Tag Archives: soul

Andrew Strong: “Touring with the Rolling Stones was one of the highlights”

andrew strong

HE may be best known for being the singer in Ireland’s hardest-working semi-fictional soul band, but Andrew Strong has a voice that can belt out the blues with the best of them.

Thrust into the spotlight at the tender age of 16 when The Commitments movie made him an international star, Dubliner Strong has enjoyed a long and varied career in music. His upcoming headlining slot at Blues on Broadbeach on May 24 will see the 41 year-old return to his roots and the songs that made him famous, but with a healthy dollop of blues ladled on top.

“It’s predominantly a Commitments show,” he says. “Probably 70 percent Commitments. I do some Jimi Hendrix, some Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, some Spencer Davis songs. I went out to Australia about two years ago with this kind of show and it was very popular, so we’ll go out, put on the suits and sing all the Commitments stuff.”

After distancing himself from the Commitments’ music in the years following the 1991 release of the movie, Strong was reunited with the band for their 20-year reunion.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t done this kind of show in 20 years,” he says. “Prior to this I’d been doing my own stuff. Basically what happened was when [the Commitments] got together to do the reunion a couple of years back, there was a strong void there for me to go out and do this kind of show. I enjoyed it, but I thought it’s not the sort of thing I’m going to keep doing, but there are people out there who really wanted to see this kind of show and me sing these songs. So, this will be effectively my last of this kind of show in Australia. This will be my third tour in Australia; I’ve played probably 40 shows doing this ‘Andrew Strong – The Commitments’ show, so when I come back it’ll be more kind of Andrew Strong-themed.”

Strong’s powerful voice and electric live performances have earned him tour slots with Elton John and Lenny Kravitz, as well as an invitation to perform at the Princess of Norway’s wedding.

“There are a lot of things [in my career] I’m very proud of,” he says. “Touring with the Rolling Stones was one of the highlights. It was great to go out on the road for eight shows with them, then come back home and get a call a week later to go out and do a couple more shows; that was a great buzz and a great experience. After I did the movie, for some reason I got a lot of respect from singers across the board. I look at the movie; I did it when I was 16. To be a part of something that, 20 years later, is still kind of relevant is an achievement.”

Strong’s soul and blues credentials were cemented even further when he was asked to perform with the Blues Brothers Band in the nineties; something which came about in a less-than-direct fashion.

“I know Ringo Starr’s kids,” Strong says. “I met them through the guy who wrote the screenplay for The Commitments. Their mother was married to the guy who owned all the Hard Rock Cafes; he sold those and bought all these Houses of Blues. Basically, the Blues Brothers Band were opening all these venues and they asked me would I come over and sing at it, and I thought it would be great. I got the opportunity to sing with Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper and all those guys; we played in L.A. and Boston. It was great, man. It was great to play with those guys. I remember Steve Cropper came up to me in Boston and said ‘Hey man, I was so happy you recorded my songs, because I needed the money.’”

With two Commitments albums, four solo albums and a greatest hits collection under his belt, Strong is looking towards his next release.

“A lot has gone on in my life over the last year or so; I had a son and moved into a new home,” he says. “This year, I really want to focus on new material for a new album. Hopefully by the end of the year or the beginning of next year I’ll have a new record out. When I come back from Australia, I’ll been doing some shows around Europe; some festivals and stuff like that. I also have a side project band, The Bone Yard Boys; we’ve been working together for about eight years, and I’d like to put an album out. I’d be a happy camper if I could come back Down Under and do an Andrew Strong tour next year.”

ANDREW STRONG PLAYS BLUES ON BROADBEACH, MAY 24.

For Scenestr

J of Jungle: “We almost pictured ourselves in a jazz club, with T doing a door solo over drops”

jungle band

THEIR music has been described as kaleidoscopic modern soul, but being in Jungle is all about feeling before style, says the band’s singer and producer, known simply as J.

