A Plan for Escape!
Getting to Know Beau Sasser’s Escape Plan!
Beau Sasser has a new plan for escape! He’s assembled a line up of some of his favorite musicians and friends and has a busy January and February lined up, including weekend tours, a short jaunt out to sunny California, and recording a new platter of tunes with this new band, dubbed Beau Sasser’s Escape Plan. The Live Beat spoke with Beau just before NYE and got to know this Northampton based organ wiz and learn all about the new band.
He’s originally a west coast kid, having grown up in Los Angeles and then moving to Colorado for his high school years. After graduating, he attended the Frost School of Music at University of Miami in 1996, intending to study Jazz. But a bunch of friends were living in Boston at the time, and after one year, he heard the calling of Beantown and relocated in ’97, and entered Berklee School of Music. While attending the famed New England music school, he had joined his first band, the Boston based jamband staple, Uncle Sammy, with three other Berkley students. Since then, he’s been one of the most sought after keyboard and organ players on the scene. He and drummer Bill Carbone (Z3, Miracle Orchestra, Max Creek) played together in the late great Melvin Sparks band and after Sparks passing, the rest of the band continues to play on as Sparkplug. Sasser also has played with the Boston based funk outfit Akashic Record and with Soulive drummer Alan Evans as The Alan Evans Trio. Currently, Sasser plays along side Carbone in The Z3 — performing funky takes on Frank Zappa’s music, as well as in the Beau Sasser Trio — which has now become the quintet known as Beau Sasser’s Escape Plan. Oh yea, lest I forget, he’s also recently finished a tour as the keyboard player for Boston based singer songwriter, Ryan Montbleau, which is exactly where we pick up the conversation.
The Live Beat — What’s the future of you playing more with Ryan Montbleau?
Beau Sasser — “Well over the last year or so, Ryan has been trying to figure out what he wants to do with his project and his new group, solo or however he’s going to do it. But this band that he put together for his last winter tour that we were just on…it was myself on organ, and Mike Dillon on vibraphones, Marc Friedman on bass and Johnny Kimock on drums, and Ryan played guitar and sang — that was primarily the band for the run. We’ve really done a lot of work in that group since August of last year. It was one of the bands that Ryan was kind of testing the waters with. I know he’s played with a bunch of people over the last year or so. But he seems excited about it, and seems like it might be something that he wants to continue with and hopefully it will be, because it was a great tour, everybody had so much fun, it was super professional, very low key guys and we played our asses off and just played great shows. So I’m optimistic that Ryan will keep that group together, I think it would be a great call on his part and super fun for me.”
The Live Beat — Are you still playing with Akashic Record? What happened with you and The Alan Evans Trio band — did you leave the band or were you asked to leave? Why the split?
Beau Sasser — “It’s been a little bit for Akashic Record. I think when I started playing with Al (Alan Evans) originally, I got real busy and some of the bands that I had been playing with previously had just fallen to the wayside a little bit just cause it was a time thing. And Akashic, we definitely tried our best to keep everybody together and intact whenever we played. But over time that became harder and harder to do just based on everybody’s schedules. I’m hopeful that we’ll play more and get to record and do more. I know that they’re doing a couple of gigs that I am unable to make cause I’m doing another gig myself. But I think we’re all optimistic that we’ll all be able to do more in that band in 2015.”
“Then addressing Al. Well, playing with Al was totally a dream come true for me, something that I never could have expected that I would have been able to do. He and Soulive were obviously one of my big influences. So being able to perform and work with Al was just an incredible opportunity, one that I’ll never forget for sure.”
“First off, it was something that I wish I could have done longer. Al and I have never been on bad terms or anything like that. I think me leaving the band was a good thing on all fronts, a good thing for Al and for me. There were some creative issues that I think both of us had…with each other. And I think also, there were some monetary issues as the band progressed and as we all saw here in the last couple of months with Al disbanding Play On Brother (Formerly known as The Alan Evans Trio), it was a monetary strain on all of us for sure, starting a band like that and really hitting it hard and some good luck and some bad luck. But unfortunately it wasn’t a monetary thing I could do and sustain my family and myself after a few years of lean times.”
