Leading up to Night Lights: An Interview with Michelangelo Carubba of Turkuaz

Anyone who lives in the Upstate region knows that summer is not something to be wished away. The short season of nice weather is always packed full of barbecues, weddings, family get-togethers, and weekends enjoying the outdoors. That being said, if there was one reason to look past the shorts and tank tops this year to hoodies and jeans, it would be Night Lights Music Festival. The festival is held in Sherman, NY (directions here) and has continued to get better with each proceeding year. The team who puts it together always does a great job, but this year they have set the bar quite high for western New York festivals with an incredible lineup that had most ready to smell the pumpkin spice back in the spring when the bands were announced.

Some of whom you will see include such acts as Snarky Puppy, Dopapod, Consider the Source, Turkuaz, The Mike Dillon Band, Jimkata, Big Mean Sound Machine, The Manhattan Project, and Aqueous. If that lineup in and of itself isn’t reason enough to come out, there are also a whole host of great up and coming local acts that you’ll want to see. Speaking of locals, one of the headliners, Turkuaz, has a tie back to the area that most don’t know about.

Drummer Michelangelo Carubba of Turkuaz is actually a Buffalo native who grew up in the area and still has family who lives there. I was able to catch up with the man who keeps each member of the funk army marching to the same beat. Below, we talk about his hometown roots in Buffalo, his band, and Dave Brandwein’s trip to SkyNet, among other things.

You’ve lived on both ends of New York State now and have experienced many cities on tour. What are your top three favorite places and why?
This country is so vast and varied. I’ve toured 49 of 50 states (still waiting on that call to go to Alaska). New Orleans has always been one of my favorites. There’s something in the DNA of that town. It vibes harder than most cities. The food, the music, the people, everything. It’s great. Denver has been really good to us. The fact that you can buy herb with a credit card is pretty mind-blowing. But my favorite place is New York City. There’s nothing like it on earth. There’s everything for everyone and it’s always ready to go. It can be peaceful if you want, or it can rage harder than anywhere else. You can live at an ever-changing pace and it’s always right there with you. And I’m a native New York, East Coaster, and you just can’t get better Italian food than in New York.

How did you end up in NYC with Turkuaz after growing up in Buffalo?
I moved to Boston in 2006 when I was 21, after touring for 3 years in various bands. I moved there to attend Berklee College of Music. There, I met a lot of the people I still make music with today. When everyone was graduating, almost my entire crew was making the move to NY, en masse, so it was the logical next step. If you’re going to make a run for it with a band, New York is the place to do it.

Who are some of your biggest influences and why?
Muhammad Ali. He was the first hip hop poet. He could knock a man out like no one’s business. And he knew it. Queens of the Stone Age, musically, have been fueling me for the last ten months. I saw them at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, and I’ve never been rocked so hard. Great songwriting, and an aesthetic that’s dripping with sex and pain. I love them. Snarky Puppy has been inspiring me as well. I won’t try to articulate why. Go and listen.

Tell your fans something they might not know about you or the band.
We’re insane.How did Jaguar start and what’s the current state of that band? Will you guys eventually record an album and tour?
Alan Evans’ PlayonBrother and Turkuaz were on the road together for six weeks. I had known Danny Mayer and Beau Sasser for a long time. Beau had always been a mentor when we lived together in Boston. I think the band was actually born out of a few rounds of whiskey shots. Musicians are always looking for outlets, or ways to say what you want to say. We all thought it would be great to play together. Jaguar hits are all improvised at this point. We all have pretty open ears, and we’re all close friends, and that translates into the music. Everyone is very busy at the moment with main projects, but Jaguar is looking to hit again in the fall in the Northeast. I’m sure an album and touring will happen at some point.

How did Turkuaz grow to include so many musicians? Was that by design?
Unintentionally, yes. The bands sound was created by Dave Brandwein and Taylor Shell, our guitarist and bassist. They were making demos together in the Berklee days, and someone passed a demo off to Berklee’s record label, Heavy Rotation Records. The label asked Dave and Taylor to perform at the record release show at the Berklee Performance Center for 1,000 people. The demos were so musically dense, that to recreate the sound live, they needed to call eight or nine people. And it always stayed like that. It works.

The band has springboarded pretty quickly in terms of popularity. What do you think that is attributed to?
A relentless touring schedule over the last two and a half years has had a lot to do with our growth. We’re very lucky. People are coming out to shows and having a blast. We are too. When you’re in front of that many people, day in and day out, all over the US, you hope that something sticks in people’s minds. Our music and vibe seem to be sticking. We also just have fun. I think people read that. I think they realize that we’re up there giving our all every night because we want others to be happy.

