Twerking across the country

Twiddle and The Werks join forces on the Twerk Tour

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Nicole McNulty | Boulder Weekly

Brace yourself, the Twerk Tour is coming. But, have no fear, this is a twerk tour sans, well, twerking. Instead of that strange form of upside down shaking, or what some call dancing, this tour features the musical combination of two eclectic, funk jam bands: Twiddle and The Werks.

The Twerk Tour, spanning October and November with 32 performances, is the first joint touring experience with the two similar jam bands. Members of both bands are good friends, making this tour especially fun and exciting for the musicians and the listeners, says Mihali Savoulidis, the guitarist and lead vocalist for Twiddle. “I think both of our styles are approachable to either one’s fan base. So we’re getting a lot of Werks fans to like Twiddle, and I know for a fact The Werks have won over our fans.”

Twiddle began in 2005 at Castleton State University in Vermont when Savoulidis and keyboardist Ryan Dempsey, who’s classically trained, met while attending college. At the time, the drummer Brook Jordan and the bassist were still in high school. The four toured the northeast and built up an impressive catalog of songs by the time they were upperclassmen. When the bassist decided to continue his education and study upright bass, the group was left without a fourth member. Enter Zdenek Gubbmitrouleas (or Gubb, for short).

“Zdenek was even younger than all of us, I think he was 17 at the time and in high school,” Savoulidis says. “I just remember his friends kinda bugging me that their buddy was good at bass, so we called him up and he auditioned, and it worked out from there.”

Vermont and Colorado are huge hubs for Twiddle fans, but not only because of the popularity of jam bands in the Centennial State.

“I have a few theories about this. One, definitely our affiliation with the Frends Crew helps a lot in the snowboarding world,” Savoulidis says. “And two, early on in our career we were playing a lot of the Vermont ski mountains.”

The Frends Crew are a group of Northeast-based snowboarders who put on the annual festival the Frendly Gathering, which Twiddle plays every year. Many of those early skiing and snowboarding fans moved to Colorado to pursue the snow sports more seriously, Savoulidis says.

“When we finally got out to Colorado,” Savoulidis continues, “we already had a ton of fans who knew the songs, and it kind of grew from there.”

The Werks also experienced their genesis in 2005, but in Dayton, Ohio. Chris Houser, the lead guitarist and Rob Chafin, the drummer, are the only two original members. Cycling through a number of musicians for various reasons, the group now features its second bassist, Dino Dimitrouleas, and its third keyboardist, Dan Shaw. The latter’s addition in 2013 brought a certain flair to the band.

“[Shaw] is more knowledgeable, more schooled, than both of our original keyboardists. He’s more classically trained. I myself learned a lot from him,” Houser continues. “I’ve never been a real buff with music theory, I play by ear. He’s taught us how to teach ourselves more. He’s a great addition. He’s really added to the intensity we bring every show.”

The group climbed through the musical ranks in the supportive atmosphere of the Midwest, which was a great starting point, Houser says. Being in a prime location for bands traveling across the country, The Werks got to meet several big players in the music scene from both coasts, Houser says.

“That’s the big thing with the Midwest — it was a family thing,” Houser says. “Everyone’s pretty nice around that region and everyone really just wanted to help everyone else out.”

Though The Werks are becoming a household name, they “learned to be the little guys first and be respectful,” which helps them stay humble, Houser says, in addition to his belief that there’s always someone better musically. Their graceful rise in popularity resulted in the band being completely comfortable playing larger shows.

“There hasn’t been any real moments when we’re like, ‘Oh shit, we’re about to play this big-ass show,’” Houser says. “It’s like, ‘Cool, we’re excited for this, we’re ready for this.’” 

Similarly to Twiddle, The Werks gained recognition for playing music festivals, but most notably they started their own festival: The Werk Out Music and Arts Festival. Now also in it’s sixth year, “It’s really grown into a monster,” Houser says. Held in Ohio, this summer’s edition of the festival featured Umphrey’s McGee, Papadosio and Dopapod and was still successful despite Phish’s performance just down the road the same weekend.

