Michelangelo Carubba is a renaissance man. Powering the engine inside Turkuaz’s kaleidoscope of groove, the drummer is the beating heart of funk personified. Turkuaz recently came up for air amid a summer tour de force, but alas, no rest for the wicked. On the heels of the band’s fiery Phish-aftershow, Carruba wants back in the ring. The venerable rhythm runner, who recently turned 32, is hosting his 3rd annual birthday bash on August 11th at Brooklyn Bowl. Live For Live Music’s B.Getz caught up with Mikey for a mid-summer rap session.
B: You’ve mentioned you’re on a super brief break from Turkuaz in the middle of summer. Tell us about the first half of summer and your personal highlights.
Bonnaroo was crazy too. There was a ton of people there and Bonnaroo gave us a great time slot. Whenever someone throws us a pitch, Turkuaz has this ability to tee it up and knock it out of the park, and we did it again at Bonnaroo. Everything has just been great, man. It’s been a great year for music, for me, personally, for my band. I mean, I have zero complaints.
B: With regards to Jazz Fest and Bonnaroo, those are sort of the embryos of super jams, and they’ve spiraled in a million directions ever since. There are cool super jams and lame super jams, and I think decidedly in the former category would be your birthday bash. This is the third annual edition of the get-down—how did you come up with the idea and how has it taken shape over the years?
Mikey: The first one I did was on my 30th birthday, and that was two years ago. It seemed like sort of a big deal to me. I wanted to come into my thirties swinging—I wanted it to be the next best decade of my life—so I knew I wanted to throw a party. I knew the only thing I could do, the one thing I have to offer, was music. It just made sense to have a concert with all my friends and also some of my favorite musicians.
B: So you just reach out to the homies, like, “Hey, it’s my birthday. Let’s jam!?”
Mikey: I basically put a bunch of calls to some of my favorite people to watch play, and they all said, “Yes.” It started like that and has evolved into something I love. We give the proceeds to charity when we do it. What it’s become now is sort of a reflection of my year that just passed in terms of the relationships I’ve made, the relationships I’ve nurtured, the people that I’ve played with, the music that I’ve heard and enjoyed. Also, when it comes down to song selection, people might not know the actual ins and outs, but the songs I pick are definitely a reflection of what has been going on in my life.
Ultimately, it really is just about me wanting to play with my friends. I love seeing all my friends when they come to these birthday shows. The whole thing is just a reflection of my life in front of me—in people and in music. I want everyone else to see what that means and also, in a way, to give back to the people who have made it possible. Every person involved has played a part in me being there on stage that day, on my birthday. I am turning 32 this year, so everyone that will be there has been a part of it in either a small or huge way. All of them are important and that’s what this is about. Every person has had an effect on me, and I want them to be there, see it, and take part in it.
B: How do you lay it all out? Who plays on what songs and how will the evening roll out?
Mikey: This year, I am trying to do something completely different than the super jam idea. Like you said, you see a lot of those, and most of the time they are good but sometimes, they are garbage. I’m trying to do something completely different this year, and I have fourteen of some of the best musicians on the scene and even in the world. You know, this year, Jen Hartswick, Ryan Montbleau, Cris Jacobs—the cast is unbelievable.
I thought it might be sensory overload if all fourteen were onstage at the same time, the entire time. I’m kind of breaking people off and putting together combinations of music that you will never see anywhere else. When else are you going to see Cris Jacobs playing cigar box guitar with Jen Hartswick singing, you know?
B: Wow. That sounds mouth-watering. Those are gonna be some special combos.
Mikey: It’s just going to be sometimes as few as three of them on stage, you know. It’s almost like a festival but in one concert. It’s going to be something completely unique, and I’m honored that everyone has said yes and is into the idea. It’s going to be really, really dope. Like I said, no one has done anything exactly like this before, especially with the super jam idea.
B: You’ve referenced musicians on the gig who you don’t get together with very often. Conversely, you’ve also tapped three cats from Turkuaz—Shira, Sammi, and Craig. They are a part of your life on a daily basis, and they are a part of the art that you make on the regular. Can you speak on your relationship with them, and what they bring to the table outside of ‘Kuazology?
Mikey: There’s a real aspect of battle-tested trust, and I know they’re going to execute. I know Craig is working on a lot of material and knows it really well, and I know I can trust Shira and Sammi to learn a lot of material and that they’ll execute it really well. That’s really important to me. Also, I love performing with them. Craig and I, in Turkuaz, we are sort of buddies on the road. I mean, obviously, everyone in the band is a close friend, but Craig is just naturally my buddy. We are both from the Great Lakes region, and we are both similar kind of musicians. We have similar tastes in a lot of music, and having Craig there sort of puts me at ease. Same with Sammi and Shira. I think that they both are excellent performers, and I just know that their part of the stage will be handled and that I don’t have to worry about it.
I always, especially in Turkuaz, see the stage breakdown as sort of like the Titanic. The front of the stage is all of the waiters and waitresses wearing tuxedos and white gloves. The back of the stage—where Taylor and I are, Craig is back there, Chris is back there—that is like the engine room where guys are shoveling coal into a giant furnace. You know, that’s how I see that. I have a certain amount of trust in Sammi and Shira that the front line is handled and everything goes off without a hitch. They are pros, they are great musicians, and I really trust them to execute that for me, you know?
B: Let’s wrap it up. Here are two parting shots. One, it’s your birthday. For a present, if you could get a drum lesson from any drummer in history, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Mikey: It would have been Clyde Stubblefield. I mean he is the “funky drummer.” If I could have got a lesson and just sat there and watched him play “Funky Drummer” or any of his grooves, I mean, that is the source right there. In my many conversations with Sput (Robert Searight; Snarky Puppy/Ghost Note), Sput talked to me about Clyde—about what he was like, watching him play, and him being a mentor. I think that Clyde had a lot he was willing to share, and that is someone that I would’ve wanted to study with.
B: Would you like to deliver a personal message to the fans?
Mikey: I think it’s really important that our fans know how much we appreciate them. It’s when things like Red Rocks and Bonnaroo and these big gigs happen that everyone says “Congrats,” and “You are all working so hard, it’s all paying off.” That doesn’t mean shit if your fans aren’t there. We don’t get there without our fans, without people that love your music and will travel to go see you. It’s really important for me, for our fans, for my fans, all fans of live music in general, to know how much it means that they spend their money, time, and energy on us and with us. It means more than I could ever give justice.
I try every time I play a show to give fans as much back as I feel that they are giving me. I think it’s really important that we have a round of applause for the audience. They need to know how important they are, at least to me. This isn’t just bands doing something, this is all of us doing something together. It’s a live music scene—that means everyone on one side of the stage and the other side of the stage, we are all doing this together. The more we can feel like a family and a community, the more we can have awesome things and make positive change. I love our fans. I love my fans. I love fans of live music.
B: Rest assured it shows. The feels are mutual Mikey! Thanks for your time, energy, wisdom, and candor. And of course, the funk! Happy Birthday, brother!