Aqueous Talks New Album and the Importance of Mental Health In iEDM Interview
Aqueous is constantly breaking the mold in the jam scene with some of the most meaningful improvisational music around today. The New York based band has come a long way since their inception as a cover band back in 2006 and are now a staple at major festivals and events nationwide. We caught up with members Mike Gantzer and Rob Houk right after their invigorating performance at Electric Forest. We delved into a variety of topics such as plans for new music, dream collaborations, Mike’s father’s passing, and much more.
iEDM: I really loved your set at Electric Forest. Out of all the ones I saw it truly stood out with how euphoric and energetic it felt. How did you like playing at the festival?
Aqueous (Mike): Excellent. The vibes here are super unique and through the roof. Everybody was so f-ing happy it just felt very easy to connect with the crowd. Every now and then you get different scenarios when performing where it takes a little time to win over a crowd but right from the jump it felt super right, everyone was comfortable, and the dots connected the right way. This festival is awesome.
iEDM: I agree. I feel that the stage setting really complemented that set perfectly and the energy was very elevated afterwards.
Aqueous (Rob): Exactly. It’s nice to be surrounded by nature.
iEDM: You really do connect with the crowd on a higher level in that kind of atmosphere. What was it like looking up at the Observatory stage and seeing so many people there? It was packed for your set.
Aqueous (Mike): Moments like that are a gratitude thing for me. I just appreciate that I’m here and that this is the context of what is happening in my life. I think that’s a really beautiful thing. We’re all best friends and this is all we want to do together and it’s pretty cool. Euphoric is definitely a good word for that experience.
iEDM: Are there any artists you are excited to see perform at the festival?
Aqueous (Mike): I actually ran over immediately to one of the main stages to see Thundercat perform. We listen to a lot of Thundercat in the band and they’re so f-ing cool. They have such an amazing bass player.
iEDM: How has it been working on your new album? Do you feel like your music making process with this album is different compared to your previous albums?
Aqueous (Mike): Yeah it definitely is. We had always road tested songs where we’d go on tour and write a song and debut it right away at shows and maybe play it 15-30 times before we record it in the studio. And when we’d go in the studio we’d widdle it down to the purpose of the song and work backwards. But this time we decided to write songs specifically for the studio and not play them live at all. So we’ve been sitting on these songs – most of them have never been heard by anybody or played in sets.
iEDM: Wow, you’re sitting on a gold mine! You must want to play them so bad.
Aqueous (Mike): So bad! But we’re really excited because we get to do that soon once the album is out and we’re really happy with how it came out. I think people are going to be stoked on it. I think they are some of the better songs we’ve written. There are a lot of emotions in it and a lot heart in them. There are a lot of specific situations and feelings dealt with in the music on this album in a really honest way.
Aqueous (Rob): I think our songs – even before I joined the band – I think the songs always had purpose. There’s always a story or a person or situation – it’s very honest. That was one thing that I really like about what you guys did. You can even hear it even if you’re not listening to the context of the song. It’s all from the heart.
iEDM: I think people can really see that and that’s why they connect with it so well. When I was standing up on the Observatory deck I watched the crowd and it was clear that they were feeling the same level of emotions that were coming through the music and that was such a beautiful thing to see.
Aqueous (Rob): Yeah, I think you can’t fake that kind of thing. It’s a beautiful thing to feel, too. I mean I’ve been a music fan – I am a music fan. Seeing it from each side is really cool because you grow up going to see musicians perform and you think, “man it would be so cool if I could do that one day.” You know that feeling and connection and so do people who don’t even play music and it’s just very cool to feel that exchange of energy.
iEDM: That’s an awesome perspective because as a musician you can now look back and say you’re giving that emotion back to the crowd now.
Aqueous (Rob): And they’re giving that back too. It’s very reciprocal. Sometimes you just have to let it fly and let go. Just take the trust fall every night and just hope this shit works!
iEDM: You guys have been together forever – 2006 was when you first created the band but your bond seems to be just as strong now.
Aqueous (Mike): Yeah and its funny because that’s true but we’ve only been doing this type of thing for about 5 years. We were only in 11th grade when we first started. We were babies!
Aqueous (Rob): It’s cool to hear that because when it comes to the bands that I was in during high school we’re all still friends but not in a band together anymore. You had that band bond back in 12thgrade but it’s amazing to see you guys have gone this far for so long and still not hate each other!
Aqueous (Mike): Over the course of 10 years there’s just so much that happens in one person’s life let alone four people’s lives. You learn to be kind to each other because you see that life is not always easy and there are moments that are really tough and we’ve been there for each other through a lot of stuff. For us it’s not that hard to be friends because we give each other room, communicate, and just have fun. It’s like family.
iEDM: How long did you guys work together before you found a style that truly resonates with who you are as a band?
Aqueous: I think it took a few years because in the beginning you mimic your influences in an indirect way and I think any musician can attest to that. You’re young and you’re gravitating toward the things you like and you think, “I wanna sound like this.” I think eventually you get to a point of comfort where you realize you have your own voice and you start to hone in on the things that are uniquely you. So, I’d say about halfway through 5 years ago was when we first started writing songs that felt representative to us. But it honestly wasn’t until Rob joined the band that it realized its full potential.
iEDM: Sounds like he was the missing puzzle piece.
Aqueous (Mike): He was definitely the missing puzzle piece!
Aqueous (Rob): Going back to our first audition it was like we never missed a beat. We were somehow parallel to each other even though I’m from Cincinnati while they’re from Buffalo. Our influence and intuition were the same. I have recordings from that audition and there was stuff that happened that just shouldn’t have.
