The RAQ Interview
Words by James Dean. Photos by Andrew Scott Blackstein & Lily Chau.
During my time at Big Heavy World I have been exposed to the complex inner workings of local Vermont music. I believe the best of Burlington is really represented by this scene. So many inspiring people with endless talent unifying to promote local Vermont music to those willing to absorb the Big Heavy message. I’ve met a variety of graphic artists, performing artists, photographers, coders, editors, writers, technicians, and many others, all with unique stories and conversation to create the best cooperative learning experience.
Among this immense talent I came in contact with a band called RAQ, purely out of ignorance I should mention. During my first few weeks at Big Heavy World I found myself in a number of interesting conversations. There were always mutual interests among every new face, and everyone seemed more than willing to share a conversation about one thing or another. A man asked me about my spark of interest in Big Heavy World, and I responded with a quizzical, “I’m not sure actually, now that I think of it the only local Vermont bands I know are Phish and Twiddle.” This quickly fell out of truth when the man that engaged me encouraged me to check out a band he “used to” perform with, RAQ. This man was non-other than Jay Burwick, the bassist and lead singer from the revolutionary jam band. After checking out their studio recordings and a few live sets, I was shocked with my unfamiliarity in what Vermont truly has to offer. Not only did RAQ’s music and incredible stage chemistry blow me away, but turns out that Twiddle is an opener to this experienced band.
RAQ currently consists of Jay Burwick on bass and lead vocals, Chris Michetti on guitar and vocals, Todd Stoops on keyboard and vocals, and Adrian Tramantano on drums. Todd and Adrian are both members of the rising funk band Kung Fu, and Chris Michetti has had more than his fare share of music projects, including his involvement in Conspirator. I’m sure RAQ was far from the beginning of these men’s music careers, but I do feel that RAQ gave them the confidence to pursue their talents and reach their potentials. I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with RAQ’s Jay Burwick and absorb a lot of his thoughts on the legacy of this band. Below is what I feel really defines RAQ and their current status.
RAQ’s sound is extremely weird and unique, which is why I feel they are a great band to represent the sounds of Burlington and Vermont as a whole. Current band members have experiences in a variety of genres, ranging from electronic to funk. These sounds all coagulate to make some of the most progressive jams that I have come across, all under the title RAQ. Although RAQ has many influences, Burwick seemed to emphasize his fanaticism for Phish, possibly Burlington’s most prevalent band. He even went as far to say that Phish, among other artists such as Grace Potter, is the most successful band to come out of Vermont, in regards to the best representation of what local Vermont music has to offer. Even with this fascination, Burwick could not stress enough how much RAQ tried, and I believe succeeded, deterring their sound away from the more traditional jam music before them. Jay Burwick and RAQ went on to redefine the possibilities of jam music, and with the diverse genres the other members of RAQ are involved in, they bring their own, unmatched sound.
Through Jay Burwick’s stories it seems that a lot of pieces fell into place during their formation and rise to fame. RAQ formed in 2000, coincidentally during one of Phish’s “extended time-out” (Phish.net). However, Jay Burwick attributes a lot of their early success to this “void in the jam band culture.” The band went on to produce their first studio album, Shed Tech, just a year after their formation, before their current keyboardist Todd Stoops joined them. It did not take long for them to gain national recognition, which eventually led to their national tour in 2002. During their first tour, they visited such large gatherings as Tennessee’s Bonnaroo Music Festival and traveled coast to coast to bless the concert and festy goers with their inimitable sound.
It was incredible to be able to absorb the stories of the touring rock star life-style. Burwick had endless tales of debauchery, bonding, disputes, and as always their serenading talents on stage.
“Being on a tour bus is exactly like a time-machine, you get on in one city and end up in another city without ever seeing the scenery go by,” Burwick mentioned.
He went on the explain how they would show up, play a show, and get back on the tour bus to relieve tension until the band needed to retreat to their “coffins,” (which is how he described the sleeping courters for the band members) or another stage. Although Burwick’s stories seemed to be endless excitement, I did understand his current state as a musician. Burwick does not visit the road often, and feels his talents are better suited in the greater Burlington area. One might see him utilizing his solo, acoustic talents at a night a Nectars or perhaps serenading the bride and groom at a tasteful wedding. Burwick expressed no regrets as he feels a life on the road did not fit in with his lifestyle.
RAQ’s stage chemistry is emphasized in their most recent performances. RAQ’s existence has been fairly shaky since about 2009. Many of the band members have large side projects that seem to absorb a great deal of their time. Even with the band’s extended absence, their popularity regenerated and venues and fans seemed to be more and more interested in RAQ’s live performances. Jay Burwick briefly explained their preparation for their most recent shows, which is virtually none.
“We barely have time for rehearsal, so we take advantage of our time at sound check and backstage, before we hit the stage and do what we do.”
Which just happens to be entrapping the audience in their aura of musical genius. Jay went on to explain how they simply perform better under pressure. Their second album Carbohydrates was under a strict time budget and Jay feels it is a great representation of their capabilities. Their next album, Ton These, was recorded in the barn of Phish’s lead singer and guitarist Trey Anastasio. Jay Burwick gave the impression this album seemed less focused and he proclaimed that the relaxed setting and party-like atmosphere did little to benefit their sound. RAQ’s natural chemistry is something that can’t be taught, but a huge part in developing an engaged fan-base.
Jay Burwick seemed very nonchalant when discussing RAQ, hinting that they seem to unite more as four independent, professional musicians. Burwick seemed dedicated, as any proper musician, to continue this project as long as fans expressed interest in their sound. There are very few things that can quench the thirst for jammy funky fusion, but RAQ seems to be the essential chemical. Jay Burwick has many projects around Burlington, so keep an eye out for his talents and perhaps you might be lucky enough to see RAQ unite under the stage lights.