Two friends got married and hosted a wedding celebration in Philadelphia in recognition of their union. No ceremony, no walking down the aisle, no ordained minister or mutual friend cracking inside jokes and testing new material. Just a party for friends and family to revel under a tent with a dance floor and a four-piece band. “This band looks like it’s going to be really good,” I absentmindedly said at the bar to no one in particular. A fellow with red dreads and round, purple reflective glasses heard and replied, “Aw, shucks.” And that’s how I accidentally met a member of Tweed, a band I’d known long simmering low and hot on the Philly jam scene, just before I saw them live for the first time, making people move at my friends’ wedding.
That was Jon Tomczak (keyboard, vocals), and along with AJ DiBiase (guitar, vocals), Dan McDonald (bass, vocals) and Joe Vela (drums), Tweed has been very busy. Playing out a solid summer of at least a month’s worth of dates, the Delaware-formed, Philadelphia-bred funktronica quartet hosted a Phish Baker’s Dozen afterparty, took over Triumph Brewery, toured around Virginia, did a run up in New England all the way to Great North: Music and Arts Festival in Minot, Maine and somehow found the time to throw a festival of their own.
The inaugural SENSORiUM not only featured a curated lineup that included a member of Lotus–another Philadelphia band–but live, interactive performances and art installations and a spotlight on the environment that both emphasized a cool place to party, and doing right by the planet. With a homegrown, DIY sensibility and an infectious fusion that jams at once distinctive and accessible, Tweed’s Q4 calendar continues to grow with several East Coast dates, including a “Tweed Goes Disco” Halloween “birthday” show at the Theatre of Living Arts aka TLA, all the while working on a new album to follow up their 2016 EP, The Chunky Life.
Around playing out a game of “F_ck, Marry, Kill”–where drummer Vela married STS9 (“They’re just so classic”), f_cked Lotus (“Best baby-making music”) and killed The Disco Biscuits because he “think[s] they could handle it,”–I got to learn a bit more about one of the most hardworking unsigned bands in the tri-state.
Let’s go back the beginning. The story is that you formed at the University of Delaware. How did you all meet and decide to make music together? What are your backgrounds?
So AJ, he’s the guitar player, and I met at a concert at Atlantic City, believe it or not. It was Disco Biscuits, Lotus and Brothers Past, three of my favorite bands to see, and I saw him in the crowd wearing a University of Delaware shirt and I was like, “Oh, you go to Delaware? I go to Delaware.” And it was like, “You play guitar? I play drums…we’re going to be friends!” And Jon, keyboard player, he actually started out playing guitar in Tweed and it kind of evolved to him playing keyboard, as it was a better fit with the electronic influenced music that we play. Me and AJ both met him kind of separately in our freshman year at college because he was just bouncing around with a giant red Afro. And he was just a happy go lucky guy with a giant Afro; you’re going to be friends with him. Dan was not the original bass player in the band, he came later when our previous bass player decided he didn’t want to take the project as seriously. And we knew exactly who to call. We had jammed with him a few times and there was a lot of chemistry already, musically, so we added him.
And basically around January 2016, AJ and me left our “Big Boy” jobs. He was an engineer, and I was a data scientist at a start up in Philly. Jon works at a restaurant still, Dan does a bit of everything. We took music full time, took it on the road. We did 150 shows last year, and probably will do 100 this year…That’s the unabridged version.
Does the band’s name Tweed have a story?
You know, it doesn’t really have a good story…We had booked our first show. It was actually “The Nightmare on Haines Street” party at AJ’s house our junior year of college, 2010. And we had the show booked, and we needed a name. And one of our roommates and good friend at the time, Kevin (Minassian), was like, “You know…I’ve been saving this name for a while. Let me lay it on you: Tweed. It just rolls off the tongue. I don’t know what it’s for.” It was kind of the only thing we could agree on. It kind of stuck. And now it has some other meaning, we joke around that Tweed is an acronym: “Time Wizards Eating Electric Donuts.” But that kind of came later, you know?
Well, that’s neat!
Funny story about the “The Nightmare on Haines Street” party that I tried to throw in college is that I got called by Newark, Del. police, like, “Are you Joe Vela? Are you throwing this party on Haines Street…that has 3,000 people attending on Facebook?” And I was like, “Yea?” So they were like, “Well you need to come down to the police station and talk to us.” And I was like, “How do I get a permit to throw this party? Like, we were going to have bands on the porch, people hanging out. You know, college party.” And they’re like, “You’re not throwing this party. If you throw this party, we’re going to come and shut it down and arrest you.”
