Simon Farmer, the man who made Prince’s last guitar
On April 16, 2016, Prince held another one of his infamous Paisley Park After Dark dance parties. Sadly, this would be the last time the public would ever see Prince again. During the party, Prince introduced fans to his newest guitar, the Purple Special, created by luthier and founder of Gus Guitars, Simon Farmer. As prolific of a guitarist that Prince was, he heavily relied on a select few of six-string axes throughout his career. The Purple One’s most notable guitars included the Cloud and Symbol Guitars made by Schecter, customized Fender Stratocasters, the Vox HDC-77 (used during the final six years of his life), and his iconic Hohner MadCat Telecaster. These guitars gave Prince a tone that was splendid, unique, and personal. It was surprising to see that his newest guitar was made in a small, one-man workshop, with a brand name that is not known by many. Funk★U recently caught up with the man who made this guitar to discuss his journey creating his business and his experience working with Prince.
Funk★U: Tell us a little about yourself, how you became a luthier and started Gus Guitars.
Simon Farmer : I made my first guitar when I was a fourteen year old school kid. I was completely fascinated with creating something that actually worked! I went on to study Art and Design and managed to steer most of my projects towards guitar making. I eventually completed a Master’s Degree in Industrial Design, where I spent two further years working on alternative guitar ideas and investigating different materials. By this point I’d created a number of instruments using tubular metal and composites and I had a prototype version of a guitar that would become the Gus G1. I knew at this point that I wanted to try to forge a career in guitar making and fortunately managed to win a Crafts Council Award which helped me to fund the setting up of a workshop. I spent the next few years developing my ideas and launched Gus Guitars and the G1 guitar in 1994.
How did you come up with the creative designs for your guitars ?
My art and design education included a three year degree course at Wolverhampton Polytechnic where I was surrounded by artists and designers from a wide range of disciplines all housed in a fantastic seven story building, so I was exposed to all sorts of influences and inspiration from fine art to graphics, furniture making, ceramics, print making and photography. I was particularly interested in the way furniture makers were using bent steel tube to create chairs and thought I could use the same technique to form guitars. I made a number of experimental instruments from rolled steel tube that I called Guitubes, and these started me on the path that would lead to the Gus G1 and G3.
How were you contacted by Prince ? Do you know how he heard about Gus Guitars ?
I was contacted by Prince’s friend and Paisley Park manager Kirk Johnson, who’d seen my guitars on my website. I believe my guitars may have been brought to his attention through social media.
Tell us about the guitar you made for Prince. How long did it take to make? Did he give you a deadline? Did he ask for any particular specifications ?
I created the Purple Special because people had been telling me the G1 was the sort of guitar that Prince would play for so long, that I just decided to make one that I thought really would suit him! It took me hundreds of hours spread over about 6 months with the last three months spent almost exclusively on it. I was trying to get it finished in time to show it to him at his 2007 Earth Tour, where he played twenty one nights at London’s O2 Arena. He didn’t know I was building it and in the end it wasn’t possible to get it to him, so the guitar spent the following nine years sitting in my workshop while I moved on to other projects… until it came to his attention in early 2016.
Do you know when Prince received the guitar (how long he had it before his passing) ? Did he ever attempt to contact you again?
He received the guitar in early March 2016, so he only really had the guitar for a matter of weeks before he so sadly died. He got in touch with me through Kirk when he received the guitar and wanted to set up a time to talk on the phone, though to my everlasting regret, I had a bad case of the flu and literally couldn’t speak, so I had to postpone, thinking I would speak to him later… but of course this never happened. Through Kirk, he asked me if I could build him a bass like the guitar, and this is what I was working on when I heard that he’d died.
Who are some of your favorite guitarists? Were you a fan of Prince and his music prior to engaging with him? If not, have you found yourself listening to his music more often now since he is gone? Do you have a favorite Prince song or album?
Although I played saxophone as a teenager I was always very influenced by guitar players and particularly loved blues players like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Freddie King etc. I appreciate all sorts of players though from Les Paul and Donald Fagen to Bill Nelson and Angus Young. I’d liked Prince’s music from the early eighties on… his music always sounded new and exciting and so Funky. Not very original I know, but I love the Purple Rain album, though I also really like the music he recorded more recently with 3rd Eye Girl, with Ida Nielsen on bass.
What would you like to see happen to the Purple Special guitar you made for Prince now that he is gone ?
I’m very happy with how things have turned out with the Purple Special Paisley Park currently has it on display in a prominent position in a glass case in their museum alongside some of his other guitars. It was on display for the Celebration they had there in April to mark a year after Prince’s passing. The guitar is also featured in a book that Paisley Park has released, Prince: Guitar & Bass, which is available from their online store.
Are there any additional comments you’d like to make or would want people to know about yourself, your company, and/or your involvement with Prince ?
I think the thing I would like people to understand most about my business is that I am just a one man operation and that I create everything for my guitars by hand one at a time in my workshop… it’s a truly bespoke operation with very few bought in components. I’m extremely proud to have been able to create a guitar for Prince that he seemed to like enough to order a bass from me and I will always be grateful that he received it and had time to enjoy, though I would have so loved to see him use it live !
Interview : Adam Kita
Interview : Andre Cymone “We never lost a battle of the bands”
Out April 25th, The new limited collector book Prince Live 1979-1980 : The First Tour features rare and never-seen before pictures of Prince’s very first national tour shot in December 1st, 1979 at the Houston Palace and February 24th, 1980 at the Sam Houston Coliseum. The book also includes exclusive interviews and quotes from former band members.
