Aqueous Returns to Chicago: Mike Gantzer Q &A talks Martyrs' on Saturday, Drummer Rob Houk, and Upcoming AQ Releases

Aqueous Returns to Chicago: Mike Gantzer Q &A talks Martyrs' on Saturday, Drummer Rob Houk, and Upcoming AQ Releases

Groove Rockers Aqueous embark upon Chicago this weekend to share their exploratory live show on their national Random Company Tour.  The last time they were here, they were trying out drummer Rob Houk live for the first time downtown at the original Mother’s, after he jumped in the van that morning in Cincinnati, OH, immediately after quitting his 9-5.  Rock star move, Rob.  Houk now rounds out the four-piece full-time, made up otherwise of three original band members out of Buffalo, NY, who are celebrating 10-years together as Aqueous this year.  Kind of crazy since they’re 27/28, but I think that also showcases their deep roots in friendship and what can happen by jamming out as buddies do.

Aqueous guitarist/vocalist Mike Gantzer says Houk fit in right away, almost as if he had been there all along.  “Rob jumped right into the lion’s den, so to speak, with the lack of rehearsal time we had. But, there was a natural connection with him right away that we all noticed.  It was really odd, (laughing), but in a good way. Especially with the jamming we do, as we explored with a new person and clicked off the bat, it was just awesome.  Before we knew it at the try-out (in Buffalo), we’re all teasing Korn! What?! It was a real sign that we were a good fit. We never talked about it beforehand, but it fit really well, and that’s kind of what we have to do on stage.”

On the bill this Saturday at Martyrs’ with support from Chicago mainstays Digeometric, Aqueous is ready to make Chicago King for a Day.  It seems like the perfect room, not only size-wise, but also because the sound is just so crisp and full there, lending a perfect platform for ears of all styles.  En route in the van to their Providence show this past weekend, I got some time to discuss the upcoming Chicago show with Gantzer from the van, who was just a lovely breeze to talk with, and gave some great insight on where the band has been in “drummer transition,” where Aqueous is now, and what we can expect from them in the near future. Thanks, Mike.

L to R: Rob Houk, Mike Gantzer, Evan McPhaden, Dave Loss

L to R: Rob Houk, Mike Gantzer, Evan McPhaden, Dave Loss

ChicagoNow (Q):  Welcome back to Chicago!  Since your last time here in March, drummer Rob Houk has joined the band full-time. How is that going?

Mike Gantzer (A): You know, it’s been about six months, which in the scope of the band isn’t that long. But, I still think the strides we’ve made with Rob during this time have been pretty unreal. Even the first gig with him, we had a blast. We were going off tons of frenetic energy, nervous on both sides, you know, but in a good way. We just kind of …relied on him to know the parts. He really came prepared, and did his homework, and given that he’s a great musician with an awesome ear, we knew from the first show it was a great fit. I think that’s always been there, and the difference now is that it’s just more polished and clean.  We’re hoping to keep honing in on that as we explore through improv.

Q: And you guys have been super busy lately. Straight out of summer festival season, and onto the Random Company Tour.  The variety of rooms is really notable, covering the gamut of playing indoor/outdoor, and tons of different sized spaces. What really stands out to you right now as a highlight of this past season?

A: For sure, that really is true. I’d say two or three really stand out.  One is Summer Camp Music Festival earlier this year, not far from Chicago actually, in Chillicothe, IL.  That festival’s really cool because its got a lot of our favorite bands on the lineup, including some big bands..this year I got to catch The Roots which was really cool, as a part of a nice, eclectic lineup.  But beyond that part of it, our sets were really, really fun.  Vinnie Amico from Moe. (drums) sat in with us on a tune, which was a blast.  Then aside from the bigger bands, like Umphrey’s McGee, and Moe., there are some smaller bands,…next tier so to say.  Like Dopapod, and Twiddle, and those are our friends so that’s super fun for us…to play festivals with our friends’ bands. The weather was great, it was a great hang, the sets were great, great sit-in, overall, just …great.

I think another highlight was definitely the The Peach Music Festival in Scranton, PA.  The site is really cool, Montage Mountain, with the water park.  A lot of our friends were there, it was a cool vibe, and we were fans of a lot of acts on the bill.  It’s a big difference playing there versus some of the local fests where we’re more of a big fish in a small pond.

Buffalove 2016

Buffalove 2016

Q: Would you say you go deeper into your catalog when you’re a big fish in a small pond?

A: I’d say when we come home and do the smaller, local fests like Night Lights and Buffalove, we’ll have later set times and longer sets.  In different ways, those are also highlights. Surrounded by fans who have followed our music for awhile, it wasn’t as much of a “proving ground” as Summer Camp or a larger fest.  Locally we were able to take some chances on the deep cuts, stretch the sets out and go further into our catalog with those crowds and we really enjoyed those shows as well.

Q:  You mention “proving ground” at the larger festivals, and have also recently announced an upcoming EP.  Do you feel like you’re constantly proving yourself these days?

A: I kinda think it’s good to just stay in that mindset always in a way, you know? I think the goal for us is always just to be growing somehow, whether that’s in our songwriting or expanding to different sounds.  This year we’ve been experimenting with so much that isn’t related to the jam world and I think it shows (Korn and Ween to name a few). It’s important to keep moving forward and not settle on one sound, or one…thing.  That forward momentum keeps it exciting for us and exciting for the fans.

