For the past 12 years, Ohio’s psychedelic rock band The Werks have overcome tragedy and performed countless shows to establish their position atop the Midwest jam scene. Founded in 2005 by original members Dave Bartoletti (keys), Rob Chafin (drummer), Chris Houser (guitar), and Chuck Love (bass), The Werks first met at a local music contest in Dayton, Ohio, where they decided to commit to a musical project together. While eating their first meal together the four-piece decided to name their group after a dish they ordered at the restaurant called, “The Works.” A couple years and countless rehearsals later, The Werks officially formed in 2007, and the rest is history.
There’s nothing like writing about and interviewing an OG band or musician. Last week published an interview with Jesse Miller of Lotus, a pioneer of jamtronica music in the United States, and this week we caught up with The Werks, who from our perspective have lead the way for Midwest improvisational music and laid the foundation for countless bands to grow and succeed in the region. The Werks not only built this framework with genre-defying live music, but also by organizing incredible events that have been powerful platforms for up-and-coming Midwest bands to gain well-deserved exposure.
For those not already in the know, The Werks are the founders and host band of the storied Werk Out Festival in Thornville, OH. Often regarded as the premier jam and electronic event in the Midwest, The Werk Out is approaching its 8th annual festival from August 3rd – 5th with a stellar lineup including three nights of The Werks, Gramatik, Emancipator, Spafford (read our interview with Red), and local Ohio bands like Electric Orange Peel and Subterranean. By building a world-class lineup with international talent each summer, The Werks not only feed Midwestern jam enthusiasts an event to be proud of, but also local bands an incredible opportunity to showcase their music on an outstanding stage. The band has recognized this utility of The Werk Out and are currently in the process of expanding the festival’s brand. This year on February 3rd and 4th The Werks hosted the first “Winter Werkout” festival at the Bluestone in Columbus, OH, which featured two stages of music and a lineup including bands such as lespecial, The Floozies, and Ohio’s Vibe & Direct (interview coming very soon).
Similar to The Werks, jamtronica legends The Disco Biscuits have hosted their festival Camp Bisco since 1999. Camp has come a long was since its humble beginnings to the monstrous festival is it today, this year featuring world-famous acts like the Pretty Lights Live Band, Lotus, and Shpongle. The Werks are also no strangers to Camp Bisco, and 2017’s festival from July 13th – 15th at Montage Mountain in Scranton, PA will be no exception. The Werks are not only scheduled to perform at Camp Bisco, but they’ll unleash their storied “Werktronic” set at Camp, which is their heavy livetronica alter-ego. I’ve listened to a recording of this set when they performed it at the Woodlands Tavern in Columbus on 2/2/17 and was blown away by their covers of Da Rude’s “Sandstorm” and their segued encore of Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock” into the Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend is Better” back into “Robot Rock.” Needless to say, this show is a must-see at Camp Bisco, and to preview the festival I had the special opportunity to catch up with Chris House (guitar, vocals) Rob Chafin (drums, samples), Jake Goldberg (bass), and Dan Shaw (keys) to discuss Camp, The Werk Out, the Ohio jam scene, and much more. Camp Bisco tickets. The Werk Out tickets.
Sound Fix: Hey guys, thanks for taking some time here to catch up with us ahead of Camp Bisco and your summer festivities. To kick things off, we’re just over half way through 2017. To date, what’s been your favorite moment or show of the year thus far?
The Werks: The Winter Werk Out was a huge party hosted on our home turf at the Bluestone in Columbus, OH, which isn’t too far from where we host The Werk Out Festival each summer. It’s definitely going to be an annual event from now on, because we love to bring our favorite bands and so many talented friends to Ohio. We also headlined an extensive West Coast run that stopped in many inspiringly beautiful places. Plus we debuted the first Werk Out West, an additional two-day spectacle in Denver that will also be an annual event.
SF: Now looking ahead, we’re gearing up for Camp Bisco and are looking forward to your performance on Montage Mountain. Tell us about your prior experiences with Camp Bisco, and what the band has in store for this summer’s festival.
TW: We’ve played Camp Bisco three times in the past, and our favorite moment was playing the main stage on Montage Mountain before The Disco Biscuits. Our 2nd favorite moment was the time our tour manager Kenny was lost. And this year we’re thrilled to be playing a ‘Werktronic’ set at Camp Bisco, which is the only time we’ll slip into our electronic alter-ego this summer, besides at our own Werk Out Festival in August.
SF: Are there any other acts on the lineup that you’d advise an attendee to check out this summer at Camp?
TW: The Disco Biscuits, Pretty Lights, Lotus, (read our first ‘Road to Camp Bisco’ interview with Jesse of Lotus here) and Gramatik are the usual suspects we’d like to see again. Of course our friends Twiddle will be there. Plus we get to check out Too Many Zoos, Electric Beethoven, Emancipator, and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong!
SF: You recently released your latest album, Magic, on Saint Patrick’s Day. How would you describe this record, and how does it compare to your previous discography?
TW: Magic is our most accessible album with a variety of genres which any music lover will want to keep in their regular rotation!
SF: The Werk Out Festival is shaping up to be, once again, one of the best jam & electronic events of the summer. For someone who’s never been, what are some characteristics of The Werk Out that separates that particular festival from the pack?
TW: Everyone feels like family at The Werk Out, and we strive to maintain that intimacy between fans and performers in spite of rapid growth. Good vibes reign supreme. Plus it’s a festival curated by yours truly and our vision of how to have a good time. There will be many unique collaborations between lots of talented artists, and we’re bringing back Twerkapod, where we get to play 90’s hits alongside Twiddle and Dopapod.
SF: The band hails from Ohio, and I’m always interested to hear a description of a specific region’s music scene from musicians ingrained in the culture. So if you would, how would you describe Ohio’s music scene, and what are 2-3 groups from your area you’d recommend people reading this interview to check out?
TW: It’s a diverse collection across genres and time. There’s a strong funk history out of Cincinnati and Dayton, and lead guitar has a special place as well. Jam scene specifically, Ekoostik Hookah especially really set the precedent for a lot of our sound and the festival. More recently, there’s Broccoli Samurai, Electric Orange Peel, and Subterranean House band, who will all be at The Werk Out this year.
SF: Apart from Camp Bisco and The Werk Out, what summer festival or concert are you most looking forward to?
TW: We get to play so many great festivals this summer and love them each for different reasons, but if we had to choose one, it has to be returning to the High Sierra Music Festival in California. We’re also headlining two Phish Baker’s Dozen After Parties in NYC on July 21st and 22nd at American Beauty. That’s just a week after our Bisco appearance, so we hope to see lots of familiar faces at those shows.
SF: I know you just put out a new record, but do you have any new music, originals, or covers you’re at liberty to share with us here?
TW: Absolutely not! **laughs**
SF: Finally, I like to conclude our interviews with an open forum. Anything else you’d like to share here that we haven’t already covered?
TW: Looking forward to seeing you all at Camp Bisco in July, and then The Werk Out Festival in August!