s been a bit different for each song. Everyone writes too, like, Evan’s got a lot of songs that were written primarily by him, and then I’d bring in riffs and ideas. We all can, sort of, contribute in that way.
DL: It’s pretty collective.
MG: I rarely ever write lyrics first, It’s usually music, and then some concept we come up with and then write something about that. It kind of varies.
CC: I know it’s a pretty silly question, but Who is Willy??
DL: We thought you might ask.
NS: We would love to know the answer to that question too really. There’s just a bridge, that’s on this boulevard actually [Niagara Falls Blvd.] down towards Niagara Falls. But coming from the Falls, coming this way, theres spray paint on the bridge that’s been there for as long as we know, that just says “Willy is 40.” So, we tried to track this guy down, and we found a bunch of stuff on Facebook, like groups made for this bridge, and this guy. And we found a bunch of people commenting on it, and were like “That is my uncle,” and “We know all about it.” So I would message them, and try to message them in the least creepy way, and be like “Hey, we’re not trying to be creepy, but we’re making an album named after your uncle, if it actually is your uncle, can we meet him?”
MG: Really, the idea of that was, we started talking about why in the world that was spray painted up there. Because, thats kind of an ambiguous thing to just go write on a fucking bridge. Like, someone had to go through a lot of work, just to get up there, and that’s what they choose to write? So, I’ll let the song speak for itself once its out, but we came up with this whole concept about this guy, and why it was written up there. It’s kind of like this epic, 9 minute piece, and we felt like that was an appropriate epic title.
NS: He’s become someone who, we have no idea if that’s actually how he is. It’s pretty much the idea in our head of what he would be like if we met him. So, its all fictional, but it’s real at the same time.
MG: And the thing is, with the album art, we decided to not put the bridge on there, because it was kind of too obvious. You know, so people who don’t know about it, and find out there is a back story behind it, they can go find the bridge themselves.
CC: Do you guys have any plans for a full scale national tour? I know you guys do a lot of east coast stuff, do you plan on expanding?
NS: At this point I wouldn’t call it fully national, but regional. We’re talking about in the spring, doing a whole southern tour.
DL: By the end of next year we’d have liked to have gone all the way down to Florida and back.
NS: And then maybe to Colorado and back at some point too. That would be the other idea. Because, you know, Boulder has such a great scene right now. So one of the ideas is to go there and back, and the other idea is to go down to Asheville and then beyond, into Florida.
MG: We’re sort of creating the foundation for that now, by taking the time, 3 days a week we’ll get into new markets. Because it’s expensive today, especially with gas being so crazy right now. So it’s not necessarily cheap to do, and we just sunk a bunch of money into this album too. But, the idea is, we’re trying to build ourselves up in certain markets, so then it makes it easier to profit in multiple places. We have a few cities where we do really well. Erie, PA, a couple of places in Ohio. So, that’s the idea. Just build up a fanbase in the northeast, and then sort of take that and try to do what we’re doing now in the northeast, in the south. The idea is to just do it when it’s right. We don’t want to jump too early, because you can really fall apart that way.
CC: Do you guys have any plans for New Year’s Yet?
NS: Yeah, we just got offered to headline the Nietzsche’s New Year’s thing they’re doing this year. And it sounds like they’re going to put all the Buffalo jam bands together, so it’s gonna be a fucking rocking night. We know for sure Universe Shark, and we’ve heard they’re talking to Funktional Flow and I think Slip Madigan.
MG: So the whole idea is, if we can get all of the Buffalo jam bands, it would be ideal for us. We’re already talking about real strange ideas for that.
CC: Do you feel any pressure from the jam community to sound more like one band or another?
MG: That’s a good question man. I think a year ago, two years ago, we used to cover Phish kinda frequently. And I know personally, I started to have a problem with that. Because, I started to see a trend where people were like coming there to hear us do a Phish tune or whatever. So we kind of made a collective decision to stop doing that. And we love Phish, we’re huge Phish fans, but we felt a vibe, you know? And I get it too, because Phish’s music is incredible.
DL: We dont want to be that band where people say “They play Phish, oh they’re a really good Phish cover band.”