The Live Beat — So then, let’s talk about the new band — first question — how did you come up with the band name and what is the significance of the name? What are you hoping to escape from?
“With music as big a part of life as it is for all of us, you know, it’s definitely an escape, it’s one thing that makes you feel good, something that makes you feel better. It takes you somewhere different, even if just for a minute.”
Beau Sasser — Laughs — “Right, absolutely! Well, we went though, as most bands do, starting a list of many different band names, some better than others and some were ridiculous and outlandish, as they always are. Finding a band name is always the damned hardest thing to do. We were looking for a name that was positive in a lot of ways, but was also descriptive of what we are and what we’re trying to do. The Escape Plan we liked because on one-level, a lot of concertgoers and music fans do go to shows and listen to music to escape, as an escape. So we kind of liked that aspect of it.”
“The other aspect is that I think, all of us in this band are kind of at different parts of our lives, different parts of our musical careers and what not. When we first got together and started playing, I think we were super excited about this and we knew what it could be and we love playing together and doing what we do and bringing that energy to everybody that comes and checks us out. So it’s a hope for us too, that we can escape as well. The plan, for those of us who are kind of between bands and we’re in different parts of our lives and we’re all coming together in the hopes of escaping to the next level, in hopes to escape for a little while and play some feel good music and feel good about ourselves, and to provide an escape for our audience as well.”
The Live Beat — Since you’re name is on the band moniker– are you the defacto bandleader here?
Beau Sasser — “Well, that’s an awesome question, one that I hoped someone would ask along the way, cause, for all intents and purposes, I guess I would be the bandleader. So far the music that we’ve played is all my music that I’ve worked on really over the last two years, although there are some songs that are older. But as far as the original stuff that we’ve played, it’s all been my music and lyrics so far. So yea, I guess I would probably be the defacto leader, but, I really struggle with having my name in the actual title at all. One of the first things that I told all the cats in the band is that, I want this to be about all of us, definitely. I don’t want to be singled out as kind of the face of the group or that kind of thing, I want us all to be in this together. We all love playing together so much and we love each other so much that it’s kind of hard for it to be any other way. I wanted to make sure artistically that we all have a say every single time and with everything that we do. What this band was born from was playing Bishop’s lounge in Northampton on Wednesday nights. That vibe and that audience…what we’re trying to create is that, wherever we go. That’s what we love doing, what we love playing. So really what we want to make the group about is that — and what that is, is more of a community type of collective feeling than anything else that I’ve played in. We just want to bring that energy and that level of artistic improvisational freedom to our shows and make it about us as a collective of musicians, but we want to make it about the audience as well, we want to play off the audience. We want to have a show that really brings everybody together and just has a great love vibe to it.”
The Live Beat — How did you put the line up together? How did you decide on bringing Danny & Bill with you? Where did you discover Justin and Mary? How did they fit into the line up?
Beau Sasser — “Well, I’ve played with Bill in many different groups starting with… gosh, we’re talking about the late nineties jamband scene in Boston and Bill played in a band called Miracle Orchestra back then, and we were all twenty years old together. So I’ve known Bill a while and played with him in many groups. I feel very comfortable playing music with him, especially the Wednesday nights at Bishops, the Z3 and with Melvin Sparks in the past, which he and I both learned a lot of the same things and quite a bit from Melvin and that whole experience. So I was really happy that Bill was available as he could be, I know he’s busy with Max Creek, but he’s definitely making sure he’s available for this too.”
“Justin Henricks on guitar is a guy that has been doing a lot of the Wednesday nights with me and I met him last summer. He is a great player out of the Albany area, was in a band called Groove Stick, and I heard him and knew he would fit right into the mold. Of course, Danny Mayer, I’ve had so much fun playing with him and getting to know him, and he and I spent a ton of time together over the last 2 or 3 years. So when Play On Brother (Formerly Alan Evans Ttio) folded, he was an obvious choice and I really wanted to do the 2 guitar thing, its not something that many groups do, and not a thing that is easily done right. With the right people, it can be done correct. So that was a big thing in putting this band together, was knowing that Danny and Justin play together quite a bit at Bishops on the Wednesday night gig. So those guys were absolutely coming together and doing some incredible rhythm guitar things and feeding of each other improvisationally.”
