The immeasurable number of influences that swirl within the prodigious nebula that is Once & Future Band, released last month on Castle Face Records, provide an entry point to the auditory excursion this four-piece band has fostered in seven unmistakable songs. Run the release from tip to tail. Non-stop. And look. Those crystals on the front cover? NOT a mistake.
“How Does It Make You Make You Feel,” the lead single, could be the product of a bright, pop edict constructed by Todd Rundgren after getting his studio “hands” on The Beach Boys.
The imposing keyboard work by Joel Robinow, fluttering about with sculpted precision throughout “Rolando” and “Tell Me Those Are Tears of Joy” could make Rick Wakeman, of the band Yes, look for an unearned royalty check.
Castle Face Records, run by Thee Oh Sees frontman John Dwyer, seems to be the perfect label to house these progressive wizards and the psych swag they generate. O&FB, who call Oakland their home base, also excel at delivering that proper acceleration of jazz fusion/soul inflection at the precise moment when needed, keeping everything else in balance while maintaining that odyssey like aesthetic.
So it is not out of turn on “Standing In The Wake of Violence,” we are treated to the steady bass work of Eli Eckert, which leads the band on a slippery….perhaps heady, atmospheric rhythm jaunt. Grounded with just a skosh of a Mark King, Level 42 nonchalance.
SF Sonic had a chance to speak with the band about hip-hop from the 90s, how the genre police can really be a drag and the band’s favorite food spots in the Bay.
SF Sonic: This release is one of those pieces of art that digs in hard for a very specific sound. And it’s being received quite favorably by the BBC and KEXP. Even Henry Rollins played a track on his show on KCRW. While “Prog-rock” is used as a point of reference, how would you describe sound of this record? And who or what were some of the artists/records/songs the band just naturally gravitated towards as a cohesive unit in making this record?
O&FB: Progressive rock has a reputation for being esoteric and grandiose and we love those elements of the genre. But at the most basic level, Once & Future Band is a pop group. Whether melodically or lyrically, we’re always trying to connect with the listeners, to take them on a trip but not lose them along the way. This record is as much informed by prog as it is by 60s/70s pop, AOR, 90s hip hop, 80s R&B, jazz fusion, experimental/ambient electronic music and a ton of other sounds. People are responding to this record because the sound is familiar and at the same time unexpected.
SF Sonic:”How Does it Make You Feel” is an epic pop ride. There is a Todd Rundgren produces The Beach Boys feel to the first half and then a Jeff Lynne of ELO produces the second half. Did you purposely aim for such a large sounding energy for this song and album as well?
O&FB:We definitely wanted to have a larger sound on this album, at least in relation to our previous release (The Brain EP). We wanted to sound more like a live band playing in a room together along with the addition of all the orchestration and arrangements that modern recording offer. We had also played the songs for this record out live a great deal before recording them, so they had a more lived in feel when we put them down to tape. There still was experimentation with the arrangements after the fact but we came into this record with much more of an idea of how we wanted the band represented sonically than our last release.
SF Sonic: Just out of curiosity, was there a specific studio in the Bay Area where most of this was recorded or just various places?
O&FB:The majority was recorded at our Once & Future Space in Oakland by Raj, which is also where we mixed the record. Drums, bass, and piano for four of the songs were recorded with Phil Manley at El Studio in SF. We transferred our final mixes to 24-track tape through an old Trident board at Santo Studio in Oakland to give the tracks a final “sweetening”.
SF Sonic: There are some great moments of keyboard work on “Rolando” and Tell Me Those Are Tears of Joy. How did it feel to pull off those highflying arcs in front of a crowd for the first time? I’m going to assume that would have been at the record release show a couple weeks back at The Chapel.
O&FB: At the record release show we played the whole album front to back, as well as a few songs off our first EP. Although we’ve been playing some of these songs live for more than two years, there is definitely something different about playing them now that they’ve been released in recorded form. These versions are now the standard, and we can choose to emulate or deviate from them as we feel which ends up giving the songs new life.