Aqueous (Mike): It’s almost like he was having a similar experience in his life musically.
Aqueous (Rob): But it was also like we were sending this beacon to each other.
Aqueous (Mike): Yeah, you put that shit out in the world and the universe will give you what you need. And I think that the dots do connect.
Hard to believe that all these years later "that kid from Cincy" who photobombed our NYE pic would end up drumming in our band! 🙃 FOR REAL though- this week marks 2 years that Rob has been playing with AQ! We're not sure how we got so lucky finding such an awesome human/beatmaker/friend, but stranger times have happened... #robappreciation #dirtbikeslamdunk #pROBphecy
iEDM: You guys have said previously that you listen to a lot of music outside of your own genre. So what are your favorite non jam band musicians and albums that you like?
Aqueous (Mike): I’ve been really connecting with Fleet Foxes. It’s like beautiful folk music that has baroque influences. It’s artistic on a level where one of their albums made me cry. And that’s not common for me but there’s something in it that’s raw and real. But I’m also way into hip hop. I listen to a lot of Naz, Kendrick Lamar, Jurassic 5. I’ll listen to anything, if it’s good and there’s a message that I connect with. I mean I was 13 and learning to play Blink 182 songs and I have no shame in that.
Aqueous (Rob): I went to see Of Montreal the other night which isn’t remotely on this spectrum. I have this weird soft spot for psychedelic pop. It’s really catchy but quirky and weird enough for me. I like bands that can touch as much as possible and create a feeling.
Aqueous (Mike): And it’s cool because a lot of those feelings those other bands create are not in the jam scene as much. And I think it’s important to bring those outside influences into your music. If I only listened to jam bands alone when I was 17 we would sound like those other jam bands. We reached a point where we asked ourselves how we could be sponges and bring out a different angle to this that is truly unique to us.
iEDM: If you could have a dream collaboration with someone who would it be?
Aqueous (Rob): Does it have to be musical? I was just thinking about working with Kanye West. He’s got bars!
Aqueous (Mike): I’m a mega Pink Floyd fan and there’s a particular album called ‘Animals’ and it’s all two guitar harmony stuff. It’s interesting because prior to that album there was always just one guitar part. I always wanted to play harmonies with him on that album. So I would go back in time and go on the Animals tour with Pink Floyd and play all those guitar parts. And Kanye West would produce the whole thing!
Aqueous (Rob): A Kanye West hologram!
Aqueous (Mike): I know I keep harping on the whole hip hop thing but I would truly love to collaborate with a hip hop artist. A lot of our grooves and improvs we do is based out of a hip hop feel and our bass player and Rob really connect on that rhythmic stuff. And we’ve been experimenting sonically on making this hip hop sound.
Aqueous (Rob): We’ve also considered making a hip hop album before.
Aqueous (Mike): We might make an instrumental one first then find different artists to collaborate with. Our bass player has already written a bunch of hip hop stuff. Our new album actually has a song like that.
iEDM: You guys have gained a lot of momentum the past few years with so many successful tours and groundbreaking music releases. With all the growth you’ve had, where do you guys see yourselves in the next 5 years?
Aqueous (Mike): I hope we continue to connect with fans and make the same lifelong fans and hope to keep building and have everyone on this journey. We don’t really think about it, it’s just something we want to keep doing.
iEDM: If you guys weren’t musicians, what would you do as a career?
Aqueous (Rob): I worked for about 10 years as a sous executive chef. I was a professional lunch lady at some point. I worked for this private school in Cincinnati and I was their executive chef so I would probably be doing that or working in an office doing sales. I would figure something out.
iEDM: What’s your favorite thing to make?
Aqueous (Rob): Anthony Bourdain’s lasagna is my absolute favorite recipe. 2 days before he died we made his lasagna. Huge influence on my existence. That guy just has such an amazing story. He went from absolute rock bottom and dug himself out to create success. He went for the trust fall. It’s unfortunate what happened but his ride was f-ing awesome.
iEDM: And it went way beyond just him. He was able to break boundaries and connect the entire world through his work.
Aqueous (Mike): Right! He encouraged people to step outside of their comfort zones. As sad as it is it’s an important message to the mental health community that context does not matter. In a lot of people’s eyes, he had the ideal life but it doesn’t matter when you have that level of mental health issues. It’s nice that the conversation is changing and people are being more open and accepting to what the realities of mental health are. It’s so important to take away the stigma and shame and realize that it does not matter what you have in life. That can be it’s own universe of difficulty.
Aqueous (Rob): Music is absolutely therapeutic for me. I mean I get to swing my arms for like 2 hours sometimes! I get to channel emotion. There’s times we’re trying to be fierce or expressing something pretty. We get to channel all these emotions and convey them onto an instrument. Sometimes I may not be the best communicator but I can say what I have to through this and it’s just when I’m totally at peace.
Aqueous (Mike): My dad passed away almost 3 years ago now and him and I were always very connected through music. He was a jazz piano player and he introduced me to everything like all the important bands including jam bands. When he passed away that was a very dark time in my life in a couple of different ways. Some of the shows thereafter were very emotional. I’ve learned a lot and I think you can stay connected with someone through music.Like if there’s a great way to keep his memory alive I think I am channeling his spirit all the time. And I feel it even though it’s hard to explain but I think that it’s a pretty real thing. It’s reaffirming as to why we do this in the first place.