And with this new album that we’re working on, it’s all new material.   Well, it’s really an EP; four tunes, all written during the “drummer transition,” around the same time with similar inspiration.  So it has a particular vibe of its own.  It’s called Best in Show and it will be out mid-October.  We’re going to be looking to record some more of what we’re writing now in the next couple of months for the full-length album.  So, we have kind of a lot on the horizon creatively and gotta keep moving forward.  The thing with the drummers was tough and stifled the writing process because a lot of time was spent teaching the back-catalog during tryouts, instead of doing what we would normally do, which is to write new music.  So we’re in a really good place now since the lifeblood of our band is and has always been working on new songs and getting them out there.  It’s exciting because Rob has integrated himself so quickly, and just jumped right in, that we’re already writing and coming up with new ideas, and writing new music.  So mostly for the full-length album we want to make sure to capture the essence of that time period, and make sure to include the songs on the EP that have kinda just been floating in space for awhile.  But since it’s been longer than we typically like, we wanted to get those four completed tunes out there now rather than wait for the whole album.

Q: Is that going to be the name of the full-length album? Floating in Space?

A:(Laughing) It could be! Maybe we just named it.  We’ll see.

Q: And what is the reasoning behind Best in Show?

A: (Laughing) So…it’s kind of a double play. Honestly this is a weird story… it’s from a real photo at my Grandma’s! We were just going through old family photos, and I found this unbelievable image of two dobermans. It already looked like an album cover.

Best in Show

      It’s a play on words, too, because we feel like these are the best picks of the album we can share with everyone right now.  So it’s all pretty fun and exciting.

Q: That’s so awesome that those are real pups from your grandma’s house!  Were they her dogs?

A: Oh ya.. she was one of those people who took them into the studio to have glamour shots (laughing).  It’s amazing.

Q: Do you remember their names?

A: One was named Hilde, I know for sure.  The other one, I think was Cayenne, but watch this will be wrong and now I’ll get fact-checked by grandma. (laughing)

Q: That is hilarious!  I love your grandma and her dogs. Very cute.  When it comes to the four tracks on Best In Show, did you write them all together as a band?

A: Yea, I mean, our writing is pretty inclusive as a band.  A lot of times it starts as one person’s demo or idea that they send to us over Garage Band or something… then when we all get together we flesh it out.

The whole idea of being in a band is,…if I wanted to write a whole song and produce every part of it myself alone, that is a solo project.  I think that’s what I’ve learned the most over the years, and what we learn from each other as band members.   

Honestly, in the past 10 years, I don’t think I’ve ever completed a whole song myself. The most is probably 60%…then I started to think, “this probably sucks.” But you know, I just showed Dave, and he made some suggestions, and it was already a new song. That’s why I’m in a band, and why we’re all in this band.  Everyone has ideas that can fill gaps in songs that I may not have thought of, or that Dave may not have thought of… whoever.   So, yea, it’s pretty democratic.  It helps when you get “too close to it,” as the creator, too.

Q: And it’s not like you have a lot of downtime to create, either.  How many shows exactly do you play a year would you say?

A: On average, between 140-170.  So… plenty.

Q: So, is the plan to finish up Fall tour (Random Company Tour) and then kind of, hunker down to finish the rest of the album?

A: Actually, we’re gonna tour all the way through December, through New Year’s Eve (when Aqueous joins Soule Monde as special guests of Twiddle at The Palace Theatre Albany, NY).  The whole second half of the tour has not yet been announced.   Then typically we take January off …for a lot of reasons. Being from Buffalo, it’s kind of tough then.  To travel, and in the same vein, hard to get people out to shows. Plus it’s good to take a little break from time to time, decompress, and spend time with our families.

Q: And dobermans.
A: (Laughing) Exactly! So, yea, that EP will come out October 13/14 in Buffalo and VT over a weekend of release shows, then we’ll hopefully work on the rest of the album in January.  Typically we try to write as thematically as possible, especially with a full-length album like we did for Cycles.   We had our first writing session this past weekend actually, and it’s just an exciting time for us as a band too. That’s kinda what lights the fire under us I think.

Q: Well, then it’s perfect timing to see you play!

A: Thanks. We love Chicago, and we can’t wait to be back. It’s our first time at Martyrs’, but we always feel like Chicago just kinda ‘gets it,’ and we’re excited to be back.

Aqueous is a four-piece made up of Mike Gantzer (Guitar/Vocals), Dave Loss (Keys/Guitar/Vocals), Evan McPhaden (Bass), Rob Houk (drums).  Rob Houk is also working on a campaign to help fund music education in schools.  He says:

“As a kid I grew up with music education in my school as early as kindergarten all the way until I graduated high school. I’m now realizing how many kids aren’t given that opportunity. Music has provided me with many incredible experiences and I really wanted to figure out a way to give back and possibly provide those experiences to those that may not be so fortunate. In the beginning my goal is to provide one kid a chance to take music lessons and acquire a musical instrument. As the project grows, more and more kids and communities can be afforded the same opportunity!”  Please click here to support the cause.

The best place to follow along with Aqueous is their Facebook, and if you’ve made it this far, pick up your Martyrs’ tickets here for Saturday’s dance party.

random company tour

Leave a comment