Scope & Figure came to Syracuse on April 4 to shoot a music video for their song “Breathing Apparatus.” 20 Watts got a behind-the-scenes look at the shoot, and afterwards sat down with the band at Acropolis for the scoop on all things Scope & Figure. They ate some pizza too.
20 WATTS: Why did you choose the name Scope & Figure?
ERIC CHUBINSKY: The name Scope & Figure is a reference to a Kevin Devine lyric from the song “Ball Game.” We actually told Kevin Devine at a show. I went up to him and I was like, “Hey man, I play in a band called Scope & Figure.” I handed him a CD and we talked for a little while, and then it hit him about 5 minutes into the conversation and he was just like, “Oh, my God, what dude?!”.
20 WATTS: How long have each of you been playing music, and how long have you been playing music together?
MIKE FISCH: I started on bass when I was in 7th grade and went to guitar a couple years after that. I met our drummer and started playing in a band at the end of my freshman or sophomore year a couple of years ago. Then I met Thomas and did the Scope & Figure thing.
THOMAS VARNER: I started playing music with the intention of playing in a band when I was maybe 10 or 11. I’d been trying to play in a band, and then I found these people in my sophomore year. University of Rochester was like the conduit.
ETHAN CHIAMPAS: I’ve been playing since I was 7 or 8. I hold a degree in classical double bass performance from the Eastman School of Music, and I met these guys about 6 months ago just by chance.
CHUBINSKY: I started playing drums and percussion when I was about 6 years old and got a lot more serious when I was about 12 or 13. I played in bands throughout high school, college, and now. Our original bass player is actually currently in Bulgaria; his name is Andy Spitzburg. He’s been playing for a long time. Ethan stepped in to fill his shoes originally, and at the moment we are trying to resolve where we’re gonna be with our membership in the coming year.
20 WATTS: How would you describe your sound?
VARNER: I’d like to say that we’re “dance-y” and fun to listen to live, but we have sort of a bluesy alternative background where our sound comes from. Our priority is very much about having a fun live sound.
CHUBINSKY: As far as our press kit goes, we say we fuse elements of psychedelic, dance, punk, and folk rock. We try to do it in an electrifying, accessible manner.
20 WATTS: What inspires you?
CHUBINSKY: I think we’re definitely inspired by such a range of things. Our educational institutions, other artists and musicians, bands we aspire to be. It really comes from everywhere. But we definitely hone in on a kind of sound that’s progressive and dance-y with an emphasis on, as Thomas was saying earlier, the “live feel.” Bands that do that really inspire us.
FISCH: For me, it just comes down to seeing my friends dancing around and having a good time. There’s nothing that’s better than that.
CHIAMPAS: I think it’s safe to say, also, that bands in Rochester also inspire us.
20 WATTS: What is your favorite song to play, whether it’s one of your own or a song by another band or artist?
FISCH: “Dance, Dance” by Fall Out Boy.
VARNER: I am a huge fan of playing “Cincinnati Fire Kites,” a single off our new record. It’s dance-y, it’s tight, it requires a lot of intimate guitar lines.
CHIAMPAS: I think “Cincinnati Fire” Kites because of that chorus at the end where everything drops out except for me and Mike.
CHUBINSKY: I do like “Cincinnati Fire Kites” a lot, but my favorite song is actually the one we were working on April 4th: “Breathing Apparatus.” I think it’s a really original tune, a fun take and a catchy melody. It’s groovy, it pops, and then I get to have a drum solo in the middle of it.
20 WATTS: Do you have any plans for a full-length album?
ALL: We have the name! It’s Oronto.
CHUBINSKY: We’ll be looking at that record probably as we get closer to 2016, the end of 2015.
VARNER: We’re looking to write a full length that’s, as far I’m concerned, not like any of the material that we’ve done before. I’m thinking we’re gonna be going in a new direction.