The two Twerk tour headliners also mirror each other in their music, though certain aspects differentiate the two. Twiddle is upbeat, lyrically-based and has strong reggae and jazz vibes. Within the last year, Savoulidis has noticed that even in places Twiddle hasn’t played yet, crowds are filled with fans singing the words to their songs.

“I think people are really holding tight to the message we’re trying to portray. I think people relate to what we’re trying to say,” Savoulidis says. “I feel like we’re all pretty approachable. I don’t think there’s too much of a separation between us and our fan base. We know a lot of people, and we always try and make time to talk to them the best we can.”

Savoulidis tends to write music within the vein of “be kind to each other, take care of the planet, look beyond the cell phones and technology, and try to experience life for what is it,”he says. And he notices it effecting people.

Relatable music is key, Savoulidis says, and he consciously chooses to write this way to connect with his fans.

While Savoulidis writes most of the lyrics for Twiddle, Dempsey comes up with the chord progressions and Brook occasionally writes his own songs. Most of the time, one member pitches a song idea and the band collectively turns it into a Twiddle-sounding song. The band utilized this collaborative song-writing process in their third studio album.

Twiddle’s new album is double-sided and the first disc, being released in December, features staple songs in the group’s live performances that have yet to make it onto an album and songs from Savoulidis’ solo shows in Twiddlestyle. The second disc, coming in June, is still being added to and features brand new songs from the band.

“It’ll be completely new to people’s ears,” Savoulidis continues, “which we’re excited about.”

As for The Werks, their music tends to alternate between slower tunes and intense jams and also incorporates electronica, to a higher degree than Twiddle, along with a Southern feel. They also utilize three- and four-part vocal harmonies, as all members of the group sing, and are known for strange jams during live performances.

“We play a lot more in minor,” Houser says. “I like to creep people out sometimes. There are fans out there goggle-eyed, and you lock eyes with them and just get weird.”

Most of the group’s older music focuses on calamities and sad times the musicians have endured, as Houser writes music from life experiences.

“My dad passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2010, and I wrote a song for him called ‘Golden Shore.’ And that’s kind of a sad tune, but it’s helped a lot of people with losing loved ones, I’ve found. It helped our family get through it also,” Houser says. “Everybody goes through hardships, especially in the music industry. There’s a lot of influences you can get caught up in, and that absolutely happened to me, personally. I had my problems with addiction but I’ve been clean for five years, and everything keeps getting better, so that comes through in the song writing.”

Recently, the band has been trying to put a more positive message. The song “Better Than Before” on the group’s third studio album, Mr. Small Sessions, features the lyrics “Because everyday is a new beginning, and it always seems to be darkest before dawn. So hold your head up higher than the clouds, then maybe you’ll see the light before it’s gone.”

The music writing process of The Werks is also highly collaborative, varying from Houser writing a song and doling out parts, to starting with a riff and building on it, to even starting with a poem and writing music around it as a group.

“Even when I have an entire song, or when any member has an entire song already written out, each member still puts their own flair on it. Every musician’s personality is still coming through in the playing; it’s not rigidly written,” Houser continues. “Once we write down parts, it’s what the song needs, not what we need.”

Within the jam band vein, The Werk’s studio albums stand out and their fourth album, Inside A Dream, recorded earlier this year, will most likely uphold this status quo. They strive to give their fans something different in the studio than live shows, including myriad harmonies to fill out sections of the music.

“We decided, ‘Well, we’re in the studio, let’s do some stuff we can’t do live,’” Houser says. “On the last album, I think I laid down five harmonies for one song, we just can’t do that live, but it sounds great on the album.”

Nonetheless, the live performances of The Werks and Twiddle, will, with all of their similarities, be sure to enthrall the listener with unpredictabili ty. Both bands use certain cues during live shows to stay in sync, but sometimes, Houser says of The Werks, “when we fall out of synchronicity, that is the step that takes the jam to the weirdness. If someone misses and goes off time it’s not necessarily wrong because that’s when it really starts getting crazy and when we really start going different directions.”

Continuing the legacy of jam band greats like Phish and the Grateful Dead, Twiddle and The Werks’ Twerk Tour stop at Boulder Theater is sure to be a jumping good time.