Turkuaz: Getting Downright Funky on a Stage Near You

Posted 03 Jun 2014 in Artist News, General News

For the last several years the band Turkuaz has been making music, playing shows and adding to their ever-expanding fan base.  Fresh off a successful Summer Camp 2014 performance the band is heading into a very busy summer.  With more than 40 shows planned between now and the end of August things don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.  That’s good news if you are a fan of the funk!


I had the opportunity to ask Craig Brodhead (guitar/synths) some questions about the band, their past and their future plans.

Who is Turkuaz?

Q: Give us a glimpse at who Turkuaz is.  Where are you from?  How did you meet and how long have you been playing together?

CB: We’ve branded ourselves as a Brooklyn band for many years now since most of us have lived in the area for half a decade or more, but we’re really from all over the country: Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut, Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco and Northern California.  At this point we’ve been to everyone’s hometowns and met everyone’s families, which is always awesome. The band has been together since 2008, so that’s about six years now.

Q: Tell us about the name Turkuaz.  What does it mean?  Where did it come from?

CB: The name originally comes from the name of a deli that was down the street from Dave and Taylor’s old apartment in Alston (a suburb of Boston) where they lived when they were attending Berklee.  They had been working on all this music, and initially they just called it their “funk project” but they always went there to get sandwiches and cigarettes or whatever and they just liked the way it sounded and looked. It simply means ‘Turquoise’ in Turkish. I think they thought it sounded different…But in reality, it is an unbelievably common word used to describe everything.  We found out recently that in Turkish there’s some wordplay involving the ocean or the sea or water or something like that, so anything seafood or maritime related is often called Turkuaz. Seriously, it has been a heroic effort to get our band’s website to front page of Google’s search results.  There’s a restaurant in New York that still usually gets the top slot, but there’s also many other restaurants worldwide also called that as well as an airline, a tourism agency, a hotel, a ceramics company that makes urinals and toilets, and a bunch of other random things. A quarter of our twitter interactions are still random Turkish people trying to say stuff to god knows who.   It is also almost always misspelled; on the very top of all our contracts in huge bold letters it spells the name T-U-R-K-U-A-Z as clearly as possible so that it appears on the marquee or other promotional material correctly, and they still get it wrong from time to time.  For a while it looked like an insurmountable obstacle, but I think we’re in the clear now.

Q: Prior to forming the band did you all know each other or did someone post an ad looking for musicians?

CB: It definitely started as a community of musicians who all knew each other in various ways, either just as friends or from other musical projects.  All of the current members attended Berklee at some point (besides Josh, who went to Syracuse) and there was a group of houses in Alston where a lot of people lived and jammed.  But the band actually started as sort of an accident, in a way. Dave and Taylor had been working all summer on this “funk project” thing, which eventually came to be called The Dollar Store, which is now the 2nd ‘side’ of our self-titled album. They were just doing it for fun, with no intention of playing anything live and they would just kind of play the recordings for friends when they were hanging out together.
Unbeknownst to them, one of their friends who worked at Heavy Rotation Records (Berklee’s in-house record label) submitted the album and it ended up being accepted.  The friend in question was also a drummer, and informed them that all bands that get signed to the label have to do a performance at the Berklee performance center… and that he was going to be the drummer. So basically they just started calling all their friends, because the demos had all these layered parts: guitars, keyboards, horns, female vocals etc. So they just had to recreate the demos live and they just called the people they knew at the time who played those instruments, and it ended up being a ten-piece band. The crazy thing is that of those initial ten people, five of them are still in the band today.

Q: 10 people in a band is a pretty large group.  I bet it wasn’t always easy finding big enough stages to perform on.  I would imagine there must have been plenty of shows where you were all standing on top of each other.  Do you have any funny stories about being crammed onto a tiny stage?

CB: Yes it definitely is a big crew for sure, AND we have a lot of gear. There’s definitely kind of a ritual every time we go to a venue we’ve never been to where we roll out of the van to go scope out the situation inside, always expecting some tiny stage meant for an open mic or whatever.  There’s too many stories to name really, but there’ve been more than a few where many of us are standing on the floor off the stage, or in serious danger of falling off etc.  The one that comes to mind now is our 4 am Jazzfest set this year at the Howlin’ Wolf Den stage, which is the like size of a few coffee tables put together.  What’s amazing is that we actually are so good with our geometry after being on so many small stages that we actually made it work!

Q: Watching some of your live performances its easy to see that you all get along very well and it looks like you are having tons of fun on stage.  Does having such a large band ever become a burden?

CB: Well one thing is that the music itself is pretty fun, celebratory party music, so that kind of sets the tone for what we’re doing. That’s just there all the time. We also listen to a lot of stand-up and comedy podcasts in the van – probably even more so than music at this point. A few of us have actually done some stand up comedy as well. So there’s just this prevailing attitude – an instinct is to turn adversity into kind of a joke – it helps keep to morale high when things are tough.
I joined the band a little later on, back in 2011 and I really think the thing you’re describing – that playfulness and friendship – was the thing that really attracted me to the whole thing, even more than the music itself. It’s definitely an intense social situation because there are so many people and so many big personalities but there’s an irreverence about everything, an aversion to seriousness that I have come to appreciate.  A lot of the bands I’ve liked have a kind of culture to them, their own language, vocabulary and references and I enjoy being a part of something that has that aspect to it.  And I also just happen to think that it’s a group of some uniquely intelligent and sensitive people; everyone has their moments, one way or another, but we do try to be a family in the true sense of the word.
In terms of the number of people, I really think there are just as many positives as there are negatives. The negatives are obvious: the money gets split ten ways, the expenses are higher, our personal space is limited, sometimes you’re behind other people on stage and you’re not seen etc. But the positives are less obvious: a more varied skill set, family and friends virtually everywhere in the country, a wider palette of influences, more diverse instrumentation.. the list goes on. If you think of what we’re doing as some mechanical machine (which is what it often feels like), its just more potential energy to tap into and more moving parts to keep the thing running.

Q: Following up on that question about having such a large group what is the songwriting process?  Does the entire band collaborate?

CB: The songwriting process has changed over the years, but at this point it usually comes from a demo that someone does and then passes around, or it’s a rough sketch of a song and we just flesh it out right in the rehearsal.  On the road, a lot of us have laptops or iPads and you’ll often see people just bobbing their heads working on grooves, and if we think its good enough, we’ll pass it around to everyone, so we’re all kind of aware of various tracks that we might be working on in the future.  From the demos we’ll usually take chord structure, form, and some sonic cues as for what particular sounds to go for etc.
Some other songs like Future 86 or a new one called Tiptoe Through the Crypto, Dave just came in and played it on guitar and then it all kind of gets arranged on the spot. In general we don’t get too specific about anything, because there’s a lot of trust that the other players are going to have as good or better ideas for their particular instruments. We definitely trust each other a lot.
Dave is definitely the main writer, though Taylor co-wrote a lot of the music early on and for a long time. But definitely all the lyrics and most of the vocal melodies are Dave’s, that how everything has the kind of uniformity it does.  I’ve brought in a bunch of stuff in the past two years or so, and although I do write lyrics, I usually just pass off the music to Dave who can come up with lyrics and melodies freakishly fast…like 90 minutes and it’s done.  The main constraint we have is just time – we barely have any time to put new material in our set because rehearsal time is really hard to set up with our tour schedule how it is. It’s important to be very economical with our time when we’re trying to implement new material.

Q: I’d categorize Turkuaz as a very high energy band.  Is it hard to maintain that type of energy for every show?

CB: Yeah I’d agree with your assessment there! I think a lot of that comes from Taylor. He grew up being into a lot of Bay Area punk and hardcore bands like the Misfits, and I know there was a Mars Volta show he saw years ago that was just balls-to-the-wall the whole time, and that had a huge effect on him. He’s the one with the More Is Better philosophy. Anytime we’re working on a tune, he generally wants it to be faster, denser, louder and more aggressive.
But what it really boils down to, in my opinion is that is harkens back to a different era of funk music, which what it was in the beginning. James Brown was really aggressive and loud, and so was Sly and the Family stone. And Parliament Funkadelic was just completely insane. So it has a purpose for being like that.
In terms of sustaining it, I think we’re pretty well ‘conditioned’ at this point, we can play long shows and keep playing fast and loud and everything the whole time.  I think it’s probably a lot harder on Mikey, our drummer, than the rest of us.  Although I know Sammi and Geneva have gone through a lot of tough times vocally, just having to sing so loud all the time and night to night.
The real hard part is keeping the audience on the ride with us, or having a natural arc to the show.  Early on, I’d look out and halfway through a lot of sets, you’d see a the crowd just kind of drained. After playing so many shows, we’ve learned lessons about pacing, how to construct setlists or which audible to call if things aren’t flowing the right way.  I also just think we’ve learned different ways think about dynamics – its more than just loud or soft. Dynamics is just variation within a spectrum of an aspect of music, exploring the range of volume, tempo, texture, orchestration and even genre and style. As long as those aspects are continuously changing, you can keep the energy pretty high the whole time.


