Summer Stars: Twiddle

Lilli Friedman on June 27, 2014

Our annual Summer Stars series features a variety of groups making the rounds on the festival circuit. Today we feature Twiddle. We’ve also checked in with Darkside, Washed Out and St. Paul & The Broken Bones .

How does Twiddle bassist Zdenek Gubb describe his band’s sound? “Breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert,” he says with a laugh. Indeed, the Vermont-based foursome’s live show can encompass a seemingly full day’s worth of styles that range from funk and reggae to bluegrass, jazz and beyond. Twiddle has played almost a thousand shows to date, and their stellar instrumental skills, elaborate improvisation and adept songwriting continue to attract new members of the “Twiddle Family” across the country.

Twiddle formed at Castleton State College in Vermont in 2004, where lead vocalist and guitarist Mihali Savoulidis and keyboardist Ryan Dempsey met at freshman orientation and began writing songs together. The group’s original bassist Billy Comstock and drummer Brook Jordan—who attended the same high school—soon joined the fold, and when Comstock left Twiddle in 2007, Gubb filled the vacant bassist slot and solidified the quartet. “We have believed in each other and we’ve also thought, you know, maybe we can’t do this,” says Gubb. “But really, from the beginning, we’ve known that if this works and we want it to work, then we’re gonna go for it.”

All four musicians contribute to the songwriting process, with the collective mission of “trying to write music that uplifts people and gives people some joy in life,” according to Jordan. The eclecticism of Twiddle’s music derives from their diverse preferences, and the band members list the Grateful Dead’s live magnum opus Europe ‘72 and Phish’s 1998 studio album The Story of the Ghost among their influences, as well as Nirvana, Primus, Béla Fleck, and lesser known artists such as Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi and Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin. “I guess what makes the band so great is that we can all feed off different people and bring it all together,” says Jordan.

“We come from incredibly different styles and backgrounds,” adds Gubb. “It’s a recipe for disaster and brilliance all in one.” Twiddle also credits their dedication to varying their setlists and jams night after night on tour for attracting their enthusiastic following, and notes that they are now capable of creating music on the spot more fluidly.

“It’s really just about listening, so as long as our ears are all open, anything can happen,” says Savoulidis. “I think just as we’ve grown as players over the years, so has the music and what we’re able to do live in an improv setting.”

The community that has blossomed around Twiddle can expect to add more fans to their ranks as the musicians crisscross the country at festivals this summer, including stops at Wakarusa, Gathering of the Vibes and Summer Camp. “I went to Summer Camp for two summers after I graduated high school,” says Jordan. “It’s been such a trip now that we’re playing there.”

“Typically, a festival is a lot of people that you can grab that will maybe never see you,” says Savoulidis, who writes the band’s setlist before each show. “It’s short, so you kind of have to figure out a way to get your music across. There’s certain songs that you want fans to hear.”

While Twiddle has yet to record a follow-up to their 2011 sophomore studio album, the group is considering releasing a double-disc live album next year—half acoustic, half electric. Their focus remains primarily on refining their performances and delivering captivating, unexpected sets. Meanwhile, the
quartet is appreciating their rise to prominence as a must-see jamband.

“I hope that it continues and that we continue doing what we’re doing,” says Dempsey. “This has been absolutely the best point in my life to date—doing what we’re doing with Twiddle.”