INSIDE THE BRILLIANT, ECCENTRIC, FANTASTICAL WORLD OF DAVID ROUSH AND ECCE SHNAK By Sandra Castillo
What do you get when you combine Art Rock/Chamber Punk, current world events and the cerebral, complex mindset of a man who seemingly resists the urge to remain complacent in a universe sidelined by political strife, social injustice and the bigger issues facing humanity at large?
The result of this equation is NYC-based Ecce Shnak, which has fans hurling themselves in the middle of their fantastic, kaleidoscopic orbit to take the journey with them. The main culprit, by way of the group’s vocalist/mastermind David Roush, has deliberately upended and recalibrated all of this aural persuasion with a setlist that includes cleverly constructed, tongue-in-cheek fare, such as “Larry, Sleepover Friend,” “Velociraptor Swayze” and “Katy’s Wart,” which garnered the “Best Music Animation” Award at the New Chitose Airport International Animation Festival.
RG Magazine recently caught up with Roush, who is rapidly establishing a name for himself and Ecce Shnak, as they crisscross the planet in their quest to bring their music and pageantry to the masses. With the recent release of Metamorphejawns, the band’s first, full-length album, the world is more than ready to embrace them in their beautiful, introspective, fantastic quirkiness. Here is what he shared with the publication.
Aside from possessing and unleashing one hell of an imagination onto all-matters-Ecce Shnak, please introduce the readers to David Roush.
I’m a singer, a composer, a classical guitarist and a drummer. I have studied music both with my little self and with help from many great teachers, primarily at Temple University in Philadelphia, where I got a degree in classical guitar performance.
Were you in any other bands before you launched Ecce Shnak?
I was in bands that I love very much! I was in an indie-rock band called Lightning Bug and Art-Metal band called the Fa’afafine. Both of those split up around 2009.
Please explain what exactly “Ecce Shnak” means to those of us who are chomping at the bit to know.
“Ecce Shnak” means a lot, but primarily it means, “Hey, look at this.” Listen to a lot of the songs, and you’ll get a better idea.
Talk a bit about how Ecce Shnak came to fruition and the members of the band.
I started the first version of Ecce Shnak in 2011 but broke it up in 2013 and moved to New York City to find new players. Ecce Shnak is made up of: Lee, Sly, Brendon, Chelsea, Henry, Tristan, and they play guitar n’ keys, soprano, guitar, soprano, drummies and basso.
They are insanely kind, wonderful, funny, eccentric, professional and ridiculously competent cats.
Visceral, intelligent, hip, hilarious, without being ironic, are just a few of the adjectives that come to mind when viewing music videos of Ecce Shnak. Who is the mastermind behind the visual aesthetic of these creative bodies of work? Who do you employ to turn the lyrics into viable, short films, as seen in the video for “Dingleberry III, One On Tito: Trite Song?”
Well, thank you! That is very flattering and encouraging. I developed the concepts for “Trite Song,” “Applepinea” and “Katy’s Wart.” I worked with Milton Walker and his company, Walking House Productions, to make “Trite Song.” I developed the original concept for the piece-a fellow being harassed by and then transcending many other versions of himself from political, personal and other threats-and my amazing colleague, Milton, expanded on it and gave it his fantastic, visual treatment. The costumes were designed by Tessa Morehouse of Velvet Antler, and the set was designed by Andrea Purcioglotti.
I have also had the luck and pleasure to work with extremely awesome cinematographers and animators Titmouse Productions and NYC-based dancer, musician and filmmaker Hollye Bynum.
When you are not creating music, what is a typical day like in the life of David Roush?
Worrying, talking to dogs, making strange food, doing my funny, improvised, personal tai-chi-ish exercise and hanging with my loved ones.
Besides music, are you interested in delving into other creative outlets to fulfill your personal ambitions and dreams?
I draw funny pictures, some of which are in Ecce Shnak’s album art; I have a fun time messing with filmmaking (acting and screen writing) and, also, like to help movements that are organizing for social, environmental and economic justice.
What can one expect at an Ecce Shnak performance?
If a heart could possibly be opened to Ecce Shnak, an Ecce Shnak performance is a walk through a strange, haunting and lovely landscape. We hope, though that you feel us by your side the whole time, that as abnormal as it is, you always feel intrigued, encouraged and as though you are having a conversation with us, not just getting blabbed at.
