Big Bottoms: Greg Colacino of Thank You Scientist
For the past year, Internet prog rock trolls have been hearing whispers of a heavy, groovy and virtuosic seven-piece of jazz cats from New Jersey who regularly unleash their ferocious rock/fusion experiments on venues across the greater New York City area.
You might think you wouldn’t like trumpet, sax and violin incorporated into a traditional rock and roll four-piece, but you’d be wrong. Thank You Scientist is a prog rocker’s dream that became reality. And despite the “non-rock” instrumentation, one need only listen to “Blood on the Radio” or “In the Company of Worms” from Thank You Scientist’s 2012 full-length, Maps of Nonexistant Places, to understand how committed they are to heavy rock battery.
One of the engines of Thank You Scientist’s ingenuity and inclination for musical variety is bassist Greg Colacino. With stellar chops (a gorgeous beard) and dynamic tone, Greg has laid down intricate, melodious bass parts that both join the drums with the stringed instruments and do right by the horn section.
With the band getting set for their first tour of the East Coast, Greg shared some of his insight into his playing with Thank You Scientist, his sound and his goals for the future.
How did you join Thank You Scientist?
I went to a Halloween party with [drummer Odin Alvarez] and I met Tom. He said his schedule had freed up and he wanted to restart Thank You Scientist, which was an older project. Tom said, “The only problem is now we need a bass player.” It was pretty coincidental because I was looking for a band myself.
When you realized in what direction the band was going, did you feel prepared?
Oh, yeah, absolutely! I was excited to take on something so challenging. This is exactly the type of music that I had in my head that I wanted to play next. It was really coincidental.
One of Tom and my favorite bands is this old local band from Rhode Island called Gruvis Malt. Before the night I met Tom, I had never met anyone else who knew that band. They’re not that big; they’re not even together anymore.
We both liked Gruvis Malt and had the idea to make that kind of music, and it worked out pretty nicely.
Were you in other bands before Thank You Scientist?
Yeah, I had played in a few different kinds of bands. I played in hardcore band. I played in a poppy, Dave Matthews-type of band.
Completely different then.
Yeah, absolutely. But that’s what I like to do; I like to try playing different kinds of music. That way I can understand something about that kind of music and bring it over to the next project I’m involved in. I like catchy parts as well as heavy rocking parts.
I’m under the impression that the first EP was mostly written by guitarist Tom Monda. Is that the case?
Well, no. Tom definitely comes up with the skeletal parts of the riffs, but everybody works on their own parts together, and then we’ll have small, sectional rehearsals where the horns will be able to work out which chords they’re playing at the same time, as well as what types of fills we want to do. Stuff like that.
There are so many instruments in Thank You Scientist that the typical rock bass played never even has to consider, so do you find you have to change your bass part much to accommodate what the horns or violin are playing?
Absolutely. One of the biggest things about being in Thank You Scientist is we can’t have everybody playing hammer-ons and solos and licks all over because then it sounds like everyone is trying to step into the spotlight. Everything that I play is based on catering to what will make everything else sound better.
Can you give an example from a song of when you drastically changed a part in the name of support?
It’s like, if I wanted to throw in a fill, rather than just staying on the one note that will complete the chord we’re trying to accomplish. I don’t have a specific example, but it’s pretty much everything we do.
What part of your playing do you have to work on most? Right hand/left hand technique? Rhythm and groove? Knowledge of the chords being played?
Probably everything you mentioned. Mostly, though, the fills that we’ll do require a lot of drilling. All the guys are so well musically trained, we come up with some pretty wonky stuff; it requires a lot of practice. But that’s part of the fun.
When you’re writing new stuff, is everyone able to hang when someone has a new part or does it take a while to get it under your collective fingers?
Everyone actually comes in pretty quickly. That’s never an issue. More often than that we’ll work on something for an extensive period of time and then we’ll say, “Even though it’s cool, it’s not right for the song.” And we’ll scrap it. Everybody is really quick to figure out the parts and jam.
Is there one person who directs the jam sessions? It must get chaotic when you’re improvising, trying to come up with stuff.
Definitely Tom is the orchestra leader—the conductor if you will. We all work off of each other, so that’s what makes it come out right.
How much practicing do you do on your own?
I’d say I practice every night for a little while. I don’t try to put an exact hour amount on it, but I’d say I play for an hour or two every night.
Do you mostly work on Thank You Scientist stuff?
Most of the time I’m just working on Thank You Scientist stuff and trying to jam on cool ideas that might sound good with our songs.
What equipment are you using nowadays?
The good people over at Vigier were kind enough to lend me out some of their four and five-string instruments. They’re really beautiful. I play a Harkte cab with an EBS head.
I have mostly Boss pedals. My favorite one is the CryBaby bass wah. It’s got a filter that has this cool slow sweep I can use on the songs where I want to sound more bassy. I have a distortion, too. Most of the time I have on my EQ pedal—that’s probably the most important pedal in my rig. Then there’s this funky synth wah I’ve been playing with recently.
I have an octave pedal, but I didn’t really need it anymore after I got the five-string.
When you listen to your playing on the two Thank You Scientist records you’ve done, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud to be a part of the music in general. I think this Thank You Scientist stuff is really creative and outside the box. It’s challenging and it’s a great way for me to express myself artistically. Just being part of it all and part of such a great group of talented people is what I’m most proud of.
What are you most proud of in terms of bass when you listen to the two records you’ve done, The Perils of Time Travel and Maps of Nonexistant Places?
I guess I’m most proud of the bass solo on “Suspicious Waveforms” [from Maps] I’m really not that type of a bass player; I’m more groove oriented, as opposed to a virtuoso. That was the first time that I had to actually write a bass solo on record. It was a lot of work, but I really liked it too. I would say that’s bass-wise what I’m most proud of.
Do you have any bass goals for the next record?
I definitely want to improve my chops and bring something new to the table. I think that’s what we’re all shooting for on this next record. It’s going to be really good.
Thank You Scientist are on tour now. Get dates here.