How is Dave Brandwein’s hand? Has he made a full recovery from the injury?
We sent Dave off to SkyNet and he now has a fully bionic set up from the elbow down. It’s indestructible and it’s always set to rock.

What influences do you bring to the table outside of funk?
This is a hard question to answer. It would be a waste to say, “well I like rock and jazz and blues, etc.” The influences I bring, to make the music that I’m playing come alive, are things like my love for boxing, stand-up comedy, faith, sex, cinema, and animals. The playing is gonna be there, I can play these tunes with a blindfold on and one arm tied up. What makes it happen, what really gets me and the band and the crowd off, is when we bring real life into the music. How ever I’m feeling, I’m putting that into the music. Life is my influence.

What are some of your favorite things about the city of Buffalo?
The people. They’re kind, empathetic, and real. The food. I mean, come on. I just love what Buffalo means to me. I have such a connection to the city. I was born and raised there. My father owns Carubba Collision, and anyone that’s a Bills, Sabres, Bandits, or Bisons fan recognizes that name. “The Carubba Collision of the Game” has been a great part of Buffalo sports for the last 35 years. When I think of Buffalo, I think of the times spent at the Aud, at First Niagara Center, or at the baseball field, (whatever it’s called now). Buffalo will always hold a very special place in my heart.

Alan Evans is another big drummer from Buffalo and it seems, on social media, that he has become a friend. What experiences has he shared with you as an up and coming drummer?
Al has become a close friend. Al is a great musician. Not just a drummer, but a guitarist, bassist, singer, and producer. We share a similar sense of humor, and a similar understanding of things. Al is a true Buffalonian, and I think I am too. I feel like we subconsciously relate to each other along that plane. He’s taught me about humility, hard work, and ambition. Al’s kind, generous, loyal, and most of all, real. There’s a lot of people on his level that are fake. Al is not fake. Al is the shit.

Who are some of the bands you still haven’t played with, but would like to?
Well, Snarky Puppy for sure. I’m going to kick that off the bucket list on September 13th, at Night Lights Music Festival. That’s going to be incredible. I get to play a show, walk off stage, and watch one of my favorite bands in the world play right after. You can’t ask for much more than that.

What is up next for Turkuaz?
Finishing up festival season now, with the exception of a few late in the year (Bear Creek Festival in November in FL). For September, we’re locking ourselves away for the month and recording our next album. We have a few shows during the month that we’re thrilled about. On the 19th we’re direct support for Bootsy Collins in Baltimore. That is a dream come true. He wrote the book on a lot of what we’re trying to do, so to get to share it with him and a huge audience, is amazing. Aside from that, we’re touring. We’re always touring. It never ends. And we love it.

Are you a Bills and Sabres fan? What do you think about the state of both teams?
I love all Buffalo sports, like I said earlier, but the Sabres are the closest to my heart. Growing up, a lot of the old Buffalo Sabres were around my house and at family parties. John Tucker and Paul Cyr (throwback) used to come and cut their Christmas trees down on my families land. John Tucker gave me my first Labatt Blue when I was five years old. Rob Ray taught me how to swear when I was seven. I remember watching Dominic Hasek play horrible golf, yell in his native tongue, and throw golf clubs. The Sabres organization will always be very close to me. As for the state of the team, I think the entire city, and everything and everyone involved, is on the rise. Companies are investing in Buffalo. Neighborhoods are being revitalized. Restaurants, shops, homes. Everything is coming back. I think the Sabres and the Bills are headed in the same direction. I think by 2020, Buffalo is going to have a new identity. It’s not going to be “that places where it snows”. Its going to be a Championship city where people go for music, food, and living life. I love Buffalo.

If the lineup somehow doesn’t convince you, there’s also this little side element that not a lot of people realize, even with it being in the festival name: THE LIGHTS! Night Lights Music Festival is one part music festival and one part light display. This isn’t just stage lighting though as the Night Lights HQ sets up an enormous and truly stunning display throughout the woods. I can leave this description brief as words simply don’t do it justice. Check out the pictures from Arthur Kogutowski below and we hope to see you dancing under the lights next weekend.

If you’re now looking for tickets to Night Lights Music Festival, you can grab them here. They’re $75 presale and include camping and parking.

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