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New Music, Longevity & Chewbacca: A Conversation with Part-Time Genius

(Editor’ Note — With a two-song EP set to be released Feb. 3, Scott Howard and Jon LoRusso of Part-Time Genius spoke with 1120 Press recently and shared their thoughts on everything from the songwriting process and genres, to band chemistry and making music for the digital age. Scott and Jon are two very thoughtful artists and it was a great conversation. We’re thankful for their time. Please read out story below. Part-Time Genius is: Jon "Blü Feather" LoRusso - Guitar/Vocals; Jeremy "Kahuna" Wells – Drums; Scott Howard – Bass; Al Polanski – Keyboards; Ben Renzoni – Saxophone; Jake Hettinger – Trumpet; Richard LaRoeuch – Trombone, and Steve Rau - Added Percussion. — Photo Credit:  Buffalo.FM, Live at Iron Works)


1120 PRESS: Thank you for speaking with us. Congratulations on the new two-song EP coming out Feb. 3! How are you guys feeling about the new music and what can you tell us about it? 

 

SCOTT: We’re really psyched to get these tracks out into the world. You always think you know what it’ll sound like when it’s recorded heading in, but the real thing is always something new coming out. In this case, we ended up with two very different songs that were created in two very different ways. 


The song “Digital Now” is a ska tune with tempo changes, stops, and multiple key changes. It took a while to rehearse and tighten it into what it is now. All said, writing & recording that song took us about 4 or 5 months to get it where we wanted.

Then, we have “Chewbacca.” That track is literally a live improv from a rehearsal session that we recorded. There are a handful of overdubs for the vocals and some effects added. I did a quick mastering job on it and it was done. The whole track was finished in an hour. The loose, chaotic vibe is what makes that track work, in my opinion. It’s wild how two completely different processes worked out this time. There is no “right way” to make a record, I guess! 

 

JON: It’s kind of ironic, right as we were putting “Digital Now” together, a friend of mine who was unaware of our new recording mentioned it didn’t seem to her that people wrote music with key changes anymore. I just looked at her and said “just you wait” with a smile. 

 

And  for Chewbacca, well it is definitely a view through a window at the spontaneous combustion that can go on with us, in our practice lab on any given night. That was a fun one. 

 

1120: We’ve heard some describe Part-Time Genius as a ska band, and the song

‘Digital Now’ — which is on the new EP — is traditional, authentic ska. But we get the sense in speaking with you outside of this interview —and correct us if we’re wrong — that you guys don’t want to be pigeonholed as a ska band only. The two songs on the new EP, for instance, are very different from one another and, in describing the band, you guys also point to genres such as funk, reggae, rock and alternative as well. We even hear some elements of hip-hop in Chewbacca. Where does that blend come from, and what’s the band’s philosophy when it comes to its sound?

 

SCOTT: I agree. According to some, if you have horns & play upbeat music, then you are classified as a “ska band.” However, we know that Part-Time Genius doesn’t really fit that mold 100 percent of the time. We definitely aren’t a “trad” ska band like the Slackers or Toots & the Maytals. We aren’t a two-tone band (aka The Specials, Selector, Madness, etc.). We aren’t a “third wave” or “ska-punk” (think Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Save Ferris, Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, etc.) So, I can’t say where we fit in that “ska” spectrum, but if it helps us get our music into more earholes, go ahead and call us “ska.”As a band, we all listen to different musical genres, and I suppose that comes out in the ways we construct our own brand of “ska.” I suppose we tend to use ska & reggae as a theme to help us glue different styles together. Not everything we write starts as a ska song, but the influence is usually there somewhere. So, yeah, you can call us a “ska band” if you like. 


JON: I think what makes this band sound quite eclectic at times is that we have a solid group of members where we all come rooted from different places musically, but, yet, despite the differences we all have such a great synergy together and that helps blend styles in a very natural manner.

 

1120: At the same time, ska in Buffalo has been growing. There are some excellent ska bands here and that scene has been attracting a following. Do you see yourselves a part of that?

 

SCOTT: I agree 100 percent. Buffalo has seen a resurgence of great ska (and ska-adjacent) bands recently. If you haven't seen these bands; you gotta go see Skamagotchi, The Abruptors, The Reggie Childs, Do It With Malice, Daze Ago, Working Class Stiffs, and so many others. Every time I go to a show, I see a new, talented WNY artist on the stage. So, yeah, we’d love to be seen as a part of that whole scene. It’s a great community with a diverse appeal across ages, cultural backgrounds, etc. Fun music for humans; what’s not to like?   

