Vermont Vibes: Twiddle

Twiddle is comprised of lead singer and guitar player Mihali Savoulidis, keys and organ player Ryan Dempsey, percussionist Brook Jordan and bassist Zdenek Gubb. Currently on tour, this Vermont quartet plays multi-genre music mixing jazz, classical, bluegrass and a blend of reggae and funk.
NextUp: How did Twiddle come to be? Where did it all start?
Ryan Dempsey: At Castleton, [Mihali] and I met on orientation day months before school. I happened to see him in class in the fall and we started talking about Phish. Mihali told me he played guitar and I said something like, “So you can play chords and stuff?” Everyone says they play the guitar, so I didn’t know if he was serious or not. But we jammed for the first time in the dorm rooms and started writing music. We met Brook through a pit band in a play and recruited him.
Brook Jordan: They recruited Billy, our old bass player, first. We were both seniors at Rutland. They said they needed a drummer, so they asked me. We went and jammed. The rest was history.
Ryan Dempsey: And then we met Zdenek when we needed a new bass player.
Zdenek Gubb: Mihali sends me a MySpace message and asks for my number saying we should play sometime and I was like ‘awesome!’ I was a fan of the band.
NextUp: How did you come up with the name?
Ryan Dempsey: Dictionary. First we were Jinx, but it was a German punk rock band so we couldn’t do that. We went to the dictionary and saw twiddle. Besides it’s main definition, it also said a fast series of musical notes.
Mihali Savoulidis: It had awesome synonyms. All the words meant the same. Jump. Jigglewiggle. Ramble. Fumble. It was all a bunch of cool words.
NextUp: How would you describe your sound? What were your major influences?
Zdenek Gubb: We all listen to different music, but enjoy similar music so it’s hard to say one influence.
Mihali Savoulidis: I like Ernest Ranglin the guitar player, but we also listen to Phish. And String Cheese I listened to a lot.
Brook Jordan: We like Umphrey’s McGee too.
Ryan Dempsey: I like Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. They’re my favorite band.
Brook Jordan: I’m constantly all over the map. Recently I’ve been really into country twang bluegrass but then I go all over the place. I like pretty much anything. I think we all do.
Ryan Dempsey: The sound of Twiddle is contrived of four individual personalities coming together. Even though we gave you our favorite of each, it doesn’t really matter. We don’t really play our heroes. We’re influenced but the sounds come from different collections of ideas.
Zdenek Gubb: Trying to look at it from an outside perspective, I think there’s a lot of Dave Matthews, Phish, Bela Fleck kind of sounds: jazzy.
Mihali Savoulidis: We don’t like to compare ourselves. There’s multiple influences for different styles of our music. I probably subconsciously write lyrics more like Dave Matthews than I would Phish, but we jam more like Phish. That’s like any band. To create a sound of it’s own, it’s really just a compilation of everybody’s influences. All of our influences are going to be different from this band’s influences which is probably why we sound different.
NextUp: What is your songwriting process like? Do you all contribute?
Ryan Dempsey: Mihali and I started out with the first original songs and now everyone’s contributing.
Mihali Savoulidis: It’s very rare we all write together. Me and Ryan write together and Brook writes songs on the guitar and brings them into the band. Zdenek has written some songs too on his own and kind of pieced them together with the band. It’s usually that one of us has a main concept of a song and it gets tightened up and finalized.
Zdenek Gubb: We kind of get to write our own parts for whoever set up the guidelines for a song.
NextUp: In a place like Vermont, with such diverse music offerings, how do you set yourselves apart?
Mihali Savoulidis: I think we have our own sound and own style of writing. Vermont’s cool and Burlington is the mecca of the music scene. Two bands never really sound alike. There’s not many Vermont bands that are close to our sound.
Zdenek Gubb: Being able to live here in Vermont, it’s closer to the East Coast and important for getting to the markets on the East Coast. With every band, you go through rough times and you think, ‘how are we going to keep doing this?’ It’s hard - it gets really hard. Maybe one thing that might set us apart from some other bands is that we haven’t given up, we keep trying. We are like family. We hate and love each other at the same time.
Brook Jordan: Most people actually say, don’t give up man. We’ve been at this for eight years, so what we are just going to stop now? We are never going to give up.
NextUp: Do you have any particularly memorable shows or jam sessions?
