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Budos Band
Afro Staten Soul
The story of the Budos Band starts innocently enough; a core of like minded high school Jazz musicians that came together with a common love for Funk and Afrobeat. But where many bands fizzle away under the mal..
Budos Band: Afro Staten Soul         by Jeff Min
Big shout out to Mulatu, We see you brother...

The story of the Budos Band starts innocently enough; a core of like minded high school Jazz musicians that came together with a common love for Funk and Afrobeat. But where many bands fizzle away under the malleable world of popular music, the Budos have taken that same chaotic energy and released two solid efforts towards greatness. "We don't want to change anything, we try to keep things real simple with whatever we do whether it be the title of our records or the album art work or writing songs together," says Jared (Baritone Sax). This mentality isn't held in jest. The entire Budos band seems to share this idea of quality over quantity.

Budos II is the artistic result of a creed that Tommy (Guitar) boasts as, "The band that rehearses every Monday night for a couple of years." The simplistic nature of they're latest album shouldn't deter fans. It's a tighter, more polished work of art that's simultanously menacing and enticing.

Intrigued? Well, Ground Lift was lucky enough to catch three members of the Budos Band during their Chicago tour stop, and they enlightened us on the idea of making National Geographic music videos, the strength of the Budos ideal, and why Ethiopian Jazz is the shit.

I've read that the core of you met in an after school Jazz band. What is it that you saw in each other that made you realize that you could come together and make the kind of music that you're making today?

Brian: They understood their roles as musicians in the song. So instead of being hams that hog up the song, these guys had a different feel, as opposed to being the ones in the limelight. It's like they were part of the threadwork of the song, and I think they were just more interested in making the song sound good as opposed to making themselves sound good.

Who exactly are you referring to when you say "they"?

Brian: Tommy.

Tommy: And Daniel our bass player.

What about the other members?

Tommy: Basically they were our friends and we just stuck instruments in their hands; that's how a bunch of the band came together.

Jared: I met these guys…I played Baritone and they were playing in a rhythm section.

Tommy: Weren't you playing tenor?

Jared: Nah, I was paying alto at the time

Tommy: Yeah, and then we said there's no alto players allowed in this fucking band, so you better buy yourself a baritone (laughs), and a week later he came up to Staten Island with a baritone saxophone.

Jared: Yeah, I met them at an open mic in Brooklyn. I moved to Brooklyn about five years ago. I went to an open mic that was held by the guy from Antibalas. I didn't know anybody in the city to play music with and that's were I met Dame, who I got introduced to.

Tommy: Amazing, amazing… Damos plays clave in the Budos. Five years ago, when we met Jared, we had this band called Dirt Rifle & The Bullets and Dame was this Puerto Rican dude from Staten Island. He used to sing and play tambourine in that band, and we were pretty much a Dyke & The Blazers cover band, who was hugely influenced by the Meters.

So he was the link that introduced you guys?

Tommy: He was the drug dealer that introduced us to Antibalas.

Ah, the "real" link.

Jared, Tommy, Brian: (laughs)

Tommy: Yeah, he dealt to everybody and everybody knew him. So yeah, we'd go to these open mics and they would be trading drugs, and we would be up on stage at this open mic with an Afrobeat focused jam session.

Jared: Yeah, I met them there and the horn section took form after that.

To keep it in the past; when you guys went to The No Moore Club what did you see there that made you say, 'Yeah this is what I want to do'?

Brian: We were fiddling around with different kinds of music, but when we saw those guys, that shit really laid it out for us. It was almost like a class, you know what I mean? As much fun as it was to have fun 'party time'; we were all there looking at every instrument hard trying to figure out what each instrument did, how the music worked, how the songs would formulate. That shit laid it all out, they had the kind of sound that blew our heads off.

Tommy: Also, when we first started going to No Moore they were playing 80% Fela songs, one or two Daktaris songs, and maybe a couple Antibalas songs. They didn't have much original music.

How old were you guys at the time?

Tommy: I was 19. I was sneaking in because my fake ID got rejected.

Brian: 25.

You guys mention influences like Antibalas and Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings; what influences outside of Funk and Afrobeat do you credit your sound to?

Tommy: The Ethiopian shit.

Jared: Yeah, Ethiopian Jazz. Mulatu Astatke in particular, but there is a whole series
of albums called the Ethiopiques series that's huge.

Brian: The Ethiopian shit is huge now. It's even bigger than Afrobeat.

Jared: Yeah, I would say since we started playing together our Afrobeat sense has decreased. I mean it still has a part, but definitely has decreased over the length of the bands existence.

