Meet The Beat Weavers:
Andy Scherzer of Jaw Gems Talks Touring, Recording, and the Power of Parliament Funkadelic

Words by Steve Melone
Photo by Niki Taylor

Bassist Andy Scherzer speaks over the phone from the Jaw Gems homeland in Maine, taking time in between smaller shows that’ll act as a precursor to more touring next year, most of which will remain on the East Coast. “We have some stuff that should be bringing us out to the West Coast. We’ll join up with Lettuce for some more shows. We’re trying to get out to that side because we haven’t played the Midwest or West Coast yet. We love playing with those guys, they’re friends. To get paid to go play music, and to watch them play music is the best gig ever.”

The band’s newest release, Heatweaver, is responsible for all the year’s touring. Jaw Gems’ third release takes on more synthesizer-rich vibes and hip-hop influences, which isn’t new terrain for the group. “Our vision has always been no rules. Just figure out how to make cool sounds and go with that.” That’s not to say the band hasn’t grown between releases in some sonic sense. “I think execution-wise, between the first and second albums, we made a lot of changes. We switched up primarily to synths. There’s electric piano on the first album, and I don’t think there’s any traditional acoustic instruments other than live drums and electric bass. But a lot of the bass is synth bass on the second two albums. Definitely much more heavy on the synths and heavier beats.”

On top of the small differences between albums, other decisions have become part of the band’s identity, at least for the time being. “There are definitely sounds we almost arbitrarily decided to stay away from. We don’t have guitars in our songs. We might change our minds about that—it’s not because we’re against guitar in any way—it’s just, ‘let’s make it synth-based.’ Just do that and mess with those sounds. So there’s processes we’ve decided to go with.”

Jaw Gems’ debut album, Take a Sip of My Wish, made greater use of traditional jazz and soul influences—something that is still present, yet evolving in the band’s more recent catalog. “We didn’t try to veer away from that. The vision was to just not be doing what we already knew how to do, and [add] more keyboards. That’s the mission statement actually, I should’ve just said that—it’s more keyboards.”

Jaw Gems consists of bassist Andrew Scherzer, drummer DJ Moore, and keyboardists Tyler Quist and Ahmad Hassan Muhammad. The four churn out plenty of music together, and more on their own time. “I would definitely consider everyone in the band producers. We all record and engineer our own stuff. Everyone comes from a live musicianship background. Everyone does their own engineering and beat making. We put that all together when we write. Other than maybe sending stuff out to master, everyone can pretty much finish a project themselves.” With so much independent creativity in the air, practicing and writing in unison takes on a much more productive and versatile atmosphere. “We’ll have beats already figured out, song structures written, but then we’ll hang out for like a week when we’re getting ready to record and just jam out. We’ll write stuff together, jam out parts from songs that someone recorded. It’s every possible process you could have. It’s a great situation to be in.”

Collaboration fosters a type of musical truth and connectivity. Many times, band members chew on the same musical food and influences, which can be drawn from together or separately. Jaw Gems’ influences vary greatly. “Everyone is actually deep into everything. I think a lot of people would say, ‘Oh, I’m into everything,’ you know? But I mean it when I say the people in the band are actually into everything.”

Scherzer found much of his musical identity when he was seventeen, at a George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic concert. “That was the concert I went to that turned me into a bass player. It was my seventeenth birthday. My friend got me a ticket to Parliament-Funkadelic at State Theater in Portland, and gave me some mind-altering things. At the end of the night, I swear they had stagehands come out and take turns playing bass lines over the last song’s groove. I was just like, ‘Oh, I gotta do that for ever and ever.’ I never heard shit like that, definitely never anything that heavy live. Like the whole band playing “Mothership Connection” live, that was some fucking transcendental shit.”

As for their own writing concepts, Jaw Gems stay true to simply finding aesthetically pleasing sounds. How they get there is the trickiest part. “Whenever I try to write, I treat it like an act of keeping my ego out of my way. If I can manage that, it’ll be a clearer intention, so it’ll be honest. Whether it will be awesome or not, I can’t really control.”

Keep an eye out for Jaw Gems on tour in early 2017 with Lettuce and Papadosio! | Heatweaver