Bonzo Terks explore ‘free/groove/exploder’ genre

Jerene-Elise Nall

Every band strives for a unique sound, but few venture into the territory known as ‘experimental.’

Bonzo Terks, however, have chosen to take that leap with a genre the group has dubbed ‘free/groove/exploder.’ The Northern Star talked with Luc Parcell (bass) and Danny Van Duerm (keys) about the band’s past, present and future to highlight this innovative group scheduled to play the House Cafe on March 19.

Northern Star: Where did the name come from?

Luke Parcell: The name was pretty much Danny Van Duerm’s idea. That’s Danny’s brain-it was a completely random thing.

Danny Van Duerm: To be honest, we first played a party together in DeKalb, and this was the first time the three of us ever played music and the first time I ever met [drummer] Dan Clark. After this party, we’re like “yeah, that was really cool, we should do this all the time.” So we started getting together and playing, and started writing songs. You have to have a name, right? So we were just kind of like, “We should call ourselves something so we can start playing shows.” I just blurted it out, and the three of us were like, “Yeah, that’s kind of cool.” It essentially means nothing, besides representing the three of us as a group. There’s nothing clever, no inside joke, it’s just a name for the three of us together.

NS: Your sound is very experimental-kind of jazzy, pretty unique. Where did it come from?

LP: Yeah, a big part of the music is that there is completely rule-less improvisation. We’re improvising, all three of us as a group together, and at points it’s inside of a musical context, within a time signature or a key, but there’s also extended periods of improvisation where it’s completely free and there’s no restrictions. We’re just completely freeing ourselves from anything that might be thought of as a musical boundary. It’s a lot of improvising and as far as the written parts of the music and where that comes from, I think Blondie is just as much of an influence on me as Emerson, Lake and Palmer is on Danny Van Duerm and Frank Sinatra is on Dan Clark. I think we really go all over the place as far as the composed music goes.

NS: You established your group in 2009, correct?

DVD: Yeah, more or less. It was about November in 2009, and we played one or two gigs in December of 2009. I remember when we first started playing out, we wanted to play out as much as possible to, in more ways than one, establish our ‘street cred’ and make people familiar with our name–who we are, what we sound like. After that we took some time off to write a lot of songs.

LP: [That’s] what basically became the first chunk of our repertoire of music. Then, we went on months and months of playing gigs on that set of music and that got us to this past summer. This past summer, we wrote a lot of new stuff and recorded our first album.

NS: Have you been through any changes as a group, in your sound or in your lineup?

DVD: No member changes, but our sound as a band is constantly evolving. What we sound like now is nothing like what we sounded like in the beginning, and I think that comes with getting comfortable with the band and being able to predict, in certain ways, what we’re each going to do in any given moment and use that to our advantage. We play in a very collective way-it might not sound like we’re being collective, but we know exactly what we’re doing. We call the music “free/groove/exploder,” the notion of being that a lot of our improvising seems to follow this subconscious path that leads us into chunks of music that are free, outside of the constraints of time and key. They slowly evolve into these dirty grooves that could be on an Isaac Hayes record. As we’ve been playing music with each other, we’ve kind of accidentally developed this style of music that’s somewhere in between rollicking free jazz and ‘70s funk.

NS: Does DeKalb fit in anywhere with Bonzo Terk’s story?

DVD: We were never based out of DeKalb. That’s where we first encountered each other as a group. Dan and I go back to high school, and I met Luc in DeKalb at a concert, and it just so happened that we would play our first show in DeKalb. DeKalb was the birthing ground for this idea. We’re actually based out of Chicago.

NS: I saw on your band’s Facebook that you were being considered for the Tall Tree Lake Music Festival this year. Any news on that?

LP: At this point, we’re being potentially considered for it. They’re still in the booking process, we’ve been talking with them and we’ll see what happens with it. We are actually a part of a couple different festivals this year. We’re playing a festival up in Wisconsin this summer called Isdakamp. We’re also playing a festival in South Elgin called the Field Trip Festival that we played last year as well. Those will be fun.

NS: Coming up much faster is your show at the House Cafe here in DeKalb on March 19 with Gurg and Old Soul Company. Are you looking forward to it?

DVD: Our first show was actually at the House. We opened up for Family Groove Company. We love the House, it’s a wonderful spot to play. The people who run it are super nice, its got a great vibe and it’s always a good time playing out there. Honestly, this interview is making me realize I have a spiritual connection with DeKalb.