There are certain bands that consistently push the envelope of a certain style. They think outside the box while letting their influences grow with the end result usually being something brilliant. In the realm of soul and funk, Phat A$tronaut from New Haven has a knack for pulling this off in their own way. This talented act will be performing on the front lawn of Pump House Music Works on 1464 Kingstown Road in Wakefield on July 17 at 7 p.m. Providence funk dynamos Slurp are also going to be on the bill for a double dose of rhythm, groove and vibe.
I recently had a talk with vocalist Chad Browne-Springer about moving with the nerves on stage, a single Phat A$tronaut released last year, participating in a certain contest and what people can expect from their upcoming performance.
Rob Duguay: It takes a lot of confidence to be the lead singer of a band, so how did you go about finding your own voice and style? Have you been singing since you were a kid?
Chad Browne-Springer: I do agree that it takes some sort of level of confidence to front a band but what I find more important is being honest. Being on stage is a very cathartic experience for me, it’s kind of like therapy. When I get to sing aloud, perform, speak my truth, say what I want to say and sing it how I want to sing it, it feels good to be able to do that with a group of friends who like to make music together. I’ve been performing since I was a kid back in elementary school anywhere from the choir to a capella groups to the marching band to singing the national anthem at events to doing some vocal competitions and things. Being on stage and in front of people definitely can make me nervous but I sort of lean into the nerves, I let them fuel me and not break me down. I go that way to be honest, have some fun and let some stuff out.
RD: That’s a great approach to have. How did Phat A$tronaut come to be? Were a bunch of you in other bands in New Haven prior to starting up this project? Did you all go to school together to learn how to play music?
CBS: Mark Lyon, the guitarist, is really the person who started the band. Mark has been playing music in the New Haven scene and a multitude of other bands for a decade, if not more. Mark and I had some gigs together with some of our friends so we had crossed paths a couple times and then he presented me with the idea that he was trying to start a new band. He had a great name, he didn’t tell me what it was at first but he had a dope one picked out. At the time I was a solo artist sort of looking to expand into trying to work with a band and change up the experience of performing so it sort of aligned with where I was going.
Then the rest of the band has sort of evolved and changed over time. Our original bass player moved to Colorado a couple years ago so we had to find a new bassist. Our original drummer quit a couple days before our first recording session so we eventually got a new drummer. We’ve had background singers come and go, we added a flute & sax player, we added a keyboardist and we added a percussionist. The latter’s name is Mike Knoblauch and he and Mark go way back and same with our bassist Brendan Wolfe, they’ve known each other since childhood. Mark has a pretty good network of musicians that he’s been connected to over the years and he’s been able to pick talented, chill people to coalesce together and make music.
RD: When you have people who get along with each other and you have personalities that go well together, beautiful things can happen. In February of last year, the band released the single “Rare Fruit.” What’s the vision behind the track and what was it like recording it at Gary’s Electric in Brooklyn with Robbie Chemical?
CBS: Robbie Chemical is a friend and happens to be a pretty great engineer so it’s nice to work with someone who has those skills and access to a great place to record in. I think Mark has a vision of how he wants to go about capturing our sound. The music that we create can be very dense and there’s a lot of components and parts going on so it makes sense to go to a place like that to aim to catch the best recording that we can. Our music writing process is kind of random, sometimes ideas will come up out of the blue while somebody will be noodling on something and I’ll be like “Yo, play that again.” Sometimes I’ll present an idea, sometimes Mark has an idea, it’s sort of all over the place.
When it comes to recording, we’ll just practice a song over and over and over again. Then we’ll go into the studio and go through the process of making sure that everybody gets the take and overdubs that they desire. We’ll initially focus on drums and bass and then guitar, sax, keys and so on. I’ll do some vocal takes but I’ll usually do those on my own to some degree, I’ll take the lyrics home and sit on them for a little bit. We’ll then throw it all together to create this final piece and we generally work with this audio engineer, Tim Walsh, to do some of the honing in of the mixing and mastering of the final product.
RD: It sounds great so I can definitely see that a lot of work went into the track. You guys then followed that up the following month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit with a video performance of “The Artist’s Struggle” as part of NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest. Where was it filmed at and who had the idea to be part of the contest and make the submission?
CBS: We’ve entered the Tiny Desk Contest for the past three or four years. We skipped it this year, it just didn’t work out but prior to that we entered because we all love the idea, the concept and the energy that it brings. We all think that we’d be pretty good at it so we have a running joke that even though we’ve never won, we’ve consecutively come in second. The most recent Tiny Desk performance was recorded at a video and photo studio in New Haven that has a lot of artwork hanging from Eduardo Alvarez, who is also a friend of the band. I thought it would be fitting for us to be living amongst the art while performing in the video, his pieces are very beautiful and sort of abstract but there are some images that you can grab on to.
The studio is in a building where we had a recording space at the time so we figured that we’d get together, try to make something beautiful and submit it. Even if we don’t win, it’s good content and content is king nowadays.
RD: I couldn’t agree more, why not take a shot? It’s also something that your fans can enjoy regardless of what happens. Being from New Haven and coming to South County on the 17th, you’re going to be performing in front of a lot of people who haven’t heard you guys before. For folks who are unfamiliar with Phat A$tronaut, what can they expect when you hit the stage?
CBS: I would anticipate booty shakin’ and the feeling of emotion. That’s what I would boil it down to. Our sound is vibrant, intense and sort of all over the place but that’s done on purpose. This show will culminate in an array of different sounds so come in with an open mind, an open ear and leave feeling like your soul got nourished.