Drip painting entails actively splashing myriad colors on canvas.
Popularized by Jackson Pollock, Janet Sobel, Max Ernst, and other 20th century luminaries, the artform itself relies on action and motion. In similar fashion, energetic splashes of funk, alternative, rock, R&B, and psychedelia color the music of Turkuaz. Balancing male-female harmonies, strutting guitars, wild horn arrangements, and interminable grooves, this spirit takes shape in the color donned by each respective member on stage nightly via larger-than-life performances.
The Brooklyn-based nonet—Dave Brandwein [guitar, vocals], Taylor Shell [bass], Craig Brodhead [guitar, keys], Michelangelo Carubba [drums], Chris Brouwers [trumpet, keys], Greg Sanderson [tenor sax], Josh Schwartz [baritone sax, vocals], Sammi Garett [vocals], and Shira Elias [vocals]—ignite an explosion of energy punctuated by neon hues, deft musicality, and show-stopping singalongs on their fifth full-length album, Life In The City.
“Turkuaz is made up of individuals, each their own shade of the color spectrum,” explains Dave. “Each person brings a signature style and embodies his or her own color. The respective auras come together to create our sound. The name itself implies that vibrancy, but it’s a different spin on turquoise. In the same way, we put a different spin on groove-oriented music by telling stories that you wouldn’t normally associate with funk.”
Since emerging in 2011 with their self-titled debut, the group have quietly animated a movement.
Touring incessantly in support of four full-length studio albums and three official live releases, they’ve lit up stages everywhere from Bonnaroo, Hulaween, Okeechobe, Electric Forest, and Mountain Jam to Telluride Jazz, High Sierra, and Lock’n, in between gracing stages at legendary spots such as Red Rocks, Terminal 5, and The Fillmore, to name a few. Among numerous critical plaudits, The New Yorker claimed, “This Brooklyn-based nine-piece delivers horn-filled funk incorporating elements of R&B, psychedelic pop, gospel, Afro-pop, New Wave, classic rock, and just about any genre that gets people dancing.”
Most recently, 2015’s Digitonium yielded fan favorites such as “Nightswimming” and “European Festivity Nightmare” and generated over 1 million-plus cumulative streams. When it came time to commence work on Life In The City, the musicians switched up the flow and took a different approach.
“We did Digitonium in a short period of time and created a concept based on The Sword in the Stone,” says Dave. “We sifted through a lot more material for Life In The City. We threw all of the paint on the canvas. There was more collaboration in the writing. Some members who hadn’t participated before brought ideas to the table. We didn’t have anything road-mapped. In that respect, it was exploratory as far as who we are sonically. The same goes for the lyrics. Beyond the turmoil in current events and the world, I was going through some difficult challenges in my personal life. So, Life In The City is more based in reality and the experience I’ve lived in the past few years than a fantasy like the last record. The city is representative of modern life and all of these distractions we face day to day.”
In order to capture that vision, they first recorded at More Sound in Upstate New York before moving to Dave’s own newly relocated Galaxy Smith Studios in Brooklyn. Avowed fans of the Stop Making Sense film, they tapped Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads to produce standalone single “On The Run” and album track “If I Ever Fall Asleep” at The Bunker Studios.
“I’m extremely hands-on, so it was a growth experience to see someone else’s take on the band,” adds Dave. “Overall, Jerry made us as a band think about things we wouldn’t have otherwise. It was really beneficial.”
The group officially introduce the album with the first single and title track “Life In The City.” Funkified guitars wrap around otherworldly synths and rapturous horns as the words “Blind in the spotlight” glare.
“That line stands out to me,” Dave continues. “There’s so much stimulus in the city and in modern life in general. So much is going on. Light is constantly shined on what we do, how we act, social media, and the urban hustle and bustle that we’re blind to what’s really going on underneath. That line sums up what the song is about. We’re not able to take a breath and experience the simplicity of reality anymore. We forget to be who we really are.”
A collaborative effort with several band members, the swaggering cry of “Lady Lovely” tells an intergalactic horror story disguised as cross-species romance, complete with “creature” giggles from the song’s vocalist Josh Schwartz. Schwartz also co-wrote “If I ever Fall Asleep,” portraying the “paranoid ramblings of an insomniac holed up in his apartment.”
Punctuated by robust horns, “Superstatic” illuminates another side of Turkuaz as it touts lyrics “about letting go and having fun for a minute.” Meanwhile, on the more personal side, upbeat delivery and synth squeals underscore a poignant admission for Dave on “The One and Lonely.”
“It’s about kicking a lot of habits and stepping away from vices,” he admits. “The song highlights the struggle I had with substances and alcohol as well as the process I went through trying to shed the struggle. Drinking and drug use is a huge part of the road for most bands. It got to a point where it was too much for me though. This album documents me taking a step back and saying, ‘I want to live for a long time. I want to stop and take in what’s actually happening to me—not just party all the time.’”
It’s that honesty that has reinvigorated how far down the line the band has its sights set. And even in the midst of serious subject matter creeping in on this album, the musicianship of all nine band members and the group’s upbeat, fun-loving sensibility still shines through to give Turkuaz fans the joyous sound they’ve come to know over the last several years.
“I would love for our music to be a bright spot in an otherwise dark world,” he leaves off. “You can come to our shows, let go, exist, and have a good time in spite of what may be going on outside. That’s what music does for us. We want to share that.”