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Quick punch: an interview with Setara & the Chubby Knuckles

Vocalist Setara Barukzoy
Vocalist Setara Barukzoy

With an arsenal of acoustic licks and a frontwoman full of alluring swagger, local quintet Setara & the Chubby Knuckles is poised for a breakout year in the Twin Cities. Starting off as an acoustic duo, vocalist Setara Barukzoy and guitarist Esteban Cuadros fine-tuned their craft at several coffee shops and dive bars around town before forming their current lineup. Over time they developed into a rock/soul hybrid by adding guitarist Brad McNemar, bassist Jason Wildasin, and drummer Doug Ramlow.

A product of McNally Smith College of Music, Setara & the Chubby Knuckles plans to ambitiously release an unplugged and electric album in 2010. With several local shows also on the docket, their name will likely ring familiar throughout the music scene in the near future. If you would like to check out this talented crew, they will be rocking the Terminal Bar this Friday, January 29th in Minneapolis and also Big V’s on Saturday, January 30th in St. Paul.

Esteban and Setara were kind enough to talk about the busy year ahead, their McNally Smith ties, and the origin of the “Chubby Knuckles” moniker.

How did all of you guys meet and how long have you been performing as Setara & The Chubby Knuckles?
We started as an acoustic duo consisting of (singer/songwriter) Setara Barukzoy and (acoustic guitarist) Esteban Cuadros. Both of us were attending McNally Smith College of Music when we met in a performance class and started writing together. We played out together as "Setara and Esteban" in local coffee shops and small bars. Upon recording our first demo with recording engineer Matt Schuetz, we met bass player Jason Wildasin. Through the rest of the time at McNally Smith we came to meet guitarist/songwriter Brad McNemar and drummer Doug Ramlow. Finally, Setara and the Chubby Knuckles started playing out in summer 2009.

How did you come up with the band name?
While we were playing out as a twosome we were deciding on a group name. Every idea for a name was shot down by each other until an ongoing joke about Esteban’s chubby fingers sparked the idea for the name.

What are some of your major influences?
We comprise our sound from the music we have grown up listening to and the music we have been introduced to at McNally Smith. Some performers we respect and honor through their music include: James Brown, Amy Winehouse, Ray Charles, Judi Donaghy, Debbie Duncan, John Scofield, Jimi Hendrix, Guthrie Govan, Pantera, Chick Corea, Kings of Leon, and Cloud Cult.

Briefly describe your songwriting process.
We generally sit together and jam out a riff written by Esteban or Brad. We each add our instruments and flavors to the jam. After Setara writes lyrics to the songs, we fine-tune the jam and format the song.

What inspires you the most when writing music?
We are inspired by literally everything and every sound. We take inspiration from our favorite artists, friends, and daily moods.

What is it like recording at McNally Smith?

Recording at McNally is a great experience. We get the chance to work with professionals and growing producers in collaboration to fine-tune our sound. We’ve been fortunate enough to record with three great recording engineers/producers, including John “Chopper” Black, the head of the recording department at McNally Smith. We’ve also recorded with McNally Smith graduates Matt Schuetz and Matt Magruder.

Do you feel being students at McNally Smith is advantageous for your band? If so, in what ways?
Being students at McNally Smith has been a great advantage in all aspects of the band. It’s a great environment to get inspiration, to learn, to grow, and to practice as a band. McNally Smith has great ensemble practice rooms equipped with amps, drum kits, and PA systems for vocalists. Also, the amount of learning that you do in a single day of classes is unbeatable.

Would you like to share any upcoming album news?
We are currently recording two full-length albums: an electric album with Chopper and an acoustic album with McNally graduate Matt Magruder. Both will be released in 2010.

What are the most difficult obstacles you have faced in the local music scene so far?
Live music is rather slow these days with financial difficulties in people’s lives. One of the biggest obstacles is maintaining crowds at every venue. The music scene also faces problems with 18 to 20-year-old fans. Bars and venues are not permitting 18+ nights anymore which is causing musicians to lose out on loyal followers in that age range.

Which local bands do you guys admire most?
Some local bands and artists we enjoy listening to are: Clawthroat, Debbie Duncan, Judi Donaghy, Framework, and local jazz artists including Jay Young and Pete Whitman.

What is your favorite Twin Cities venue you have played and why?
We have enjoyed playing at a variety of venues. One of our favorite venues is The Fine Line Music Café in downtown Minneapolis. The feel of the venue is perfect for musicians and fans. They have great food and drinks, the service is fast and with a smile, and the sound guy knows how to capture our sound.

Describe what your emotions are like while on stage.
While on stage we go through many emotions. The first emotion is always a bit of nervousness and excitement for people to hear our music. After the first song, we gear up and acknowledge the power we hold while on stage. Turning into true rock and roll performers and portraying a new emotion with every song is the main goal. Each song is written 50% on raw emotion.

What is the best place in the Twin Cities to get late night food after a show?
If we’re looking for some all-American grub, then we love to hit up Mickey’s Diner. When we want a fast and tasty sub you’ll find us eating at Jimmy John’s after a show. And when we want to kick back and enjoy a few drinks and have a pizza, you’ll find us at Alary’s Bar in downtown St. Paul.

What albums are you guys listening to these days?
Fashion Nugget and Comfort Eagle by Cake, Frank and Back to Black by Amy Winehouse, and Framework featuring Chris Olson. We are also enjoying albums by John Petrucci, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai.

What are your band’s goals and expectations for 2010?

2010 will see two albums from us, a music video of “Downpour”, and a possible tour in the summer. Our main goal is to be heard worldwide. Our current goals are to get our music on the radio, in clubs, and in the hands of our fans.

Would you care to write a haiku?
Soon the trees will sway.
The final days of summer
Brings on a cold breeze.

Listen to Setara & the Chubby Knuckle's  music here.


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