Finale In Gold is an apt title for Long Island Jazz septet Waffle Mishap’s latest release. As a glorious explosion of funk-laden jazz improvisation, soft rock style, and showtune theatricality, the album (released last month) feels like a ride on the roller coaster tracks that adorned the album’s lead single “Lost Without You.”
Danceable highs like “Back On Track” with its screaming sax and punchy bass solos are deftly accompanied by more sober but still exciting moments like the ballad “Juliet.” Finale In Gold is an excellent collision of musicianship, songwriting, and youthful verve. I was lucky enough to talk with four of the band’s seven members, Michael Golub (Vocals//Trumpet/Piano), Joe Degregory (Drums), Jordan Martin (Saxophone), and Liam Reynolds (Guitar) to discuss the new album and what it means to them as a band.
*Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
How did Waffle Mishap start making music together?
Michael Golub: We came together on New Years Eve of 2018. It was me, Joe, and our original bass player Declan, and the three of us sort of decided to form a band. That was an idea that sparked in December, and I sort of took it through a few phases. For a hot second, it was a jazz quartet, and then we did a few gigs at some coffee shops with that, and it morphed into this other thing. And then over the summer I decided to just blow it out into the full seven piece band. As far as the name is concerned, I think Joe has a better depiction than I do.
I’m definitely curious about that.
Joe Degregory: We were hanging out on New Years Eve, and for some reason in the room we were in there was a box of waffles. So somebody asked to be passed a waffle and it fizzed into waffles being tossed all around the room and someone goes “this is a real waffle mishap.”
Liam Reynolds: We’re gonna need a better story eventually.
Jordan Martin: It’s such a boring story for such a good band name.
You’re telling me nobody even got hit with a waffle?
LR: No I think someone definitely did. [Laughs]
Okay, it’s justified then.
LR: We almost changed it once.
MG: We had kind of a big show with this up and coming singer/songwriter named Hailey Knox. It was definitely our first bigger show in terms of people who matter over there, and we debated changing it for that.
JM: But it’s a good thing we didn’t, ‘cause after she got done, she was like “whoa who’s Waffle Mishap?” That’s such a cool name. We were like, alright, maybe ‘cause she likes it, we’ll keep it.
So who are your musical influences? I guess this question will probably have some different answers for each of you.
LR: It’s been a little all over the place. A lot of standard rock stuff, and then getting into jazz at 13 or 14. The two main influences I have on the guitar are Keith Richards and Johnny Marr, as far as my playing on the album. I’ve accumulated a lot of influences over the years.
JM: Right now, I’d say my two greatest influences for tenor sax are Chad Elbee, a great sax player. I’m actually using his signature model mouthpiece, so I’m definitely trying to emulate his sound. And the other is Richie Canatta, Billy Joel’s tenor sax player. Stage presence and ideas come from them, but Jazz is kind of a new genre for me, I started high school. I also love some classic ‘80s rock and funk — which is kind of our style.
JD: So for me, just drumming wise: Neal Peart from Rush, Baard Kostad from a band called Leprous, and Mike Portnoy. He’s more of like a metal drummer, but I kind of take that and apply it to this group.
MG: I, like most of us, started really young. I went through a lot of different phases of what I liked and what inspired me. Before I was a musician, I was primarily an actor in musical theater, so that sort of influenced my musical taste at the time — which sort of created a sort of theater-infused style of songwriting. I really like groups like Lawrence the Band, Dirty Loops, Jacob Collier, John Bellion.
How long have you guys been working on this record?
MG: The writing started last June, at least that’s when the songs started being written. The recording for the album started in March. We got through the drums, and the keys for one song … and then the coronavirus happened. We all went into self-isolation for a little bit, and then things — at least in New York — started to get a little bit better, so we were able to socially distance to the best of our ability, and we started recording again in July. We mixed and mastered in August, and then promo-ed all through September.
Where do you guys record?
JD: Last year, we did all our recording in a studio, but with coronavirus and everything we decided to record everything ourselves in my basement studio. We did everything here except for the drums, which we recorded in my grandparents’ garage because it just sounded the best. Then we brought everything to a studio called Voodoo, and they mixed and mastered everything.
Your sound is heavily informed by jazz and funk music. How does this play into your style? Is it a planned out approach, or do you sort of just improvise and see where things go?
MG: Most of the time, I don’t just sit down and think “Okay, I’m gonna start writing.” It has to be an idea I’m thinking about that kind of just inspires me. If I try to sit down to write something just because I want to write something, it will never turn out to be good. I’ll sit down and try to move around ideas that I’ve had — an idea that can spark the rest of a song. At that moment, it’s improvised, like all the ideas that are flowing are kind of just off the cuff as I’m putting together pieces of the song.
Eventually, you start to figure out a structure. Then, there are solos. I know everyone in the band has their own approach to how we come up with our solos, and how we record them. Personally, I like improvising my solos when I’m in the studio. I like doing a few takes, seeing what comes, and just keeping what’s the best. But Liam, for example, has a totally different approach.
LR: Yeah, most of the solos I’ve played have been developed over the course of a year. I improvised them the first time I played them at Michael’s house, and then I worked on them and perfected them until I finally got to record them. My solo on “Snow Day” went through about 16 different versions before the one that shows up on the album finally came into existence.
The only time i actually had to improvise was “Finale In Gold” because we had never even played that as a band, so I actually had to sit down and write a solo and record it the next day. I can actually play it a lot better now than how I could on the recording … that’s one of the problems with doing things that way.
