Back in November, an email from Brendan Macie popped up in my inbox, breaking through my pandemic daze. I’m always happy to hear from Brendan. He’s a fantastic banjo player and a staple of the Carrboro music scene. Here’s what I didn’t mention in our last interview: Brendan is a friend from high school. I’ve had the pleasure of heckling him at several gigs after we reconnected a few years back.
In the email, Brendan described what he called, “Simultaneously my latest and oldest project: The Band Misc.” Did he mean what I thought he meant?
He did. The band Brendan started in high school with our classmates Ashesh Chatterjee and Damian Lopez — a project that ended with Ashesh and Brendan not speaking for nearly nine years — had reunited. And they’d added drummer Ross Stephens to the mix.
The Band Misc is “A banjo based prog rock band with Latin undertones and metallic edges.” I opened the demo track Brendan sent. Y’all, I was not prepared.
All four are excellent musicians, and they’re going hard and heavy in ways I didn’t know music involving a banjo could. Genres are mixed together and spat back out. It’s very, very cool. Obviously, I wanted to interview them.
Over Zoom, I caught up with Ashesh and Damian, who I hadn’t seen since our high school graduation — see what they’ve been up to chronicled below. I learned how Brendan connected with Ross, who moved to the Triangle in January and dove into the Carrboro music scene headfirst. I heard several stories of band mischief and mayhem I’m forbidden from printing…and one story I am allowed to share.
Want to hear them for yourself? Tune into WCHL on Jan 27th at 6:15 pm for what’s sure to be a tasty musical appetizer of The Band Misc’s new work. On February 5th, they’ll be live streaming from The Cave‘s Facebook page. Misc is also in the process of recording their first release to tide us over until live shows are back.
I promised the guys that when the world opens back up and they start playing shows, I’ll be there. Their first round is on me. And I’ll only heckle them a little.
A Banjo Can Do This?
Ashesh: I think what people are really going to be surprised about is, like, how heavy the music can be with the damn banjo.
Damian: We can make people raise their eyebrows. Wait, a banjo can do that?
Ashesh: I feel like we’re really pushing the envelope as to the limitations of what our instruments can do together. Brendan and Damian used to be scared about going too heavy. And now that’s really something we embrace.
Damian: Hey, we’re better musicians now. We can live up to the ideas we have.
Damian: Carrboro’s the place I feel the most myself. Brendan always jokes that Carrboro is like diet Asheville. I’ll take it.
Ross: Exactly! I was pleasantly surprised when I moved here, I thought it was going to be terrible, that I wouldn’t know anybody. But it’s a really nice place, a really welcoming community. I was living in Baton Rouge, LA, and I just moved to Chapel Hill in January. The music scene is a lot better here. It’s musician’s music. In Baton Rouge, it’s really hard to find somebody who takes music seriously. Here, it’s like…you throw a stone and you hit somebody.
On Triangle Mentors and Whiplash
TTG: Once you left high school, what was your musical training like?
Brendan: I went to college at ETSU and was formally trained in bluegrass banjo. And then my friend, Jens Kruger, who lives out in Wilkesboro — he’s been a mentor of mine for many, many years now. And pretty much anything I know about universal truths in regards to music, I know because of him.
Ashesh: I studied jazz at NCCU, graduated with a degree in Jazz Studies in 2018. Branford Marsalis was one of my teachers. And I learned a lot just by going to different jam sessions and getting my ass kicked.
Brendan: He wasn’t particularly nice to you, I would say.
Damian: Have you ever seen the movie Whiplash?
TTG: I have seen Whiplash. Oh no!
Damian: That was Ashesh’s education.
Ashesh: But I needed it! I was wildly undisciplined.