Here is the full Andre Cymone interview in which the bass player tells Funk★U about his personal experience of the Prince tour, Rick James’ love gun and his infamous plastic pants !
Funk★U : Was the Prince tour your first touring experience ?
Andre Cymone : Yes it was… At first, it was very strange to wake up, look out the window and have no idea where you are. But I eventually got use to that. I’m not sure I was quite ready for the extreme enthusiasm, support and love we received while on that first tour, I never really got use to that reality.
Did you rehearse a lot before going on tour ? Was Prince already very demanding about the band performance ?
We absolutely rehearsed a lot, since we had up to that point been in a band together we had already had a very serious work ethic and I was very much a part of that work ethic. I personally don’t think I could have been in anyone’s band without a serious demanding work ethic, it’s what sets you apart from the rest.
What was the repertoire of this first tour ? Can you remember tracks that were rehearsed but not played live on this tour ?
We pretty much stuck to the business of promoting the albums that were out at the time, and the fact that we didn’t tour after the release of his first album we didn’t do to many songs from the first release. We rehearsed a few but ended up focused on the main ones like “Soft and Wet”, “Just As Long As We’re Together” and, I think, “I’m yours”. We would also develop an intro to set the tone for those first shows depending on how much time we would be given since back then were were opening for other acts as well as a closing composition.
What was the audience like ? How did they react during the shows?
In the beginning, they were tough because they weren’t there to see us, so the first two or three songs were rough but after about the third or fourth song you would see a dramatic change, it was almost always a trip to see the absolute reversal of the crowd going from hate to love, from “what the hell ?” negative, to “what the hell” positive. That really made those shows exciting and magical.
(Laughs) For me personally, I have always been into fashion. My sister who studied European fashion and always kept magazines around the house was a big influence. She also made most of the stage outfits for myself earlier on and Prince before and during his early solo career. She made the infamous trench coats and the animal print vest and bottoms that Prince wore back then. As far as the clear pants, I found them in a shop in George Town DC and I bought all of them that they had in my size. Beyond that, I would go through magazines at the time and when I came across something that I thought would work for what we were trying to project at the time I’d either rock it or cut it out and show it to Prince or my sister and she would make it. I also had a favorite shop in soho called Trash in Vaudeville, a lot of the clothes we wore back then came from there.
Was provocation a big part of the live act ?
Absolutely… We would try different things, and if or should I say when they had an effect we would push it further to try to find the absolute edge. Our clothes, our hair, sexually taunting, overt provocative sexual behavior was first of all natural for both Prince and myself and I think Dez as well. We were all front men and it was definitely part of the entertainment factor.
You supported Rick James on this tour. Was there any interaction with the King of Punk-Funk ? Prince later said that RJ was rather « condescending ».
There was quite a bit or interaction, we were very focused on not just competing on a professional level but we always went into sharing the stage with other bands as a challenge and we never lost a battle of the bands. So I think they thought we were arrogant. We didn’t hang out much at all, and Rick and I got off on a bad foot the first time we met. He pointed a funk gun or love gun or whatever it was at me and I kinda lost my temper, Prince chilled me out. There were a couple other little incidents but we eventually worked it out and the tour ended up being just an absolute blast and I got to know Rick and really came to appreciated him as an artist.
Other acts on this tour included Instant Funk, Kleer and Twennynine featuring Lenny White. Do you have any memories about their performances ?
Twenntynine was my group, I loved those guys. They were amazing musicians and really good people. One of the things I remember wasn’t an actual performance scenario though there were many of those but they were just fun guys. One night after a show, Rick James’ bus was parked below their hotel room window and one of the guys, I’m not naming names but he filled a bunch of water balloons and began dropping on Ricks bus. The next day of course they blamed me but I have to say, it was a crack up because they always made such a big deal out of this little stuff.
Can you remember some funny anecdotes from this tour ?
We were almost always getting mobbed, especially me because I was always wandering off. It was before we had security, but one incident I’ll never forget was almost having our trailer tipped over by fans trying to get in or shake us out. They finally got us outta there but there were about six or seven cars following us. They were relentless. Our tour manager jumped out of our car and dove in one of their cars, they drove off with him hangin out the window, when they slammed on the brakes he flew out, I thought it was curtains but he was alright. We got him back in the limo and kept it movin…
Looking back, what kind of memory do you keep from this first national tour with Prince ?
I’m not sure there are words to describe the beginning of the realization of a dream. So many firsts. Flying around the country on airplanes everyday or every other day. Hotels, room service. Meeting really beautiful people. Feeling love for what we had been working for for so many years. So many false starts and missteps finally coming to fruition. What I remember most of all though are the faces of the fans who were so happy to see and hear us doing something outside of what everyone else was doing and letting us know we were doing the right thing.
Prince Live 1979-1980 : The First Tour. Collector picture book available exclusively at www.funku.fr. Andre Cymone’s new album 1969 will be released in Europe on June 30th by the German label Leopard, a division of Jazzline / Delta.
Interview : Ed Motta “A wonderful experience”
Perpetual Gateways, the brazilian musician/songwriter/producer/record collector, steps away from the AOR genre to enter the spiritual jazz territory with the help of Patrice Rushen, Greg Phillinganes and Hubert Laws. A transatlantic interview with Ed Motta.