“Mary is the newest to the fold, Mary Corso, our dynamic female vocalist. She’s from the Hartford Connecticut area, studied at University of Hartford. Her band opened for me when I came down to Hartford to play and I heard her and I said well, this is somebody we gotta have, cause she can sing. She’s a Jazz trained vocalist who can easily adapt to what we’re trying to do and can also play some of the Zappa material that requires some reading. Off the bat, I knew she’d be able to handle that kind of stuff. Some of the more progressive and challenging material that we’re working on that might take somebody with a little bit of jazz tendencies. She fit the mold to, and you don’t see somebody like her come through that often, she’s going to be a superstar, so.”
The Live Beat — How much of a role does Mary have in the band now as the band just beginning? How much is she singing with you guys? What songs in particular is she singing on?
Beau Sasser — “Here in the early stages of the band, I would say Mary is probably singing about a third of the material, and we’ll have a bunch more near January that she’ll be on as we move into the recording process, and start hammering out what her parts are going to be and how much she’ll be featured. I’m hoping that she’ll be featured primarily as the vocalist and that gives me a little bit of a back seat in the vocal department, which is where I feel most comfortable. She’s doing two or three originals that she sings on, we’re doing a couple of Steely Dan tunes, including “Bodhisattva,” kind of as a nod to Uncle Sammy, we used to cover that one and it’s one of my favorite songs to play. And then one that she and I have been singing together, which is a super fun and a very technical song, is “Magic Fingers” by Frank Zappa, and we do a pretty blistering version of that which is a lot of fun to sing.”
The Live Beat — What is it about the two-guitar thing that you’re attracted to?
Beau Sasser — “Well, that’s a good question. I struggled with having horns in this band, which I would really like to have at some point. When we record our album in January there will be horns on it. But for the touring act, I really thought the 2-guitar thing was the way to go. As you know I am super influenced by Frank Zappa, who always had at least 2 guitarists up on stage. And then also, the Allman Brothers as well, that was something that always sounded nice to me. And then on the other side of the coin — or maybe not so far from Zappa sometimes — was James Brown. He’s always been the end all for me. The whole guitar parts, especially in the rhythm guitar, it’s one guy playing a single line vibe and the other guy is playing the rhythm guitar, strumming vibe. I’ve just always loved that sound and I think it’s the funkiest thing ever, it makes the music so incredible tight and funky. Not everybody can do it. I’ve tried it with many different players. There’s just a handful of players that really listen well enough to each other to make it work.
When I first heard Justin and Danny play, they listened to each other so well and they’re both so incredible, especially Danny on rhythm, he’s the best rhythm guitar player I’ve ever heard.”
The Live Beat — How many (new) songs have you written specifically and particularly for this band? How many covers do you have practiced and in rotation that you can perform?
Beau Sasser — “I would say that over the course of the last two years, I’ve had a pretty good output of original material. I write them but I am not really thinking too much of who I am writing them for, either the trio or a bigger band at some point, which I guess would be Escape Plan now. So in a certain way, I would say I guess I’ve been writing them all for the Escape Plan. Some of them work great, and some of them don’t work at all. It’s kind of a nice opportunity to try them out on Wednesday nights at Bishops. Sometimes the crowd just doesn’t react to them or it takes 2 or three times for the crowd to react and other times the crowd does react but we’re not feeling it up there and we never play the song again. I’ve really thrown quite a bit of material against the wall to see what stuck. I would say of the 7 or 8 songs that we have totally ready or in production here for the album, 6 of them are songs that I’ve played for about the last year or so and have fleshed out and are working pretty well with the band. 2 of them that we’ll be recording are specifically written for this band.”
The Live Beat — Will you follow a particular setlist every night or will it vary from each night through?