“In the real world, I’m is doing all sorts of shit to try to prove myself,” he says. “Whereas J and T are our nicknames; they’re where we go and that’s what Jungle is for us. It’s just somewhere we can go and create and be free, and is a really powerful thing. It’s important that it’s not about any individual. It should always be about the music.”

Along with childhood friend T, J formed Jungle as recently as recently as ten months ago, and despite a much-hyped debut album released this week and an upcoming appearance at Splendour in the Grass, the London-based duo remains as mysterious as ever. Their self-titled record is very much a DIY release, featuring smooth, crisp bass-lines, urban grooves, falsetto vocals and a few happy accidents.

“A lot of the stuff we put down, we put down because it was hilarious,” J says. “There’s a solo that was a door creaking, which some people love and some people hate. Basically, I was on the computer listening to a track and T left the room to make coffee. The door in my bedroom is basically creaky as hell, and creaked almost in tune with the track in a weird kind of way. I was like ‘wow, stop, stop!’ and started pointing a microphone at the door, saying ‘you’re on, it’s solo time’. We almost pictured ourselves in a jazz club, with T doing a door solo over drops.”

Despite mostly being recorded in a home studio in west London, the album is littered with imagery of faraway places, as on tracks like ‘The Heat’.

“I suppose, if you think about it, everything on our album is a visual reference,” J says. “It’s all about how you can be in that place to create that music. For example, with ‘The Heat’; that’s the beach, you know? So, the beach is a metaphor for a feeling of happiness. Rather than just being in a room in Shepherd’s Bush, you can close your eyes and go to that space. Einstein said ‘simplicity is genius’, and it is; I think all the best things in life are simple, and I think we kind of look up to that quote.”

One faraway place Jungle aren’t going to have to visualise is Australia, with the band set to fill a slot at Splendour in the Grass.

“Oh God, I don’t know how big our set is going to be there – don’t tell me!” J says. “I just go around expecting these tiny little hundred-person gigs. Everything for us is about human connection. If you look at our videos, it’s all about the people and what they’re saying through their eyes, which you lose so much of in the digital age. It’s ironic that most people access it through the Internet. I think live we want to make it about having people on-stage, and I think people relate to people more than laptops, and they enjoy it. The interesting point comes when you explore the line between live and electronic; where does the human end and the computer begin?”

Part of Jungle’s mystery has been intentionally engineered; that’s for certain. But as J confirms, the duo are much more down-to-earth than at first glance.

“We finished a song called ‘Son Of A Gun’ and it gave us the energy and confidence to finish more,” he says. “And then you start to build up that archive of stuff. A lot of people struggle – and we have struggled – with finishing stuff or having the confidence to finish it. Its only really a sketch when it’s finished and you can only really judge it when it’s finished. It’s an emotional whirlwind of a process, especially when you’re doing everything and you’re writing, recording and mixing; it becomes one and you have to be quite structured in the way you deal with it, because you can end up producing and mixing before you’ve even written anything. There were probably terms where we were thinking that we hated the sound of a snare drum, but the song didn’t even have a chorus, you know? It was just about taking things one step at a time and doing what feels right. It’s quite a DIY process for us, and we kind of enjoy that. Some of the best parts on the record are the big mistakes, and you have to embrace things that just happened off the cuff. That’s a process that happened from when we grew up. When you first get a family computer and get a little USB mic and realise you can do this without having to go to Abbey Road or do it properly. We’re at an age now where you can create and produce stuff to high standards with these tools, and it’s not necessarily about how it sounds. There are some amazing records that sound like they were recorded in the plushest studios, but just don’t have any emotion in them. Whereas you’ve got some records that were recorded on one mic in a basement, that are the most incredible records ever. Therefore, looking at that, it’s not about where you are or what you’re recording, it’s more about that feeling, emotion and energy in the room. You can waste so much time positioning mics and that sort of thing.”

JUNGLE’S DEBUT ALBUM IS OUT NOW. JUNGLE PLAY SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS.