Funk★U : Perpetual Gateways, your 15th album, explores the boundaries of jazz and spiritual jazz on several tracks. Why did you chose that particular direction ? Did you want to make a departure from the AOR sounds of your most recent recordings ?
Ed Motta : I had already recorded some jazz-oriented albums like Dwitza & Aystelum. Dwitza with a certain soundtrack influence using harpsichord, symphonic instruments etc. Aystelum has spiritual/free jazz with Broadway musicals I might say a bit like Escalator Over The Hill from Carla Bley.
I compose all the time many different things, soul ballads, jazz waltzes, pop songs, soundtrack inspired pictures searching for a movie and things. After AOR came to me some of these jazz inspired tunes and it’s very natural since I listen jazz everyday with all other kind of music I love.
But definitely I will record something strictly into AOR idiom very soon, I have many new songs for it.
The Perpetual Gateways casting is quite impressive : How did you manage to enroll Patrice Rushen, Greg Phillinganes and Hubert Laws on this record ? What did they bring to the general sound of the album ?
Who helped me to organize this event was the great musician Kamau Kenyatta. It was such a joy to hear these people I know from record collection playing my composition and arrangements. They are gifted artists so they come full of style, such a wonderful experience to me.
During your last performance in Paris, you have mentioned that this was the first time you wrote all the lyrics on one of your own albums. Is this really the case ? If yes, is this the trickiest part of your job ?
I co-wrote some things in the past, but I never started any sentence in lyrics in fact I have been all my life kinda less interested in words, the abstract side of music always attracted me more as something really free, something really out of our society scheme.
I started to write as a joke, and find it ok because I was trying to write some different situations than love songs or things like “Don’t You Wanna Dance ?”, all these repetitive subject of popular music.
I might say it’s into storytelling, my dream is to one day have it on a Broadway musical style, like Stephen Sondheim one of my favorite composers ever.
Your vocal performance on this new album is amazing. Did you want to put an extra focus on your vocals on Perpetual Gateways ?
Merci ! I think because there’s less orchestration so the voice has more space to work, and we hear it better. On AOR I recorded two times, doubling vocals like Maurice White & Donald Fagen. But Kamau asked me to work in just one channel to have more soul in my voice. Kamau was very important in this voice sound, it was pretty much his idea.
What’s next for Ed Motta ?
Be rich (laughs) ! hope to keep writing songs, that’s my mission I do it as a special daily oxygen. I’d like to have again a radio program, I had one in São Paulo for two years.
I’d like also to record a solo DVD just myself on piano and guitar playing my hits, and things from the others I love…
Interview by Christophe Geudin. Photo : Sabrina Mariez.
Ed Motta Perpetual Gateways (Membran Records/Harmonia Mundi). Available on CD and digital version on February 5.
Interview : Sound engineer Ben Kane and the making-of D’Angelo’s “Black Messiah”
Sound engineer and dedicated funkateer Ben Kane tells Funk★U about the making-of Black Messiah, D’Angelo latest album, studio brotherhood and the current state of the music industry. “Let the art speak !”.
Funk★U : How do you feel, a month after the release of Black Messiah ?
Ben Kane : I’m feeling great. It has been a long journey working on this album, so it feels wonderful to finally be able to share this music and for it to have received such a positive response.
Who are you exactly Ben? What’s your professional career before working with Russell Elevado and D’Angelo ?
I’m an engineer/mixer and producer on a constant quest to make inspiring music and to keep creating new sounds that make people feel something.
I started working with Russell and also with D’Angelo pretty early in my career. I started as an intern at Electric Lady Studios back in 2003. I was 19 years old at the time. I soon became a house engineer for the studio and engineered for many amazing artists there. In those days, I also became Elevado’s main assistant while at the studio as well as the engineer for his production work including the album Circles by Krystle Warren who is now actually based in France as some Funk★U readers may be familiar. I met D’Angelo very early on at my time at Electric Lady and worked with him a good number of times before delving very deeply into this project around 2008.
Who are your favourite musicians and the “must have” in your record collection?
I’m definitely a funk/soul head at my core, so artists like Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder and Shuggie Otis and Herbie Hancock get listened to a lot from my record collection (and I’m happy to tell that to a magazine called Funk★U !). But I listen to everything from jazz to folk to rock. Usually, I gravitate towards artists whose music seems to come from a soulful place regardless of genre.
Is it true that Black Messiah has been entirely recorded in analog ?
Yes. Everything that you hear on Black Messiah has hit analog tape and was mixed through tape and analog gear without the use of any plug-ins. Some things we would work with through ProTools for an edit or to preserve our tapes, but in the end, analog ruled on this record.
Can you tell us exactly who was behind each instrument, on each track of the album?
I think I have divulged that information via my twitter actually ! Check out my “12 days of D’angelo” posts from right after Black Messiah dropped. My twitter name is @kanevibrations. I wanted all of the unbelievable musicians that we worked with to be recognized for their outstanding work on this project.
How was the atmosphere in the studio with Russel Elevado and the team?
Well, the core creative team for the most part on a day-to-day basis is D’Angelo and either Russ, myself or often the both of us. Then the other musicians come into our sessions as needed. It’s a nice, positive atmosphere in the studio. We’re really a group of brothers at this point, and we have a lot of fun creating and listening to music whenever we’re together.
Is there something which particularly surprised you during the recording of Black Messiah ?