20 WATTS: What’s something cool that you’ve gotten to experience as a band?
CHIAMPAS: The first show I played, it was senior night [at University of Rochester]. It was the first show I played with these guys, and nobody knew how it was gonna go down. But after that first show it was like we were definitely on to something.
CHUBINSKY: I was gonna say when we went on tour last summer we did 8 dates around New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. We had an absolute blast; it was just wild. Another big thing – our new EP dropped April 10 through Dadstache Records.
20 WATTS: Any 2015 releases you’re looking forward to?
FISCH: It’s not a 2015 release, Brand New hinted at a 2016 release, and I pretty much can’t at all wait. They’re huge recluses except pretty much when they’re releasing music.
CHUBINSKY: There’s a lot coming out like a new release from Kevin Devine and I’m sure the new Radiohead is gonna be fantastic.
CHIAMPAS: *sarcastically* I think the best album of 2015 has already dropped, and it’s Hozier. I think that album is groundbreaking.
20 WATTS: If you could use one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
CHIAMPAS: Can I hyphenate? Or use two words? If it’s two words, it’s “best player,” if it’s one word, it’s just “best.”
VARNER: *After much introspection* Chill dude.
FISCH: Aggressive. Not given by me, given by others.
20 WATTS: What is your current jam?
FISCH: “Two Beers In” by Free Throw. We played with Free Throw, a band from Tennessee, at the Bug Jar and they absolutely blew me away. I can’t stop listening to them.
VARNER: Roz and The Ricecakes from Providence, Rhode Island. Look them up, they’re fucking unbelievable.
CHIAMPAS: Wilson Pickett – “A Thousand Dances.”
CHUBINSKY: I like Thomas’s big shout out to my cousin, Roz and The Ricecakes. For me, though, it’s this band called Newish Star and their song “Double Super Jackpot.”
20 WATTS: If you could tour with anyone as either support or as the headliner, who would it be?
FISCH: Jack White.
VARNER: Animal Collective.
CHUBINSKY: Honestly, the ideal tour would be this ridiculous line-up where we’d play dope venues in New York City and just never leave New York City.
FISCH: Kevin Devine, The Wonder Years, Into It. Over It., Scope & Figure.
CHIAMPAS: I’m gonna go ahead and say Dirty Loops.
20 WATTS: What do you think it takes to be a successful band, with success being defined as working as a cohesive unit?
FISCH: I have been so impressed with our ability to not shit on each other when one of us is not around. We’re just fuckin’ friends with each other.
VARNER: At the end of the day we want to be in a band. That’s our motivation, that’s why we do what we do.
CHUBINSKY: After wanting to be in a band, the fact that we can do it with our friends, people that we care about, is just a fucking privilege.
CHIAMPAS: I think it’s hard work and persistence. This is a life, and when people ask us what happens if music doesn’t work out, there’s no answer to that. We’re gonna keep getting better individually, as a group, keep working hard in rehearsal and we’re gonna work hard at every show whether it’s five people or five hundred people. Logistically, it takes someone like Eric who gets us all in the same room at the same time, who schedules everything. This guy is our manager and he’s our promoter, and I think for a band to function there needs to be one person like that to take the lead.
FISCH: You can put this on the record or not, but there’s really no one better at doing what Eric’s doing. He’s been the man since I’ve known him.
20 WATTS: Final comments?
VARNER: There’s a whole life trajectory ahead of me that I don’t want to do, I just want to play in Scope & Figure. There’s plenty of other things I do that I don’t like, I just wanna play in this band.
CHUBINSKY: I say this in the most serious way: Scope & Figure is kind of my lifeblood. It’s what gets me up in the morning and what puts me to bed, it’s what I work for and what I care about. It’s a weird thing to think that you live show to show or event to event based around this band’s calendar and schedule. I’m really looking forward to every next step and the process, and we don’t really have any end goal; we’re not looking for some definition of success, we’re just looking to keep on doing exactly what we’re doing and do it bigger and better every time.
FISCH: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the parts are some of the best people that I know.
Photo by Joey Marion