MG: Exactly. When we recorded the EP, we were working and rehearsing together because there was no coronavirus. We all had a very good idea what the songs sounded like. The night before we recorded, we each played our part for each song for everybody — just for some last-second locking in case there was anything we wanted to catch. When we went into the studio to record this time, three out of the seven tracks had not even been heard by the band when we recorded them because two of them I wrote mostly by myself during quarantine — and then the last one me and Joe co-wrote together.
Joe wrote a lot of the music beforehand, and then the two of us got together the night before we had to record it. That became the title track of the album, and honestly the whole message of the album gets wrapped up in that one song. When Liam came in, the song wasn’t even close to done. I recorded the chord progression for his solo on my piano with my phone and sent it to him like “this is what you’re playing over,” and he wrote something so killin’ for it.
I was very very happy with how it came out … For most of the group, the first time hearing everything was when it was mixed.
So if you guys had the choice in a situation with no pandemic, would you have done the album differently?
JD: I think overall the way it turned out was affected by the pandemic, but it kinda shaped it into what it is. I think it would have been very different with no pandemic, but overall I’m happy with what Finale in Gold eventually became.
MG: Yeah I would agree with that.
JM: I agree. And I know that Michael and Joe wrote most of it, but without the pandemic, that song might not have even happened.
LR: Yeah I agree with all that — and I’m glad it all happened the way it did. At the same time, writing as a band and playing as a band is a really valuable experience. Even if the album isn’t any worse without it, I do miss it a little bit. Recording the EP was a really great time.
Since we’re on the topic, I’m curious to hear you talk about the overall message of Finale In Gold.
MG: So one thing you gotta understand is that the writing for this album happened throughout high school. It’s like the messages of a high-schooler’s brain. Things change a lot. You grow up, mature. Your overall thought process on life and everything evolves. The EP is about this girl — all three songs about this one experience, and this one heartbreak. Part of me at the time was like “I’ll do this and I’ll feel better. Then everyone will be like “Whoa, good music, you’re awesome.” and all my problems will be fixed because I wrote an album about a girl.
That was Sidetracked, and the first song on Finale In Gold is “Back On Track” as kind of a nod to that and also an indication of a new message that the whole album is working towards. Then it goes into “Morning Sun,” which is kind of like a reprise to “Snow Day” — track two on Sidetracked. A lot of similar themes come back. Then, “Lost Without You” and then some more songs building towards the penultimate track which is called “It Starts with Us.” This was originally gonna be the last track on the album. It’s not necessarily about a relationship, not necessarily a friendship, not necessarily about two people, or three people, or one person.
It’s about someone’s overall situation and saying “no matter what happens, this starts with us.” Whatever feeling you have, it really comes from within. So that was going to be the last song — and then the pandemic happened, there was the whole BLM movement, and then I also had a close friend pass away. So obviously, having all of these things happen at once is going to strike a lot of inspiration. “Finale In Gold” is the closer to the album. Musically, it calls back to a lot of Waffle Mishap songs.
The “gold” in question is the point of maturity where I realized that as much as I could just write an album about a girl, and about how my life sucks, I have it really good compared to a lot of people. I’m appreciative of the life I’ve been given, and I think that goes for everyone in the band. It’s gold because that’s sort of a golden way of looking at things … but also because Waffles are gold. It’s the finale because we’re all sort of going our separate ways at this point, and as far as recording original music is concerned, this is probably the end of this group of people doing that.
Musically, it’s a totally different vibe, and a lot of that is because it’s written by Joe. If you listen you can hear a lot of the stylistic differences. The message is overall just about moving on, being an adult, and just being in a more appreciative headspace.
Do you think you’ll have the opportunity to play any of the songs live?
MG: We played a lot of live shows before quarantine, and even this summer we were able to play a couple winery gigs with everyone socially distanced outside. We’ve played all of the songs live except for three that the band had never heard. “Back On Track,” “It Starts With Us,” and “Lost Without You” we played a bunch of times live. We’ve only done “Morning Sun” live once.
What are you guys most excited for with the album coming out?
JD: What I’m most excited about is just the fact that I spent a lot of hours working and engineering on the album, so I’m just excited for people to hear it.
JM: Especially because some of these songs were written over a year ago, we’ve been waiting for people to hear them for a long time. Especially because with the pandemic and everything, there was the question of whether or not we were gonna be able to do the album. And I’m really glad we got the chance. Another thing is, given that we recorded the whole thing in the basement studio — not that I don’t trust Joe — but there was the question of the quality of the music: whether we were gonna be able to replicate it. I have to say he did a fantastic job, and in my opinion, you would never know that we didn’t record it in the studio like the EP.
MG: It was a question for Joe and me too. Joe came to me and he was like “Yo, If this doesn’t sound good, do you wanna release it?” I was like “No.” But it sounds great.
LR: And no matter how it sounds, or who hears it, an album is a physical object that lasts forever. I hope people hear it, but even if they don’t, it’s something we did that will exist in the universe forever.
MG: The thing I’m most excited about is something that probably isn’t going to happen. I spent a lot of time trying to form this message in a really careful way. Every song has lyrics that mean like six different things, and there’s a giant web of ideas connecting. I’m hoping that the people that listen catch all these things. I really want people to hear this album and our style because it’s different. We’re a horn band, but we’re not Earth, Wind, and Fire. We’re a pop band but we’re not Jon Bellion. We’re a Jazz band but we’re not The Joshua Redman Quartet. It’s definitely a fresh take on music as a whole.