MG: I think we feared, we don’t ever want to be known for something in particular, I think that’s an awful thing. Like, I remember back in the day, even before that, we used to cover Super Mario, and that got out of hand too. Like that’s all people wanted to hear, and it was like “Fuck!” So, at this point I think we’ve gone out of our way to sort of maintain a certain integrity about out own music.
DL: We take alot of influences from you know, moe. and Umphrey’s and Phish, but we try to do it in a way that is unique to us. As opposed to sounding exactly like Umphrey’s, or exactly like moe.
NS: There’s really nothing in the community saying like, be more heavy, or anything band wise like that. I don’t feel like we’re getting any pressure to sound more like Phish, or more like Umphrey’s, or stuff like that.
MG: If anything, I felt more encouraged this year. I mean, the community really has supported us more than they ever have.
CC: Are all of your families supportive of the band? Like being on the road and whatnot?
MG: Since March. When the article came out in the Buffalo News. [Jeff Miers’ article on Aqueous, “No Sleep til Nectar’s”]
DL: That was a big booster!
MG: We were saying, alot of older folks don’t know anything about the jam scene. It’s a totally different scene, and it’s hard to make somebody understand that. It’s funny, but that Jeff Miers article, at least for me, really validated it. Because somebody of prominence, was kind of just validating what it is we’re throwing our lives away on. [Laughs from everyone] You know, in their eyes. I know like, my family, and really everybody’s [family] saw that, and it gave us a little more leeway.
NS: Yeah, that was a pretty good turning point actually. If I had to pick a turning point, I guess that would be it. Not that it was a major turning point, but that validated what we were doing. And they think differently about it now, that someone of a higher standing said it about us.
MG: We’re not trying to like just go out, and go on the road. We’re trying make sure we’re doing it in a way thats practical, and that we’re not going insane and throwing away everything. We’re trying to maintain certain aspects of our life, and kind of go at it full, when it’s right. Instead of just jumping right into it.
DL: The article, at least for me, not only validated that, but also made me feel like “Hey, I guess we don’t suck.” I guess someone is paying attention, you know, so that felt good.
MG: It’s funny because it actually opened us up to a lot of other people checking us out. We were saying, the people who still read the news paper aren’t 20. They’re like 41. Because that’s just how it used to be. Nobody our age really reads the paper, I mean, most of the scene that comes out and supports us, aren’t really reading the newspaper. So, that was like a whole new set of people to like get into us. So thanks Jeff!
DL: Yo Jeff! We love you man!
CC: What was the music scene like in your high school? Were people into moe. and Phish and bands like that?
DL: I don’t even think I knew who moe. was when I finished high school. I’m playing Deep Purple right now, I’m playing Led Zeppelin, I’m Space Truckin’ right now.
NS: Senior Year I like admitted that I liked Phish. I mean, I always had them on my computer, but I found myself continuously listening to them, so I was like, I must just like them.
DL: I remember talking to you [Evan] about different studio albums, and being like “Dude, studio is way better than live.” I remember having this conversation.
MG: It’s funny what the 11th grade mind is like for music. We didn’t really know about the jam scene then. At that point, we were doing mostly classic rock covers, and then later on we were gradually working in Phish songs.
CC: Where was Aqueous’ first gig?
MG: This kid in high school started a club in his basement, which looking back, was pretty ballsy at the time. We did a show there, which was like 90% Pink Floyd covers. Like honestly, I’d love to show you our original songs from back then, its hilarious. We were just ripping off the Allman Brothers left and right.
CC: When was that?
A minute or two of conversation between the band finds that none of them really know exactly when that first gig was, possibly Fall 2005, or Early 2006.
MG: So, I guess we have no fucking idea. We did another gig that spring. Our school put on an Earth Day assembly, and we played “Time” by Pink Floyd, because “Time is running out for endangered species” [Laughs] We had to do something that was relative to the Earth, so that’s the closest thing we could come up with.
NS: There is a video of that online actually.
EM: That video is awful, because the stage was so big, and our stage presence at that time was just, so bad!
CC: What was it like to play moe.down, and go from being a fan, to a performer?
NS: That’s a funny question to follow the first gig in high school question. Amazing!
DL: It really was the coolest thing ever.
