If ever in your life you have harbored some sort of desire to listen to danceable, sexy, latin-jazz fusion, look no further than Wesleyan's own Don Froot (Leo Grossman '16, Justin Friedman '16, Ben Zucker '15, Matt Chilton '16, and Jonah Wolfson '17). Their new EP, Don Fruta, is a very worthwhile listen and a total jam. Josh Davidoff of Aural Wes took a dive with the band into their musical and ethnomusicological roots before their release show tonight at Earth House.
How did you guys come together as an ensemble?
Ben Zucker: We’re an ensemble?
Matt Chilton: The core group was all about Westco Down 1, 2012-13.
Justin Friedman: I remember we jammed, we had like a Thelonious Funk thing.
Matt: Oh yeah, I remember we had a little thing we were going to play at the Mash.
Justin: This was like the third day of school, Leo had his cajon and we were just jamming.
In terms of your jazz and latin influences, did individuals bring different styles or was it more of an organic process?
Matt: I think we owe everything to Jay Hoggard. He’s all about the diasporic identities of the music, about seeking the roots of jazz within lots of different cultures of music, because elements come from so many different sources.
Ben: That’s, that’s like--
Justin: We have two ethnomusicologists in this band instead of one, so you want to give them a few minutes.
Ben: I was gonna say that we didn't think about it.
Justin: We from the beginning were never looking to be that band to play the biggest shows on campus and drunk people partying. This band was for us to play the music we love to play. Most of us come from a jazz background and a latin background and the ethnomusicology background.
One thing I'm wondering about specifically is the Spanish on "Disfraz," the first track on Don Fruta.
Leo Grossman: I speak Spanish, so I thought it’d be really nice to write a song in Spanish.
Ben: If anything, the Latin influence has accelerated recently. The original stuff we did was pop/rock stuff--remember that Van Morrison cover? We did a cover of Moondance. Started off on a good groove and later tacked some Spanish onto it. There is something really danceable about all the bossa nova, afro-cuban, samba stuff. So it feels good in the mind and body.
Justin: Because jazz is often inaccessible to a lot of people, which is a shame, we wanted to find a way to make it accessible and I think we've done that pretty successfully.
Matt: The campus context here is that people want to get up and be active, and often jazz invites people to sit down and listen and be contemplative, and I think by incorporating a lot of dance music elements, you can get people to be both in the contemplative state and the fun-having movement state.
Ben: I think it’s the other way around, actually.
Matt: This always happens when Ben and I are interviewed together.
Ben: It’s more like this is us playing our pop music but adding the fact that we like to throw in out-there changes, little virtuosic riffs and stuff. Going from a base of groovy dance music and then adding something to it.
Justin: Within jazz, we all come from such different influences. Matt’s definitely on the more experimental side of things, and I play straight-ahead jazz a lot of the time, and Ben’s everything in between and beyond, and Leo had a lot of West African drumming influences, and Jonah played in punk-rock bands in high school. I think when you hear our music when it all comes together you can hear all those influences.
Matt: You can really hear the influence of my middle school black-metal band.
Ben (apparently taking my job): I want to ask a question--what goes into the songwriting? Leo writes all the lyrics, but what is that for you? How do the words play a role in this band?
Leo: Well a lot of the songs we wrote were freshman year, and freshman year is such a mindfuck and change of scenery and environment, so I had a lot of stuff to write about. Now, we haven’t been writing as much. We’ve got a few songs we're working on, but lyric- writing is close to my heart. A lot of it is centered around the college experience and how relationships change and all that jazz. No pun intended.
As a freshman myself, trying to break into the music scene, looking back it sounds like you formed up really early...
Leo: We got lucky, but the advice I give everyone is that you gotta be bold.
Justin: I found Ben when he was playing vibes in Jazz Orchestra and we were looking for a piano player. I said, "oh you’re a good vibes player, you play piano?" Perfect. Same thing with Jonah, I was jamming with a bunch a freshman and Jonah just came down and started playing drums and I said yo, perfect.
Ben: This is probably something that happens with all college bands but it’s like the band grows up with you. Things change and what I think is a challenge for the band now is we’re figuring out what we want to do with all of us and all of this. Now that we have an album of stuff, how can we build off of that? It’s growing pains. Good pain.
Matt: And back to some advice for those masochistic freshman musicians. Often, people will have the impulse to look far and wide for the perfect people for their band, but they could be living next to you.
Justin: Take music classes. Or go to Music House, knock on the door and ask for Matt Chilton. My best friends here, most of them are from playing music.
Hit up their EP-release show tonight and listen to Don Fruta below.