Primate Fiasco – An Inside View

Primate Fiasco is set to bring their energetic funk back to the area with shows in Ithaca, Rochester and Buffalo this month. Check out their website for all their upcoming shows.

One of the unique bands currently tearing up the Jam Band circuit is The Primate Fiasco. The best way to describe is to recite the description on their website. “To a deaf person, they look like a New Orleans Dixieland street band. To a blind person, they sound like a rave DJ mashing-up house beats with ’60s folk lyrics. To the police, it’s a busy day on the sidewalk.

fiasco01.3-(1-of-1) Kim Richer
Their instruments are loud without electricity, allowing them the play at any moment, in any location, with or without permission.    Trust me people, let it peak your curiosity. Believe me when I say these gentlemen can take their chosen instrument very far from its traditional sound into something that is musically amazing. With several albums under their belt along with a Grammy nomination, The Primate Fiasco has been touring up and down the East coast relentlessly for the last several years. They have been treating acoustic music like it’s a new thing. They take it back to its roots, playing music anywhere that people will listen.

They have been launching an attack on the jam band scene and as of late have placed their attention on Upstate New York because they enjoy the vibe of the area and our appreciation of music. I recently had a chance to sit down and chat about all things Fiasco with Dave Russo, singer and founder of Primate Fiasco. I found them infiltrating the dance floor of a Kung Fu funk show in Syracuse. They were playing acoustic, in the middle of the crowd, keeping faces smiling Fiasco style.

Kim Richer – NYS Music: You guys are from Massachusetts. You have several albums out, one of which scored you a Grammy nomination. Tell me about the Fiasco.

Dave Russo – Primate Fiasco: Loaded question. I feel that it is sort of “back to the drawing board” approach to music. It’s where these instruments could have gone 100 years ago if they’d been influenced by the following 100 years of jazz, rock, electronica, etc. We started as a Dixieland street band playing on street corners and it evolved from there. That Grammy nom was for our kids album, which is not our usual format but was a lot of fun.

KR: One of your most popular songs, “Sidekick” tells the story of an epic Superhero adventure. This lead to a comic book and then a movie, all created by you. What is the story behind that and what can we expect next in the saga?

DR: To be honest, that was a creative spasm. The band was in a lull and I’m originally a visual artist who hasn’t drawn since the band got busy. I had to get some creativity out somehow and so I dove into this alter-ego idea. It’s a metaphorical autobiography if you will, not just about me but about the inner workings of today’s bands (presented as superheroes). The only movie that has been made thus far is EPISODE 2 – QUESTIVAL which deals with festivals or “superhero conventions”. Episode 3 will be more about touring and the drastic differences that a multi-genre band travels through. Episode 1 is the prequel that I can’t wait for. It will dive into the back story of myself, the arch-enemy THEYCO, and a few other characters. While most of this is comedy based, I think Episode 1 is going to be kinda deep and a bit more complex than any of the fans are expecting.

KR: Who are your biggest musical influences?

DR: Mine personally are the great songwriters like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Neil Young and some of the late 90’s festival mainstays like Phish, Medeski, Pfunk, etc. As for the whole band, I know there’s Jazz of all periods, pop, classical, and electronica. But as of late, and I think I can say this for the whole band, we are huge fans and heavily influenced by some of the artists that we are blessed to call our colleagues. Just of the top of my head, Ryan Montbleau, Dopapod, Kung Fu, Turkuaz, Sister Sparrow, Soulive, Dirty Dozen, Aphids, and Rusty Belle are all bands who have affected our sound as much as any classic legends.

KR: Your band is all over the musical map and placing you in a category is nearly impossible. What genre do you consider The Primate Fiasco to be?

DR: These days, we get considered a jam band because of the improvisation and the festivals we tend to play. But that’s not a musical style. I feel like it could have tipped toward other genres too but I do like the Jam scene. We also go over well at jazz, EDM and folk fests. We’ve even shared the stage with hard-core bands and that was fine. But that’s just a business answer about where we play. Musically, the obvious influences that you can hear from space are Traditional Jazz, Electronic Dance Music, and (lyrically) 60’s Folk. But if you listen more closely, you might hear Reggae, Balkan Brass, Bluegrass, and Inuit Polka. I like the word BRASSTRONICA. Personally, I think one of the biggest problems with music, especially in this age of pull down menus, is the obsession with categorization. In my opinion, music should be categorized by its purpose; Music to dance to, music to relax to, music that illustrates lyrics, etc. Instead, our culture obsesses over which specific camp of nerd-core a band falls under and we tend to use the band’s wardrobe to decipher that. We identify as “genre-fluid with acoustic pronouns”.