SF Sonic: So, in some ways, your BBC 6 mix should be taken into account as a companion to the record. The mix will be up until the end of February. Meaning, when you hear the mix, the listener, or at least I did, has a better idea that the band has “beat-heads” in it, along with exceptional musicians. So, when you break down artists who make quality music from sampled sources, prog-rock is one of the genres that gets that extra sought out treatment. I can only assume the Pete Rock selection on the mix, which is hip-hop DNA for some of us, is a nod to that. Granted it’s a Tom Scott performance that is sampled, but it’s a cover of a Jefferson Airplane song.
Anyway, the audio palettes in prog are so plentiful and lush. Plus, you gotta really dig for that obscure beat, keyboard chord etc.
I’ve sent that mix out to various friends of mine. It’s 23 mins of a heady trip. A beat-diggers buffet.
The song that knocked me on my ass was the George Duke’s “Faces in Reflection Part 2.” That keyboard solo that just grows and grows. I bought that record at Thrift Town on Mission St in the late 90’s for two bucks. Great record. And then the Allen Toussaint, “Last Train” before it. Man. Great stuff. By the way. RIP, Al Jarreau.
So pivoting back to your record. It’s irksome to me, that some publications who, let’s say, have less of a rock, more of a hip-hop, electronic music, or jazz focus, but covet the rare, out of print, record that has been sampled, would dismiss O&FB as being a little bit outside of what they cover. But, in fact, if O&FB came out in 1974…it would be a sought after “crate-digger” record.
Genres. Jeez. Sorry man. I went in on that one. Your thoughts on any of the 200 words I just used?
O&FB: Yeah, we’ve tripped out many times on that Tom Scott sample in “They Reminisce Over You.” The way Pete Rock took that snippet of a sax solo and turned it into a hook is pure genius. The same song was sampled totally differently by Mr. Lawnge! Those hip hop beats from the early 90s are an influence on the band that a lot of people wouldn’t recognize. How they combined all of these different sounds to make something new is mind-blowing. Guys like Pete Rock, Mr. Lawnge, and Premier didn’t care about genre or anything like that, they were just listening for cool shit! And like you’re saying, the music press tends to partition things off into separate categories. If people follow their heart and soul when listening to music then things like genre would be pretty irrelevant. I feel the four of us are at a place in our lives where our taste in music is defined more by feelings and not words or categories.
While it makes sense on a broader level (even just to relate or communicate), it’s funny to us that so many people put us into a “prog” category. That is definitely not where we were coming from with this band, we only wanted this group to be an amalgam of everything we love about music.
SF Sonic: Changing directions….What is your go to Bay area restaurant spot and what is the dish that does it every time?
Raze Regal (guitar): Hella Vegan Eats – everything on the menu.
Eli Eckert(bass, guitars, vocals): Ramen Shop – Miso Ramen.
Raj Ojha (drums, recording engineer): Zante Pizza – Veggie Indian Pizza.
SF Sonic (keyboards,guitars,vocals): Genova (RIP sniff sniff) – Turkey and Avocado Sandwich (hold the cheese, mustard and onions).
SF Sonic: Last question. Fill In the blank. Once & Future Band is the perfect record to ………..
O&FB: accompany a BART trip through the inner mind. As you traverse the neural pathways, you look out the window and behold an epic game of Joust, where the conscious and subconscious battle over the glowing orb that is your ego. They clash again and again, skittering across the floating platforms, until they both simultaneously destroy one another and your fragile ego to plummet into the lava below. Suddenly you find yourself at the Pittsburgh/Bay Point station without enough money for a return ticket. So instead you start a new life and raise a family, having been reduced to the shell of a human simply putting one foot in front of the other until the end of their days.
Find out more about the Once & Future Band on their Facebook page.
Check out the Once & Future Band BBC Radio 6 Mix.
Listen to “I’ll Be Fine” by Once & Future Band: