The Man Behind the Sax Behind the Beard: Interview with Nicholas Gerlach
We’ve enjoyed watching Turbo Suit’s steady rise here at Sensible Reason, and their re-occurring presence at Summer Camp Music Festival is now a welcome reminder that festival season has started. Hot off the release of their new album Out Here, the jamtronica trio played three sets through out the weekend and definitely earned some new fans with their Turbo Suit & Friends set in the Red Barn that featured Joel Cummins and Andy Farag of Umphrey’s McGee, Natalie Cressman and Marcus Rezak. We also got another amazing late-night North American Scum set, celebrating the music of LCD Soundsystem as well as a chance to sit down with EWI-wielding Nicholas Gerlach, who had so many sit-ins during the course of #SCamp15 that we can hardly keep track. Check it out below.
SR: For people still unaware, what is a Turbo Suit?
Nicholas: I don’t think its anything specific, I think you rock out with whatever you want and it can be a turbo suit. Kinda keep it vague. Do you! Do you playa!
SR: We really loved the Turbo Suit and Friends set the other night in the Red Barn, can you talk little about the motivation behind a set like that?
Nicholas: Well first of all, the motivation there is that we like to play with great musicians. We had Marcus Rezak, Natalie Cressman and Joel and Andy Farag up there. When you do something like that, you have to pick the right people and you can’t have too many people because it can just turn into noise. But the good thing about these people is that they are all pros, so they know how to give everyone space. Joel and Andy play 130 shows a year, improvising music, they know what they’re doin’. Natalie is a world-class jazz musician and vocalist. And Marcus you know, he’s just a shredder, he’s a motherfucker. They’re all on the album too, I think Marcus is on, not every track, but he’s basically the guitar player on the album. Natalie did vocals on Rewind, and then Andy is on a couple playing percussion. It’s cool to have them up and do it live. Because they weren’t in the studio with us, we sent it to them and they sent it back, it was that kind of vibe. So it’s cool to get all together and do it. And it’s just awesome for people to come see all their favorite musicians and Umphrey’s fans can see the music in smaller more accessible environment.
SR: I really like the way you and Umphrey’s vibe, it seems like they really believe in you but it’s also kind of mutually beneficial.
Nicholas: Yeah I mean, it can only be so mutual, they can probably do a lot more for us than we can for them, let’s be real. But you know we do what we can for them because they’re great guys and they have helped us a lot and we recognize that, and you have to give back at least a little bit. We can never match what they’ve done for us but we definitely respect what they’ve done and do whatever we can. I’ve been watching those guys for like 10 years, so it’s kind of cool to play with them. I remember my first Summer Camp; I’ve been playing here since ’07, in a band called the Twin Cats. We were like a funky, jam band kind of thing; it was me, a guitar player, drummer, bass, keys. Same instrumentation as Kung Fu but…not as good probably I guess [laughs], you know those guys are crazy good. At my first Summer Camp, we played the Camping Stage, but the Camping Stage was not what it is now, it’s like what that Grassroots thing is now, just a stage on a landing. We played at like noon on a Thursday, and then I hung out all weekend, partying.
It was crazy when I went to Umphrey’s and I didn’t know them at all back then, I was in awe. Now I’m playing with them and we are friends, it’s kind of cool you know? I wouldn’t say they were my heroes back then, my heroes are like John Coltrane, but they were definitely people I really look up to, especially in this scene. And then you finally meet them and work with them and find out they are the nicest guys. They are super nice, very professional, a really sick operation. Not to take anything away from any other band, but it seems like one of the most professionally run bands I’ve ever seen. They are a world-class operation, world-class dudes. On top of being incredible musicians, it’s got to be a huge part of their success that they are so great to work with. It’s been a really weird journey here at Summer Camp, it’s kind of like my home festival… now I come every year and put it out, sit in with as many bands as possible.
SR: Who have you sat in with here so far?
Nicholas: So Thursday I sat in with a band called Highrider, they’re from Indy, they are a Grateful Dead tribute band. I’m not a huge Dead guy but I actually really like them, they are my favorite Grateful Dead thing. They do it in their own interesting way, and they take it super seriously and they are such great players. They’ve been doing it forever in Indy and on the road a little bit. I also sat in with Dopapod in the Red Barn on Thursday, they are such a great hang because they are maybe the funniest dudes ever, they are so funny. I also sat in with Manic Focus the next night. That was great, I love his music, and he’s one of my favorite producers. He’s also a super cool dude. Everyone who is successful is cool [laughs]. Also played with Moe. in the Red Barn, which was dope. And now I’m riding it out until North American Scum tonight.
SR: Can you talk a little bit about producing Out Here?
Nicholas: I think it’s great that we did something different than what we’ve done before, and try to change our sound a little bit. It’s our first album with Jeff in the band so we put live drums on it, and going into the studio and having that professionally done was really cool. I just like doing every album, kind of approach them all the same way. And writing music in general, I approach it all the same way. It’s just great to work with a bunch of people and have really good minds. Joe Hettinga actually helped produce and write a lot of it and he’s also a world-class musician. It’s great to have that many people on it.
Obviously, Dave is the center point for the production and he mixed and mastered it and he’s getting so good. What I love about Embry is, and you can’t say this for every producer, he’s so open to working with anyone, and he will listen to other people’s ideas. He may not always use them if it’s not the best thing, but he will definitely give everything a chance. He is willing to work with any good musician. Super open minded cat. Another thing that helps him when it comes to producing electronic music is that he listens to everything. That dude knows country songs, he actually knows a ton about hip-hop, he loves Tool, and I can even get him into some good jazz sometimes. He’s got good ears. It’s like eating food, the more you try stuff the more you like other stuff. He knows what’s good.
SR: Embry is the man, you can really hear big improvements in the production of your albums. Do you prefer headlining your own shows or playing festivals?
Nicholas: They’re both good for different reasons. When it’s your show you have a lot more control over the situation. You’ve got 4 hours and can have a nice long sound-check. Go eat, relax a little bit. There’s more of a sense of urgency at a festival, but you are playing for new people. People at a festival are super ready for it. Sometimes when we play a club, people come out but are just tired because they’ve been working all day, or whatever. The environment at a festival is conducive to putting on a good show. At a music festival, people want it, people want to like you. In a club, people pay 10 bucks and are like “this better be good.” But, you do have a lot more power to make it good since you have more control over the situation. Good question.
SR: I’m assuming you guys are working on new material already?
Nicholas: Yeah we are going to be putting out a new single every few weeks. We put the first one up Wednesday, the FKJ remix. We’re going to do a series of tracks all summer but instead of putting them all on an album, we are going to be putting one out every few weeks. That seems to be more effective; people don’t put out albums in the summer usually. There’s a couple other remixes in the works. One is from when we did this IndieGoGo thing because we wrecked our van, a kid paid to pick the song we remix. I don’t want to say what it is yet. It’s a pretty interesting tune, I think we did a pretty cool thing with it, and recognizable song, I’m really glad he picked something that’s a hit. We’ve also got a Lotus remix coming out.
SR: How was working with Jake Cinnenger on “Rewind Pt. 2” on Out Here?
Nicholas: Oh yeah, I was actually talking to him about that last night. It was pretty cool, we sent him the track and he was really cool to work with. You know, Jake’s obviously like a genius, he’s just blessed, gifted. Also, maybe the nicest guy around. He sent one thing back and it was badass but it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for in the track. A lot of people, when they work with someone like him, they may just use it anyway, but we wanted to be really serious with this album and get what we wanted. So we told him this isn’t exactly what we want and we kinda gave him more of an idea, and it was actually kind of our fault, we didn’t really tell him what we wanted.
SR: You just gave him the backing track?
Nicholas: Yeah, we just sent the tune and said here’s your section, throw your thing in there. We gave him more of an idea of what we wanted and then he sent back something fast and it was just amazing. He did it in his studio; he has his own home studio and it’s really good and sounds great. Sent back something super fast and it was awesome.
SR: He is incredibly talented.
Nicholas: Some people are just born to do something. Like a couple others around here, like Victor Wooten. They’re just like, touched.
SR: I love coming to Summer Camp because no matter what, there will be great musicians like that.
Nicholas:Yeah, they do a great job at this festival of getting a little bit of everything. The promoters, they just know music. They know who the badasses are.
SR: Last question, did you see how some people were mad about Krewella being one of the headliners? What did you think of that reaction?
Nicholas: Here’s my thing. You know me, I got opinions, I say stuff. I don’t understand why anyone would even care about that. Do you know how many bands are at this festival? Over 100. Enough. And when did they play? You don’t even remember do you, exactly! Because you were at something else badass. All the Krewella fans came and went to Krewella, and probably had a great time. Summer Camp can have Krewella if they want. If you don’t like Krewella, go to a different set. I don’t get people being mad that someone is at a festival, it’s not like your forced to see them, this isn’t labor, its not your job. It’s not like the Krewella fans are getting mad that Widespread Panic is here, you don’t seem them doing that. You see people getting mad because Krewella bring in a bad crowd, but I don’t see them going online and bashing you for what you like. So just chill out, why do you care! See something else. There are 7 stages at this festival, so that’s how I look at it. I wish I had a life that was so easy and simple that that was a problem in my life. I wish that could be my big problem, some band is playing at a festival I don’t like.
SR: Great answer, that’s the answer I wanted.
Want more? Check out our interview with Turbo Suit (previously Cosby Sweater) from Summer Camp last year. Catch Turbo Suit on the road this summer, and like them on Facebook to stay up to date with the singles they are releasing this summer.
FRIDAY JUL 17 – The Miramar Theatre – MILWAUKEE, WI
SATURDAY JUL 18 – Bell’s Eccentric Café – KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN
SATURDAY JUL 25 – Bragg Jam Music Festival – MACON, GEORGIA
THURSDAY JUL 30 – Big Dub Festival – ARTEMAS, PENNSYLVANIA
FRIDAY AUG 7 – The Werk Out Music Festival – THORNVILLE, OH
SATURDAY AUG 15 – Hyperion Music Festival – SPENCER, INDIANA
SUNDAY AUG 16 – The Peach Festival – SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA
FRIDAY AUG 21 – Camp Barefoot – BARTOW, WEST VIRGINIA
SATURDAY SEP 5 – North Coast Music Festival – CHICAGO, ILLINOIS