KR: With your mobile instruments, it is not uncommon for an impromptu performance to pop up when and where you least expect. This could be on a street, or a parade through a festival campground. What are some of your more memorable impromptu sets?

DR: Gathering of the Vibes stands out. We’ve done 4 years but the first year was rather special for me. I had the idea for this band years ago when I attended Vibes as a fan. It was back when I was playing Banjo in the dixieland band at Six Flags New England. It was my first substantial fest and the idea to bring a street band to it was born. 10 years later, my band was on the poster and on the vending strip. Other memorable moments: Our set getting overrun with nitrous tanks at Superball9. Leading a parade through several stores, banks, and restaurants in Northampton MA. Gathering a large crowd outside of a venue who kinda screwed us over and then parading them into the bar across the street.

KR: One of your most recent impromptu sets occurred on the dance floor of a Kung Fu show in Syracuse. What’s the story behind that?

DR: We happened to be passing through Syracuse and didn’t have anything booked that night. There was a really cozy place for us to crash with our good friends and so it made sense to stay in town instead of driving all the way home. We had Kung Fu add us to the bill and played on the dance floor whenever there was a set break. Simple as that. The Westcott is a good venue for that.

KR: In a live recording of the Fiasco, I heard you play a mash-up medley where you literally interwoven the classic “It Don’t Mean a Thing” with Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, Green Day, Grateful Dead, Nirvana, George Clinton, AND a Star Wars Theme, ALL IN ONE SONG! Where does this creative madness come from?

DR: In the days of early jazz, a New Orleans street band would medley through any song that came into their mind. For them, it would be marching tunes or even classical pieces that they “swung”. We’re doing the same thing, just later.

KR: Your exposure to New York thus far has been minimal, mostly at festivals. Looking at your tour schedule, you are certainly showing New York the Primate love. A good portion of your upcoming shows are in Upstate NY, all leading up to your big New Year’s Ball Drop gala with Turkuaz. What draws your focus to the area?

DR: Upstate NY has a great vibe. The people are warm and energetic. The cities are just far enough apart that a band our size can play 2 or 3 of them in the same weekend and we live only 5 hours from Syracuse in MA. The energy that we’ve seen thus far from our fans in Upstate has caught our attention and the attention of our booking agency. We experienced a similar dynamic in North Carolina where we will drive all the way down there and tour around the state before driving all the way home. The fans make it a home away from home. Upstate is in our crosshairs.

KR: Where exactly can we find the Fiasco leading their parade around our fine state and where can your fans find the most up to date news and tour information?

DR: At the moment, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Lake Placid, Ithaca, and Saratoga are all places we intend to frequent. Plus Sterling Stage and Catskill Chill are festivals we don’t ever want to miss. Currently, there are shows booked in Rochester, Buffalo, and Kerhonkson. I would direct fans to our website for details, especially regarding New Year’s Eve with Turkuaz and several other bands at Rock n Roll Resort. Ticket and room deals can be scored there.   It’s also a good idea to get on the mailing list.

In addition to the band’s website, I would also like to direct fans to like their Facebook page as the best way to keep up on spontaneous developments. During the Gathering of the Vibes this year, the Primate Fiasco was announcing festival street set locations an hour before they occurred. As for scheduled shows, be sure to seek them out this December around Upstate New York. They can be found Dec. 18 at The Dock in Ithaca, Dec. 19 at The Lovin’ Cup in Rochester, and Dec. 20 at Nietzsche’s in Buffalo. All leading up to the big Ball Drop New Year’s gala with Turkuaz at the Rock and Roll Resort in Kerhonkson, NY. Consider yourself warned – The Primate Fiasco will be all over Upstate this December and these guys are so spontaneous, I advise everyone to open their cupboards and microwaves slowly and stand back just in case. No place is off-limits! I urge you to catch them somewhere along the way. You will smile!

A special thank you to George DiFabio for your insight.