Did you guys feel pressure to make that change in order to establish something new?

Tommy: Nah.

Jared: No, it was a very natural thing to experience and just ride out.

That dips into my next question. A lot of people look at Funk as a nostalgic type of music. How do you guys respond to that sort of criticism?

Jared: We just kind of say 'fuck that' because the thing for us is that this is the kind of music that brought us together and that 'sound' is what sounds best to us. We love that sound. And its not that were trying to be nostalgic for another time…

Tommy: Yeah, it's not like we're dressing up in bell bottoms and afros. Where our heads are as musicians; we take on a less is more approach, and we have a real disciplined rhythm section, the horn section has a real strict role, and that's how the music was made back in the day and that's how we're making it now. On top of that we like to record it in an old fashion way; no computers in the process to get that tough sound. You know when you record it in analog and you get that tape distortion, that's all part of the artistic process for us and that shit is huge.

It seems like you all essentially share the same philosophy. Since it's such a large group has any creative differences come up or did that get filtered out in the beginning?

Jared, Tommy, Brian: Filtered out in the beginning…

Brian: Yeah, anybody that has creative differences gets ostracized, gets roughed up (laughs).

Tommy: We punch them in the face (laughs). Nah, I mean you can come in with a song that might get rejected, but there's no way we can hurt anybody's feelings in this band. If a song is wack and not good for the band, it's not like 'Oh my god, my friends thought this song is wack,' know what I mean? Even if it's not a Budos song, we'll take that song and turn it into a Budos song.

So instead of being rejected, has it compelled someone to work with another group in order to water those creative seeds?

Brian: Tommy, and maybe a couple of other guys play in other bands, but it's not like they'll take a song or another idea and bring it to another band. We all kind of know exactly where we're going with the sound and with the aesthetic and with the vibe. It either fits or it doesn't and I don't think anybody's saying, 'Oh shit I got this cool idea that the band ain't going to use,' I don't think they want to express themselves in other ways. I think this is the way they want to express themselves musically.

Tommy: Yeah, if you want to play a straight Funk tune and wanted to start a band, you play a straight Funk tune. At this point we're playing our own fucking genre of music. I mean everybody does do their own thing; our conga player and keyboard player record a bunch of Reggae shit together, I record more Deep Soul. I've been listening to straight Soul ballads for three years and I obviously can't come in and say, 'Hey guys lets play this ballad,' you know what I mean? So I'll get involved with some other dudes that can get that out.

So do these subtle interests culminate together and find its way into the band?

Tommy: Nah, totally separate. The integrity of the Budos is pretty strong. That's why it sounds so original. If a song is going to be a Budos song, it's going to be filtered through a lot of dudes.

Brian: It's very rare that someone has a song, comes in with it, the band plays it, and that's the song.

Tommy: Yeah, 90% of the time someone will suggest something else.

On average how long would it take for a song to be on a Budos album?

Tommy: It usually takes a rehearsal to write a song and five or six rehearsals to take a hammer to that song and get all that excess junk out. Most of our songs are no more than 3:15 unless a solo's really good and we don't want to fade it out, otherwise we're going to fade it out because our attention span is short.

For this new album, what was the idea behind having a scorpion on the cover?

Tommy: Wasn't it Sugarman's idea?

Jared: Well we have the song "Scorpion." We had a couple of ideas: the original idea was to take another volcano perspective and zoom in on the lava. Then we got into this desert deep in the sand type feel; we were playing these Ethiopian, Middle Eastern vibe tracks that make you think you're roaming in the desert. So we had that idea, then we wrote this song called "Scorpion" and we were able to pull off that desert vibe. We looked at hundreds of pictures of scorpions to find the right one and we all knew we wanted it in a desert.

Tommy: For every record that we're ever going to do we're always thinking National Geographic. We were talking about having a music video where it's an educational video about scorpions.

This album, compared to your debut, seems more menacing and dark. Does this reflect anything in particular?

Brian: Well to be honest, with the first album, a lot of those songs we had kicked them around for a while, some songs we literally made up in the studio. Then we had songs that became songs in post-production. There wasn't a strong cohesive vibe in that first record. With this new album we had been playing these songs live for like 2 years and really trimming them out making them as lean and mean as possible. So, we would go in the studio and pop them out and be done.

Tommy: Two days. We recorded in two nights and we mixed it in a week. The first record was recorded in three days and mixed in like three weeks because of a lot more post-production. With this record, everything was performed live and Gabe got the sounds as we recorded it, so when it came down to mix, there wasn't much left to do.