Oh man, it’s a funny thing, because even when you’re around these incredible geniuses every day, you still get surprised by how good they are. Even when I know what someone like Pino Palladino or Roy Hargrove or Sharkey is capable of, it still blows me away the first time I hear one of their interpretations of these songs. You learn to expect the unexpected in the best possible way.
What did you answer to the critics, in particular those on the lack of understading some lyrics ?
I think D’Angelo’s vocal style has been consistent across his career. I think people have gotten used to these cookie-cutter R&B artists that always deliver a very bright clear sound with clear lyrics. You can understand every word they say, but they aren’t really saying anything (at least nothing artful or moving most of the time). And I can’t blame all of those artists as many of them don’t even write their own songs or lyrics. But that’s part of the problem. Some of that is specific to the perceived genre. No one criticizes Radiohead because you can’t understand every word that Thom Yorke sings. The artist has to perform in a voice that is true to him or herself and D’ is certainly doing that.
For Black Messiah, you may have to sit down with the lyric booklet (which is available online) to understand every word, but you are rewarded with lyrics that are meaningful and that come from a personal place. (Let me also commend Kendra Foster who co-wrote the lyrics for many of these songs with D’Angelo and Q-Tip who co-wrote the lyrics for “Sugah Daddy”). You might not understand every word in your first listen, but that’s the point. Hopefully this is music that can draw people in and give them something to keep listening to and keep finding more meaning and enjoyment in for a very long time.
Do you think Black Messiah is as groundbreaking as Voodoo ?
I think so. That said, time will tell. I think the term groundbreaking is often used after the fact and is determined by how other musicians react to something through their own art. I really hope that others can rise to the challenge. And that doesn’t mean copying the sound. I think if there is one thing that defines D’Angelo as an artist, it is that he paves his own creative path and is true to his own art instead of reacting to music-industry trends or making music based on industry assessments. I think that soulful approach will always create groundbreaking music and I hope that more artists embrace that path.
What do you think about the current state of the music industry ?
I feel a crisis. But it’s not just the music industry, it’s the whole world. In my mind, I don’t separate the crisis that is facing our planet and our food supplies and our poor and our marginalized populations from the crisis that faces our musical artists.
I think the industry is in an interesting point. We are finally at a place where artists have the power to break free of the corporate record-label reigns that have often been holding their art back. Yet the democratization of music over the last decade hasn’t necessarily resulted in a system where musicians get paid fairly for their art (and musicians still need to eat)! At the end of the day, I think that music can become part of its own solution to this global crisis as it has in the past. Let the art speak of and to the problems (as D’Angelo did on some of the material on this album), and then maybe it will inspire the listeners to help fight a system that among other things does not value art as it should.
What are your projects for this new year ?
I am currently in the studio finishing off mixes for a new album from Emily King and I’m also mixing some songs for Christian Gregory out of the UK.
I am also super excited for the release of the Chris Dave and the Drumhedz album that I mixed and engineered over this past year or so. That should be out quite soon as well. And that’s only the beginning !
Interview : Jim Zelechowski
Ben Kane portrait : Photo : Azikiwe Mohammed
Ava Cherry : “David Bowie was fascinated by soul music”
Featured on David Bowie’s Young Americans, produced by Curtis Mayfield in 1980 and long-time Luther Vandross musical partner, Ava Cherry is a cult artist. She has also just released her new single called “That’s How Loneliness Goes”, available on iTunes. !
Funk★U : What is your first musical memory ?
When I was five or six years old, my mother would play albums by Frank Sinatra constantly at home. She loved his voice, and he was one of the first singers who really stood out for me. Later, I haerd Smokey Robinson and it was also a big shock.
You grew up in Chicago. How did you get into soul music ?
By the radio, of course, but also through concerts. Every weekend, we would go at the Regal Theater to attend incredible shows. I saw James Brown, Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, Jackie Wilson, Isaac Hayes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson and all these soul giants. A little later, Koko, one of my best friends, became Stevie Wonder‘s girlfriend. I have been fortunate to attend the sessions for the Fulfillingness First Finale album. I think that all these factors combined led me to become a singer.
Can you remember your very first recording session ?
Yes, it was with David Bowie at the Chateau d’Hérouville in 1974. It was just before the recording of the Ava and the Astronettes album. David had made me recording demos to show my potential to his producer Tony DeFries.
You also introduced introduced Bowie to Luther Vandross.
Yes. David Bowie was fascinated by soul music. I took David one night at the Apollo because he wanted to hear soul groups. He got out of the limo with his electric blue dress and red hair (laughs). Inside, Carlos Alomar and Luther Vandross were playing on stage. It is this night that David found his companions for the Young Americans album that we recorded a few months later in Philadelphia, at Sigma Studios.
Five years after Young Americans you published Ripe !!!, your first solo album produced by Curtis Mayfield. What is the history of this record?
Gil Askey, the Curtom label musical director, was supposed to produce this album, but he was visibly embarrassed that I had worked with David Bowie, and his attitude put me ill at ease. After a few sessions, I told it to Gil Askey, who then asked Curtis Mayfield if he would produce me. “But of course, with pleasure,” he replied. I thought I was going to faint. My first solo album produced by Curtis Mayfield, can you believe it ? He was one of the most charming men I’ve ever met. He was also incredibly patient in the studio. I never saw him sigh during the whole recording process.
Two years later, you released Streetcar Named Desire. How would you compare Ripe !!! to this album ?
It was an album between disco and new wave. Capitol Records, which released the album, tried to market me in the same category as Grace Jones, but it did not work. In 1987, I recorded Picture Me with Glen Ballard, which achieved a huge success a few years later with Alanis Morissette. Luther Vandross was also featured on it, but the album was not really supported by the record company.