Fitting such a large band on stage can’t be easy.

Q: You are just getting started on a pretty long tour that will run through the summer and beyond.  How many shows are you playing this year?

CB: Its definitely ramping up right now – this summer is stacked with dates – but if you look back to earlier this year, we haven’t had more than two weeks off since February.  If we go according to the plans we have in place right now we’ll end up playing about 180 shows this year.

Q: Many bands start out at parties, bars, clubs and anywhere there are people willing to listen.  Where is the strangest place you’ve ever played.

CB: One time we played Riker’s Island prison.  It was this crazy initiative that some concert promoters decided to do in New York.  A lot of bigger bands did it at the time, I think.  But it was just totally bizarre, we had to get all these IDs issued and then go over the bridge, scan all our gear for contraband, eat at the prison cafeteria, and there’s just huge tower where they could see us and they were just yelling crazy shit at us. The prisoners we played for were on ‘good behavior’, whatever that means. Their reactions ranged from appreciation to “I’m in prison.” We have a recording of it somewhere.  We played in a gym and we shot hoops in between sets.

Q: What is the most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a band to date?

CB: That’s hard to say, it’s always so relative to where we are at any particular time.  I wasn’t around for some of the early stuff, but I know that some of the early Bowery Poetry Club shows with The London Souls were big events.  The first Brooklyn Bowl residency that we scored was a really big thing for us.  It was really exciting when we signed with our booking agency (Hoplite Music) and that has by far had the biggest impact on our career as a band.  Sharing bills with some of our idols like The Meters or more recently, Bootsy Collins is always really exciting.  But for me personally, playing Jazzfest was hugely exciting. Its just so much fun to be down in New Orleans, and to be around so many amazing musicians that I’ve looked up to my whole life, it was a dream come true.

Q: Turkuaz is definitely funky.  How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you and who are some of your biggest influences as a band?

CB: Thanks! I appreciate that. Funk is the intersection where a lot of our individual influences meet, I think.  The usual “elevator pitch” thing I say is that we’re a mix of Sly Stone and the Talking Heads. It’d be a surprise to talk to someone who hasn’t heard of those two, but they’re definitely out there! If I know I’m talking to someone who’s not a musician or clearly not very musically literate, I’d just say that we’re a big, nine-piece high-energy party band. That usually gets the point across.

Q: If, as a band you could choose one person, famous or not, to collaborate with who would it be and why?

CB: I wish I had better answers for things like this, but it’s really just too hard to name one person. We all have such respect for so many other musicians and artists.  If you asked Taylor I’m sure he’d say Bootsy Collins, and I think we’d probably all agree with that.  Or like, you know, Paul McCartney or something crazy like that.  I have this weird fantasy that Prince is going to see us one day and he’ll call us to be his band.  I’d also flip out if one of my guitar idols like Trey Anastasio, John Scofield or Derek Trucks would sit in with us.


Will Prince and his scepter join Turkuaz for a set?

Q: What’s in store in the near future for Turkuaz?

CB: Well we’ve definitely got our work cut out for us with our existing dates right now.  We’re doing a residency in Baltimore every Wednesday in June, and doing a weekly thing in another city is something we’ve never done before so that will be a challenge. Also its festival season, so that’s really fun but also its kind of hard work in its own way, and July has a lot dates all over the country, especially out west.  On top of all of this, Dave is dealing with this pinched nerve injury right now that is severely affecting his hand but he’s just powering through.  We just want to make sure that he’s gonna get enough rest so that he can heal through this somehow.
Going into the fall, we’ve got a set coming up at Catskill Chill that’s going to be all Sly and the Family Stone songs, focusing mainly on material from ‘Fresh’, I’m really looking forward to that. And around the same time we’re going back into the studio to work on our new record, and this time we’re gonna book a solid chunk of time and try to knock it out all at once at a really great studio. We’ve got lots of ideas about how we want this one to go, so we’re all really looking forward to that and starting to prepare now.

It was awesome speaking with Craig and getting an inside look at Turkuaz.   Based on the number of shows they’ve got coming up you can bet that they will be on a stage near you.  Take a look at their full tour schedule on their website. Don’t miss your chance to see a highly polished and extremely funky band in action.  You won’t be disappointed.


Dave has been eating, living, and breathing music since before he could talk. This makes Dave perfect for his role here at Guitar News Daily.

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