Interview with Strange Changes
- Josh Johnson
The word “eclectic” doesn’t even begin to describe the music of Boston’s Strange Changes. The eight-piece band, led by singer/guitarist/chief songwriter Tom Dowd, combines elements of classical, jazz, metal, and pop into one totally unique sound. Deli readers have recognized the band’s talent, and Strange Changes was voted one of June’s Artists of the Month here at the Deli New England. In this interview, Dowd talked about the band’s influences, past and future releases, and the Boston music scene. Strange Changes will celebrate the release of their debut full-length album, “I Want You,” with a hometown release show at The Middle East on October 5th.
Strange Changes combines tons of different genres into one sound. Who are some of your biggest influences?
Tom Dowd: The biggest influence is Zappa, which is pretty obvious if you know his work. I’m also a huge fan of Mr. Bungle and Charles Mingus. These three artists are the Holy Trinity as far as SC is concerned. When I was really young I listened to a lot of Metallica and Primus, and later was a jam band fan before getting into Zappa and jazz. I also really love classical. I’m not a very picky music listener. You’d have a hard time finding something I’d ask you to turn off.
The band is comprised of eight members. How do you successfully combine the artistic vision of eight different people?
TD: I wrote and arranged all the music and I sing and play lead guitar. So part of the chemistry is having a clear-cut leader and that’s my role in the band. One of my goals writing all this music is to keep the language of jazz relevant to modern listeners. There are lots of opportunities for improv in the music so that gives the other players a way to contribute their own creative energy. Plus, all the music is a work in progress so as we play the arrangements and tweak them other people get to contribute. Geoff Nielsen engineered the recordings and produced the album with me so his vision is well-represented. Lyubo Tsanev, who plays keys, also has a great ear for arranging and came up with some awesome stuff in the studio.
Lyubo Tsanev: We have been extremely lucky to find each other under rather random circumstances, establishing the new version of Strange Changes, that consists of plenty of talent, vision, and creativity. The privilege of performing with so many great musicians excites each of us; we share similar aesthetic principles regarding music, thus completely understanding the complex poly-stylistic approach which makes Strange Changes so unique; and all that naturally leads to the total integration of every member of the band in the process of making this beautiful music.
Your debut full-length album, “I Want You,” drops October 5th with a hometown show. What kind of message do you want to send with your debut?
TD: Well, the main message is people should buy millions of copies of the record so we can all quit our jobs. We also want to be thought of as one of the premiere live acts in Boston, one that combines a really high level of musicianship with catchy, danceable music and an engaging show. We’re pretty low-tech compared to a lot of acts. We want to prove you can still just put a bunch of good players and well written music together and people will dig it.
How does the new record expand upon “Evil Genius,” your first EP?
TD: Of the three songs on the first EP, ‘Evil Genius’ was the only one really written specifically for the big band. The others were recycled from old projects and arranged for the 8-piece ensemble. On this record almost all the material was written specifically for this project so it uses the size and talent of the group to a fuller extent. In many ways “Evil Genius” is a template for the band’s sound and style: diverse musical genres, humorous/satirical tone, avant musical concepts balanced by music you can dance to and sing along with.
What is your favorite thing about the local Boston/New England music scene?
TD: I’d say the concentration of musical talent. It’s such a dynamic scene because there are so many young people who really know how to play. There’s a really high turnover because so many acts migrate to Brooklyn once they’re established, but the next big thing is always around the corner in this city. Also, the acts that establish themselves here are much more supportive of the community than big acts in a larger market like New York.