Mihali Savoulidis – Twiddle

Everybody these days seems to be talking about Twiddle. Rising up the ranks in the festival scene over the last few years, Twiddle has grown from a young and talented band with a lot of potential to all out phenomenon. Their name has been buzzing around these parts for some time, while passionate fans religiously follow them around the country on tour.

Imagine starting with a background in Phish – these Vermonters are steeped in Phish as well as The Grateful Dead. Now add in a good helping of reggae flavor. Throw in some Dave Matthews style dramatic vocals with a positive message and you have the seed of a notion of what Twiddle is all about.

Having all these influences, Twiddle maintains their own distinctive sound. The recently released album “Plump – Chapter 1” is full of great tunes and an assortment of styles. It’s an uplifting LP full of catchy hooks and fun jams, faithfully catching their sound in the studio without succumbing to overproduction or studio tricks.

From the opening track “Complacent Race”, they kick off with high energy. A horn section punctuates the chorus and sets the pace for the rest of the album. “Amydst the Myst” follows up with a ballad feel and sweet lyrics.  “Polluted Beauty” is a fan favorite reggae jam preaching a strong message – don’t let technology strangle you, and appreciate the nature and beauty of the world.

I had the opportunity to speak with the lead singer, guitarist, and main songwriter Mihali Savoulidis. Though Twiddle is known as a jam band, Mihali’s distinctive voice is what serves as a signature to their sound.

Tom Matthew: Twiddle has just released a new album entitled “Plump – Chapter 1”. I’ve been listening to it for the last few weeks and really enjoying it. Tell us about your new album.

Mihali Savoulidis: Thanks so much. It’s supposed to be a double disc. We’ve released this first disc, which is what you’ve been hearing. We’re not really sure when the next disc will get released – sometime in the next year. We’re going into the studio in February to start working on it. We already have a bunch of stuff for it. We have a lot of newer songs that have been in the works that we’d like to get on the second disc. We’re going to cut everything and see what makes the album.

The first disc that we’ve finished is more focused on lyrical content rather than our live sound. We wanted an album that would stand up on its own with this version of the songs, rather than doing it live. That’s how we got the strings, horns, and whatever other resources we took up to Burlington to get it done.

TM: The album itself still has a lot of that live feel to it. Did you record live in the studio, or did you record it one track at a time?

MS: We tracked it out one instrument at a time. A lot of the songs on the first disc are songs we played live for a while, and other songs we wrote once the recording got underway.

TM: What studio did you record in and what was the vibe there?

MS: We were at Signal Kitchen in Burlington, VT. Signal Kitchen is great. It’s right in downtown Burlington. It’s a smaller studio, but it’s got a lot of really great recording stuff in it. It’s got some nice microphones, a lot of vintage gear – the engineer Dave DeCristo that we worked with is super knowledgeable about that stuff, so we had a lot of fun trying out different mics, compressors, and all kinds of stuff.

TM: Twiddle fuses a lot of different styles and sounds into one package. There’s an obvious jam band element, a reggae feel, and a lot of funk. How did this mashup of styles come together?

MS: I think it’s just our interests. We all come from different musical backgrounds. We all have a different style, which goes to make up what you hear. I’m the reggae influence, for sure. Ryan, our keyboard player, he’s more classically trained.  I think what it is, once the songs get into all our hands, our influences start coming out within the songs. We’ve always made a point of trying to be a “genre-free” band, to not try to play one style of music or another. We like it all, so we play it all.

TM: Tell me about the songwriting on the album. Is there one of you that brings most of the songs to the table, or is it a more collaborative effort on everyone’s part?

MS: On this album, they were all my songs except for Brook’s song “Dusk Till Dawn”, and Ryan, our keyboard player helped me write “Amydst the Myst” and “Syncopated Healing”. As far as the lyrics go, other than “Dusk Till Dawn”, they’re songs that I’ve written over the last few years. This is much different from the second album to come. That will be much more of a band collaboration. The other guys, Zdenek and Ryan have new songs that they wrote on their own. I also have a couple of mine. The second album will be much more diverse in terms of the authors of the songs.

TM: Some people have compared you to Phish. It’s kind of an obvious comparison, with you guys sharing the home state of Vermont and some similarity in style. How do you feel about being compared to bands like Phish and other jam bands?

MS: I think it’s kind of a double edged sword. It’s an honor, because we obviously love those bands. They’re clear influences for us. When we started off as a band, Phish was our number one favorite band, along with other bands like String Cheese and the Dead and all that. So there’s no way that style would not come out in our music.