For mX

Ofa Fanaika of Chocolate Strings: “We’re kind of superstars in our own little way”

chocolate strings

BRISBANE funk/reggae/soul collective Chocolate Strings have just released a new single, and it’s a smooth and delicious taste of things to come, says singer-guitarist Ofa Fanaika.

“’Playing Pretend’ is a double A-side single with another track called ‘Polyamory’,” she says. “It’ll be part of an album that we’re looking to release in September or later in the year. We’ve recorded maybe eight tracks at this point, and we’re just working out what sort of journey we want to take our listeners on and what best represents where we’re at now. We’re going to try to capture that on the album.”

The song features the band’s trademark collision of genres and a soulful vocal by Nia Falekakala.

“It started with a guitar riff I’d been mucking around with, and the vocalist on that particular track wrote the lyrics for it,” Fanaika says. “The essence of the song is about being genuine and upfront, and saving yourself the drama of wishing you had done something right at the beginning, hence the name ‘Playing Pretend’. We were recording a bunch of tracks and it just seemed like the one that stuck out the most, and after other people had heard it, it ended up being a favourite.”

The band has eight members pitching in ideas, so when asked if everyone agrees on everything, Fanaika laughs.

“No comment! No, we’ve been doing this for a pretty long time and we’re pretty upfront with stuff. We don’t like to beat around the bush when it comes to things that are best for the songs, so we don’t actually have a lot of fights. A lot of the time we’re playing songs live before we’ve recorded them, so we can run through the process that way, and decide if it’s something we can put down.”

Firm roots in Brisbane’s creative community has helped the band develop and grow.

“I’m pretty proud to be a West End citizen,” Fanaika says. “It’s a lot different to most other suburbs in Brisbane. It’s a particularly creative community and inclusive of artists, and a real imaginarium of people that are thinking about expression. We can bounce ideas off other people who are doing a similar thing in whatever creative thing they’re promoting, and a lot of concepts cross over; the artistic, music and community worlds. In West End, our networks are shared amongst other like-minded people, so for every person who likes Chocolate Strings, they tell ten other people. In this neighbourhood, we’re kind of superstars in our own little way, and that’s kind of a nice thing.”

CHOCOLATE STRINGS PLAY THE MOTOR ROOM MAY 30. ‘PLAYING PRETEND’ IS OUT NOW.

James Vincent McMorrow: “It definitely took me by surprise in the most wonderful way possible”

james vincent mcmorrow

JAMES Vincent McMorrow’s music is tailor-made to fill big spaces, metaphorically and literally. Luckily for him – and us – an upcoming show at QPAC and two nights at the Sydney Opera House will allow it to do just that.

“I want [the show] to be something that’s not just song, gap, song, gap,” he says. “I want it to be something that flows and gets bigger as the set goes along. We’ve got this really expansive lighting rig that we’re bringing; it’s kind of the fifth person on-stage. Hopefully we’ll bring a booming big set.”

The 31 year-old Irishman is no stranger to Australia, having been here as recently as five months ago, but he admits the sudden demand for tickets caught him off guard, in a good way.

“I don’t really pay attention to what’s going on in particular countries unless I’m there,” he says. “We were [in Australia] in January and the reaction was brilliant. When we talked about doing these shows, the idea was to do them way later, then all of a sudden I was told things are really good here. About a week after they put them on sale, I got a call saying that the Sydney Opera House was sold out and they were adding second dates. It definitely took me by surprise in the most wonderful way possible. I mean, I’m pretty ambitious and I want to play places like that, but I didn’t expect it to happen this quickly in somewhere as far away as Australia. But then, you can’t predict everything; sometimes things just work. We just finished the US tour, and it was very much big venue to small venue to big venue, depending on which city we were in. I don’t feel any different if we go from 1600 people one night to 600 people the following; I still feel the same. Obviously Sydney Opera House is a special place; it’s like the Royal Albert Hall or Carnegie Hall or somewhere like that. There’s a resonance that goes beyond it being just another show, perhaps. I’ve looked at all the other Australian venues and they are all stunning and look amazing, so I won’t think about them any differently, and they’re all equally important.”

