A Band is Born
Christopher Hislop, EDGE
When Seacoast musician/composer Mike Effenberger speaks to you, you listen. If he asks you a question, you do your best to offer a response. If he sends you an email, you look twice, and if he did indeed send you an email, you open it, and you read it.
What we find in the latest e-communication from the bearded wizard is that he is forming a band to play his own music. This is not standard news. The band’s name: Weird Turn Pro. Interestingly apt. He invites us to bear witness to this latest musical happening, as it unfolds, live in the flesh, at Sonny’s in Dover on Sunday, Jan. 24th. This debut marks the beginning of a semi-regular “thing” which will lend itself to the recording and release of a proper album “sometime in the fall.” This is all exciting stuff.
Then he leads you to his newly formed Bandcamp page, which offers a live recording of frogs. Seriously. Check it out: weirdturnpro.bandcamp.com
When Mike Effenberger asks you to listen to frogs, you listen to frogs. All one minute and 16 seconds of ’em.
And when he tells you he’ll do some Q&A with you, you take him up on it.
Herald: Weird Turn Pro. I love the name. Tell me a bit more about the concept of the band. Is this your first stint as a “frontman” since Ftet?
Effenberger: Ftet is a great time and still exists as much as it did, but has a different mission. It was specifically formed to play “new standards,” meaning music of the last generation or two reinterpreted from a jazz perspective in the same way that jazz of the ’50s reinterpreted the popular music of that time and that of the previous generation or so.
Weird Turn Pro is my first run at leading a band playing my music. I love playing other people’s music, but it’s been on the list to take a swing doing some of my stuff as well.
Herald: How often do you write your own compositions? Does writing come easy, or is it a pain in the bum?
Effenberger: My writing has honestly been pretty fragmented these last frenetic years. I’ve been writing off and on, but it’s usually been in a specific functional context: writing songs for the Soggy Po’ Boys or rearranging and recontextualizing sounds for fiveighthirteen, or occasional commissioned pieces. Among other things, this band will be an outlet for ideas that I’ve been messing with or thinking over for months or years, in some cases, but lacked the right outlet, as well as for new music written for the band.
Herald: Do you enjoy taking the lead on things, or do you prefer being more of a sideman ivory tickler?
Effenberger: Many of the groups I play with are nearly or fully democratic, and either lack leaders in the traditional sense or have a shared leadership between a couple members. I prefer that approach to organizing music and people because, at least when it’s working, the music you end up with can be more honestly and directly the music of those people at that time. I don’t plan on being heavy-handed with “leading” this band, either, because I have endless respect for and trust in them. I’ll just write the music. We’ll do a couple things composed by friends from around here and away from here, too.
Herald: I’ve never once received any sort of solicitation that included a recording of simple creatures making simply complex sounds. You like frogs?
Effenberger: Frogs are great, sure. The recording was made last spring in these ponds in rural Nova Scotia at Red Clay Farm, an intentional community with an arts focus, after a Bing and Ruth concert there. The frogs would only do their thing if we would shut up, which made it much easier to listen deeply. The recording isn’t edited at all: there was silence, then a single frog sang out, then this cascading mess of groupthink vocalizing appeared from all sides, and then they would all stop at once as by some unknown signal. The whole group of us, 10 or 12 people, sat and listened for about an hour, saying nothing. I strongly recommend it.
Additionally, the band is too new to have any sounds to share, and frogs lack adequate distribution, but deserve to be heard.
Herald: Do any frogs make an appearance on the tracks you’re working up for the record?
Effenberger: That is a strong possibility. Failing that, we hope to paraphrase their language in the band.
Herald: Speaking of which, tell me a bit more about that (the record). You claim that there may be something in place by fall. Are you using these gigs as a means of hashing out the tunes?
Effenberger: The tunes are mostly pretty hashed out already, compositionally, but there is something different about a band absorbing the heart of the music in performances, as compared to rehearsals. It’s not that we won’t be rehearsing, but you can only rehearse the externalities of the music. The poetry of the music can become a lot clearer to me with an audience present, and a lot of extraneous nonsense falls away.
Herald: Speaking of gigs, what are you most looking forward to in regard to taking the stage with this group? You plan on playing once every two months, eh?
Effenberger: It’s a real privilege to work with musicians of this quality and breadth of concept who are also great friends, and to not have to leave the Seacoast to do so only adds to that. I’m looking forward to messing with this side of music with these guys. Together we’ve played in a lot of genres over the years, in other configurations, from ambient music to rock to traditional jazz to “pure” improvisation to old spirituals, and these compositions incorporate all of the above. We’ll come at it from all available sides, play every six to eight weeks, record this summer, and release the record this fall.
Herald: The debut will commence upon the stage at Sonny’s on Jan. 24th. What can folks expect?
Effenberger: Clarinet player Don Byron allegedly said, “If a cat is taking risks in the moment, years later you can still hear the edge in it.” I’m hoping that the band plays around with where that edge is while forging its own sound, takes some risks, and doesn’t fall into too many jazz traps.
Herald: I like this line: “Come support new music: It’s good for you.” That said, what keeps you kicking around these parts? You feelin’ the love, or does Bruce (Pingree) need to get out there and start staring at people?
Effenberger: I think it’s true. It’s easy to let one’s interests narrow over time. I have certainly felt that tendency, at times. New music is good for us.
As far as kicking around here, I’m not going anywhere. The place and people are far too great to leave. It’s a magical part of the world. It would probably not hurt for Bruce to stare at some folks, just in case, as a backstop.