The Hum: Absynth Q released


I was thinking about what I might write about the Hum this week when I received at Facebook message from Michael Simon “Tofu” Schwartz, the soundman who also plays drums for Absynth Quartet.

“Can we talk about the new AQ CD release?” he wondered.

“Sure,” I replied. I’d actually messaged the band earlier with a question based on the title of their new release, “What Do All These Knobs And Switches Do?” but no one had responded. I mentioned this when I ran into Tofu at the Tom Rush show at the Old Steeple, so he was basically catching up.

“This is the first one with just the Quartet,” Tofu began. The fact that what had previously been a quintet and now has renamed themselves to become a quartet is actually quite significant.


I’ve been following the fortunes of the various members of Absynth for more than a decade, through several albums that included a changing lineup.

The original core was three string players: Ian Davidson on banjo, Ryan Roberts on guitar and Chris “Bird” Jowaisas on mandolin. A bass/drums rhythm section filled the bottom. Tofu and bassist John Ludington joined a few years ago.

The last AQ disc was Telepathy with Glowbugs, released in 2014. Since then Bird left the band. He wrote almost all the songs on Telepathy, aside from two songs by John, and one, a gypsyish waltz called “Drago’s Valse,” written by Ryan and Bird. His departure was difficult for all concerned.

This time out as the knobs turned on the new record?   

“John wrote most of the songs, but Ian has one and Ryan has two,” said Tofu. “We recorded this whole album at Ryan’s studio in Arcata, slowly over two years.”


The band did not give me an advance listen, so I’m not certain how it all turned out, but John’s role should change things considerably. I always felt Mr. Ludington’s quirky songs add a different flavor, something that was not utilized to its full potential. He can add a twisted twist to the classic AQ “fire-breathing indie grass” formula that takes things in a new direction. For example we have the first “single”:

Absynth Quartet – Shores of Turpentine from Neeti Fidurko on Vimeo.

So, what exactly ARE all those buttons and knobs for?

“One knob is for irony. We dial in the presence while switching between the past and the future,” said Tofu.

And how much do electronics play into the sound?

“All three of the string players use a vast, yet tasteful array of pedals and effects to shape our sound. Some add sustain, while others, like the pink bunny, are a sort of probability engine that is still being tested.”


Does he employ any electro fx? Ian plays a space age “banjo” that probably goes beyond pink bunnies, and there’s that “array” of effects.

How do you fit in drum wise?

“I am the last acoustic instrument in the band, an acoustic stringband, no less 😀

At what point did you join the quintet? “Ryan and Ian and I started jamming in the late ’90s with some others. I joined the band in 2005, just after they released Flying Baby Swing. John joined in 2010, just after we’d finished IOTA.” They’ve come a long way (baby).

At Humbrews Friday Diggin Dirt will open the show. “They have become a super tight funk band, with killer vocals and arrangements,” said Tofu, and I agree, indeed, very funky.

AQ guests that night include John’s special friend Andrea Zvaleko singing on one song, with Tim Lane from Likwifi on another.

Also, “The horns from Digging Dirt will join us for a few tunes, as will their drummer, Joey. We worked out something special on the drums.”

I’m sure the whole thing will special. Can’t make to Arcata?

“FYI we will be livestreaming video of the event with three cameras and a soundboard feed.”


Very cool. I may see you there…

More things to do over the weekend? Coming soon…

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