Still cookin’

The band Bazmati Vice
Philly-based Bazmati Vice recently released its first studio track in almost two years. Image | Tim Koen

Don’t confuse the band Bazmati Vice with Basmati rice – the unique rice grown in the Himalayas and Pakistan. Even though both are, shall we say, “spicy blends,” Bazmati Vice combines funk, rock, jazz and blues, in recipes varying from song to song, keeping things fresh and far-fetched. 

In other words, the band is way more enjoyable.

After several lineup changes since Bazmati Vice’s original formation at Haverford College in 2013 – of which only two members now remain – the band has settled into its fifth and finest form, now led by the vocal talents of Ari Michaels and backed up by the tight rhythms of Eric Proctor, who both joined in the summer of 2019 and who have brought a breath of fresh air to the Bazmati repertoire. 

Over the years, it has performed for years in the Philly area, including shows at The Ardmore Music Hall, Milkboy, Bourbon & Branch and many others. 

Currently, the band is working on releasing studio material alongside home-recorded songs/videos throughout the year. They will also be touring the East Coast from D.C. to Boston and beyond.

PW recently caught up with Bazmati Vice to see what the group has going on in 2020 and beyond.

Talk a little about how the band formed in 2013. How did you come up with that name? A play on Basmati rice or is that just a coincidence?

We started out in college, and we remember hanging out in a dorm kitchen brainstorming band names when a friend of ours, who happened to be making rice with her lunch, jokingly suggested: “what about Basmati VICE?” and we pretty much just went with it! We tried for a while to come up with something better, even doing a show as “Comic Mischief” one time, but the silly tongue-in-cheek quality of Bazmati Vice just felt right for us, and it ultimately stuck. At one point, we even considered dressing up as “Miami Vice” characters and throwing rice into the audience at the end of the show to fully embody the wordplay, but that (thankfully) never materialized.

Many of our song titles have a similar origin story, starting out with a silly name that we plan to change later, but then getting so used to it that it becomes the final name. A lot of songs on our first album were like that (“Kappa,” “Exponential,” “Dune Buggy”), and even one of our newest songs, “Plutonium,” came from a random voice memo name on Andrew’s (Szczurek) phone. To some extent, our guiding principle has always been to make the most exciting music we can without taking ourselves too seriously, be it in our live shows or our song names, and we’ve stayed true to that over the past seven years.

As with many bands, members have come and gone over the years, but you describe this version of Bazmati Vice as “its fifth and finest form.” What’s special about this collection of musicians? What does each member add to the group?

The band has certainly seen a lot of changes since its formation! In fact, only two of the current members were in the original 2013 lineup. We had a long stretch of performing as a group of five with Clayton Brandt on vocals and Chris Gibson on drums, even releasing an album and an EP with them, but they both eventually moved to the West Coast to pursue different careers. It took us some time to find our footing following their departure, but we continued doing live shows here and there, working with several different drummers before ultimately finding Eric Proctor, who has been in the band since last Summer.

Eric’s proficiency in a wide variety of drumming styles made him a perfect fit for this group, where genre restrictions are often broken. He is just as comfortable doing a rock beat as he is playing jazz or hip-hop grooves, all of which appear in the songs we have written together. He is also classically trained, thus providing a solid rhythmic foundation for the rest of us to build upon. Putting together Chris’ (Jackowski) prog and blues influences on guitar, John’s (Kerber) jam-oriented bass lines and Andrew’s jazzy keyboard work with Eric’s diverse drumming skills make up the instrumental core of this new Bazmati Vice lineup.

As far as vocalists go, we auditioned a variety of different singers for a lead vocal role before finding Ari Michaels on Instagram. It was a lucky encounter: we pretty much just searched “#phillyvocalist” and videos of her singing in her room popped up in the results! After a strong audition, we quickly realized that her voice would be a phenomenal addition to our sound. Similarly to Eric, she is able to switch between subtle jazz melodies and powerful rock vocals with dazzling technical proficiency, allowing for a variety of styles within our compositions.

However, Ari is not a permanent member of the group in the way the four of us are, as she has other musical projects that she is also focused on. This allows us to keep our musical arrangements fluid, making some tracks purely instrumental, such as the aforementioned “Plutonium,” or reaching out to other singers and musicians to collaborate on original songs. We have lots of exciting new releases planned in the coming months, be it with Ari, other guest musicians, or just the core four, so when you see Bazmati Vice putting out new music, expect the unexpected!