In 1997 you released the EP also Spend the Night, which contains a great cover of “Forget Me Nots,” the hit of Patrice Rushen.
Like this cover ? Thank you so much ! I have been often told that it was one of the best covers of this song.
Around the same time, you have toured a lot with Luther Vandross. What memories do you keep?
These concerts were amazing, Luther was one of the best singers who walked this earth … The glamour aspect of the shows was also very important for Luther. Everything was spotless, including costumes. Some nights, I would go on stage wearing 20,000 $ dresses !
What are your plans?
After all the problems I experienced with record companies, I fell very suspicious. They take your talent, but they do not offer you anything in return. This time, I’m going to do it alone and things will happen on my new website which will open soon. My new single is called “That’s How Loneliness Goes.” It is a mid-tempo I have produced myself. John Ovnik, who worked with Stevie Wonder, Deniece Williams, Wyclef Jean and many others is also on it. We are right into the mastering process and it will be available soon. Can’t wait !
New single “That’s How Loneliness Goes” available on iTunes.
Interview by SlyStoned
Robert Glasper : “Today’s jazz scene sucks”
In an exclusive interview with Funk-U magazine, Robert Glasper describes the creative process of Black Radio 2 and shares his views about today’s jazz scene and the current music industry.
Funk-U : As you might know, sequels are usually never as good as the original movie. Can we say the same thing regarding the second part of your Black Radio project ?
Robert Glasper : No, I got to say I think it’s as good. I think I did a good job of not making the same album twice, but capturing some of the essence of first album, without being the same album. It’s the same album but a different album(laughs). I think it’s a good balance.
A year ago, in a an interview for nextbop.com, you have declared that your mission while making Black Radio 1 was to « explore your hip-hop/soul side, but still jazz-infused », that you thought that you where « the first one to actually do it right. ». Has your mission changed with Black Radio 2 ?
It’s still mixing things. But this record was more hip-hop/RnB, not so much jazz. Because we got the Grammy of RnB album of the year, we entered in the R’n'B world, and to survive in the R’n'B world, I got to put a little more R’n'B in my R’n'B (laughs). And I love R’n'B music, so I’m not compromising anything, it’s fun to do this and not have to feel that we have to mix. I don’t want to mix all the time. Black Radio 1 was about mixture, that was the purpose. Black Radio 2 is not about really mixing album : we purposedly say : « let’s do a hip-hop/R’n'B album », but our way. Our way means gonna be having a little bit of glider of jazzstatic, here and there, certain songs. Like Norah Jones’s song, or Big Girl Body with KC making a sexy solo, a little stuff like that. So, when I said I think we’re the best representation of it, it was Black Radio 1, I believe. Because you have one band playing all that. I think we are the best band and only band to do what we’re doing as a band. We don’t need anything else to play hip-hop. The hip-hop musicians and the audience say : « those guys are the best at that », Questlove says : « they are the best at that ». Same thing with jazz, when we are improvising on jazz stuffs, jazz musicians say : « they are the best at that », when we’re doing R’n'B, the R’n'B world says : « they are the best at that ». You know what I mean ? There hasn’t been a one band that’s could arguably the best at each category they decide to play, each genre they decide to play. Most of the time that’s a weaker link. So in the past, there been jazz bands that do hip-hop mix jazz, but it’s jazz band with a DJ, or it’s a DJ playing hip-hop but he has jazz instrumentals. There hasn’t been one band that plays all the genres in its most honest and most original form of that music, without losing anything.
This new album more pop or radio friendly, less jam oriented. Can you explain your creative process on Black Radio 2 ? Does it differ compared to the first opus ?
This album differs because on the last Black Radio album, we were not looking for any mission, we wanted just playing and do stuff with friends and make a cool record (laughs). That represents a lot of different music. A lot of people who came at the studio didn’t know what the hell we were gonna do. There’s a lot of covers on the first opus, because we didn’t know what to do, like : « hey let’s do this song, you know this song ? Ok, let’s do it ». On the second album, I put my thought into it. I had to compose more original songs. I wrote some songs and some friends help me for the lyrics. Sometimes artists wrote lyrics : Emili Sandé, Marsha Ambrosius, Common, Eric Roberson, Lupe, Snoop, Luke James, and Jill Scott. Jill Scott wrote the melody and I wrote the chorus. But for the most part I had songs written for the artists, I had songs in mind for the artist. I write a song and I know this is for Anthony Hamilton, I feel it. I gave him the piano part, then he came to the studio and he recorded.
How did you manage get these incredible talents on this project ?
On the first album they were all friends, I knew all of them for years. On second album I knew half of them. I know Norah Jones since High School, we went to Jazz Camp together, because she’s from Dallas, Texas, and i’m from Houston, Texas. So we met at a Jazz Camp. But there’s some people I didn’t know : Faith Evans, Anthony Hamilton, Brandy… I asked to my Twitter Followers : « Twit them and tell them they have to be on Black Radio 2 ! » (laughs). The good thing about it, the easy thing was that we won a grammy. And when we won that grammy, most people known who we are. Faith said : « Yeah Robert Glasper, I saw him at the Grammy, I’ll do it », Brandy same thing, Anthony Hamilton same thing. If we didn’t win the Grammy, maybe they would be like : « Oh.. I don’t know, I don’t have time »… But they wanted to be on the record, to be a part of it, so I’m happy and grateful.
