Gem and Jam Festival Spotlight: Mark Hill of The Floozies on the Granola Jones EP, improvisation, and DIY ethics
Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Ahead of their headlining set at Gem and Jam, Mark Hill spoke with T&E Collective about all things new with The Floozies. We discussed the recording process of their latest EP, the new structure to their live shows, favorite albums of the year, and what fans can look forward to from the duo next year.
You stated how on the tour before the Tell Your Mother release you incorporated a talk box into your show, and that ended up really influencing the album. Did you have any spontaneous decisions that ended up influencing your latest release, Granola Jones?
Yeah, actually in the studio we experimented more with the talk box. Matt started recording the talk box and using the sounds from that to make synths sounds. We make all of our sounds from scratch or live instruments, we don’t record samples or use pre-made synth sounds -- so he made a synth sound based on the talk box audio. He used it to make bass sounds and it actually worked out really well. He used it on "Superbad", the first song the the Granola Jones EP. I think it’s pretty cool and unique, and I don’t think anyone had done something like that that before. There aren't a lot of talk box professionals out there that know how to engineer sound quite like my brother.
You and your brother grew up with the same music and y’all have stated how you mostly like all of the same artists still today. What are some of the differences in your musical taste, if there are any? How do you think that reflects in what each of you bring to the song-writing process?
There definitely are a few differences. We pretty much do love all the same stuff and are both open minded when it comes to all types of music. However, I definitely have more of a background in folk music and bluegrass. I played banjo for a while, and I went through a pretty serious phase where all I listened to was folky-jam bands. I would even travel around to see The String Cheese Incident play live. Matt isn't super into that stuff, but he appreciates it. Since I'm the drummer, I think that music preference gives me that raw, foot-stomping energy that comes out in our live performances.
As far as stuff that Matt likes, he's way more into the rowdier type of electronic music. I mean, I love electronic music and there's not much I can't get into if I'm at a show…but I wouldn't be listening to it in my car or anything. He veers more into the abrasive-type of sounds, but that really helps with producing since I could never come up with that style. I think our personal styles definitely do reveal themselves in that way. My background helps out with the live aspect, whereas his styles helps out a lot in the studio.
Matt stated how he first picked up guitar after seeing Michael J. Fox play in that prom scene of Back to the Future, which I think is so stellar. Have you had any similar moments where film has directly inspired your music - whether it was in the beginning stages or more currently?
Hm, that movie stands out for me as well but I was a little too young to get that deep into the music. I really liked Almost Famous when I saw it in 6th grade, but I was already into music at that time. I recently saw O Brother, Where Art Thou? for the first time, which is crazy it took me so long to see it ‘cause that soundtrack is incredible. That’s been inspiring me a lot lately. I was actually just in my hotel room listening to "Down in the River to Pray" over and over again by myself and diggin’ the vocal harmonies.
I know your shows used to be strictly improvisational and more recently you’ve been incorporating setlists. How do you feel that’s changed the energy of your shows, and how has that in turn has been affecting your recording process?
Simply put, the shows are a lot better. When we were on the come up we had that "who are these rowdy, wild 'n funky new guys?!" thing going for us. It worked and it was a fun start, but we can achieve so much more now that we have a remote plan. Our transitions are a lot cleaner. We still improvise a lot and you won’t see the same show twice…but the setlist helps with production a lot. We can create better cues and when other people on our team know what’s coming up, it helps us nail down the performance as a group.
In my opinion, we’re doing stuff that’s really incredible with just two people and it helps us explore more when there’s a plan to guide us. We improvise a lot with the setlist anyway, but we got into the situation where we’d do the same transitions on many differenct occasions. Not having a setlist can actually cause you to be more repetitive because if all you do is improvisation, you find yourself getting comfortable with certain transitions. So now, we’ll talk about a setlist for a few hours before we play, think about two songs that would work well together, and then still improvise the transition on the fly. We’ll pair songs together that we’ve never done before and brainstorm some transitions in the hotel room just before the show. Overall, I think the setlist has enabled us to stretch out more.
What’re some of the funk records that you grew up listening to that you still bump hard today? And what’re some other current funk bands that you love as much as those early records?
