Deep Banana Blackout's Fuzz on the band's Mar. 31 show in Port Chester, DBB's Long Island roots & more
Formed in 1995 out of Connecticut's Tongue & Groove and Long Island's Pack Of Matches, Deep Banana Blackout is a New Orleans-style jazz-funk band now based in Connecticut. Without a record deal, the group has been selling out notables New York City area venues (e.g. Irving Plaza, Webster Theater) and performing at major festivals (e.g. Newport Jazz Festival, Gathering Of The Vibes) for quite a few years. Much of the eight-piece's original lineup remains in tact, as rounded out in 2017 by guitarist/vocalist James "Fuzz" San Giovanni, drummer Eric Kalb, bassist Benj LeFevre, vocalist Jen Durkin, keyboardist Cyrus Madan, percussionist Johnny Durkin and the horns of Rob Volo and Rob Somerville.
In support of the 20th anniversary of its Live In The Thousand Islands release, Deep Banana Blackout will be headlining Port Chester's Capitol Theatre on Mar. 31 with support from Wetlands favorite Percy Hill. No Place Like Long Island had the pleasure of speaking with Fuzz about what lies ahead for him and bandmates, also touching on Deep Banana Blackout's Long Island roots. More on DBB can be found at www.deepbananablackout.net.
Where was the first gig you ever played on Long Island?
Fuzz: The Third Rail in St. James, I was 14, it was the 80s, lots of hair, heavy metal bands, etc. But don't look for it, it's not there anymore... along with the Electric Banana.
What was the first concert you ever saw on the Island?
Fuzz: I think my first big rock concert was at Nassau Coliseum, AC/DC, For Those About to Rock with cannons and explosions and everything, oh my! Yngwie Malmsteen opened up too, so it was pretty monumental for an early teen guitarist. Before that I probably saw some band playing on some street somewhere in some town on Long Island, but that's about as detailed as that's gonna get, so we'll go with AC/DC.
Do you still identify as a Long Islander?
Fuzz: For the most part, yes. I was born in Manhattan and lived in Queens till age 7, then I lived in Lindenhurst for about 20 years. Even my college life was on L.I. since I went to Stony Brook. I eventually moved to Connecticut with a few of the other Bananas in 1998 -- Kalb and Volo also grew up on L.I. -- but I've been on the road on and off for the past 20 years, so my sense of home has gotten skewed. But so many of my experiences and friend and musician ties from my school years in Lindenhurst and Stony Brook are what shaped me. And I get back to Long Island about once every month or two to visit friends and family. Just glad I can keep in touch with some of my old high school pals, one being Eric Kalb, you know, that funky drummer guy from DBB. So maybe in some way I never left...?
Do you have a favorite restaurant on the Island?
Fuzz: If I had to pick one, I'd say Big Daddy's in Massapequa. That's the place I would go regularly before moving off the Island, and now it's become the go-to meet up spot for me and my L.I. crew when I come back down. The southern cooking is still great, always loved the New Orleans vibe and live jazz or blues there, and the hurricanes...look out!
Beyond this upcoming gig in Port Chester, what's coming up for you? And the band?
Fuzz: Well immediately after, like the next day, I leave for Florida to do a run of fests and shows with my wife Carrie, we do a duo thing with a very obvious name called Fuzz And Carrie, as well as our band Caravan Of Thieves. We have a couple short tours booked this spring with Caravan Of Thieves and we also have several DBB shows booked this summer around the northeast. Also working on some writing/studio projects, one with a friend in Massapequa as a matter of fact, where we produce some deep house dance tracks. Keeping busy but not too busy, trying to relax and experience life, too.
The musical landscape is very different these days from when Deep Banana Blackout formed. Is there anything you miss about the early days?
Fuzz: Hard to tell if I'm confusing the fun of being in my early 20's with the music scene actually being cooler, but the 90's definitely had an excitement I can recall where independent music started taking its first real stand against the major labels. This created a wave of fresh, new music and some of it even made it on the air and on to some record store shelves. But at the least, it put bands like DBB in all of its non-mainstream glory out on the road and provided an informed audience, coast to coast, that were always ready for the next show. All without a hit song, magazine cover, MTV or any of that industry hoopla. This biz model is in full swing today with even more successful independent artists, but it was just a novel and special time when the indie music scene really started lifting off and we enjoyed riding the wave of it.
Do you have any goals for the band? Or have you accomplished everything you had originally hoped to?
Fuzz: Right now the main goal is just to make each show as fun, entertaining, musical and successful as it can be. Sure, there may be more to accomplish here in DBB, though it's hard to say exactly what that would be. Expanding on our show, our audience, our music, lifetime achievement awards, Pulitzer Prizes...all solid goals that none of us would turn our noses up at.
When not busy with music, how do you like to spend your free time?
Fuzz: I enjoy long walks on the beach. No, really! Nothing beats a long, quiet, contemplative walk on a nice day along the seashore. Followed by a cocktail...
Do many people call you Fuzz offstage?
Fuzz: Everybody calls me Fuzz offstage aside from maybe two family members and my doctor. Actually I think my doctor calls me Fuzz too. It's been my nickname since I'm 10 years old. It started when I was playing hockey because of my frizzy hair and it really stuck once I started playing guitar at age 12. But Fuzz is first and foremost a nickname that I couldn't shake if I tried and like my distinctive aroma, it follows me right to the stage.
Finally, Fuzz, any last words for the kids?
Fuzz: (laughs) This just reminded me of a checklist of setlist writing guidelines I used to have taped to the cover of our setlist binder. Rule #1 was "keep the kids dancing." Pretty sure that's still the first order of business here in banana land, and what you can expect from us at our next show in Port Chester, New York.