Many of us miss D’Angelo and think that you should have invited him on your album. Did you contact him for a featuring ?
I didn’t contact D’Angelo because I knew he would decline. D’Angelo is like Maxwell. They are both on studio to finish their own album. D’Angelo is finishing his own record, it’s supposed to be out. But when it’s time, I will ask him. I’m gonna meet him, we gonna talk about it, and when I’ll meet him he gonna know who I am and he gonna want to do it. D’Angelo’s team asked me to do the D’Angelo tour before they asked Pookie. But I was already on my own tour, and on Maxwell’s tour as well, I didn’t have time to do both my tour, Maxwell’s tour and D’’s tour. And he didn’t have a lot of dates at that time so… But I would love to, one day.
Is it difficult to transpose these songs live without the original singers ?
Some songs are hard to adapt without the singers. For example Jill Scott’s song, Beacause it’s a very girl song, and with KC’s vocoder it would be weird (laughs). A girl has to sing that… So we just choose certain songs, without singers we do Norah Jones’s song, we do “I Stand Alone” (just the chorus), we do “Big Girl Body”, and “Lovely Da”y. Bill Withers was on stage with us in L.A last week, it was amazing.
Where did you meet KC, Mark Colenburg, Derrick Hodge, and Chris Dave ?
Chris is not in the band anymore because he wanted to start his own band. We played for Maxwell together, and he left Maxwell to play with D’Angelo. From that, he met Isaiah Sharkey, an incredible guitarist, and Pino Palladino. So he started to tour alone. I’m happy to see him with his band finally. He deserves it, he’s arguably the most incredible drummer of our time, he is the most incredible to me, and to most drummers. Nobody has as much influence and creativity as him. When you hear him, you can say from the first second : « It’s Chris Dave ». I Knew Mark Colenburg, KC – and Bilal – from College in NYC, the New School. Mark is incredible too.
Why covering “Get Lucky” live ? Is it for the crowd, do you like this song ? Is it a in-joke with your band ?
When the single came out, I’ve never heard it. Everybody was saying on Facebook and Twitter that Daft Punk’s new album sounds like Robert Glasper Experiment, I guess because of the vocoder. And they say that this album sounds like different than any other of their albums. So, somebody sent me “Get Lucky”. Everywhere we went this summer, we heard it. So we decided to adapt “Get lucky “live. I’m all about doing some popular songs if I like it, if it’s good, and I like “Get Lucky”. It’s a good festival song. And with KC’s Vocoder, it make sense. Jazz in general doesn’t do that (laughs). They don’t play shit of the radio, because « it’s not creative » (laughs). But people wanna dance, they wanna enjoy.
Everybody always say that Glasper you are influenced by Herbie Hancock and JDilla . I’m sure that you have many other influences or jazz fathers…
Herbie Hancock ? I’ve never heard him (laughs). Everybody wants to compare me with someonelse, like, « What’s your favourite jazz musician ? ». I don’t want to respond anymore. I like people they’re listen to me and who tell me « it’s Glasper’s sound ». Some people just want to say : « He has listened to George Duke », I want to reply « No ! », but that’s not the truth (laughs). I’ve listened him, of course. I hate people who say : « You guys are the biggest Weather Report’s fans ». I’ve never bought any Weather Report record. People compare us with the Yellow Jackets because we have electric things. I think we sound different.
What about your tour ? Do you like the French audience ? Do you know any French singers ?
I like the French audience, he’s more receptive. Not as the americans, but more receptive just after London. Honestly, in London, the crowd is more ready for the music. French area little more reserved. My audience is strange, I have reserved jazz fans, and then I get the wild crazy people too. So it’s a mixture. But I’ve always loved France, I’ve been coming here since 2002, playing at the Sunset in Paris. The Audience is great. London come first because they get all of my jokes, and beacause of my english beard (laughs). I can talk on the mic and say stupid shit and they get it all. While in France, people are like :« What did he say ? » (laughs). French have the better women. I don’t know any French singers.
What about Daft Punk ?
I thought they were from Germany ! That’s hilarious.
What do you think about today’s jazz scene and the Nu-soul scene ?
Today’s jazz scene Sucks. There’s not enough elevation, not enough in people’s minds. I feel like hearing the same thing over and over. I don’t hear much exploration, nothing innovative, nothing captive like : « Wow… what’s that ? ». I don’t hear that anymore. When somebody does something new, like myself, the jazz community says : « Damn, wait, what are you doing ? ». I think that some people can change something but don’t because they’re afraid to be refused or things like that. Nu-Soul died, I was a part of the movement. I was with Bilal at the beginning, we were at the New School together, he has signed with Interscope Records in 1999. That’s when we met J Dilla, Common… We were in the same studio, at Electric Lady when D’Angelo recorded Voodoo, Bilal wason the top floor, Erykah was at the middle, and D’Angelo was at the bottom for two or three months.
Do you think that Black Radio 1 & 2 are breaking new grounds in Afro-American music ?
