Progger Interview and Show Review
Formative member of Progger, Brian Donohoe, just moved back to Austin from New York days before the show. After forming the band in 2011, Brian moved to NY in 2013 leaving the Austin members that he started the band with, Daniel Watson and Matt Muehling, behind. The band has since created home bases in New York and Los Angeles (where original drummer, Daniel Watson, now lives) while keeping their home base in Austin. They always play at their cherished venue One-2-One when they can, as this is the place that gave the band their start.
The band is still promoting their newest album, Dystopia, that came out in March of this year. We were so excited to see them perform at a place that holds such sentiment, especially after a long absence with Donohoe being gone and other prominent founder, Muehling. leaving for London soon.
It was a lot of fun to watch each set progress. It was incredible to see each member doing something that, to an audience member, looked so independent and stand alone then make eye contact with another member to signal a change and fluidly jam as one. It was truly like watching a masterpiece unfold. We’re sure this is the kind of energy and chemistry you get with every Progger show, but we trust that it was extra special for this beautiful homecoming performance.
The original crew of Brian Donohoe on saxophone, Matt Muehling and Carter Arrington on guitar, Paul Deemer on trombone and Nick Clark on bass played this set, with the exception of new drummer Charles Reed, who replaced Daniel Watson. Newcomer and little brother of Charles, Zach Reed, also joined the band on the keys. It was the brothers’ first time to play a show together with little rehearsal prior. You could see the nervousness in Zach’s face as he looked back at his older brother to stay in time and catch any and all signals. When he had his keyboard solos, though, it was great to see him let loose and jam.
The crowd really ramped up when the band played Housewives with its sound ranging from classical piano to heavy electric guitar. It has an epic sound that still manages to be smooth and melodic.
We were able to sit down with Brian before the show and talk to him about the formation of the band, what they’re doing now and the much awaited homecoming show:
You guys had a year long residency at One 2 One, was that mostly in your forming years?
Yes that was in 2012. We played at One-2-One every week and that is how everything kind of came together for the first couple of records. The reason we started the band was because no one was doing the music that we liked so we were like, “we will do it ourselves”, and fortunately we got matched up with Matt Muehling, who has been a friend of mine for many many years. He connected me with like-minded people in town and are now some of my best friends and some of my favorite people to play with. Greg and Destiny [of One-2-One] gave us that venue for one night every week for like a year--they were insanely supportive of us!
What did that do for your exposure while you were here?
For a band like us we are extremely niche, normal avenues of promotion don’t really work for us. We depend on word of mouth and that was the only way we could build any kind of fan base and it worked here in Austin. The thing is we have such an amazing and supportive community here and most of our fans in town are fellow musicians because we are an instrumental band. In the United States, at least, it is relatively hard to reach people without lyrics if you are not in a band.
Where did you draw a lot of your inspiration from?
Me and Matt Muehling are two of the main writers. I write like 80% of the tunes and he writes like 20%-- Matt is an amazing composer, he tends to write like one tune a year but that one tune is really really good, and I’ll just crank out a bunch of them and maybe some of them are good and some aren’t. For me, I was originally inspired by soundtracks from TV, movies, cartoons and video games. Matt was much the same way, as we both grew up with parallel lives. We were both into rock, 90s grunge, industrial like Nine Inch Nails, Alice in Chains, Sound Garden, while also getting into Parliament Funkadelic, Snoop Dog and Cypress Hill. I got really into jazz by the end of high school. Mostly my love of things like George Clinton and oddly a lot of grunge bands and American rock bands got me into jazz. When i went to college to study jazz at North Texas, where I met Matt, that was my main driving force to learn to play like Jaco Pastorius, Michael Brecker, and Herbie Hancock.
This is like a homecoming show for you, are your shows in NY kind of the same? Do you have a big reunion/homecoming show there as well?
Well the way it works with all of us doing our own thing living in different cities, whenever we tour it is a mix of New York and Austin crew--we have done two albums with the Austin crew and now we have done two albums with the Austin and New York people. When we play in New York, it is always the same- whoever is the around will play. We have a family, and every time different groups play together it brings a unique vibe and energy to the show. Everyone is a bad ass musician so it is easy for them to join the mix and play along with anyone. We are all picky, we aren’t really going to use slackers, so they’re all really great musicians who are also great human beings, so we all get along really well as friends.
Is the fan base in NY similar to the fan base in Austin?
I don’t want to talk smack about anyone, but it is very hard to build a fan base in NYC. We did stubbornly. We have a good crew there that come out to support us, mainly other musicians in the scene there. I played and wrote for the band Snarky Puppy for a long time so we have gotten a lot of recognition from that as well. We will come up on Spotify recommendations “sounds like Snarky Puppy”— that has been happening a lot more since with got our past two albums on Ropeadope Records, which the pups used to be on and is a great community of artists. The Austin fan base is really special, this is our main support system. It is also a hard place to build a fan base, but we have a lovely support group here.
What has Spotify done for you guys?
It has actually been great for us, but it is a mixed bag because on one hand there is no way to make money on Spotify, no matter how big of an artist you are, which as far as the music industry goes is horrifying. If Beyonce isn’t making money from Spotify, how is Progger? How it used to be your albums funded your tours, tours helped fund your albums; now each is a lost leader for the other. You lose money on both of them, so everyone unless extraordinarily lucky is struggling right now. On the other hand, one of tunes from the new record, one of Matt’s tunes got on an official Spotify playlist so that got us 100,000 new listeners in just a few weeks. Our top markets are all over the world and we haven’t been to those places as a band. We haven’t even played in LA yet, but definitely will happen next year.
This newest album that you are still promoting at the moment, Dystopia, came out this year. Now that the year is coming to a close, do you have a favorite moment of tour?
Hasn’t been much of a tour, but we did some at beginning of the year and had some really great times. Oddly enough, we had an absolutely great show in Cincinnati--we had a completely packed, sold out house thanks to some friends of ours who were doing a music series. We had this one dude in the front row who none of us knew, he was singing along with every tune. Oddly enough Cincinnati, the medium place was one of the coolest places of the year.
We look forward to seeing Progger play around Austin more often, you can catch them next at Utopia Fest.
Photos by: Leigh Jansma
Interviewed by: Leah Hatcher & Blair Trahan