Chuck Thurau: “Music is about making people feel something”

Name: Chuck Thurau
Home: Brooklyn, New York
Website/LinksChuck ThurauGoldilocksJohnny Boots Band
Gear List: Fender American Deluxe Jazz V 5-String Electric Bass, MusicMan 5 string bass (I’ve had this bass over 20 years), Mark Bass amps for the past 5 years or so
Best bass riff you’ve ever heard: “What is Hip?” by Tower of Power, “What is and What Should Never Be” by Led Zeppelin, Anything by Jack Bruce

Chuck Thurau Live

Michael Cannavaro: You’re a family man, you work, you are involved in your family’s karate school (Blitz Dojo), and gig often. How do you manage to find a healthy balance?
Chuck Thurau: I have had periods in my life where I haven’t worked and all I did was music. It’s hard to live in NY that way and make a mortgage payment. I have always struggled with it, wishing I could survive solely on music. Like anything else, if you really love it, you will find time to do it all. I do always make time for my family, keeping that the priority. If I have a gig and don’t get home in bed until 5:00 AM and have to get up early for a family commitment, I just get up. That’s the sacrifice you make. There are definitely times when I am really tired, but you just do it. I have kept up with the crazy schedule for so long, I am just used to it.

MC: Do you approach playing and gigging different now than you had historically?
CT: For me, I still love playing and still want to be contributing something musically. I approach playing more now as a contribution. Especially in the current cover band that I am in. In that arrangement, we are getting paid to entertain people so they enjoy themselves. That approach is what keeps me growing. It keeps me young. It keeps me going. I’d even add that playing covers over the last 8 or 10 years has actually helped me become a better player and better musician. It helps me strive to continue to improve. Forget about all the other stuff you were into when you were young. …like trying to get signed. I think if people would just focus on being good and getting better, all that other stuff takes care of itself.

The Last Breakfast

MC: As an actively gigging musician, what is your perspective on the area music scene around Long Island?
CT: It really ebbs and flows. I think we saw the peak in the late 90’s while playing with Spider Nick and the Maddogs. There were numerous places to play, attract large crowds and make money. When they cracked down on drunk driving, which as we are older now can agree was a good thing, I think it initially hurt the entire bar/club music scene. The scene suffered from many years. Recently though, I notice it bouncing back a bit. I was kind of blown out a couple weeks ago while playing a gig in Patchogue at That Meetball Place. I was surprised how busy main street was. I thought back many years ago playing at the BrickHouse Brewery…. It must have been at least 12 years since I played in the area. I was surprised to see how many places there were that have live music. So to me, it looks like the scene is bouncing back, but the money [laughs] seems to be the same as it was 15 to 20 years ago. That hasn’t change [more laughs]. It is equally encouraging to see many younger people playing in bands again. It seemed there was definitely a gap for awhile. Maybe it was what was going on musically? I think as musicians we are our own worst enemies sometimes playing for no money or putting ourselves in pay to play situations.

MC: You mentioned it was encouraging to see many young musicians and bands playing again. How is it working with younger musicians?
CT: For me the fun is playing with different people as well as different age groups. I think a lot of musicians get stuck in the music they grew up with and don’t move past it for whatever reason. It’s all music. One form isn’t better than any other. It’s what you do with it and what you are bringing to the performance. You just need to keep getting better. If you’re in a band where you are not working to get better, then you are in the wrong situation. Music is about making people feel something. If you are not bringing that attitude, then stay home and just watch TV.

MC: I know several bands who are very dedicated to their specific genre, believe deeply in their material and are willing to pay to play to find an audience. Having worked on original material of your own and been a member of original bands, what are your thoughts on pay to play?
CT: The art of finding a way to create original music and get paid for it…. I didn’t know how to do that. When I joined Spider Nick and the Maddogs in the 90’s, it was exciting because that was an original band who was getting paid. However that worked out, it was exciting. I had been in original bands for a long time and no one ever got paid. I think it is difficult to break through with an original style. I understand there may be a need for pay to play, but there are fortunately many more outlets now besides just gigging. Back in the day, we didn’t have YouTube and didn’t have the ability to easily and inexpensively put something out like original material. Today, you still need to find an audience, but there are more channels to do so. There are more ways to develop a fanbase. I think those channels have changed the industry.

MC: Will you talk about some of the bands you play with and how you landed those gigs?
CT: Goldilocks is the first top 40 cover band I have ever played with. I answered an ad on Craigslist. Before the audition I had to school myself on all their songs which are almost considered standards nowadays. Like Don’t Stop Believing and Jesses Girl. I didn’t have a background in that since I had played mostly originals and was in an Elvis band. Once in Goldilocks, we wound up playing a lot in Stamford [Connecticut]. From there, someone saw us and we landed gigs at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. What I bring to a band is that I am a bass player who can sing lead and background vocals. I grew up singing Iron Maiden, so I can sing high and I am able to do all the girl harmonies. Other projects have including Johnny Boots, which is a blues band. I landed that from playing in Green River, a Creedence [Creedence Clearwater Revival] cover band. Most of the gigs I get tend to be word of mouth. They are from having played with somebody and being recommended. You sort of work your way up the ladder and develop a reputation. People know you and know you are reliable. It’s really not that difficult. You just need to know the material, have the right attitude, show up on time and be prepared. It’s not a hard concept, although for some it seems to be.

Chuck Thurau 2016

MC: Have you been in any challenging musical situations? How did you address or overcome them?
CT: It’s a funny thing… I find every new musical situation to be somewhat challenging.
I played in one arrangement that was show tunes. Broadway type jazz stuff which was outside my wheelhouse. It involved reading charts. That was an entirely new experience for me. Every show was new material and new charts. We never repeated any songs. To add to the challenge, each chart had to played exactly as written. It was extremely difficult. Additionally, I felt like this genre of musicians sort of looked down on us rock musician guys. It was an all around difficult situation and I didn’t like it. In the past I would have bailed out. For me now, I fought my way through the first few gigs and then it became easier. You need to sometimes challenge yourself to fight through these exact situations. I used to be the guy who quit stuff [laughs]. Jobs, friendships, bands…. If something was not to my liking, I’d bail out. Really, what I was doing was running away from a challenge. I started practicing Buddhism 7 years ago and it taught me that you have to fight through certain situations in order to grow. If you are always quitting, you are not growing and you are not developing. From that perspective, playing those gigs with that band and learning all the charts opened my mind up, motivated me and made me such a better player. I had a more holistic view of my instrument. I went as far as taking a step back, looking at my instrument differently and even studying the upright bass more. It changed me dramatically.

MC: Can you tell me more how practicing Buddhism has shaped your life?
CT: I practice Nichiren Buddhism with an organization called Soka Gakkai International (SGI).
It translates to value creation – peace, culture, and education. The Lotus Sutra states that all people can obtain enlightenment. It’s basically a Buddhism for everyone. We meet and discuss the Buddhist concepts and how to apply them to everyday life. Nichiren Buddhism is practiced by many prominent musicians and artists. It’s about taking control of your own life. Whoever is giving you a hard time, you pray for their happiness. It’s a hard concept to grasp, you really need to transform your own life to overcome these challenges. You are the common denominator. I had to overcome the constant quitting of things. It has had a profound effect on my life.

MC: What are you looking forward to in the future?
CT: I’m 51 and I still love playing music. I am more into it now than I have ever been. I do look forward the opportunity to put out more original material. I’m definitely looking for the next challenge. Even possibly leading my own band… perhaps a trio. I’d really like to front a band in 2017. That’s my next goal/challenge. Ultimately, I would like to not have to work a day job. As a musician, that’s always the goal.