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Not Your Typical Fat Cat of the Jazz World

June 16, 2005
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Don’t even bother trying to reach Aron Magner while he’s rehearsing with the band. The messages accumulate on his cell phone while the keyboardist spends hours with his fellow musicians, working to “open up a song into another dimension, where we are humanizing electronic music.” For the past 10 years, the 29-year-old Bala Cynwyd native, who now lives in Queen Village, has provided the textured musical ambiance for “The Disco Biscuits” — not to be confused with the much louder, and more famous, Limp Bizkit. The four-person group can be described as a jam-band for the digital age. Without the help of a radio hit, the Philly group with four studio albums to their credit has managed to carve a niche for itself, attracting a loyal following, and often selling out venues that seat between 2,000 and 3,000 people. They’ve done it the way all jam bands before them have done it — from the Grateful Dead to Phish to the String Cheese Incident — by developing a reputation for putting on energetic shows ripe with improvisation. Only these guys are equally influenced by the trance music scene that developed on the other side of the pond more than a decade ago, a genre Magner says went from underground to more mainstream in the late 1990s as fans became more comfortable with music generated in part by computer. Magner — who became a Bar Mitzvah at Congregation Beth Am Israel, and later spent a year of high school at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel — never had any intentions of being a rock star. While many of his classmates at Lower Merion High School were listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam, he was in love with jazz greats like Thelonius Monk, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. But when he got to the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied music before dropping out senior year, the band that eventually would come to be known as the Disco Biscuits — nobody quite knows where the name came from — were looking for a jazz man to complement their sound. “I think they were expecting this 40-year-old fat jazz cat, and in walks this 18-year-old Jew boy with a keyboard under his arm,” he recalled. “I really needed to train myself how to be a rock musician and tame down the chords. In rock, you have a basic rhythm; where the color comes in is how you align the chords.” In the life of a band, sometimes the hardest thing to align is personalities; spending a decade “married” to the same three musicians is not always simple. “It’s a little easier now that we have a tour bus,” he acknowledged. “It was tougher back in the days of the 15-passenger van with the whole band, crew and the sound engineer’s dog.” In fact, he admits to suffering some burnout. The group’s last album, Señor Boombox, was released in 2002, and the band has just a smattering of performances planned for summer, including stops in Baltimore and New York City, along with their own festival in Ithaca, N.Y. (No shows are currently on tap in their hometown.) But recently, they came up with a “slew of new songs” that they’re working on relentlessly, according to Magner. If anyone doubts what he does, “this is my career trade. I just bought a house,” he says, though noting that he sometimes worries about job security. Still, when it comes down to it, the band’s music is the place where he can express himself most freely. “We definitely do not play all ‘happy-go-lucky’ stuff. A lot of our songs are very dark, at least the ones I write. It’s all about death or love, anyway.”

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