The last time we interviewed Schema was back in the summer of 2017, when they were gearing up to make their headlining debut at the Pour House. Since then, Schema has continued to entrench themselves in Charleston’s jam community, playing semi-regular shows at the Pour House and occasionally bringing their crowd to The Royal American. This morning, the band released their self-titled debut EP. We sat down at Kudu earlier this week to talk about it.
Schema’s EP was recorded at Fairweather Studio, with Thomas Kenney of Terraphonics behind the boards. The EP contains three tracks that serve as a sampler of sorts to Schema’s animated style of instrumental jam. Schema also includes a collaboration with Charleston rapper Damn Skippy, who can be heard on the track “Sizzlin”. That collaboration, like many other musical collaborations in Charleston, started at the Pour House.
“We would go into an improv jam and he would come up and freestyle for a couple bars,” drummer JP Treadaway explains. “Just hype the crowd up.”
“As an instrumental band, it was really cool,” guitarist Ryan Bresnihan says. “I mean people are into the instrumental thing, but you get a hype man up there, it gets the crowd even more jacked.”
After a few successful live collaborations with Damn Skippy, Schema reached out to him about going into the studio with them. The band says they were looking to do something different, being an instrumental band, and guest vocals were a great way to do that. Skippy was instantly down, and the band was excited about the ideas that he brought to the table, many of which made the final version of the song. Schema is hoping that the collaboration with Damn Skippy will pave the way for collaborations with more artists in the future.
“I want other people to get involved,” JP says. “Since we are an instrumental band, we might as well have some stage antics. It’s just fun, man. It’s a lot of fun.”
In addition to collaborating with other musicians, Schema is at its core a very collaborative band. Their songwriting process is a collaborative effort that is constantly evolving. Although guitarist Adam Coyne writes most of the material, each member of Schema brings their own strengths and preferences that shape how the song will sound.
“It starts when one of us has an idea. That idea is brought to the table. From tinkering with it, it slowly builds into something,” Bresnihan explains. “Over time it grows from what was just the initial idea into something much bigger.”
Ryan continues by explaining how sometimes Adam will bring a song he’s written to rehearsal, along with a general idea of how he thinks the arrangement should look. Often times what Ryan, JP, or Matt come up with for their part in the song is different from what Adam originally had in mind, but ends up working well. In this way, Schema has become a collective unit that specializes in bouncing ideas back and forth until they settle on something that they can all vibe with.
“There’s a freedom where we can all have a say in how the song is going to sound at the end,” bass player Matt Jackson says.
Another way that Schema has come up with songs in the past, and plans to continue doing in the future, is by trying to find their way back to certain parts of an improvised jam. One notable example that came to mind for them was the origin of their song “Grow” (which is not on the EP). Schema had a live recording from a show they played out on Pawley’s Island, and Ryan played a guitar lick during an improvised section that they all really liked. They built off that riff while jamming together, and eventually they ended up with a full song.
One thing you need to know about Schema, and you might already know if you’ve been following them, is that their songs have designated jam sections. The structured part of a song, which is the part that they create as a collaborative effort, builds into these improvised sections, where they cut loose and see what happens. Where it goes from there is based on the energy that the band feels, both from the crowd and among themselves. When they’ve exhausted the energy from an improvised jam, or the energy is off, they know it’s time to change it up.
“We’re exchanging energy, the whole time,” Matt says. “We feed off the crowd a lot. Usually that’s when I feel the most energy coming out of all of us, is when the crowd’s reacting.”
“That’s why we do this shit,” JP says.
“When we feel that energy is about peaked out on what we’re doing, we usually look at each other like ‘What are we gonna do now?” Ryan says.
“You gotta give it space,” JP explains. “If I’m not feeling it, or if Matt’s not feeling it, or if anyone’s not feeling it, you can kinda tell.”
At that point, Adam will generally signal to the band that it’s time to go back to the structured part of the song, and they’ll groove their way into it. They do this using stage cues, for the most part, which sometimes are as simple as a glance and a head nod. The timing for these cues, though, is based on this idea of energy. This idea even comes into play when they’re planning a setlist.
“The way we write our setlist, is we picture how the crowd will react,” Matt says.
“We always talk about energy when we’re writing the setlist,” Ryan explains. “We have a few staples, like we know we always have a crazy jam on this one song. So we know we need to play something chill after that. We just plan the dynamic like that.”
“We’re giving the crowd what they want,” Matt closes. “They wanna dance, you know. And we wanna make ’em dance.”
You might remember a time when Schema played an all-80s set at the Pour House. The band says that after they played that show, their perspective on 80s music changed in a positive way. It’s led them toward having an overarching 80s influence in their sound, which you’ll definitely hear when you spin their EP for the first time. Schema also gravitates toward playing 80s covers between these upbeat, driving originals.
Tonight, Schema will celebrate the release of their debut EP at the Pour House. The bill includes an opening set from RoboTrio, and then a set from Schema, and finally a collaborative RoboSchema set. Kanika Moore, who you might know as the frontwoman of Doom Flamingo or from her work with Bill Wilson, is one officially confirmed guest, but you never know who might show up.
Listen to Schema below.