Research, rules, rock: Whatitdo Archive Group discusses their unique genre-focused albums—and remembers Whatitdo Wednesdays

Reno creatives Alexander Korostinsky, Mark Sexton and Aaron Chiazza make up Whatitdo Archive Group, which can’t simply be described as a band. Yes, they do make music, but they also are intense researchers and planners, crafting era and genre themes—as well as rules for each of their albums.  

The Archive Group name stems from the collective’s plans to fool the public when they released their first album. Debut LP The Black Stone Affair, released in 2021, sounds like it could be more than five decades old, and that was the idea that Whatitdo sold to the public. They claimed the mix of bossa nova, jazz, lounge and funk was the long-lost soundtrack of a spaghetti Western. It captivated the older music fans and crate-diggers alike—but soon the secret was out, and the band began to own up to their releases, including follow-up LP Palace of a Thousand Sounds, released in May 2023.  

Differing from Whatitdo’s first LP, Palace of a Thousand Sounds focuses on exotica and library music. During a recent interview with Korostinsky and Sexton, they explained how the band casually picked up the idea for conceptual releases. 

“There really wasn’t a moment; it was just that we kept following the path of whatever we’re kind of digging on, and we just do it,” Korostinsky said. “It’s not like we’re waiting for something to happen for us to do anything; we just begin stuff, and usually at some point, we’re like, ‘Hey, this is turning into something.’ We had that with The Black Stone Affair. It was obvious that we were creating something, and so we took that, and we’re like, ‘OK, let’s focus this; let’s make this a full-on concept and really give it roots and really make it a true thing.’ Ever since then, it’s kind of just been, ‘Our concept thing is what we do now.’” 

Added Sexton: “We started as like a musical outlet band, like it was more or less a ‘fuck-around’ band. At one point, we were playing stuff as a way of revolting against some of the more pop song structures. Slowly but surely, we started to find our form. … We released a 7-inch record, and it was the first time we really had a theme and a vibe, and ‘Crocker Way’ was the A-side, and the B-side was called ‘Steve’s Romp.’ That was our first time ever releasing something for this band on a record label. From there, our momentum continued with these thematic releases, and that’s kind of where we found home.” 

Even though the tight-knit nature of their music may suggest otherwise (check out the succinct funk of track “Astral-Desia”), fucking around is still a big part of their music creation, albeit in a different form. 

“I don’t even want to call it ‘fuck around,’ because I thought we were doing stuff that was really cool,” Korostinsky said. “We were just trying to make some music that was complicated for the sake of being complicated, like strange time signatures and key changes and all sorts of fun stuff. It sounded very odd and all over the place, like if The Meters like took acid. … To us, the ‘fuck around’ is just taking risks, and being risky in a very tasteful way. It’s like, ‘Let’s do something a little odd,’ but it’s still in the canon of what we consider good. … There’s an element of ‘fuck around’ where we’ll just be a little risky and try something totally bonkers: ‘Let’s have a trumpet solo in the middle of a song.’ That might be the way we interpret that concept within Whatitdo.” 

Whatitdo’s intense research leads to lists of rules, so their music sounds as focused as possible. 

“Mark and I have been songwriting together for very, very long, almost half our lives at this point, and the one thing we’ve noticed as we got have gotten older is that the more rules that we set for a certain project, the more we get out of it, and the faster things happen,” Korostinsky said. “For example, the last Whatitdo release, I really wanted to take that super-seriously. I had a whiteboard that had rules, like, ‘Only use these scales’; ‘Don’t use too much harmony’; and, ‘These are the regions of the world that we need to pluck from for inspiration.’ … If you’re doing a very focused era-specific thing, you have a limited palette of color and vocabulary to get you through that to bang out the concept correctly.” 

Korostinsky and Sexton discussed the challenges they faced while refining what became Palace of a Thousand Sounds

“We fought to kind of figure out the pocket that the latest record was going to land in,” Sexton said. “… We took something old, and then we put something in it that just didn’t happen in that music, which was adding a backbeat. The big inspiration for the record was exotic music and space-age bachelor-pad music. It’s basically Latin jazz, but done in a cheeky, corny way by a bunch of white men. The coolest thing that we could do … was the concept of adding a bigger sense of rhythm and backbeat, almost like a slight tinge of hip hop, into the drums of the record. … We’re not reinventing the wheel, but we’re just adding an ingredient to it that wasn’t part of the recipe before.” 

Some locals may remember Whatitdo Wednesdays, a residency at The Loving Cup featuring open jams and, sometimes, written multiple-choice tests distributed to the audience as a form of performance art. 

“Reno has been amazing, because when I was coming up as a young musician, there were a lot of people I looked up to—like very, very amazing musicians, and I secretly wanted to be in all their bands,” Korostinsky said. “… Part of our journey was to just keep up as musicians. Whatitdo, before we added Archive Group, was us trying to flex some sort of chops that we had in college. We were bad at it, but we tried hanging with the big dogs. Part of that journey led us into being offered a residency at a bar where they wanted us to play every week. We played the same 10 songs every Wednesday, and sometimes it was dead; sometimes it was super-packed. We did it for a number of years.” 

Even Whatitdo Archive Group rarely plays live anymore, the group still does a lot to put Reno on the map, such as inviting local musicians to perform on their records. 

“We feature pretty much exclusively Reno musicians or people we met through the Reno scene,” Sexton said. “On both of these records, we were really pulling from our own community and featuring these people, and now we have these records that sound really huge. There’s an orchestra, and to pull it off, we need to play with such a big band, so playing live in Reno is a rare occurrence—but we actually did do it for the OffBeat Music Festival in 2021. … A lot of people were really excited to see us play because of fond memories of The Loving Cup Whatitdo Wednesdays, and it was a really cool opportunity for us to show Reno what we’ve been up to, and we had a 13- to 14-piece band. That was a memory in the growth of this band that I hold in my mind as a landmark moment.” 

Added Korostinsky: “From time to time, there are younger musicians who come up to me and say that Whatitdo Wednesdays was their one of their favorite moments in the Reno music scene, even just attending those shows, and sitting in. … We weren’t amazing, but we got something there, and people were like, ‘Oh, man, I was just trying to hang with you guys,’ and we’re just like, ‘We’re just trying to hang with you guys.’ Whenever we make records or music, we always want the people of Reno to know that we’re Reno people, Reno musicians, making music that we want our friends over here to listen to. 

For more information, visit whatitdoarchivegroup.bandcamp.com. 

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