I do ! I think that the first is breaking ground now. Today’s music is going downhill. The integrity of music is going downhill. Live music, Live musicians are going downhill. People are not looking for live musicians, it’s all about computers, MPCs and so on… So the fact that we were able to come from the jazz world, and do a record with all live instruments, no loops, everything is played live, bring singers together… Because on part one, the only popular singers we had were Erykah and Musiq Soulchild. Everybody else were like underground heroes. At that time, the only super-popular singers were Erykah and Lupe Fiasco. The fact that we were able to do that : live musicians, bring real singers, at THAT time, was groundbreaking. And to win a Grammy for it was groundbreaking too. To do this again with Black Radio 2, and bring just real singers and vocalists, and hit the charts – we are number two after Justin Timberlake, that shit is fucking crazy -, is groundbreaking. I love my band and I think that we are the fucking dopest band to do the kind of shit we’re doing. I took a look at the Quincy Jones’s book, because he did Back on the Block, and that’s kind of my vibe : making the dopest songs with dope singers. Plus I wanted to do it with just one band. My blueprint for Black Radio 1 was Off The Wall. It’s my favourite record because, it’s one band for the most part, and it feels like one band, and you feel that they recorded all those songs in the same day. I recorded Black Radio 2 in the same studio as Off the Wall. So the essence was there already. My album sounds very warm, very intimate, and it’s not twelve producers trying to get the hottest track on the album. There’s a story.
What do you think about today’s music industry ?
It is full of people who don’t know music. It has become a business, and it is less about music. And the more people who don’t know about music, the more it becomes about business. It’s killing the industry, it’s killing music when you have people in high positions who don’t know about music. It’s like : « why are you a lifeguard if you can’t swim ? ». That just doesn’t make sense.
Will your Black Radio project be a trilogy ?
I don’t know. There was not supposed to be a number 2 bu the first got so much love and everybody came asking : « what about number two ? ». If I get the same response, it is possible. I don’t want to be like… Rocky, you know what I mean ? like « Rocky V, Rocky VI, Rocky VII » (laughs). Nothing like this, but I can see a possible number 3. I don’t know, let’s see how that part 2 works out.
Interview : Jim Zelechowski. Special Thanks to François Arveiller.
Robert Glasper Experiment Black Radio 2 (Blue Note/Universal).
Producer QMillion interview : inside Robert Glasper’s “Black Radio 2″
Black Radio 2, the latest Robert Glasper Experiment album is out today. Producer/mixer QMillion tells Funk★U about his colaboration with “Rob’” and his many featured guests (Lalah Hathaway, Erykha Badu, Jill Scott, Snoop Dog, Norah Jones…). Interview.
Funk★U : QMillion, can you introduce yourself ?
QMillion : My name is Qmillion Riddim. I am a producer/mixer based in Los Angeles for the last twenty years. A large portion of my upbringing was in Minneapolis. That is also where I have my musical beginnings. I began playing music when I was In elementary first on saxophone, then keyboards. My brother and I formed a band in 6th grade with our neighbors. By Junior High we were touring the school system. In High school I was playing Bass in the HS Jazz band and Saxophone in the Concert Band, while my brother and I were playing keyboards in nightclubs behind Taja Sevelle who later signed with Prince. My second year at the University of Minnesota I joined Jesse Johnson’s Band. (from The Time, most recently touring with D’Angelo). All of the records I did in Minneapolis I wrote and produced with Jesse Johnson.
Can you tell us about your professional carreer before meeting Robert Glasper ?
I have been blessed to have a career that involves more than one roll, because each aspect deepens my understanding and appreciation for the other. I have been a tour musician with Jesse Johnson, The Time, Billy Preston. I have produced and written records for After 7, Paula Abdul, Juelz Santana, Kurupt, Brownstone, and I have and still provide music for feature films like The Sweetest Thing, The Five Heartbeats, to tv shows like Glee, Greek, Blue Bloods, etc.
What are your inspirations and your favourite albums in your record collection ?
I love so much music. I listen to everything, Hip-Hop, rap, Pop, EDM, but I have to say that when I am not listening to music for work purposes, my favorite is to put my Fela collection in shuffle and let it hit me.
Are you just a mix engineer in studio or do you also do some live mix ?
I have mixed live. Don’t do it much these days. I toured with Mint Condition as FOH, and have also mixed Toni Braxton Live in Vegas. It has its own set of challenges totally different than the studio.
When and how did you meet Robert Glasper and his band ?
I first met Rob in Brooklyn in 2008 for the recording of the electric side of Double Booked. How I got the gig was through Chris Dave. I have known Chris forever, like when he first left Howard to play for Mint Condition. Chris and I had been working together on various projects over the years and he convinced Rob that I should come to Brooklyn and track and mix the project.
What was the creative process on Black Radio 2 ? Does it differ compared to the first opus ? What about that particular sound ?
The creative process that I witness at the studio is pure genius. Robert, Derek Hodge, K. C., Chris and now Mark Colenberg are all masters at their craft and have been playing together forever. These guys have incredible ears, sensitivity, and sensibility. So when you read that almost all of the songs on Black Radio 1 and 2 were first takes. The energy that is exchanged is never duplicated because it is fluid, subject to change. As far as the sound…I don’t know. Rob is a hip-hop head, I’m a hip hop head, and I love bass and for things to be phat. I guess I have the memory of making records on tape all those years that I’m always trying to bring that warmth and solidness to my mixes.
How much time did the mix took on Black Radio 2 ? Can u compare it with the first opus ? Which instrument is the most difficult to mix ?
Both records took about a month to mix each. There are a lot of songs on both projects with bonus songs in different territories etc. I spend 2-3 weeks with it at my studio, then Rob comes and we spend a week together. I enjoy this process because it gives me time to explore and experiment. Also when you consider that many of the tunes ended up going to radio, they are competing with songs that have been up on a board for 3 days, you don’t want to feel rushed or limited.
