With an intriguing name and an even more intriguing sound, Ithaca-based Turnip Stampede has been playing throughout New York since they formed last March. The foursome, who have played with big names like Blues Traveler, Phish and The Spin Doctors, combine jazz, funk, blues, rock and jam. Bassist and vocalist Max McKee took a break from writing and recording the band’s first full studio album to chat with Contributing Writer Kaydi Poirier about the band’s unusual personality.
Kaydi Poirier: How did you come up with the name Turnip Stampede?
Max McKee: Well, it’s a very vague story. It involves a bottle of Jameson and a free association project. Basically we all sat around … and had to say instantly the first word that came to mind. … All these random words came up, and we’re like, ‘Dude, we have some of the weirdest words here but, turnip stampede, listen to that. It’s insane, it’s completely insane, but listen to that.’ And then we kept thinking, ‘There’s actually a lot of deeper things involved in that.’
KP: What are you working on right now?
MM: We’re all collaborating and individually writing new, original material. We’re always jamming and digging really deep and letting that music just completely flow without having a second thought, just letting it happen in an organic, natural sort of way. So we’re all striving to do that more and get together some original stuff and tighten up the original stuff that we have. We’re also working on doing a recording right now too. … We have a demo that we give out at shows but it’s not like something that we’re like, ‘Yo, this is our newest album.’ … We’re currently putting together a compilation of our live stuff that we’ve done, too, just to get to people, just to tell you what we’re about. We have them at shows or if someone wants them — which a lot of people have been asking [for] recently, actually — we’ll hook them up.
KP: You’ve played with some pretty big names — Blues Traveler, Phish. What was that like?
MM: Our drummer Dave [Schlossberg] has been on the scene in New York for a really long time. … He was playing … with some of the guys from Spin Doctors, Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, a lot of names. And he’s just completely done a s***load of stuff, amazing, obviously, as you can imagine — playing with some really heavy guys. … For some of the stuff, it was Dave playing with them individually, as just the drummer playing with certain groups like that. … We opened up for other groups and other things like that and that’s a little intimidating, but there’s a step-up factor.
KP: The way you describe your sound — funk, jam, rock, jazz and blues — is quite the combination. How did you develop that unique sound?
MM: Just allowing individual artists to play from the heart and really play what he’s feeling. When you have four people who all come from different backgrounds and different styles, it ends up creating this mish-mash of styles, so you can hear a little bit of this and a little bit of that and a little bit of this … all coming together and collaborating without being restricted, without anyone saying, ‘Oh, you can’t play that, or you can’t play that.’ It’s a very open thing. … What you’re hearing is a raw expression of each individual musician; there’s nothing planned or formulated. … It’s a matter of really playing from the heart and making music regardless of what that music might be labeled as. No labels.
KP: What inspires your lyrics and music?
MM: Every song comes from a different place, and if you’re writing music you’re going to be inspired by a lot of different things. … We’re not all about, like, extravagant love songs. … It’s about life and passion for music. It’s just, different songs have different inspirations. That’s how we try to keep everything fresh. It’s a feeling, an overall good feeling, coming from a different place.
KP: If you could describe the sound of Turnip Stampede in one word, what would it be?
MM: Oh no! (laughs) Wow that’s tough, let me think on that.
KP: Where do you hope to go from here?
MM: Up, as all bands do. We’re looking to travel, just to have as many people hear our music and enjoy our music as possible. We just really feel like it’s important that
people … leave feeling uplifted, relieved, feeling like, ‘Wow, that was awesome.’ Shows are meant to sort of give you a break from
reality. To really just let loose and dance and have a blast.
KP: Okay, how about a mixture of words to describe Turnip Stampede.
MM: Funky, would have to be one … There’s a million different styles within our one style, so how are you going to put that into one word? Maybe that question is possibly impossible.
Turnip Stampede will perform at 10 p.m. Friday at the Lost Dog Lounge, 106-112 South Cayuga Street. Admission is free. To read the full interview go to www.theithacan.org.