Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Aquamarine Dream Machine Battles for Wakarusa

Editor's note: Last night I met with two local musicians, Aaron Lea of Cirrus Minor, and Richard Way of Aquamarine Dream Machine to talk about two battle of the bands competitions that are coming up in the next couple of weeks. They are both scheduled at Vaudeville Mews in downtown Des Moines, one this week (Thursday) and one next (Saturday February 18th). Each one will send the winner to a popular summer music festival, a true lifetime event in terms of playing on a major stage. Aquamarine Dream Machine is hoping to win a spot at the Wakarusa festival in Arkansas, and Cirrus Minor a spot at Illinois's Summer Camp. Next week I will cover Cirrus Minor's bid, and this week Aquamarine's.

The Vaudeville Mews in downtown Des Moines will be hosting the first contest on Thursday night. The winner will get the chance of a lifetime, an invitation to perform at the 2012 version of the Wakarusa Music Festival that takes place in Bigfoot country, just up the road from Ozark, Arkansas on the majestic Mulberry Mountain. It would be great exposure for a local band to play at this event which annually draws around 15,000 music fans from all over the world. This year's lineup will feature the likes of Primus, Bob Weir, Matisyahu, The Avett Bros., Prairie Lights, and Split Lip Rayfield, amongst many others. It is a four day party beginning on Thursday, May 31st, that lasts throughout the weekend. Camping is available.

Last night I met with Richard Way, the drummer for Aquamarine Dream Machine which is one of the bands that will be vying for this spot. I have seen Aquamarine play several times and I've gotten to know them as friends. Whether it's Daniel Wipf's guitar wizardry, Justin Kurtz's effortless bass playing, Joe Antelman's funky keyboard grooves, or Rich Way's Bonzo-style drumming, each time I have seen Aquamarine I have been blown away by the subtle intensity that this band creates. And, with the addition of Erik Brown and his magic trumpet, it's enough to tip the scales of aural delirium.

Call it progressive rock, or psychedelia, or whatever you want, but this is yet another band that hails from the Des Moines scene who's music defies categorization.

When I asked Rich how he would describe the band's sound, the term he used was "Light Haze Rage."

"Huh?" I said in response to his seemingly premeditated answer.

"Light-Rage, with Haze in the middle." he explained to me as he swallowed a mouthful of whiskey and coke. "It's not Rage, because it's Light, which means it's weak, not to mention there's Haze in there. Haha! It doesn't have a true impact. Maybe it's a group thing that doesn't require much attention at shows and allows an "in a moment thing" hangout I'm usually against... Like total background noise, but I'm not into it! I like thinking and, expanding my mind...  Remember though, this isn't to imply I'm into direct, mechanical focus, because that halts creativity in my opinion."

Rich then took another drink of his cocktail, while eyeing me surreptitiously. Correctly he sensed that I was still absorbing this concept.

He continued. "It's uppers, downers, screamers, walk-abouts, meditations, inspiration, visions,...you know the ground I'm covering here...You can't physically deal with ALL of them everyday. However, bands create molecular drugs that you get into your ears all night, also allowing you to function at the end. I'm not pro-drugs, or anti-drugs... Be responsible. Do your research, hippie... But if you understand drugs, use them, know people who use them, or like the idea of them, then turn to music. Hell, think of all the crap jazz bands went through because of the ear drugs it gave the stiffs WELL before death metal! "Burn the witch with new wisdom!" they shouted, in more of an uneducated manner."

It made perfect sense to me at that point. And, based off the times I have watched them play, I knew exactly what he was talking about. Listening to Aquamarine Dream Machine is the equivalent of a mental tongue twister. While the guys in the band might actually be sober themselves (they are not about excess while on stage), they are putting out a sound that cracks a proverbial hand grenade inside your brain... It's absolutely mind altering. If it is something that could be captured and capsuled inside a pill, it would immediately be commissioned by the state and made an illegal substance.

Light Haze Rage... Didn't know there was a name for it. Now I do. Rich sure has a way of clarifying things.

"We have a nice edge that a lot of jam bands don't," He continued. "Aquamarine Dream Machine, for me, defines that. We have dream inside of waves, we have the toughness and edge like a marine, and we're a machine because we refuse to let the trash out there bury us when we have great music to share, regional or not."

Like hypnotists, they put you in a trance
(Photo by Sarah Cartwright)

I get his point.. Aquamarine Dream Machine is a band that will literally sneak up on you. Dan and Justin are so smooth with their style that it seems that they play their instruments without the burden of effort. Like a hypnotist, you  are put into a trance. Then, when you are comfortably floating through the cosmic seas of mental beatitude, they suddenly jack it up a notch, and suddenly you are fixated on the individual sounds of each performer. It's jaw dropping, especially when Dan goes off on one of his extended guitar solos. While Justin and Dan take turns punching you in the nose, Joe and Erik seep into your ears like an electronic waterfall which ebbs and flows against your conscience. Richard's drumming is the pounding wave that causes this give and take, relentlessly drawing itself into you as it takes you out to sea.

The name is perfect. Together on stage they truly are a cosmic dream machine.

The battle of the band works like this. When you come in the door, you are given a raffle-style ticket, which you hold onto until you deem it reverent to place in an envelope, each one marked with a different band's name. At the end of the night the envelope which holds the most tickets is the winner. The idea from a band's standpoint is to be the name on that envelope. The Bigfoot Diaries is endorsing Aquamarine Dream Machine.

"Playing Wakarusa would be a giant step for me." Richard explained. "I'm the Tour-craving-freak in the band. Playing another huge show, not to mention sharing the stage with Primus and other major acts, would be excellent. As long as the sound guy gets some guidance and does his job during this opportunity, I have full confidence the audience will translate a strong, insightful vibe that they can grow with just as other major acts have. ADM let's my underground roots get 'chanty' on the drums to bring the fire to the tribe. Playing at night, with this band, with people prepared for an outdoor experience, is the perfect environment.

"So if you win, are you going to schedule other gigs in the area?" I ask.

"That's a great question the band needs to stay on top of." said Richard after a pause. "The legendary Uncle Michael Parker recently moved and lives about 10 miles from the festival grounds. He contacted us before we even mentioned Wakarusa. A couple venues already want us down there asap. It'd be great to play to the locals that really want us there, and are probably going to see us if we play the huge stage as well. I like the idea of it being back to back. More personal, outdoors with a lot of land, and more natural."

Rich Way and his Bonzo style of drumming
(Photo by Sarah Cartwright)

Rich has offered a cool little package exclusively for Bigfoot readers. If you have managed to make it this far into the article, your indulgence shall be rewarded. The first person to leave a comment with the words, "Light," "Haze," and "Rage" as words in a complete sentence will get a free ADM T-shirt, and a free pass to the show Thursday, assuming that you are in the proximity to get there.

Otherwise please come out to Vaudeville on Thursday night and support Aquamarine Dream Machine. They are scheduled to play last behind four other bands.Whether they win or lose, it would be nice to see them get your representation. Your ears and your brain will definitely thank you for it Friday morning.


If you enjoyed this story you might enjoy these links:

Wakarusa Official Site

Aquamarine Dream Machine's Reverb Nation page

Cirrus Minor's Reverb Nation page