Aristocrats encourage musical ‘Clash’

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First Posted: 7/29/2013

It may be hard to pinpoint the sound of The Aristocrats, but people will certainly try.

The trio’s new record, “Culture Clash,” recently reached No. 8 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Album charts, though there’s much more than jazz on the album. With elements of rock, jam, fusion, prog, and metal mixed in, they’re certainly not afraid to bend and break every label placed upon them, though as their name implies, it’s all injected with a strong sense of humor and fun as well.

Before their show tonight at the River Street Jazz Café, bassist Bryan Beller talked to The Weekender about developing that sound, who listens to their music, and where it’s all headed.

THE WEEKENDER: Do you remember the first time someone told you the aristocrats joke?

BRYAN BELLER: I don’t remember the first time. Well, my now wife and I went to go see the movie. We heard about that and we went and saw it and we cried laughing, and that’s how I knew about the joke. But it was (guitarist) Guthrie (Govan) who said when the song titles started coming, “Huh. Looking at these song titles, maybe we should call ourselves The Aristocrats.” Of course, it stuck immediately.

W: Was humor an important element when you decided to form the band?

BB: Yeah. I mean, we all are fans of Frank Zappa, so we all get the whole “playing serious music not seriously” thing because this music is hard and you can kind of get caught up in just, “Oh my God, it’s got to be right,” and all that. If you think like that, you’re just going to end up doing it wrong anyway. So yeah, the music is hard and challenging, but we like to have fun with it and we need to have fun with it. And when we’re having fun with it, I feel like the audience has fun with it as well.

W: How did you develop the band’s sound?

BB: It just kind of shows up naturally in our songwriting, I think. We’re fortunate because we have a lot of the same influences, but not all the same. So it’s a combination of the people that we listen to individually, and then what we sound like as a band. And of course on this record, we’ve had a couple years of touring under our belts, so we know each other a lot better.

We’re really good friends. We’ve been through a lot together now. We’re very grateful for the initial reception of the first album. What we’ve gone through in the last two years together has really informed our new record, “Culture Clash,” and people dig it. I know that we’re all happier with it than we were with the first record. We just spent more time on it. I think it sounds better.

W: What kind of audience is out there for instrumental music like yours?

BB: You get some Zappa-heads. You get some fusion guys, people who like all the complicated music. You get the instrumental rock people who are coming maybe from the Steve Vai, Joe Satriani world. We get some metalheads who know that I’m in Dethklok and Marko is in Necrophagist. And the common thread is we get a lot of musicians, people who are interested in playing. But it’s not just musicians.

The thing that’s really gratifying is that you see a lot of young people in the audience. I think people look at this and say, “Oh, this is not a young genre,” but I think that for whatever reason we’re attracting younger audiences, which is cool.

W: You guys feature some very technical playing. Do you practice often?

BB: No, you just play the gigs. You just have to play the gigs. There’s not really time to practice when you’re touring. We barely have time to learn the material for our set as it is. We’re all traveling so much. We didn’t have any rehearsal for this tour. (Drummer) Marco (Minnemann) and I were in Russia with Joe Satriani three days before this tour started, and Guthrie was in Holland with Steven Wilson two days before this tour started. We rehearsed for two hours at the sound check of the first gig and that was it.

W: Where do you see your sound developing from here?

BB: There’s no plan. I mean, I can give you a plan for our next year’s schedule, but I can’t give you a plan for where the music is headed. I just think that we’re all pressing each other a little bit more and we’re getting a little bit more aggressive and eclectic with the writing, and it all seems to work somehow. Other than that, I think the next step to see where the music is headed is to come see us live. Because there’s one thing about doing the songs on the record, but doing the songs live, they evolve.