Brian: Our heads, our whole vibe was together in the same place aesthetically, sonically, musically. Our first one was sort of scattered, this new one is way tighter. Everybody was on the same planet.

Was that based off of the natural growth of the band?

Tommy: That's just the band that rehearses every Monday night for a couple of years.

Jared: And I do think this second album, in terms of the sound as a whole, the Ethiopian Jazz influence comes through a lot more and that's a pretty dark sound. The scales are pretty dark and it gives it that mean vibe.

Tommy: If things get too happy in the studio, we're like 'fuck it'.

Brian: We're into dark heavy grooves.

So with the cover of "My Girl," how do you approach a song like that with respect while still establishing a fresh sound?

Tommy: That song is actually really simple. We love Motown, we love Smokey Robinson. So this idea has been kicked around for sometime and everyone had this idea, even the Dap Kings, and nobody ever did it. So we were in rehearsal and we were trying to figure out a cover song for the record. So we did "My Girl," and instead of playing it major we played it minor, that's it. Then we took the lyrics and the melody and put it on the horn.

Brian: Yeah, give it enough to make it dark and rough, and give it some teeth.

What about the song "Chicago Falcon"?

Tommy: We were given this CD with all these Bollywood songs on it; Bombay Connection the record label, they just put out a double LP. Well, I was on tour in Europe with the Dap Kings and I spent the night in this guy's apartment who worked for this Dutch label and he played this Bollywood stuff and I bugged out. It's like Bollywood Blaxploitation. So, we kept in contact and he was telling me he wanted to put together a 12 inch with modern bands covering these songs to help promote the record. He gave us a CD to listen to and we sat around rehearsal together and listened to every single one and we tried three or four and "Chicago Falcon" worked the best.

Brian: It's called "Chicago Falcon" because at the beginning of the song there's this snippet of this Bollywood movie of this spy dude saying, 'Calling Chicago Falcon, *dit* *dit* Chicago Falcon,' some shit like that. We couldn't call it by its original name; it would have wrapped around the CD cover.

So with this album you guys seem to avoid the sophomore slump, what is it that keeps you going and keeps things fresh?

Tommy: Well, we're really hard on each other. If we all don't agree that it's dope then it doesn't make the cut.

Brian: We came into stride with the second one. The first one was sort of bumbling around, some of them were just studio cuts.

Jared: Yeah, some that we never played before.

Brian: Yeah, we never played some of these live. I mean it was cool, but they're really not our shit. Every song on the second album are songs that we love, songs that we play, songs that we wrote, and songs that we still enjoy playing.

Tommy: Also, I tell bands that we rehearse every Monday for years now and they're like, 'What? Every week?' Most bands just come together, make a record, and don't rehearse unless they have to. For us it's more like getting together and hanging out. So, we write songs in that environment; a real chill environment and half the band's drunk. Really I think it's just us getting together no matter what, regardless of what's going on.

Did anyone at Daptone help reinforce that type of environment?

Tommy: Dave and Neil gave the band a lot more confidence. You can even tell in the early albums with the Dirt Rifles everybody was kind of narrow and afraid, but that got us comfortable in the studio working with them and by the time Budos came around we were completely comfortable. Really though, it was just them liking us in the beginning, that was huge for our confidence.

Their seems to be this momentum just bouncing off of your answers, is this in prep for a Budos III?

Tommy: Yeah, you should hear what we're about to play.

Jared: We don't want to change anything; we try to keep things real simple with whatever we do whether it is the title of our records or the album art work or writing songs together. We don't want to make things complicated because I've been in a lot of bands where people are really concerned with making complex songs with high concepts and all this other shit, and the songs end up suffering as a result and the whole group dynamic ends up suffering. We just want to keep doing what we're doing, which is to keep getting together Monday nights, drink beer, write songs, and having a good time. We've taken it this far where we're going on tours and we've made two records already and we're well on our way towards our third.

Brian: The third one is going to sound a lot like our second one.

Jared: Yeah, in between our first and second record I think we found our sound.

Tommy: I mean, I can't see another sound coming in as strong as the Ethiopian influence. I just can't imagine it. It would have to blow my mind.

Have you ever thought of going to Ethiopia and trying to jam with them and absorb some of their culture?

Brian: That would be cool, I never even thought of that.

Tommy: Yeah, that would be. Wow.

Jared: That would be an incredible trip, I'd be down. I think everybody would be interested in doing it.

 

Budos Band's latest release, Budos Band II, is available now through Daptone Records.

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