 

JON: First and foremost, we see ourselves as a band that wants to create music that makes people feel good and happy regardless of style or scene, however, for us, especially having the horns, ska and reggae have become a sweet spot to do so. Certainly we would be honored to be part of any scene that helps promote such love for the music. And with all that said, Buffalo is a gem when it comes to music lovers especially in the punk rock\ska scene.

 

1120: Back to the EP —are these two new songs a prelude to a forthcoming album or anything else? And if so, when might we expect that?

 

SCOTT: I think that the listening trends from streaming have kinda flipped things back to the 1950s, where singles seem to be what audiences want more than anything. So, as a band, we made a conscious decision to just move to putting out new songs as singles for streaming and, when appropriate, batching songs together for limited run pressings as CDs or whatever media (cassettes, thumb drives, maybe vinyl someday.) At this time, there’s no plan to record an “album” as a whole, but we do have a pile of unrecorded songs and ideas in development that we want to put out to the world. (In fact, we’re back in the studio now, working on the next single even before “Digital Now” is released!)


JON: As Scott said, it is certainly true that it is more difficult to get people to listen to whole albums anymore. However, I do have faith that the newer generations will demand more eventually. So, I think when the time comes for us to make an album, we are going to want to take our time and make sure we do it right and the best we know how. 


1120: The band has been around since 2016. And over that span, there’s been some lineup changes. How have those changes impacted the band, if at all, in terms of expanding your sound, direction, capabilities, etc… And, what do you attribute the longevity to?

 

SCOTT: We’d originally started by doing ska/reggae covers under the names “Sexy Rock Band” and “Super Mighty Sexy Rock Band.” Our first two vocalists were super talented, so that was what we focused on — crazy covers and a good live show. It was a lot of fun and we were seeing more and more people at our shows. However, 2020 ended all of that. The pandemic ended all live shows and we needed to reboot as a band. That setback also brought an opportunity with it; we had lots of time to really focus on writing our own music. 

 

We did a search for a singer and had a pile of auditions with really talented people. However, nothing really “clicked.” It was then that Jon stepped up to the mic as our vocalist. He also brought a pile of original song ideas into the band. Because we changed focus to original music, we changed our name to “Part-Time Genius.” That’s when we started really forging our own identity. We have a process where any new song idea comes in and the band members dismantle it. We strip the idea down to its core and rebuild it together, with everyone bringing a bit of themselves into it. The results are our “sound.” So, the lineup changes really helped forge that sound. The band is the product of these personalities and I think that is what allows us to glue these different styles together.


I’d say our longevity is due to everyone in the band all being good human beings. We all can check our egos at the door and really listen to each other. We all want the same thing; to make great music. So, even when we have disagreements, we know that there’s always a good intent behind it. I think that’s the secret to our staying with it; seeing the best in each other and listening to each other. 

 

JON: I think our longevity is because this band is a cement block of good dudes — which I think now is a good time to give a shout out to Jeremey (the Big Kahuna) Wells, on drums, Ben Renzoni, on sax, Jake (the Soul) Hettinger, on Trumpet, Richard Larouche on trombone, Al Polanski, on Keys and Steven Rao, on Percussion. Much love to all these guys for bringing it all the time.


1120: In perusing the band’s website, we did not see any shows just yet for 2024. What’s happening on that front and what else is on the band’s agenda in the upcoming year?

 

SCOTT: True. We are still booking a  2024 gig schedule. We have band members traveling all over so we decided to focus more on recording new music right now. (With our horn section away in college, setting a spring gig schedule is a challenge, too.) We will be booking more shows and announcing over our social media soon. Like! Follow! Subscribe! (*gun clicks*)


Also, we know that we are pretty terrible at booking. We really need a booking agent. It turns out that booking shows is really hard, even more so since the pandemic. If any booking agents or promoters out there want to book us, contact us! 

 

JON: Last summer we played a lot. I would say at least 20 gigs over the summer; some solid headlining spots. So we got out there quite a bit last year, which was a lot of fun. However we are looking to be more strategic this year since we have a larger band and it is a lot of work to get everyone out and practiced up. So we would like to continue to seek out more opening slots for national acts as well as more festivals and shared bills. It’s a lot of work we all put into this band so we always try to get out in front of as many folks as possible when booking … said every band ever. (laughs)  


1120: Is there anything you want to add that we haven’t touched on?


SCOTT: Thank you so much for everything 1120 Press is bringing to the WNY music scene.

 

JON: Thanks for having us. There are a lot of great bands and talented musicians here in Buffalo and it is always an evolving musical landscape, and, like anything, it will only ever be as strong as the work the people put in at any given time. So I am very happy to see a platform like yours do such diligent work. Thanks again! 

 

 

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