By Michael Del Casino | February 18, 2023
What if “Something” was a disco song? What if Phish performed “Lovely Rita?” What if The Beatles were influenced by funk music? All of these questions and more were answered by the Long Island-based group, Walrus, at their Beatles Valentine’s Day show at Brooklyn Made last Saturday. Walrus is a one-of-a-kind Beatles cover jam band made up of members Chris Mackin (Guitar/Vocals), Josh Santiago (Guitar/Vocals), Dan Shein (Drums), Satoko Mori (Keyboard/Vocals), Jason Figueredo (Vocals), & Will Corona (Bass/Vocals).
In a word, Walrus is fun. Many of their members have deep roots in the theater, and that experience lends itself to an unforgettable show that had the sold out crowd at Brooklyn Made groovin’ and laughing throughout.
After some drinks at Rookery Bar, we sat down with Walrus and they answered a few questions for the groovement:
Where are you all from?
Chris: Jason and I grew up together in Long Island. Dan is from Brooklyn and moved to Long Island in 5th grade or something.
Jason: Ironically the name of Chris and my first band was the name of the street we grew up on, which is Nancy Boulevard.
What kind of music did you guys play?
Chris: What kind of music does a 13 year old play? [laughter]
Jason: Not as bad as our 16 year old selves band, which was more prog rock dream theater-like.
It’s cool that you’ve been playing together all this time. How did everyone else come into the picture?
Jason: We met Josh in college, and then right after college, we started our production company, Loop Troupe. We used to do really lavish shows, and that’s where we met Satoko. That was around 2017. And we actually met Will when he was in another band, and Loop Troupe was playing during the same bill.
Tell us more about Loop Troupe.
Chris: Loop Troupe was a theater production–sketch comedy oriented musicals, and eventually, that just kind of turned into a band.
Will: Even before I was in Loop Troupe, the first time I saw them perform live was the most fun I’ve ever had at a show. It was bonkers, it was so crazy. There was just so much going on.
Dan: Satoko played piano in the pit orchestra at one of our shows. I remember, I wasn’t in the band yet, but I was directing the show, and Satoko said “I just learned how to jam for the first time” which was so funny because she’s a classically trained pianist, and she’s playing with a bunch of assholes. [laughter] I remember our first conversation, she was saying “so there’s like, no chord changes?” and we said “No you just go!”
Satoko: It was my first jam!
It must have worked out because you’re still here and you’ve been with the band for awhile.
Satoko: I just followed them after that. [laughter]
So how do you like jamming compared to what you were used to?
Satoko: Jamming is creating music live, and when we play, I really like making music with the band, but also with the audience too.
Chris: She’s gotten super good at it. She tears it up on the keys
Do you still put on productions?
Chris: We dabble, but not as much as we used to.
Will: I would say there are still theatrical elements to the show, though.
Jason: Even when we don’t do anything crazy, people still come up to us and say “Wow, you’re so theatrical! And we’re like… this isn’t theatrical! We don’t have dancers or costume changes or puppets or any of that!”
Dave: Well, we do sometimes [laughter]
Why do you think people say that to you even when you aren’t actually putting on a production?
Chris: In our shows currently, even when we are not doing anything special in our minds with theatrical elements, our approach to the music is very theatrical. We will pick a style…for example, at the show we’re doing tonight, we’re playing “Here, There and Everywhere,” and we made that a big theatrical number where it’s highly orchestrated in the beginning. Jason has a very operatic voice
Josh: We’re giving it a classical swing
Chris: Exactly, so we’ll do things like that, and then afterwards it’s like “this is a Western theme,” and then we’ll transition into that.
Jason: And that’s pretty much our style. “What if this song was performed in this genre?”
Chris: Have you ever seen a Shakespeare production where it’s like “Much Ado About Nothing,” but it’s set in 1940s France? Something like that. I feel like we’re doing that with The Beatles music. We’re interpreting the whole thing in a different context at a live show for different people, and it’s kinda like we’re putting our own concept and spin on it. What if “Something” was a disco song?
Dan: Disco is like half of our covers. [laughter]
Chris: Well we kind of think if The Beatles were writing music at a different time… like if funk and disco were around when The Beatles were writing music, they 100% would’ve been putting that into their songs.
So you guys are obviously inspired by The Beatles, but we heard that you’re also big fans of Phish and Grateful Dead.
Dan: Honestly we’re more inspired by them. [laughter] We love The Beatles, but we’re trying to do a Grateful Dead/Phish approach to The Beatles.
Why The Beatles specifically, then?
Will: The Beatles aren’t really associated with live music, especially their later stuff, so it gives us an opportunity to put our own spin on it.
Jason: What I think works so well about it is that The Beatles are one of the greatest songwriting groups of all time, and you can just take that music, you can do more with it, you can extend it, you can change things, and it’s just like the perfect catalog of music to do that with.
Dan: Their songs are so good and so short. Like 2.5 minutes, but I could listen to them for 10 minutes…. And now you will. [laughter]
Will: The other side of that is their songwriting is so good that it doesn’t matter what you do with the song. It’s almost always going to sound good.
Chris: Our first Beatles show was supposed to be a one-off Beatles Valentine’s Day show in 2020. It was our last big show before the pandemic at Baby’s All Right… and it just sold really well. So that played a big part as well. [laughter]
What’s your dream venue to perform at?
Chris: It’s been a dream of ours to play Brooklyn Bowl. We wanted to play there for so long, and we just did it three times last year. We also have another show there coming up Saturday, March 18th, and we’re super stoked about it because the jam band magazine Relix is presenting it with our production company Loop Troupe. (Snag tix here).
Well now that you’ve performed there, let’s aim higher. What’s the dream?
Dave: Three nights Beatles Valentine’s Day every year. [laughter]
What was the first time that you performed?
Will: I remember my first show. It was 5th grade, and it was crazy hair day at school. We had one of those “town hall” meetings where we all gathered in the gym and the principal spoke. Me and my 5th grade band played at the town hall show. There are pictures of us playing. I had pigtails but like all over my head.
Jason: The earliest show I can remember was Chris’ middle school talent show. We played “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister
Dan: My first gig was in college for a Doors cover band, but my first performance was at an arts summer camp where there was a show at the end.
Josh: I played in my dad’s band when I was in middle school.
What was the first show you ever went to?
Chris: Jason and I went to our first concert together.
Jason: Aerosmith with Lenny Kravitz.
Dan: My Chemical Romance, Black Parade tour.
What do you want people to take away from your shows when you play?
Chris: Something fun. Like what Will said, the first time he saw us, it was so much fun, and it was wild. I love creating that energy and that party and that fun. Overall, we’re trying to make a party and have the audience be a part of that. Like how Sotoko was saying that jamming is very interactive with the audience. We can get their energy, and we can react to that.
What’s next for you all?
Chris: MSG or bust! [laughter]
Jason: We’re taking Alice in Wonderland as a conceptual framework, and in a similar way to what we’re doing with The Beatles, taking that source material and creating original music. It’s a jam band concert around Alice in Wonderland, and there will be dancers and projections and guests, set pieces, characters. That’s an original project that we’re excited about and hoping it can get momentum of its own like Stomp or Blue Man Group. Something that could live beyond us.
Dan: And ideally we’ll get a check or something every week. [laughter]