We definitely have a wide variety of influences, as each of us has different musical backgrounds and interests. Match that with the fact that we’ve had six other members that have come and gone over the years, and you get a band that not only pulls from all sorts of weird directions, but also has changed drastically over time.”

Your first studio track in nearly two years, “Bonehead,” dropped on Feb. 26. How did the song come together? How can people hear it?

Bonehead is available wherever you get your music! Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube, etc.

The writing process for “Bonehead” was by far the longest of any song we’ve ever finished, and I think this speaks to the outside events that were happening when we started writing it. Our lead singer, Clayton, had just told us he was moving to California, so we were trying to figure out how the rest of us were going to continue as a band. Losing the guy who writes lyrics is unique because it forces you to revamp your entire catalog. We’d been swapping and cycling drummers for a while at that point and were able to write and perform our material, but we felt that it wouldn’t be right to hire someone else to sing Clay’s lyrics – they were his in a way that didn’t feel transferrable. So we saw an opportunity to begin collaborating with new singers and start from scratch.

The “Bonehead” composition process started out with the verse, which was one of a few ideas John threw out during a brainstorming session, but we couldn’t figure out what to do with it from there. We tried matching it with a sort of optimistic chord progression, but that didn’t feel right. Then we tried pairing it with a 7/4 odd time heavy rock riff, but that felt too cheesy. Eventually, Chris and Andrew hashed out a sort of dark and brooding pre-chorus that resolved into the more uplifting chorus that made it onto the final track.

Bazmati Vice says anyone who catches a live performance should be ready for “wild action” – including, it seems, the occasional banana suit.| Image: Tim Koen

Around the same time, we began our collaboration with Ari, who was writing lyrics to the song templates that we were coming up with. She really brought “Bonehead” together in an amazing way, taking the different moods of the song sections and gluing them together into a story about a relationship gone sour. Her lyricism and vocal performance on the record really inspired all of us!

You describe your music as a “spicy blend of funk, rock, jazz and blues.” Are there specific bands that have influenced your sound, or is Bazmati Vice a collection of different influences?

We definitely have a wide variety of influences, as each of us has different musical backgrounds and interests. Match that with the fact that we’ve had six other members that have come and gone over the years, and you get a band that not only pulls from all sorts of weird directions but also has changed drastically over time.

For the first few years, we were doing more of a basement rock thing – think Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Keys, that sort of music. Later on, we got more interested in more funk-oriented stuff which then led us into jazz and prog territory. At present, we try to embrace whatever feels exciting, exploring both the jazzier side and more accessible, upbeat styles.

You’ll hear this in the collection of songs we’ve been producing at Gradwell House this winter, “Bonehead” being the first release. We’ve got songs in the works that range from in-your-face funk-rock to melodic, lyrical ballads, as well as some instrumental fusion improvisations and even a jazzy, swinging dance party! It’s all over the place but that’s what keeps us excited.

Describe your stage show. What do your fans experience when they come out to see you? How can people stay up-to-date on Bazmati Vice news and appearances?

Because of the fluid nature of our lineup, every show is different. The songs we currently perform have all been written within the last year, specifically for this lineup. Of course, we like to bring back some of our older ones now and then, but we always strive to push our sound forward towards new musical horizons. We believe this makes our live shows more exciting for the audience as well as for us – who wants to play the same song 100 times over six years?

As far as what to expect in our performances: prepare for some wild action! Andrew, our genderqueer keyboardist and mandolinist, has been known to rock some outlandish outfits and jump into the crowd, launching into a tambourine dance mid-song. For our 2018 Halloween show at Milkboy in Center City, we wore banana suits and performed a Monster Mash-Rock Lobster mashup, and we like to throw in some curveballs such as, most recently, a funk-rock arrangement of “The Nightman Cometh” from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” We’re always exploring new ways to interact with the crowd and make our shows as unique and memorable for the audience as we can. 

  • Eugene Zenyatta was raised on old-time Memphis 'rasslin' and strongly prefers the company of dogs to people. His greatest heartbreak came in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.

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