[Interview] Will of Escaper Talks Improvisation, Sage, and the Importance of Live Music
Cover photo: Bryan Edward
Escaper is a Brooklyn-based post-rock space-funk fusion quintet named for its ability to color outside the lines. The band is made up of Will Hanza on the guitar, Andrew Nesbitt on drums, Jay Giacomazzo on bass, Adam Ahuja on keys, and Johnny Butler on saxophone. They are on the Ropeadope label and are in the process of creating their second record.
We spoke with Will Hanza while he was at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn. Escaper is producing music that takes the vibe of their live audiences into consideration, and the band has written at least two songs live, mid-jam. One thing Will made explicitly clear is that the goal is synergy, which creates trust between the band members and in turn creates impressive improvisational moments felt by the crowd.
Where is your studio?
Bunker in Williamsburg. Bunker is where we’ve done both albums now. I did an album previously with a different band here which is how I found out about it, but they are great.
Awesome. Let’s talk about your album Skeleton Key. You recorded it in a single day?
Yes. Part of it speaks to this studio and our ability to record live and isolated. There is a room for the drums, a little closest room with windows for the bass. I had the same for guitar, and then the sax and the keys were in the same room because the keys went direct so it wouldn’t bleed the sax sound. Basically, we blew through a few takes of each song. Instead of being like let’s just record the bass and the drums and then let’s record the guitar… doing it all at once allows for efficiency and time because you can say “that’s the take!”
It also allows for synergy to happen because instead of me playing with something that is already there and that not being able to react back to me, we can all react to each other together, alive in the moment. I think that is the most important thing. Our live show is really important to us and what we can do with that. We wanted to be able to capture that feel and that synergy in the studio as much as possible.
Speaking of your live shows, what is the band's approach to improvisation?
I was just talking about this! Part of the approach is that we never want to play at people we want to play with people. We allow for the crowd to give energy back. We have to motivate ourselves first and foremost, but when the crowd starts to get into it, you start feeling that feedback from them. Actually, on the new album, we have two songs that we wrote just jamming live inspired by the moment and going “this is happening right now, let’s just keep going with whatever is happening right now.” It’s allowing for the moments to happen. Instead of motor-boating through, you kind of put up some sails and see what wind can be caught and if it’s going well, go with it.
What kind of preparation goes into your live show?
See you FRIDAY at @olivesnyack in Nyack, NY! . We will play from midnight to 2:30am. Special guest oper, "Taxis" from New Haven! #taxisband . 📸@phishykid for @musicfestnews . #nyack #nyackny #livemusic #newmusic #band #nymusic #hudsonvalley #hudsonvalleymusic #music #musicians #guitar #eatingguitar #escaper #funkrock #psychedelicband #rockwoodmusichall #nycband #rocknroll #ropeadoperecords #jam #phish #jimihendrix #pinkfloyd #thedoors
We try to rehearse fairly often. At the very least; bass, drums, and myself rehearse pretty much once a week even if we have shows; making sure we have our things tightened down. There is also plenty of room for improvisation, but even that you still rehearse. Just having that chemistry and that ability to anticipate each other that comes from playing a lot. I have played with Jay the bass player for about five years on various things so that helps with our chemistry and our ability to trust each other where we might be going next. The drummer has been playing with us almost three years, so there is a nice tight unit there. The sax player I’ve known for about five years and the keyboard player two. It’s been growing more and more. So basically, maybe I’ll burn some sage, take some deep breaths and go in for it.
The band all came together in Brooklyn?
Yeah. I was in a couple other bands. One of the bands was kind of a fun, party, dancey, funky band I left. I wanted to have something kind of new that was like that but a little more rock n’ roll and Jay and I always wanted to do an instrumental forward kind of band so we started doing something on the side. We found a drummer and that is kind of how it was born. Johnny, the saxophone player was someone I had known for a while and I was like, 'Hey man, why don’t you come down I have this trio thing going down that is pretty fun.
After the first one, we were like, 'This is cool, let’s just keep doing that.'
Andrew, the drummer knew a keyboard player, Adam. He came to rehearsal and we realized that he’s on Ropeadope the label, and Jay and I had just been in a band that was on Ropadope, so it was kind of like kismet. We started getting together and doing stuff. We played our first show and things got rolling from there.
You said you are in the studio working on your new record… when will that come out?
We are trying to decide that. Part of the plan is to figure out if we want to wait a little longer and let our first album marinate in people’s consciousness a little longer. But we also want to roll out new stuff that we are very excited about because I think it helps define who we have become as a band. We just did this thing on YouTube. The YouTube offices had us come through, because of Ropeadope and record there. We just recorded this live stuff with some of our new material. So, I think as soon as September we might release a live video and our first single from the next album. It would be the kind of thing where we would release a single a month until the full album is put out. Keep music coming and show where we are going.
How have you guys evolved from the music on Skeleton Key to the music you are producing now?
Well, when we did Skeleton Key when we recorded that it was a while ago and we really hadn’t played many shows yet. We had developed a lot of that before the shows. I don’t want to take away from Skeleton Key because I am very proud of that but I think the growth happened a lot because of the live shows. We played a bunch of live shows. As I said, we wrote a couple songs even at the shows that have developed into songs. Just playing together for another year and a half or two years, whatever it's developed our chemistry and our willingness to take even more risks to see what can happen with them. I am pretty excited about the growth and increased vibes we have been able to create.
Check out Skeleton Key here.
Upcoming Tour Dates
Sept 08 Still Grateful Festival at Mountain Sky Jermyn, PA
Sept 20 Rockwood Music Hall New York, NY
Sept 21 89 North Patchogue, NY