And long story short, we did throw the party but we kept it inside. We canceled it on Facebook, told all of our friends it was still going down and Tweed was dressed as all fast food characters. I was Colonel Sanders, Jon was Ronald McDonald, AJ was Burger King and Paul, our bass player at the time, was Jack in the Box.
That was the first of our Tweed shows, so we were birthed on Halloween. So that’s always a special weekend for us.
Coming off of that story, if each of your band members were a figure from popular culture (internet sensations, cartoons, TV characters), who would you be?
Oh my god…I gotta think about that. That’s a good one… Jon would be Roger Rabbit because he is goofy and outgoing. AJ would be Kermit the Frog because he is loyal and even keeled, likes to sing. Dan is Michelangelo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles because he loves pizza and skateboarding. And I think my pop culture character is the Energizer Bunny. I’ve heard it many times before because I have so much natural energy and drive and it definitely comes out in my drum playing.
Your last EP, The Chunky Life (2016), was recorded and produced by Jeff Mahajan of Turtle Soup, Souper Groove fame. Tell us a bit about that partnership.
We don’t call him Jeff; we call him “Mud.” For the record, he invited us to his studio, Brooksound Studios, which is a studio he built in his home with all the state of the art equipment that a studio that is $100 an hour has, so he can charge you less. He has been really great to work with. We are currently recording our new album with him as well and he’s just a great person to bounce ideas off of, and if there were a fifth member of Tweed, it would be him. He has helped shape our sound and inspires us. We definitely turn to him if we’re stuck on something.
Well, it’s great to have another perspective when you are creating something.
Yeah, exactly. And it’s good to have someone who’s a little separated from the process to give input.
What is your writing process as a band? I love that The Chunky Life features lyrics you can listen to, and relate to. It almost has an indie rock sensibility that way. How do you write?
We use a lot of different processes. A lot of the time, and I think the best way, is one or two people write a song and get it as far as they can and present it to the group. For the new album, AJ has been writing a lot of the music and has been pumping out some cool and unique tracks. And I think that it’s important to have the lead who is singing the song to have final say on the lyrics because you have to say it like you would say it and say it comfortably.
But it depends on the song. Some songs start out organically, as in something we were playing at in practice. We record a lot of our practices, play them back and if it’s cool we break it down. We’ll write a lot of the music on Logic. So we’ll write the song on there, we add drums in there, add bass in there. We’ll do it digitally and then add instruments on top of it. Break it down, make decisions from there, bring it to the studio with us, and use that as a scratch track to record on top off.
We inject a lot of humor into our lyrics; we like to write things that sound like something that we would say. Conversational. We like weird funny sayings, plays on words, things that can be taken two ways.
The Chunky Life was recorded at Brooksound Productions with 100% solar power.
That’s just Brooksound Studios. It’s just all powered by solar; there are panels on the roof. That’s just Jeff’s house, it’s all solar powered.
On the green note, I recently spoke to an artist about cassette tapes and how the upside to them was the “inconvenience” of listening to an album all the way through (whereas you can skip on a CD or your phone), and the downside was putting more plastic out in the world. Music has been dematerialized as a product, but what do you think about the environmental impacts of music (festivals, concerts, merch, etc.)?
I have a lot to say about all of those things. But to answer directly, the type of stuff that we’re doing is stuff that we want to have create a very low footprint, leave no trace. The festival that we threw, you know, we cleaned up everything, we did it at a place (One Art Community Center) that has an Earthship, this place that has all of this sustainable recycled stuff. We actually recycled a lot of the garbage that was created at our festival. They’re going to use the glass bottles along with concrete to create walls inside One Art.
I don’t think music is responsible for a large amount of garbage. I think music is mostly responsible for good. I do think physical cassettes are cool, CDs are cool, vinyl is cool. People seem to like the novelty of collecting them versus a single on that you play on Soundcloud or Spotify. But I also think there is a lot to be said about the destruction of music industry due to the digitization of it. It’s very hard to make money writing music these days.
I’ve also been told by other recording artists that because of that, touring and playing shows are a sure way to make money. So bands continue to tour.
Yeah, you used to tour to support the album and now you make the album to support the tour.
It is good to know that you dedicated so much time towards running your festival that way. Hopefully more festivals will follow suit.
I was there until the last piece of garbage was picked up. And that place One Art is just an amazing spot for the community so it felt right using their place and vesting with them.
F_ck, Marry, Kill: STS9, Lotus, the Disco Biscuits
Oh my god…I don’t want to kill any of them – they’re my friends!
Tweed performs tonight at The 8×10 in Baltimore, Md. For more information, please visit tweedmusic.com.