Brothers Johnson was a big hit growing up for my family. I’d say Kool & Gang, P-funk, and Brothers Johnson are the three artists that I heard the most as a kid and still listen to the most today. It’s awesome because Kool & and the Gang remixed one of our songs. I mean, of course the group isn’t the same as the original, but my mom still lost her mind when we told her about that [laughs]. Nowadays, Lettuce is my go-to when I want to listen to contemporary funk bands. I’ve been listening to them since I was fifteen, and the album they released a few weeks ago shows that they’re still killing it. Adam Deitch [of Lettuce] is my favorite drummer, which is kind of nuts because he’s been a fan of our band. There’s a lot of great electronic funk out there right now – but as far as straight-up funk bands go, I’m all about Lettuce.
I’m not sure if if’s you or your brother that’s always getting hyped about Rubik’s cubes on Twitter, but if it is you - how fast can you solve a Rubik’s cube?
I don’t even know how to use Twitter, so that’s all Matt [laughs]. He can do it the fastest in a minute and twenty second. He used to do it in under a minute for a while but kinda lost his touch. He’s really good at stuff like that. He’s one of those people that can pick up anything and find a way to be good at it. He was even better at drums than me when he started out for a while. He’s a great artist and designs all of our merch as well. We both design the production ourselves. I’d like to think we’re both pretty creative guys, we do a lot ourselves – but Matt in particular is super artistic.
Is that DIY approach of designing your own production and merch something you want to keep carrying through?
It’s funny, actually. I don’t want to because I have a baby now and I’m trying to streamline things, but I’m always working and can’t ever stop. It’s something we can’t turn off. We’re always thinking about the band. I think it’s really nice to be able to creatively express yourself with anyone and we have so many elements we can express ourselves with. That is addictive. We have a vision, people pay money to see us, and I want them to see us and our full vision. It’s never going to stop. It’s also pretty fun to design your own merch. It’s like…you know when you’re with your friends and think, “Man, we should put that joke so-and-so just said onto a t-shirt,”…we can actually do that! [laughs]
Who are you looking forward to seeing at Gem and Jam this year?
Definitely Gramatik. I’ve never seen him live and he’s put out some really cool albums. Com Truise is another artist who I’ve always wanted to check out. Aside from the music, I’m really interested in the whole crystal element to this festival. I love crystals and gave up my collection a few years ago, and I purposely planned to come early to the fest so I can check out the Gem and Mineral show. I live in Southern California now, so I’m also pretty down for the nice dry heat in Arizona. It’s perfect – we’ve never played it before, the lineup is killer, location is killer, and I wanna get some crystals [laughs].
Since we’re finishing off the year, tell us some of your favorite releases of 2016.
The Mt. Crushmore EP by Lettuce is definitely one of my favorite. GriZ dropped a really incredible album this year too. I know he’s on our label and everything, but he really took it up a notch. He really blew me away with showcasing what just one person can achieve on an album. Eric Krasno, a guitarist who sometimes plays with Lettuce, dropped a really great solo album this year as well. We were in the Dominican last week and Matt and I jammed with him and made a song. He’s such a great singer, I didn’t even realize that was him singing on the album! But yeah, we might make a song with him soon. Aside from that, I’ve honestly just been listening to D’Angelo for the past six months. Everything from the new album to older releases like Brown Sugar. It just makes me feel so good.
And what can fans can look forward to from The Floozies next year?
Oh man, a lot. We’re trying to release an album early next year. My favorite song that we’ve ever made will be on it. I mean, the new songs are always my favorite for a while because I haven’t heard them a thousand times [laughs]. There’s a new track, “Better For You”, that we’ve been opening with and that song is just about done. I always say that if a song can give you goosebumps or make you dance then that’s great, but if it does both then that’s the dream. So, our new album has goosebumps and dancing vibes and all that good stuff.
Aside from that, we’re just doing a bunch of touring. The fests that have been announced so far have been the dream. We’re doing The Werk Out, both weekends at Electric Forest and have been so fortunate to be involved in these events. We also have a winter tour coming up with a lineup I can’t announce just yet…but it’s a really exciting package, as they say.