Released in January, Post Tropical is McMorrow’s second album, and sees his sound moving further away from his folk roots in a more soulful direction.

“This record was made for people to live with for a while,” he says. “I didn’t expect it to give itself away to people incredibly quickly. It’s been interesting going from territory to territory and seeing people’s reactions. The first record did very well in Europe, and when we played shows there we could see people starting to wrap their heads around the new sounds and new ideas. By the end of the shows we could really see people understanding it. When we went to the US, people were really into it intensely, and we could hear people singing every word. It was very soon for that for me; with the first record I spent two years working away before people really heard anything. The response to the new record was really quite compelling and drove me onwards to play the songs better and better every night. The response has been how I hoped. I never expect it; I just hope for it when I do these things.”

The first single is ‘Cavalier’, which McMorrow explains is the most accurate representation of what Post Tropical has to offer.

“I chose it because I thought it was the best song on the record, in the sense of letting people know what’s coming,” he says. “I wanted it to be a song that draws a line in the sand, or plants my flag in the ground or whatever you want to call it. It’s a definitive sound; there could have been songs that show where the last record was and where the next one is going, before we deliver something like ‘Cavalier’ further down the line, but I didn’t want to do that. I think people are smart, and I’m not in the business of trying to convince people; you either like it or you don’t, and that’s totally fine. With ‘Cavalier’, I thought people will hear it and either be in or be out. If they hear it and understand what I’m doing and what I’m going for, musically and stylistically, then they’ll like it. I don’t want to waste people’s time putting out songs that might be a little bit like something they might’ve heard before, then when they go to the record it’s different.”

JAMES VINCENT McMORROW PLAYS QPAC FRI 23 MAY. POST TROPICAL IS OUT NOW.

Cody Chesnutt: “The second album was about redemption, without question”

cody chesnutt

WITH A STYLE and approach often likened to Prince, Cody Chesnutt’s music is anything but boring.

“Prince writes the music the way he feels it, and I subscribe to that as well,” he says. “Creatively, there are certain similarities – the diversity and uninhibited expression. The initial writing process is always the same – me and an acoustic instrument, be it a piano or guitar. My aim is to always get the song first; get a very clear vision of what the song is and what I think it should say, then open it up to other musicians and see how the colour in the painting, so to speak. I remember how Aretha Franklin was taken to Muscle Shoals and found all these great musicians, and I began to think I could do the same thing, so I went down there and found my band. There was so much talent. I met my drummer and he knew the keyboard player, the guitar player, and a huge pool of people in the scene, and it came together in a very organic way. I’m thankful for what they all brought to the record.”

Chesnutt speaks candidly about the ten year period between his 2002 debut Headphone Masterpiece and follow-up Landing On A Hundred, including adultery and becoming a father.

“The second album was about redemption, without question,” he says. “But not just for myself. I wanted other people to have their own experience of redemption and I wanted that album to aid people in their own redemptive process and for it to be a part of a healing process. I wanted to understand my role as a father and a family man, and a lot of different things. I took time to grow as a person, and I wanted that growth to be creative too. It was really about making sure I was ready to expose myself again, and making sure I had something to say; something that I could commit myself to.”

An upcoming Australian tour is the start of a busy few months for the Atlanta native.

“I’m beginning to wrap my head around some new songs,” he says. “I have material that I feel strongly about, so I’ll definitely have another album soon. A lot of people have just discovered my last record, so I’ll be touring it as much as possible for the next few months, then I might do some soundtrack work for movies or things like that. What I tell people is to come is to come to my shows with an open mind and an open heart. That’s really all I can ask for.”

CODY CHESNUTT PLAYS THE HI-FI OCTOBER 20.