On the other hand, if you put the jamming aside and you put the songs next to each other, we’re a very different band from them. It’s like comparing the Dead to Phish. Obviously, sort of similar scenes and kind of embracing the improvisational side of music, but they really don’t sound anything alike in the end.

We’re very used to the comparison, but I think I can strongly say that our music is very different from theirs. They are a band we love very much, and it’s the kind of music we started writing, so there’s no way we couldn’t be influenced by them. And the same thing with Phish. They’ve been influenced by other bands that they could be compared to, but that’s just the way music works.

TM: One of the things that set you apart from other jam bands is the strong reggae feel. Have you guys ever considered doing Cali Roots reggae festival, or otherwise working with the reggae scene in general?

MS: We’d love to. I think that we do have a lot of the reggae feel. I don’t know that we have enough of it in our music to be embraced by those scenes. That’s certainly music I really love to listen to, something I used to listen to a lot growing up, so it would be great. We’d love it. We’re down for anything.

I think there’s an overall happiness to reggae, and to our message and overall vibe that go well together. If I’m writing a song, and I’ve got a verse and a chorus, I’ll say “Why don’t I try the chorus reggae?” and for some reason my ears always like it that way. So we would love to. I’d be interested to see how we would be received in those scenes, for sure.

TM: What makes the jam scene different from some of the more mainstream music genres out there? What do you think makes it so special?

MS: I think the best thing the scene has going for it is how passionate the fans are. I think our success is directly due to how passionate our fans are about our music, and how not just the music but the overall message that we try to portray to them – a beautiful community of very nice people, respectful fans – that is what I’m trying to say. Anyway, to us that’s the one thing we notice about touring in this scene is just how strong the fans latch onto their bands.

The pop acts, and a lot of country acts, and indie rock, whatever – their fans are amazing too, I’m sure, but our fans are driving hundreds of miles to see these shows. They’re seeing 6 or 7 shows or 15 shows out of a tour, and they don’t want to miss a night. Part of that is us being able to put on a different live show every night and try to explore how we can make each song different from the last time we played it. So it’s a fun experience for everyone.

TM: There’s a positive, almost spiritual quality to a lot of the lyrics in your songs. Do you guys have a specific guiding philosophy as a band, or is it more of a general awareness towards understanding and consciousness?

MS: It’s a general awareness. Me being the prime songwriter and lyricist, it comes from an obvious place. Clearly we’re not treating the earth the way we should. People aren’t being good to each other. There’s just a lot more that we can do as individuals on a small level that I think we could make a bigger positive change in our personal lives, and overall as a race of people.

When I said obvious, it’s just kind of the right way to approach things in my mind, maybe not for others, but there’s just a lot of hatred out there, there’s a lot of meanness and cruelty and status, ego – all that crap.

TM: Who are some of the bands that you’ve come up with over the years? Do you have any musicians you’d like to give a shout out to that you’ve toured with, or maybe are special to you in some way?

MS: We’ve had great experiences with bands like Dopapod, Papadosio, The Werks – these are all our peers. We’ve been touring with them for so many years, or just bumping into them on the road, doing festivals, doing shows together, doing tours together – we did a whole tour with The Werks, we did a whole tour with Papadosio. And there are bigger bands that we’re starting to get to know a little more and playing with, people like Moe. and some others that have given us really nice looks and treated us very well. But as far as our peers go, for sure, the people I mentioned before. We also have Todd Stoops, he’s great. We have a great relationship with him, and he’s been a huge supporter of us, and it’s been really nice getting to know him over the last few years.

TM: And Todd Stoops is featured in the new album on “Every Soul”.

MS: Yes.

TM: Aside from finishing up “Plump – Chapter 2” in 2016, what does the future have in store?

MS: The only festival that’s been announced is down in Florida at Okeechobee. All those announcements should be coming pretty soon. I think next year is looking really good for us. Hogs for the Cause in New Orleans – we’re going back to NOLO which is great. The rooms are getting nicer, they’re getting bigger. That provides a better concert environment for us and for our fans, for sure.

TM: You like playing the big venues?

MS: I do. It’s better sound, and I think it’s a better experience. As a concertgoer, when I was younger, I much preferred going to bigger rooms and theaters, as opposed to the small clubs, in terms of sound, overall room space and all that stuff.

TM: Thanks so much for talking with us today.

MS: Yeah, man. Thank you so much.