How does it feel to work with Lalah Hathaway, Erykha Badu, Jill Scott, Snoop Dogg, Norah Jones, Bilal, Common, Emeli Sandé, Dwele, Anthony Hamilton, Eric Roberson, Lupe Fiasco or Ledisi ? Did they all record at you lab in L.A ? Can you tell us some anecdotes about these great personalities ?
Working with the illustrious list of musical greats on Black Radio 1 and 2 was like a dream come true! Nearly everyone who participated was present at the sessions, so one day you have Macy Gray coming in, Eric Roberson is there finishing, the next day its Faith Evans blowing your mind only to have Common come in and do the same. It was amazing. Black Radio 1 we had Stokley, King, Lalah and Bilal all in the studio together vibing. Weeks like that don’t happen every month or even every year. All of BR2 (with the exception of a couple vocals) was tracked at Westlake Studio in D where Michael did Thriller. For Snoop’s vocal I went to his studio to track. Let me say that to partake in Jah gift with Uncle Snoop was a highlight.
What are your projects now ? Do you work with foreign artists ? Can u tell us who ?
I do a lot of work with foreign artists. I recently mixed Bo Saris’s new album, he’s from Holland and the single is #1 this month. He lives in London now and his album comes out next year. Also Dreamon, a rapper from Norway, I mixed the lead single from his new album. Hyleen Gil, a french neo soul singer, is on her second project and I worked on both. And I literally just finished mixing Seun Kuti’s next release due out next year as well. Projects I’m working on now are Unseen Lab Recordings is having its Ten year anniversary and releasing compilations with work I’ve produced and written for Beenie Man, Wayne Wonder, I-Octane, E-Dee, Ms Triniti etc, so I’m wrapping up new songs for that project. In addition I am completing production on a singer-songwriter, Jillian Speer.
What do you think about the current music industry ? According to you, are BR1 and 2 groundbreakers in Afro-american music ?
Well, there are good things about how music is right now and there are challenges as well. What I am excited about is the way that Black Radio is being accepted it makes me feel like people are connecting with the organic realness in the music. I think people feel the kind of magic that happens when a group sits down and plays together. Real music by real musicians. It may be to early to say if BR1 and BR2 are trendsetting, but hopefully it will open more doors for artists to follow.
Interview : Jim Zelechowski
Robert Glasper Experiment Black Radio 2 (Blue Note/Universal).
Interview : Zbonics “This album is a statement”
Back in 2001, producer/drummer Zak Najor put together an all-stars band and recorded a soulful and timeless jazz/funk album under the Zbonics name. Time to Do Your Thing is now available on Membran Records and features an early recording session of contemporary jazz singer Gregory Porter.
Funk-U : What is the signification of the Zbonics name ?
Zak Najor : The name Zbonics was borrowed from the word Ebonics. The word Ebonics is a hybrid word created by the words ebony and phonics. I started calling my music zbonics because my first name is Zak and I thought it would be a clever way to convey the idea that it was my music or language. Plus, since my music has many characteristics of soul, jazz and funk, (sounds that are commonly associated with the African American community) I thought it would quickly invoke the sound of the music through the title.
What is the back story of Zbonics ?
Back in 1997, I had an analog 12 track recorder in my garage. I would have local San Diego musicians (like Gregory Porter) come over and lay down vocals, play percussion, guitar, keyboards, etc. on the demos. Essentially, Zbonics started out as a studio project involving several different musicians and the group developed from there.
When did the recording session take place ?
In the summer of 2001, I was contacted by Justin Prizant with Session Resurection Records and he was interested in producing an album with me featured on the drums. I had done several live recording sessions and was eager to do a more extensively produced record. In other words, instead of doing a 4-6 hour recording session I was really interested in doing an epic studio album that not only took time BUT would stand the test of time. We recorded the drums in the fall of 2001 and over the course of a year added the other instruments.
What are your main musical influences ?
Soul-I really enjoy Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, and Earth, Wind, and Fire. I’m a huge fan of Jazz saxophonist and composer, Wayne Shorter. As far as Funk-definitely Bootsy’s (Collins) Rubberband.
What did Gregory Porter bring to the project ?
Gregory is known as an incredible vocalist and he lent his voice and lyrical talent generously to the project. He had a wonderful way of interpreting the music into words. It was great working with him.
Do you consider the album title as a statement ?
Time to Do Your Thing is actually the title of a song that we covered by Eddie Harris. Ironically, this was the first time that I got to do ‘MY’ thing. Up until this project, I had played and collaborated on several albums without a real sense of fulfilling my own artistic and musical vision. This record allowed me to do that so I would say that the title is definitely a statement.
Is the song “Issues of Life” autobiographical ?
“Issues of Life” was the first song that Gregory Porter and I collaborated on. I had already written and recorded the music prior to us meeting. When we eventually sat down to work together, I played Greg the music and expressed my vision of what I wanted the lyrics to convey. He was able to draw upon his own experiences and tell a story that we both could relate to.
Any chance of a Zbonics european tour ?
I would love to tour Europe, again. I spent a lot of time there with The Greyboy Allstars in the mid-nineties and was greatly impacted by the culture(s) and musicianship of the people. I don’t know how quickly I’ll be able to return but God willing it will be sooner than later.
Interview : Jacques Trémolin
Zbonics Time to Do Your Thing (Membran/Harmonia Mundi). Disponible le 4 juin en CD et digital.