Damian: In college, I focused on composition. I always was most interested in how my favorite musicians were writing, how they make the parts fit together. After college it gets kind of fuzzy, being in Minnesota and away from everyone I knew. It created a period of isolation, and I didn’t know where to apply myself, musically or otherwise. I just studied music on my own time to keep sane. When I came back to North Carolina, I got back with Brendan and I thought, “He’s part of a cool scene in Carrboro, I want to be a part of that.”
On Ross Joining the Band
Ross: The audition was really nerve-racking, I’d never auditioned on drums before.
Brendan: You faked that one really good, buddy.
Ross: So I took this job at Starbucks, and I started asking everyone about music, and whether anybody played or knew someone who did. And everybody told me I needed to talk to Brendan. And I thought, who is this Brendan character, and when am I gonna meet him? And finally, there’s this white dude chilling at the Starbucks counter. I walked up to him and we started talking about music. I told him I was looking for a band who needed a drummer. And he was just like —
Brendan: It was literally that stupid. It was so beautiful.
Damian: Somewhere in the background, there was an angelic choir.
On What We Can Expect from the New Demo
Damian: Nothing. Don’t expect anything.
Brendan: There should be no expectations whatsoever. We’re just going to throw any and every idea that we can at…anything. It’s about the chaos that is.
Ross: The idea is that you can listen to the album, and you have no idea what the next song is going to be like. We could literally play anything.
TTG: So expect the unexpected.
Damian: That is the Misc motto!
On a Dream First Show
TTG: Let’s pretend it’s your first show post-pandemic. I need to hang onto that. Where are you playing, who’s the opening act?
Damian: Cat’s Cradle.
Ashesh: It’s either the Cradle or The Station for me.
Brendan: And dreamRoot, but we’d be the ones opening for them.
Ashesh: Oh, yeah. Or maybe we could play with Keenan Jenkins. You know, XOXOK.
Brendan: Yeah, I was thinking about Keenan, too.
Damian: He’s way too cool.
Brendan: He’d be very professional, because that’s what he does!
Their Dumbest Night Out…On the Record
TTG: I need to give the people a sense of who you are. What was your dumbest night out, on the record?
Ashesh: We can’t give away our identity on this one!
Damian: No, no, we can talk about it, we can talk about it.
Brendan: Let’s do it.
Ashesh: As you know, unfortunately, there are some places that are being completely irresponsible when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. One day I was expressing my disapproval of this, you know, like, places that host karaoke nights and open mic nights during a pandemic. I was expressing my disapproval. And I was just f-ing around. I’m like, man, we should just go up there in hazmat suits, f-ing put condoms on the microphone, yell at people to wear their masks.
Brendan: We came, we saw, we conquered. We got to the mic and yelled, “Wear your mask!” and then ran. It was like, 100 people dancing without masks, the song was “Tequila.”
Ashesh: Plus, that first night, during band practice, before Ross joined. We had just got back together. We were getting as wasted as possible trying to write songs. It was the night recording “Drifting” at my house.
Brendan: His brother had this moonshine –
Ashesh: Don’t get me started on the moonshine! We had a single glass of this and we were gone.
Damian: Can confirm.
Ashesh: You were on your ass. I was like, dude, is Damian gonna be okay?
Damian: It’s not my fault your brother is the Walter White of moonshine in this area!
On Post-Pandemic Live Shows
Brendan: I see live shows as sit-down events, I don’t think it’s going to all come back at once. It might have to grow over time, depending on how the curve plays out.
Ashesh: Yeah, and I think we can easily adapt to that. It’ll give us a chance to grow onstage and figure out our style. We’re drastically different as people, you know, Brendan and Damian and Ross are a little more introverted, where I’m very —
Brendan: Not that.
Ashesh: Very in your face! Back in the day, our old live shows, I’m jumping around like a f-ing maniac. I think we’re going to jump around and interact with the audience.
Ross: We have so many inside jokes, there’s this energy in the room, and I think people are going to gravitate towards it.
Damian: Like Ross said, we always generate new inside jokes to use with each other, and we want to invite the audience into that circle.