Brook Jordan: Now we’ve been starting to get ridiculous musicians to sit in with us. We had Keller Williams sit in with us at Frendly Gathering. We played a show that was billed as John Popper and Twiddle out in Colorado and that was huge. He sat in on one of our songs and we played three Blues Traveler songs and were his backing band. Mihali even got to sit in with them again on the main stage
Ryan Dempsey: As far as jam sessions, one of my most memorable was in New York. We played one of our songs and when we ended it, we realized that was the whole 45-minute set. It was just a crazy-long, improvisational jam. It was good
Mihali Savoulidis: We’ve just hit this stride in the past few months where the shows we’ve been doing are kind of on the next level in terms of numbers and turnout. They’ve all been really intense and cool for us because it’s new. We’re not used to playing in front of that many people and having such a strong response from our fans. Playing for 1,000 people is a whole new world. All the shows have been pretty cool and special I’d say. It really validates the hard work that you put in and seeing some of the pay off.
NextUp: Did anything about the state of Vermont inspire you to pursue music?
Ryan Dempsey: We lived in a house for two or three years up in the middle of a beautiful lake and mountain setting. I feel like some of our best music came out of those times. We totally got inspired by the surroundings of what I consider to be the epitome of what beautiful Vermont was found upon. I think the surroundings have a lot to do with the music.
Mihali Savoulidis: I came to Vermont to be in a band. I don’t really think I came to Vermont for college. I just followed the footsteps and I think a lot of people do. I think a lot of kids come to Vermont to discover this place because of Phish and then realize how cool it looks. There are a lot of college towns similar to Burlington, but I definitely came to Vermont to find musicians in Vermont. Another thing that’s good about Vermont, is you have so many major markets right in your back door. Especially in Colorado, when you’re trying to tour you have to travel 15 hours to the next major market, but here you can cover the whole place in seven or eight with New York, Boston, Philly all right there. You can really kill the whole East Coast without destroying your pockets
NextUp: Do you have any pre-show traditions or habits?
Brook Jordan: Zdenek and I sometimes do an exercise that I came up with, called grounding. It’s just a breathing exercise and it gets rid of the majority of pre-show anxiety. I’ve talked to musicians who say the anxiety makes you play better, but I like to center my qi.
Zdenek Gubb: Even after I do that grounding, my hands might still be a little shaky, but I can’t have my fingers going crazy
Brook Jordan: It also helps relax your mind too and it’s nice to focus on nothing and forget about all the bullshit you probably should have to deal with. You can just get ready for the show and that’s all that really matters. For most of us, I think that’s our saving grace is that life can be pretty shitty, but on stage all that stuff goes away.
Zdenek Gubb: We hope the same for fans watching the show too. They don’t have to think about everyday bullshit, they can just be there in the moment and enjoy it.
NextUp: What would you suggest to teens interested in making careers out of music or the arts as well? What should be their next steps after high school?
Mihali Savoulidis: Stick with it.
Brook Jordan: It depends what avenue they want to take and how serious they want to get. If you want to be a session musician and a touring musician, maybe go to Nashville or a school like Berkeley. A lot of musicians I knew growing up went to Berkeley, and it’s really expensive so they get what they can out of it. If you want to go find a group of musicians to play with, you don’t necessarily have to go to college.
Ryan Dempsey: I would say it’s not a bad thing to go to college. See how it works for you, and go to music classes. At least it’s someplace that you could potentially find your bandmates.
Zdenek Gubb: Intuition is a real thing and your heart can actually tell the future. It’s hard to explain but has been proven, the biggest thing is really just believing and trusting what you think’s going to work out.
Mihali Savoulidis: The slowest most tedious process is being in a band, but hard work pays off in the end.
Zdenek Gubb: If your gut is saying this is what I want to do with the rest of my life, then you will be able to do it.
Ryan Dempsey: Another big piece of advice for high school kids is about ego. Just leave it out. It’s the number one thing that will cause you to fail so quickly. Be confident. Have confidence, It’s the ego and the person that wants to lead everyone and tell them what to do that’s the problem. You have to let everyone make the sound instead of bossing people around and thinking you’re the best. I think that’s the number one turn off for me.
Zdenek Gubb: If you’re compassionate and considerate, you’ll go a long way in this business.
All: Be humble and patient. Never give up
Zdenek Gubb: Be respectful.
Mihali Savoulidis: You can’t just suck.
Brook Jordan: Have fun with it.
NextUp: What’s next? Do you have any big plans for this year?
Zdenek Gubb: We’re recording a live album on the next four Wednesdays at Nectar’s, a Vermont venue. Hopefully it will be out by Christmas. We would like to be in the studio in January for another album.