Q&A with Bonjour, Ganesh!
Say hello to Bonjour, Ganesh!, a young local band that mixes the fun with the fanciful. The group features everything from horns and brass to rip roaring vocals in a blend of rock, ska, jazz and pop. Always optimistic, their music has the ability to transform the ordinary into something special and unexpected. Guitarist and singer, Adam Rosenberg, answers some of our questions with highlights and quotes from other Bonjour, Ganesh! band members.
You’re a relatively new band – how did you guys meet and how did you come to play the self-described jam, ska, jazz, rock and funk music that defines Bonjour, Ganesh!?
Mike Strauss (bassist) and Adam Rosenberg (guitarist/vocals) had been in the band “Must Love Trash” (MLT) together for a while. That band had done really well in DC; recorded an album and played shows in both DC and New York. The band broke up, but they remained very close and continued to jam. Jess Savage (lead vocalist) was a colleague of Adam’s and had sung a song with MLT for their farewell show and had originally been studying to be an opera singer. After that show, EVERYONE was talking about the guest vocalist (Jess) who sang with them so Adam approached her about starting up a new band. There was a close dynamic from the beginning.
“I knew going in that I wanted the horn section to be the main focus of the band. I’ve always been a sucker for horns because they just make people happy when you hear them live. Mike had wanted to get into more funky stuff and Colin [McCormick (trombone, slide trumpet, bass)] (who coincidentally had been previously playing bass for an unrelated, though confusingly named Adam Rosenberg’s band AND had gone to college with Mike) and Stratton [Edwards (trombonist)] joined on as the dueling trombonists. Megan [Brooke Scott (alto saxophone)] was actually Adam’s mentee in GW’s mentorship program by accident and once Adam learned she was an accomplished alto sax player, he signed her up. Matt [Ling (drummer)] had just moved to DC and had such a rich, jazz background that he would’ve made any band lucky to have him. Lucky for us, he picked Bonjour, Ganesh!” – Adam R.
Luke Peterson (keyboardist) had been working for Obama for nearly two years and was an accomplished keyboardist and was the missing piece. Once Luke came in and started playing with us, everything really started rolling.
Musically we all have different styles, but we also listen to each other. Not a single one of our songs sounds the same and that’s because you have someone like Matt (with a jazz background) and someone like Mike (with a funk and rock background) adding their influences into the song. Since we listen to each other and improv a lot, it never gets boring and everyone feels like they have a place.
“But as you can imagine, with eight folks in a band, influences are all over the map, and we’ve just been very lucky that, rather than generating creative conflict, that diversity has worked instead to layer on better and better ideas.” – Mike S.
I really like your song “Lazy Days” what was the creative process with producing that particular song?
“Lazy Days” is a great example of why I love this band. I wrote that song and couldn’t figure out the style I wanted to play it in. I knew I wanted Jess to sing it but wasn’t sure the type of style.
“This started as one of those songs that could have been played in any of about seven, radically different styles. We tried it as country, rockabilly, etc. But when we sped it up, heard what two trombones could add, added a bouncy bass line and then knew this would come out more like ska.” – Mike S.
The best part of the song, and something we think really shows our attitude on stage, is that midway through the song Colin switched from trombone to bass and Mike switches from bass to harmonica. It’s pretty wild!
Generally what happens is, Adam will come up with some lyrics and a basic melody and the rest of the cast will fill in. The horns and Jess really make this song. And once again, it’s something different than all the other stuff we had been playing, which at that point were mostly old MLT songs just redone with horns and with more funkiness.
“Like most of our songs, Adam started out with some great lyrics and a fun melody, and Mike, Matt and Luke gave it some structure while Jess rounded out the vocals. Meanwhile, the horns (Stratton, Meghan and myself) pretty much just screwed around while everyone else was doing the real work. Eventually Adam is going to figure out that’s what we’re doing, but we’re going to keep milking this until he clues in.” – Colin M.
How’d your last show in April at Velvet Lounge go? Any surprises or things you’d do differently?
“We were very pleased to see such a big crowd out there for the first show, and it was great to get back to the Velvet Lounge. In addition to having such a nice turnout, we felt like we showcased the new material in just the right way, and gave a great new sound to the pieces we carried over from MLT. Megan Scott, our erstwhile sax player, played a ripping sax solo. We got some great feedback from the audience, both directly and indirectly (the crown mic doesn’t lie).” – Mike S.
“Of course, eight people on stage meant someone stepped on my power cable, which led to a three-minute game of “mystery of the missing sound” for my guitar. Oh, and we forgot to introduce the headliner band, the very cool “And the Moneynotes” from Scranton, PA. We felt pretty low for that, and I guess that means the Scranton gig is off the table…sorry guys!” – Adam R.
“We’ve all played for years with various bands, but you never know how things will go on stage until you get there. Some of the nicest people in the street and in the studio are the biggest jerks onstage. These guys are great because they’re thoughtful. They’re paying attention to what they’re doing, but they’re also listening to everyone else, too.” – Jess S.
Okay, you have to explain your term “massive mama jam.”
When the music just builds and builds and builds and the notes take on a mind of their own. We do a lot of improv jamming and listening to each other allows us to stretch songs out and have fun with them. Hence, a massive mama jam.
There are a lot of you in the band, 8 people I believe… it must be pretty fun working together on your music. How would you describe each person’s contribution to and role in the band?
Adam’s kinda the floor general, directing everything while we play. He brings the phish/jammy sound you hear.
Colin’s the virtuoso, constantly coming up with new harmonies to fit within the melodies we cook up. His style is all over the place.
Matt’s the shy one. He doesn’t talk a lot, so when he does, everyone listens. He brings the jazzy element to the band.
Mike is the heartbeat of the funk in our music.
“Depending on the song, I bring the heart- or Debbie Harry-like vocals to the mix.” -Jess S.
Stratton’s our one-liner goofball. He is always smiling and having fun up there. He also provides the levity through calisthenics during “Lazy Days” and a Rusty the Bailiff impression during our “People’s Court” cover.
Megan is our grounded voice of reason in the horn section, often helping Jess manage a large number of males on stage.
Luke is not only talented but also more fun to be around then anyone I’ve ever met. When tensions are high at practice (since 8 people can sometimes be hard to organize), Luke will bust out the theme song to “Doogie Howser” or a Bruce Springsteen cover just to lighten the mood.
It definitely is a lot of fun because, as I said, each person brings new influences and ideas and many of us were friends to begin with from other contexts. Example: we were at an impasse for how to structure the verse for Animals Collide and then Matt just launched into a great disco beat and we all knew where we had to go from there. But this many people in a rehearsal space can sometimes also be like herding cats with ADD, so that’s a challenge.
But in truth, everyone in BG has a pretty serious “day job” (we even have a particle physicist in the mix…), so getting people to be “in the now” at rehearsal is essential. But frankly, up to now, the music has done a lot of that work for us, since everyone just loves to play it.
“Artistically, Matt Ling’s eyebrows are in charge. If they go up, there’s room to have fun; if they go down, it’s time to get serious.” – Luke P.
Favorite French food?
Colin and Mike are constant world travelers so I’m going to let them answer this.
“Mousse au elephant” – Mike S.
“Pate sablee de la creme de gratin dauphinois au confit de canard a la rouille et morceux de foie de veau avec boeuf bourguinon et les moules a la creme normande a boudin blanc avec fondue bourguignonne et brandade de morue. Wonderful.” – Colin M.
“I waiver between braised rabbit with fingerling potatoes and carrots or escargot. I may be a red neck but I LOVE French food.” – Stratton E.
“I don’t like French food. But the language is hot.” – Jess S.