House of Saturn Breaks Down Walls of Genres
The sound of “Taps” erupting through a feedback-laden microphone to be greeted by a “fuck the government,” reminds me of why the SUPER DARK Collective shows are unpredictable.
Monday’s audience at Desperate Annie’s was treated to another diversely curated show by the collective.
The lineup included the three-piece House of Saturn from Troy, who performed with a dynamism informed by a formal musical education shared by all three members. What makes them even more fascinating is that despite their musical ability, they still insist on meeting back in that strange intersection of a self-proclaimed “indie” identity.
I love this because it eliminates stereotypes surrounding the genre: “only untrained musicians play indie music,” “indie music is for lazy musicians,” etc.
Parallel to their eclectic sound was their impressive juggling act of different instruments, including fiddle and trumpet, played by Jessica Bowen and Brian Brancato respectively. Bowen is also the vocalist and chief guitar player, while Brancato is on percussion duty and provides some guitar work on a track or two. Meanwhile, Malcom Kane plays bass and trombone.
“Learning that not every gig is a concert recital was something we had to learn really early on,” Bowen said.
Another thing that stuck out to me about House of Saturn is that they break down certain music conventions. Just from listening to their Super Dark set, you wouldn’t have guessed that both Bowen and Brancato are big Phish fans. But perhaps that statement further exasperates the perceived divisions between indie and jam bands.
“I still play classical music quite often with local symphony orchestras. I’m still very much in that sphere. And Brian’s always done that jazz and funk thing. I still maintain that love for classical music, but we’ve always had a love for jamming and for playing ‘unclassical’ styles. Especially for me as a fiddle player, I really had an awakening and have since delved into the world of bluegrass,” Bowen told me during a recent interview.
“I know for Brian and Jess, they were doing other genres on the side (during college), doing something that’s not 100% classical. For me, this was the first real experience doing something outside of that world since the start of college. It’s been an awesome journey because I don’t do much performing outside of this group,” Kane said.
The three met while at Crane school of music at SUNY Potsdam through a mutual friend, Matthew Martel, who they reference in the name of the band.
So how does a group of classical musicians fall upon, or let alone agree, to play this sometimes frowned-upon genre of “indie?”
In the beginning, the band would cover songs from six different genres that weren’t remotely related, Kane said. In addition, their covers range from recently released demos by Greenday to obscure songs by the Flying Burrito Brothers and the more popular Beatles tunes.
Brancato, also a horn player in the popular funk band, The NolaNauts, said they used to change their sets up completely each time. Now, these days, they like to opt for more consistency. A move that has proven to bode well in their recent shows, including Monday night’s set in Saratoga Springs.
“We all have this diagnosed or undiagnosed ADHD – we have to be doing something different every time. Early on, we were like, ‘yeah, let’s pick 30 different songs from last time.’ So we would have to learn all new tunes in a week and it would be rough. We do that again and again and again. We would think, ‘we suck!’ Ok, let’s just pick one set list – that’s our set, and play the crap out of it in the future,” Brancato said.
Kane said that they still try to alter certain aspects of their sets, such as the style and instrumentation.
“We want to be us-pleasers, not crowd-pleasers, Brancato confirmed.
“All of our friends are musicians. Every time we got together, we made it a point to jam together on all our favorite tunes. I came back home after being a broke college student. Everyone seemed to follow me back. Brian moved here a couple of years ago, but Malcom and I have been playing together for four or five now. So once Brian moved here, that was the impetus for us to start the band seriously. Nobody is as good on the drums as Brian is. A lot of the stylistic changes in the group and the unexpected changes that happen throughout our sets kind of come from my songwriting style being different from Brian’s,” Bowen said.
“Brian tends to write pop-punk tunes while I tend to write tunes that are more rooted in whatever indie weirdness I happen to be into at any moment, and us having so many different instruments to choose from – we’ve really had a lot of fun with expanding what happens in any one given set. Bringing the trumpet in – that’s Brian’s primary instrument – is something relatively new we started doing,” she added.
House of Saturn currently has one song out called ‘Sugar of Lead,’ and can be heard here.
The band is currently working on another single called ‘Waster,’ which should be coming out in the next month or so.
Upcoming gigs include Singlecut Brewery on Nov. 27.
Members of the band will be involved in a cross-genre project that will take place at the Jive Hive on March 18.