Beau Sasser — “I think we’ll probably have one set that is pt together with segues and has been our tight showcase set. I like to keep that set around an hour and fifteen minutes to an hour and a half. We’ll probably have one set of mostly originals and a couple of covers. Everything will be kind of mapped out and ready to go. Well have that set ready when we need it, because in this business sometimes you need an hour or shorter and it’s got to be tight and concise. But the other thing that this band can do obviously is, well be absolutely fine opening up and doing quite a bit of improvisation and for lack of a better term, jamming, between songs, making our own segues. We’ll be doing plenty of that too, Bill likes to call it, riding the snake, and so we’re going to ride the snake plenty in this band for sure. We’ll be ready for anything.”
The Live Beat — Do you have plans to record an album in a studio with this band and this line up? Where? When?
Beau Sasser — “We’re going to have a super busy January. This project is sort of the brainchild of myself and fearless manager Mitch Moriber, he works for Telefunken Microphone Company Out Of Windsor, CT. Mitch has really kind of been our brains and the management behind this whole thing. So we’ll be recording in Windsor at Telefunken studios. I would say within like at least eight sessions we’ll have everything tracked and where we want it to be. I’ll go back in and probably do a little more keyboard work, Mary and I will go back in and do some of the vocal work after that and then well have the horns come in and do some horn work as well. By the end of January we should have it wrapped up. Hoping to have it out by spring, March of ’15 should be a viable shot, maybe March or April.”
The Live Beat — What’s going to make Beau Sasser’s Escape Plan band different from the other organ funk bands that you’ve lead and formed and been a part of?
Beau Sasser — “Well, one thing I wanted to do in this is make this group different than what I do as a trio on Wednesday nights and kind of where I came from which was more of the Melvin Sparks style of boogaloo and funk, which I love and has been my upbringing and I will love it forever. But I think this group is going to be quite a bit different and I would say one thing is adding the second guitar, which really makes the sound quite a bit bigger and the guitar parts come together in a way that you don’t hear to often, especially in a funk context. That alone will make it quite a bit different from the Trio thing. Adding Mary on vocals, she’s fantastic. She’s going to make it quite a bit fun, she’s so dynamic, there’s really not much we can’t do as far as material is concerned. She’s going to give us the chance to do some more challenging material that isn’t something that you’d hear from an organ trio. And one thing I’m kind of going for in the overall vibe of this band is, we want to make it about the audience, about everybody having fun, having a real feel good sound right in front of them to get into. That’s the way we want to create art. It’s going to be the kind of thing where the sound itself is going to be quite a bit bigger than the organ trio that you’ve heard in the past. I’ll be using a lot of synthesizers and clavinet and Rhodes as well. So I think it’s going to be a broader spectrum and our limitations we be not kept to the trio format where we haven’t had a lot of vocals and more of a boogaloo type vibe.”
The Live Beat — How is it you wound up getting booked with three days out in Sunny California? How did you get connected to NAMM?
Beau Sasser — “Through our association with Telefunken. They will be at the NAMM conference, the National Association of Music Merchants conference, which goes down in LA every January. I’ve always wanted to go, cause it’s one of those big conferences where all the companies show up with their developing products and all there new stuff and all sorts of industry people are there to check out the new gear and stuff. So we get to go and do that as being part of Telefunken, and we’re playing their conference after party at the House of Blues. And as long as they had us out there doing that, we might as well book a few more gigs in the LA area and also San Diego and do a few other shows while we’re out there. It’s going to be real tough, going to be tough, cold.” Laughter!
The Live Beat — Well thanks for taking the time to speak with The Live Beat Beau. Any closing thoughts you’d like music fans to know about your Escape Plan?
Beau Sasser — “You know, we have a lot of players in this band who are on the move in their own careers. But this is something that we’re all really excited about and have a lot of great work behind it. It’s something that we are all planning on doing for quite a while here and we’re making it a priority in January and February, and beyond that we have some plans to go on a tour and make it down to New Orleans Jazz Festival, some summer plans to be at a bunch of festivals, and really make a name for ourselves on the scene. We want to give back what we feel we’ve gotten over the last several years at Bishops lounge. We feel like that vibe is really special and we just want to create that funk vibe and give it all back to everybody else. It’s going to be so much fun and we’re all so excited.”
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