bill bodkin gets down the fat funky sound…
JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound is a throwback band with a solid foot in the door of modern music. Listening to them for the first you can almost imagine yourself finding their album in your dad’s crate of LP’s, blowing years of dust off the unscratched vinyl, slapping on those absurdly oversized headphones your pops attached to his aging hi-fi system and then getting completely enveloped in the rich, beautiful and soul-stirring sound of this Chicago-born band.
And while their sound might have a retro feel to it, it’s certainly not a tribute or gimmick that the band is trying to employ to make some noise. No, there’s hints of post-punk, Bowie and indie rock to their sound. These influences give the band a a sense of immediacy, a sense of urgency — that you’ve got to listen to their sound, get on the dance and remember how music used to move people.
And their groove has become contagious — landing them spots on vaunted festivals like Lollapalooza and Seattle’s Bumbershoot as well as gigs at The Brooklyn Bowl and a week residency at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.
Pop-Break caught up with the band’s bassist Ben Taylor post-Lollapalooza to talk about their upcoming show at The Asbury Lanes on Thursday August 16, their sound and how it effects the toughest musical crowds and their hopeful rise to the top.
Pop-Break: So let’s talk about the most recent and massively cool thing the band just took part in — Lollapalooza. Can you talk about the experience of being a part of one of the biggest and most celebrated music festivals in the modern era?
Ben Taylor: It ended up working out really well. We got a bunch of press, local press, the week before, saying we were one of the bands you need to see…that it was definitely worth getting there early. We were a fairly new band so we played noon on Saturday [August 4]. We were totally fine with that. It ended up working out in our favor because there was some really severe weather and thunderstorms rolled through about 3 or 4 o’clock. So there were bands that got their sets completely cut. We were all excited to see The Alabama Shakes play…they did not play. tUnE-yArDs got their set pushed back until everyone was allowed back into the park. There was a local band called Empires that were all set up, they were ready to hit the first note, they were really excited to play the hometown show and the stage manager came out and said “Yeah you gotta leave.” So everything being what it is we were really happy to play to at least 1000 people. It was a great experience.
PB: Is that the biggest crowd you’ve ever played to?
BT: No. We’ve done some bigger [shows] when we opened for people. When we opened for Robert Plant we played to about seven to ten thousand people. We played to five thousand people in Barcelona last year. But it was definitely one of the bigger ones we’ve played to in a while. But now that we’re playing some summer festivals it’s kinda getting up there. It’s a lot of fun.
PB: You call your sound post-punk soul. I get the whole soul aspect of it, can you explain the post-punk part?
BT: The post-punk part was definitely coming from myself and Billy Bungeroth our guitarist. I grew up on a lot of Fugazi and that more rhythmic side of what came after punk and more the alt-rock of the 80s and 90s. Then getting into Gang of Four and Billy was really listening to Talking Heads and Bloc Party when we first got together. Really early on we were really getting into Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. But we realized early on that this is already something that’s been done. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings are doing an amazing job; spreading word and James Brown had his hey day 40 years earlier. We realized that we wanted to make it more us, more personal, unique to what we grew up listening to which was a lot of Public Enemy and JC grew up on a lot of Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan and 80s R&B like Patti LaBelle. So it was just something we realized that we could use this grounding steeped in Stax Records but push it forward and add in broader influences because we’re not purists. So that just came around with the post-punk. In the late 70s they threw out the book. If you listened to Wire or Gang of Four it’s a lot different from what punk rock was; when you bring in reggae and disco influences.
PB: Were there any reservations about performing this style of music to a live audience? This isn’t the most super popular style of music, were you afraid people wouldn’t get what you were going for?
BT: Not really. Since a.) JC is such a powerful and engaging frontman and we just had to make it funky behind him. From the get-go it was an easy sell because it was something people responded to. It engaged them, you could dance to it, it was fun. It wasn’t just an audience just standing around shrugging their shoulders, which was what we were used to going to a lot of indie rock shows in Chicago. If they enjoyed it they would clap but they didn’t seem to be having a good time or giving anything back to the performers. So early on it took us a little while to get the name out there. When we would tell people what we were doing they just didn’t seem to get it. We saw The Clash did it on London Calling where you have this roots sound and bringing in everything you love. If it’s from the heart and people see how it goes together — it’s danceable.
PB: Talk about how you feel seeing people dancing during your shows. How does that effect you as a performer onstage?
BT: It definitely makes the show better. The more JC is getting back, the better. We start off every show by screaming “Let me hear you say yeah!” If people yell it back, we know they’re into it. We’ve been out west, we’ve been on tour around the country a few times, so when we’re playing a new town, we’ll start and people are hanging around the bar and the edges of the dance floor, having a drink, taking it easy. And without fail after two or three songs we get them to come up on the dance floor because they want to be a part of this. There’s call and response and it’s OK to get loose. When we see people getting wild, that just makes it easier for us and we push harder. There’s really a synergy there.
PB: Say someone’s curiosity is piqued after reading this piece. What song would you tell them to check out as the introduction to what the band does?
BT: A great place to start is our cover of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” And that was the one that really started to get us on the map. The second place would be the video for a song called “Sister Ray Charles” which is also from the Get More record. It’s us pushing things further into our own sound and not being constrained by “retro soul” which is what we were initially pegged as.
PB: I read you guys are going to make a new record this year. What can we expect from this one? Will it be a continuation and elevation of your current sound or will it be something different?
BT: We’ve been talking about it and working on a lot of new material. Moving into more of our own sound where it’s more of a dance element. We’re using more percussion, conga and cowbells as opposed to horns. We definitely all love LCD Soundsystem and mid-70s Bowie, INXS, Frank Ocean, Chic…just finding a more modern, that sounds cliche, but not so much of a 60s throwback/Daptones kinda sound. We were going for that on Want More, but now we’re going in the direction our influences are taking us.
PB: What’s on your plate for the rest of 2012?
BT: More touring but developing the new sound. We’re doing some demos in Philly while we’re on the East Coast but then we’re going back into the studios in November. Finally starting to record this record. We’re talking to producers and sketching out what’s coming next. Lollapalooza for us was a marking point. The Want More Tour is over…what’s the next step? Developing the new sound, refining it and realizing we’ve come a long way since last fall. We have to realize we’ve come a long way from the retro soul world and have to figure out where we fit in with bands like Passion Pit, Bloc Party and M83, these modern rock bands we’re playing with at Lollapalooza. We have to realize we have this specialty thing we’re continuing to refine and work on this record.
Check out JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound Thursday August 16 at The Asbury Lanes in Asbury Park N.J.