Strength in numbers with Brooklyn’s Turkuaz
Working in large groups isn’t for everyone. “Too many cooks in the kitchen,” as the saying goes. However, sometimes it takes many hands to achieve the best results. Brooklyn-based Turkuaz is a product of the latter. The nine-piece power-funk group has been touring constantly since 2012, some years playing more than 180 shows, ranging from small clubs to large gigs, like the High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy.
“It honestly keeps things interesting, mixes things up,” said lead singer and guitarist Dave Brandwein. “It’s a lot of things, but what it isn’t is boring. It just wouldn’t be Turkuaz without a large group of people.”
Watching Turkuaz isn’t watching a frontman with a backing band; it’s watching nine distinct, brightly dressed powerhouses put their strongest feet forward, fusing notes of soul, funk and pop into one energetic performance.
That, of course, didn’t grow overnight. The project began back when Brandwein and bassist Taylor Shell were roommates while attending Berklee College of Music (living across from their future namesake, a Turkish market called Turkuaz). The two set up a studio in their apartment and began recording demos, inviting whoever stopped by to participate.
“There’s probably, between all those demos, 30 or so musicians,” Brandwein said. “It was collaborative from the very beginning. We knew that once it would find its way to the live stage—which it didn’t for another year—it would involve a large band.”
Part of that large-band inspiration came from the Talking Heads live concert film, Stop Making Sense. Brandwein saw David Byrne and company’s large funk-fusion ensemble and wanted to expand on the idea even further. By 2012, Brandwein and Shell had relocated to New York, formed a full band, and begun averaging nearly half the year touring. Though the time on the road was a quick way to build momentum, it wasn’t always easy.
“We’re getting out of one show at 4 or 5 a.m. … by the time everything’s loaded. And we’re already at the next location loading in at noon or 1 the next day,” Brandwein said. “I think the one thing we all have in common is the adrenaline. Even if we’ve only slept for three hours and we’re not feeling well, [it’s in] those moments before you step up onto the stage [when] all the real preparation happens.”
That adrenaline transforms the group into a well-oiled machine, with buoyant horn lines, rippling guitar solos and strong female harmonies. The consistent touring is evident in the precision of the group’s execution—the easy interplay and flawless hot-potato toss when handling lead melodies.
Though Brandwein’s been the primary ring leader, the dynamic has been taking a shifting slightly, most recently with a majority of the band contributing song ideas to a new record in the works. Though the album won’t be out in its entirety for a while, the group will be touring throughout the rest of the year and gradually releasing one song at a time, the first of which is scheduled to come out this month. That single, “On the Run,” happens to have been produced by Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads. Team work pays off.