hug! (clockwise from left) James Kehoe, Dustin Warner,
Craig von Dutra III, Chris Tenerowicz, Nick Warchol,
Richard Levengood, August Rosa, Mark O'Brien, Marissa
Gang’s All Here
two’s a couple and three’s a crowd, prog-rockers Aficionado
are a small nation
nine people to agree on anything can be a challenge. But
when those nine people have a touring progressive-rock
band, coordination requires a certain sort of acrobatics.
To paint a picture of how the average Aficionado rehearsal
unfolds, bassist Dustin Warner says it generally “starts
with a 30-rack, and then there’s a lot of yelling.” It’s
a small wonder to get the whole shaggy crew in one place
at one time, but here they are, standing in the cavernous
back hallway at Albany nightclub Savannah’s before their
set, nine voices echoing over one another as in-jokes
ping-pong around the circle.
recording process went a lot like this interview,” Warner
continues. “Everyone had a lot to put in.” After five
years together, and with a lineup that has snowballed
to the scale of cultdom, Aficionado have defied anarchic
odds and set their momentum rolling with the release of
a 14-track concept album and an ambitious touring schedule.
If you haven’t yet been swallowed by the clattering grandeur
of an Aficionado show, then one spin of their self-produced
Circus Music should be enough to prove that this
isn’t some novelty act. Sure, there’s flute and French
horn, burlesque and vaudevillian elements, even a bloody
ragtime “Intermission”—but through angular time changes,
searing guitar riffs and anthemic choruses, each idea
remains delicate and subservient to a musical vision as
singular as it is volatile.
According to guitarist August Rosa, Aficionado began as
a “five-piece At the Drive-In rip-off” while the members
were attending Albany’s College of Saint Rose. Vocalist
Nick Warchol explains, “When we first started, everyone
said I sounded like Cedric [Bixler-Zavala],” the At the
Drive-In front man who went on to form the Mars Volta.
While Aficionado have grown weary of the association,
the influence is still quite evident, but it ought to
elicit more praise than scorn. Indeed, Warchol can croon
with the best, amid, like Bixler-Zavala, the disorienting
rhythmic scaffolding his band continually provides.
Songs like “Said the Elephant to the Snake” and “More
Like a Machine” are presented to Warchol like a dare from
guitarists Rosa and James Kehoe. This is, it seems, the
way nine band members begin to write a song. After the
yelling, musical ideas are assembled from the guitars
up. In the manner of a jazz-organ trio, Aficionado’s earliest
incarnation featured a keyboardist who could cover bass
lines with his left hand and high harmonies with his right.
But when his schedule prevented him from touring, the
band had to improvise. After auditioning a number of bassists,
the band found Warner, like many a 21st-century musician,
thought Dustin looked cool because he didn’t have any
eyeballs in his profile picture,” says Rosa. So they arranged
to pick him up one day at Price Chopper and bring him
over to play. Warchol described the sentiment on the car
decided that if he looked goth or metal, we’d just keep
Having left the eyeliner at home, Warner joined the band
in time to record a five-track EP.
the low end now covered by an electric bassist, Marissa
Wendolovske joined in order to tackle the high register
with flute and vocal harmonies. In their new, wider instrumentation,
the band realized that they could begin writing songs
with greater depth and a higher degree of complexity.
The addition of Christopher Tenerowicz brought trumpet,
trombone and mandolin to the band’s palette. This only
seemed to whet Aficionado’s appetite for brass, and they
soon went looking for a second trumpet player. In a similarly
21st-century move, they found him on Craigslist. Craig
von Dutra III tied the whole thing up in a symphonic little
bow when he brought the final textures of trumpet, French
horn, and synthesizer.
But wait; who are we forgetting? This is a question the
band continually ask themselves. In this case, it’s drummer
Mark O’Brien, who’s sole contribution to our conversation
is to pronounce himself “the backbone of the T-bone steak
that is Aficionado,” and Face, the band’s full-time, compositional
Between “March of Welcome,” the opening track on Circus
Music, and “Triumphant,” the album-closer, whole worlds
ratchet open and closed. The band relocated for a month
to Lancaster, Pa., where they rented three offices in
which to write and record the album. The result is a dense
saga that drifts from operatic (“Deaf Ears”) to desolate
(“For Those Who Fear Death”), and features some precocious
self- engineering. Making do with what they had on hand,
they “strove for what any band tries to do on a record:
capture the energy of the live experience,” Warner says.
This is, of course, where Aficionado thrive. But with
a sound inspired by Yes, King Crimson, and the Polyphonic
Spree, the band have to work to win people over.
rock is something that’s overlooked a lot,” says Rosa.
Warchol agrees: “It doesn’t fit into the niches that people
are really talking heavily about right now.”
As a result, Aficionado have made a habit of playing to
any crowd they can find, often staying up to four straight
nights in a single town to let the shock of early gigs
fuel each subsequent show. While Face asserts that metal
kids tend to love them the most, Warner highlights the
range of people that come to see them. While not every
listener is going to understand the deranged complexity
of most songs, the band offer rawness and intensity with
both their stage presence and the accompanying lightshow,
for which Face has composed perfectly synchronized displays.
think if we hope to get any record label interested in
us, we really need to have them see us live,” says Warchol.
The band members do not shy away from the topic of label
affiliation, as they are actively pursuing support. The
band’s conglomerate oddity tends to be both their greatest
strength and limiting factor. But to operate on the level
their number demands, every little bit helps.
don’t care if we get the worst record deal ever,” Rosa
jokes. “We can live on very little. Mark still lives in
the school bus we used to tour in!”
Warchol adds, “They don’t even have to pay us; just let
us say we’re on their label, and maybe get us some shows.”
True, it seems Aficionado already have the important stuff
covered. As challenging as it may be at first, once you
get nine people to agree on something, there’s very little
anyone can do to change their minds.