Interview: Marc Brownstein

Marc Brownstein is best known as the bass player for The Disco Biscuits and Conspirator, but he wears many hats. Father. Producer. Festival creator. And founder of a non-profit (HeadCount!). HeadLiners Radio talked with Marc in a wide ranging interview about it all. The entire interview can be heard on HeadLiners, or check out the highlights below.

HeadCount: So it’s summer, you’re out and about at music festivals including your own, 3-day Camp Bisco next month. I’m sure you’re pumped about that. The 11th anniversary, huh? Tell me about planning and playing this thing every year. I mean, it’s taken on a life of its own.

Marc Brownstein: It has taken on a life of its own, so much so that now pretty much all I do is show up and play the shows. Probably for about a month or two I beg the producers to book Shpongle, or one of those twisted acts. Other than every now and then getting on their case, we pretty much just let Meat Camp, the guys who have been running it for almost 6 years now, just do what they do best, and they’ve helped us grow our festival from 5,000 people to 25,000. A lot of that is the growth of the band, and a huge amount of it is the general growth of the EDM music scene. We’ve had it in the same hands for a lot of years, they know what they’re doing, they know who to book, we trust them, and they’ve done a great job.

Do you get a chance to enjoy Camp Bisco and be out and about, or are you mostly behind the scenes taking it in?

The funny thing is, after all the energy I put into bringing Shpongle Live into Camp Bisco, bringing them into America for the first time ever, I’ll only get to see tidbits, then get escorted away for some event. I’ll head over to the tents for a couple of minutes and try to check out a little of everything, but it is just little blits and bleeps. And there’s 8 or 9 sets of music to play over the course of the weekend. It’s lot of work. And you put so much energy into trying to get the lineup to be what you want it, and then you don’t get to see any of it. But that makes it easy to give control over to the kids who really know what’s poppin’. I mean, I find out about a lot of cool music through Camp Bisco at this point. That’s the cool thing about Camp Bisco—it’s meant to expose wide groups of people to new music. Including now, all of the kids who come to Camp Bisco who don’t know the Disco Biscuits and exposing them to the Disco Biscuits, which I know is a point of contention for our fans, but I hope they realize that ultimately that’s a really good thing for us.

You’re also involved with HeadCount. When you co-founded HeadCount in 2004 did you think that it would become what it is now, and how have you watched HeadCount evolve?

That’s the thing about being an artist, you have the unique ability to see things at their fruition before they’ve even started. Right from the start (co-founder) Andy (Bernstein) had such a big vision—that’s something that Andy and I share. When we start talking about something we instantly start talking about how we can reach the most people possible, how we can make a splash, and hopefully make a difference. Part of it is having the plan, and part of it is then having the time and dedication to see the plan through. Obviously as you go, little things change; you try things out and they don’t work, and you try other things out and they do work. You have to figure out how you’re gonna keep the machine well oiled between elections, so that you actually continue to accomplish something. There’s always new inspiration, there’s always people who come in with outside ideas. We have this really intellectual board of directors, people who run the music world and are in the political/nonprofit world, and you get that many smart people on one call, ideas bounce around, that’s where the evolution comes from. Constantly working, constantly talking.

What’s your favorite memory of your involvement with HeadCount?

The Disco Biscuits are a really generous, charitable organization and have done some really cool things for HeadCount. If there’s a disaster we’ll have an event, we like to do our research and find a good organization to give our money to. With HeadCount and the Biscuits it was like finding something that made sense for everybody, and the one that really sticks out to me is when we did the Bisco Power Mission. We were in an off year and wanted to accomplish something really big on a macro level that was issue-based and tangible. We installed solar panel units all across elementary schools in Philadelphia. Getting out there and actually seeing the panels and seeing the kids’ excitement about it, it was really fun and really rewarding. We played a concert to raise money for it at the Brooklyn Bowl, but it wasn’t about the concert, it was about the panels. It was about doing something with a lasting impact.

How personally have you been affected by the work that HeadCount does and will continue to do, and how has it changed the way you view your community and the country you live in?

There’s nothing more rewarding than coming together with thousands of people for the betterment of our community, and every year here with HeadCount that’s what we get to do. It’s given me a lot of faith in the Disco Biscuits community. Actually seeing the fan base coalesce around this one issue, voting, has been really exciting over the last 7 years and has just proven to me what I always knew: that our fan base and the community—not just our community but the music community—is filled with really smart, dedicated, motivated, hard-working people who are in it for the right reasons.

We’re a couple months away from a major presidential election. Where would you like to see HeadCount go, whether in your community or nationwide, in the next few months and also into the long-term future?

I would love to see us register 100,000 voters before the election this year. A very high percentage of the people who we register to vote actually show up at the polls, and for us that’s our number one goal. No matter who you are, no matter who you support, we want participation in democracy. We’re about spreading the message of participation in democracy and harnessing the power of music to help spread it. So, in the future I’d love to see the organization continue to move in an ambition-based direction where we take into account that it’s not always who gets elected, it’s what they do when they actually get there, and it’s about civic engagement and making sure that the voters stay engaged, not only in the election years but throughout their lives. You have to stay engaged in the community and with the government, and make sure your voice is actually being heard.

To hear the entire Marc Brownstein interview, and some great LIVE music, listen to HeadLiners Radio now.