MG: I called Evan, and I said “Did you see it,” and he was like “What,” and I said, “the fuckin’ moe.down thing,” and he was like “What are you talking about?” and then I was like, “We’re fucking playing moe.down” and he was like “Fuck You” and he hung up on me! I had to call him back, and be like “No, Seriously man, we’re playing moe.down!” We try not to be too goal oriented, that’s our whole thing. It turns into a business then, and obviously that’s part of it, but I think for me to really fully enjoy it, I need to not care too much about the future, and just roll with it, and just make as much music as we can and make it happen. But, that was fucking shocking. I mean, that’s such a huge step, and the thing is, it was even sweeter because we had gone a bunch in the past and that festival means a lot to us. I dont know, moe. and Umphrey’s are clearly two of our biggst influences, and some of the stuff we listen to the most. And to like play at that festival, it was shocking. I find, I can’t really express the way I felt with words that well. Which is funny for me, because normally I feel like I can. But that was sort of a totally different thing. It was an honor, It was just a total honor!
EM: If there was a way to time travel, I would go back there.
NS: I remember the whole weekend we were just kind of living it, and then the second we got into the van to drive home we all started talking about it.
MG: Because otherwise, we were just kind of experiencing it. There was a lot of really surreal moments there, we talked to alot of people. These people are heroes to us, when I was like 15,16,17 starting to get into jam music, they were the people who made me think “Fuck, this is what I want to do.” Like Chuck from moe. and Jake [Cinninger] obviously. To just be talking to them, and to have Chuck say he checked out our set, it was just like “What the fuck!” I never thought that could happen. So in a way, its kind of a cheesy thing to say, but it was a dream come true in a lot of ways.
CC: What city other than Buffalo have you noticed a rapidly growing fanbase in?
DL: Erie was the first one.
DL: New Philly, OH
MG: St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY at the Java Barn. Its an incredible thing they have going on there.
NS: Obviously, we only played Nectar’s once, but we got a really good buzz from that show because of the luck with the set times.
MG: Yeah, Moonalice actually ended up playing before us, so we got the headlining spot.
CC: When you guys aren’t out of town playing your own gigs, are there any local bands that you make it a point to go out and see?
MG: Oh man, all of them. Because that’s the whole thing, we were just talking about this before the interview. The scene is strong. The bands that are in it, the ones that have come through, and keep going at it, are all awesome. Like obviously, Funktional Flow we’ve gone and seen, actually I’ve seen you at some of their shows. Universe Shark is also one of our favorites, we love those guys. And Slip Madigan.
NS: Peanut Brittle Satellite, Lazlo, although they don’t play around that much anymore.
MG: One of the first jam experiences I had was Headie Lemar, which is Dan Keller’s [Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad] old band. The other thing I was gonna say though, sometimes it’s hard to find time for anything outside. Because it’s rare that we’re not playing on a weekend at least two days. And then we all still work our jobs, and we’re obviously writing music. We just finished recording this album, we’ve got that live album out. So, it’s never ending, but it’s awesome. Obviously, we’re doing it because we dig it. But as fun as it is, it’s a lot of work. We spend most of our time sifting through our own stuff, and making sure that everything is on board in terms of merch. And a lot of people like Josh [Holtzman], and our booking person Jordan [Alexandra], and we have a whole street team that really helps us out with promotion, there’s just really no way it would happen the way that it happens without them. As much work as we do, they make it so much easier for us to do it, so we can focus more on our end.
NS: Focus on our creative work, instead of mangagement stuff. Like making sure you’re on this website, making sure your event is up here and there. That’s all the stuff that takes up your whole day, and then we can’t write music. I know you were trying to get Josh [Holtzman] here too, and that’s his whole goal that we’ve discussed with him, and he’s discussed with us. Is to just have us have time to be creative essentially. It’s incredible to have someone. Josh just kept taking more work on, he started off by just doing very small things, and now I don’t even know when we’re playing our next show til we get there.
DL: We got really really lucky, I think. Josh [Holtzman], and obviously Jordan [Alexandra] and everyone else that helps them out, they’ve been super super helpful. And we really couldn’t do all of this stuff without them.
MG: And it’s easier too, because we’re all friends. So it’s like, they’re people we spend our time with, whether we have shows or not. We go to Josh’s house, play Super Mario and Duck Hunt and call it a day!