Let’s talk about Metamorphejawns.
Ecce Shnak’s first, full-length album, Metamorphejawns, is a study of change. Everybody from Siddhartha Gotama to Ovid to your friend Larry will tell you that change is a basic challenge of human life. This fact is as old as the hills. But the present century, fraught with the perils of climate chaos, artificial intelligence, resurgent fascism and other kinds of madness might be the most uproarious in human history. While these wild winds are added to the storm of human life, the throes of romantic love, sexuality and loneliness in the lives of individuals do not relent, either. Metamorphejawns is music that attempts to struggle with and respond to these endlessly, changing changes earnestly and positively, both in seriousness and in good humor, with Ecce Shnak’s wildly idiomatic synthesis of styles, irreverent-but-not-misanthropic lyrics and party attitude.
Oh! And though you might already know this, the word “jawn” is a Philadelphian word that, like “shnak,” means whatever you want it to mean.
From what wellspring do you imbibe to make your dreams come alive for Ecce Shnak?
Yes, this is a good question! I say I have a Muse, a Lady in my mind or in the heavens, to whom I am indebted for my funny Ecce Shnak songs. I am her servant, and on my best days, I serve her well. Other than that, I think Ecce Shnak songs come from my precious relationships, invaluably precious as they are.
After David’s Q & A session, it was time to chat with other members of the band.
What is it about music that made you pursue it in the first place?
Brendon-Music, to me, is an emotional/physical release and a way to connect to people. These were both things my teenage self needed, really badly, and once I figured out that music gave them to me, it was pretty much all over for me doing anything else.
Chelsea-As a kid, I always felt like a weirdo, whose interests didn’t align with those of my peers, and I just had so many EMOTIONS, I was like a tiny, anxious pressure cooker. Singing and acting gave me, not only an outlet for all these feels, but a loving community of other weirdos, as well. I suppose I just never could give that up.
What does being a part of Ecce Shnak mean to you?
Chelsea-That rehearsal time and snack time need not be mutually exclusive.
Sara Lin-Being a part of the Shnak Family means having the world’s smartest, weirdest, most creative support network.
Where are some of your favorite cities to play?
Lee-We love to play in Philly, because Davey has roots there, and there’s a contingent of people who know the music and really connect with it; it’s one of the few places we can play at this point, where if you look out into the audience, there are people who already know the songs and are singing along. But really, we love going to just about any city and meeting new people-audience members and other bands-that we, otherwise, never would have. We’ve had awesome experiences playing in big cities like Chicago, and little towns like Fayetteville, West Virginia, and everywhere in between.
Is there mutuality amongst the band members, when it comes to working in the recording studio?
Lee-Davey is definitely the artistic leader in the studio-as the one who wrote all the music and is spearheading the project-and we also work with a producer, Jeff Lucci, but there is plenty of room left for the rest of us to have input. The musical world of the band is enormous and encompasses so much that it’s hard to imagine a threshold at which it couldn’t take more input. And on the creative side, Davey’s really great at integrating other people’s ideas into his grand vision, and his ears are always open to contributions from anyone.
What is your favorite thing about being in Ecce Shnak?
Brendon-The other people in the band! Every single one is a hilarious, wonderful, fun and freakishly talented human that I love playing with and really enjoy spending time with.
Chelsea-Wow, Brendon, I didn’t know you felt that way!
Which song seems to be a favorite in concert with your fans?
Chelsea-Everyone always seems to love “Letter to German Vasquez Rubio,” which is also one of my favorite Shnak songs to sing. We usually get a lot of enthusiasm for “I’m Made of Toys,” and of course, you can’t beat the grand finale vibe of “Velociraptor Swayze.” I think the audience is truly caught off-guard by the accompanied choral bit at the end, and it seems to move people in a way that they don’t expect.
Sara Lin-This is an impossible question to answer, because it varies so much. We recently dusted off “Hey Man, Nice Turtle,” because it’s a favorite of a friend of the Shnak’s “Liberty Bell Forever Stamp” and “Party at Patrick Ewing’s House” are also crowd favorites.
Describe the vibe that happens when Ecce Shnak is on stage.
Sara Lin-We rock a fun, theatrical vibe. And the fun we’re having on stage is real and highly contagious.
For more information on Ecce Shnak, please visit https://ecceshnak.com