We ended up getting to also ask Aqueous’ Manager Josh Holtzman a few questions after the interview as well.
CC: When did you meet the guys in Aqueous, and how did you come about being their manager?
JH: The question of how I met Aqueous has come up often in the past months and something that always sticks in my mind as something special. The first time I saw Aqueous was in early 2010 at Mr. Goodbar. They were playing with Universe Shark and really I was just looking for some live music and hadn’t heard either band before. Ushark was very impressive and I was shocked another band after could bring the same energy. After Aqueous took the stage I was never able to look away. They have the ability to capture their fans through music and it worked pretty well on me. I wanted to do anything I could to help these guys get their music out there so I reached out and asked if they needed any help. It started with a winter meeting at Spot Coffee with Nick. We sat down and just chatted a bit about the band and how I could help and hanging posters for shows is where it started. After meeting all the guys, street teaming for shows and volunteering to sell merch at their shows my roll evolved into their Street Team Manager and help build what is now the Aqueous Street Team. From there when the time was right I wanted to take on a more responsibility and an established role with the guys and taking on the role of manager was the next step. In the last year and a half of managing Aqueous I’ve learned just as much as them and we are all growing together.
CC: Do you find it tough booking a jamband in bars across the country, before they even give a listen? If so, why do you think that is?
JH: Jambands have a very small but tight market for music and the challenge in it all is well worth the reward. Booking & promoting a band of that style is always a hard sell and most venues aren’t interested unless they have heard or seen them. Networking and marketing play an very important role in dealing with bands in a smaller non-commercial market but the best part of it is once most have seen or heard Aqueous once they want to bring them in.
CC: What’s the toughest part of your job?
JH: Toughest part about my job is a tough question because I really love everything I do. Working with our team inthe AQ crew and the guys has been an incredible experience and we work very cohesively together. Honestly the stress of wanting nothing more than to see these four guys succeed would have to be the toughest. Making sure the group achieves their dream and what I feel is meant to do this in fact, weighs the heaviest on me.
CC: What’s your favorite Aqueous song currently?
JH: My favorite Aqueous song is one that isn’t played much but from the first time I heard “Strange Times” I wanted to hear it again. Many have never heard the song live but with Mike and Dave playing a vocal game of tennis and an overall energetic feel the song is still my favorite to this day.
Evan McPhaden –
Favorite Musician at the moment: Wayne Coyne or Steven Drozd [The Flaming Lips]
First Concert: A mystery, kept from the band for the years… The Backstreet Boys.
Favorite Album at the moment: The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Started Playing Bass: 10th Grade – 15/16 years old.
Favorite Buffalo Restaurant: Papaya on W. Chippewa St.
Nick Sonricker –
Favorite Musician at the moment: Kris Myers [Umphrey’s McGee]
First Concert: Dickey Bett’s at Artpark with my Father
Favorite Album at the moment: 311 – Transistor
Started Playing Drums: 8th grade – 12/13 years old.
Favorite Buffalo Restaurant: Duff’s on Niagara Falls Blvd.
Mike Gantzer –
Favorite Musician at the moment: Jimmy Herring
First Concert: Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Pie Tasters, Voodoo Glow Skulls and Catch 22 at the Square.
Favorite Album at the moment: Weezer – Pinkerton
Started Playing Guitar: 12 years old
Favorite Buffalo Restaurant: Duff’s on Niagara Falls Blvd.
David Loss –
Favorite Musician at the moment: Jimi Hendrix
First Concert: Either Ringo Starr at Darien Lake or Dickey Betts at Gateway Park.
Favorite Album at the moment: Dave Brubeck – Time Out or Radiohead – In Rainbows
Started Playing Guitar: 13 or 14 years old.
Favorite Buffalo Restaurant: Panos on Elmwood Ave.
Josh Holtzman –
Favorite Musician at the moment: Eli Winderman [Dopapod]
First Concert: Dave Matthews Band in 7th Grade
Favorite Album at the moment: Primus – Green Naugahyde
Started playing an instrument: Trumpet at 11 years old.
Favorite Buffalo Restaurant: Panos on Elmwood Ave.