New Mastersounds To Bring 20 Years of Funky Soul Jazz to Atomic Cowboy
- Written by KDHX
For the past two decades, The New Mastersounds have been thrilling audiences worldwide with their brand of funky, soul-jazz. Founded in 1999 in Leeds, UK, the band now has 13 studio albums, three live albums and numerous compilations under their belts. The September 2019 release of their latest album, "Shake It" saw the addition of Atlanta-based vocalist Lamar Williams, Jr. They will be performing at the Atomic Cowboy Pavilion on Saturday, October 19th.
KDHX DJ Chris Lawyer, host of Hip City, Wednesday, 2-4 PM, recently caught up with guitarist Eddie Roberts and spoke with him about being in a band for 20 years, the new album and hitting the road.
Chris Lawyer: Thanks for coming on with us today, Eddie.
Eddie Roberts: Thanks for having me.
We really appreciate it. You guys are coming to town, October 19th [at Atomic Cowboy] here in St. Louis, and you've been on tour, is that correct?
We are kind of starting a tour on Thursday [Sept 26]. Starting in Atlanta, kinda hitting all the main spots and, we did a couple of shows in the UK last week. But yeah, it's like, a five week run for us, really.
And you're celebrating 20 years as the New Mastersounds?
20 years of The New Mastersounds. Would you believe it?
It started in '99. You know, it was a funny time. I've noticed that a lot of things started in '99. I think it was that feeling of, well, you know, either the world's gonna end, or we need to get...started doing something.
Tell me about the scene you guys are from Leeds, I guess, which I know little about except for, that The Who recorded an album there, I guess there’s a university there...
Well that's right, all the Americans know about that one!
Tell us a little bit about Leeds and the music scene that you guys came out of, if you would please.
Well, I guess one of the most important things was it was the only non-classical music school in the UK at the time in the mid-90s, I went there in ‘89. And so yeah, if you had any interest in jazz or any of its related forms, then there was only one place you could go. And that was Leeds. So, it meant that there was a lot of like-minded musicians up there; very much from kind of jazz perspective really. But then coupled with that, there was this kind of DJ Funk scene going on. There’s a group of DJs up there called the Big Family, who we just celebrated 20 years with last Friday in Leeds, actually, at the club where we played, The Wardrobe, and it's a big 20-year event for everyone. So they, you know, there were these DJs, they started making mix tapes of Funk and Boogaloo and things like that for us. And, and so then you had these jazz players being influenced by the DJ scene and this kind of pretty much what the Mastersounds came out of.
A bit of a cross pollination.
And I guess it was that influence that turned you more towards the funk and soul more so than the jazz fusion, or would you say that's still your bag primarily?
Yeah, I mean it did because it, I mean, it had more relevance to the scene. I mean, you know, and if you wanted to get a gig at the club, then you had to kind of make it funky. That was pretty much the remit.
And now as you guys have worked with a lot of different vocalists over the years, but I guess now you have a primary vocalist [Lamar Williams] who's... he's a full-time member of the band. Is that correct?
Yeah, yeah, he's touring with us. We met him, well I met him about a year-and-a-half ago, on a benefit show in Denver that Peter Levin from the Gregg Allman band put together, and Lamar Williams’ dad was the bass player in the Allman Brothers. And so he's part of that whole kind of Allman Brother's family. And, we just hit it off and I loved the sound of his voice and, you know, he loved my guitar playing. And so we kind of arranged that when we were coming to Atlanta next, that he’d learn a couple of tunes that we knew and he got up and sang with us, and I didn't really say too much to the rest of the guys. I just wanted to see if it organically worked. And it just, you know, it was – there was no looking back after that. And we got together in December, recorded an album at this new studio that I built in Denver and released the album last week. So yeah, the whole big 20 year thing, new album, and get on the road!
Yeah, I was going to say, I just heard some of it, we just got it here at the station last week and it sounds fantastic.
But was curious also if having vocals, if that also is important to draw an audience more so than just instrumental music, talking about the transition from jazz to funk, but also just curious about your thoughts on the vocals in that regard too.
Well, you know, we've never really needed it. We've existed for 20 years without it. You know, it's funny we get mixed messages from fans. I get, “Oh, you don't need vocals” or, you know, over the years people would always say, “Oh, you're great and you just need a vocalist.” So I mean, you can’t please everyone we, you know, we're doing it because we're enjoying it. We really enjoy the songs that we've written and Lamar really works with us energy-wise on stage and he hangs out when he's not singing in plays the tambourine and get down with us. And you know, it just really works. The energy really works and that's why, we're taking them on the road and that's why it was nice to focus in on the album more than say, other albums where you've already had two or three vocal tunes from guest vocalists. This really works and really fits and I think after 20 years of doing the same thing, it's nice and refreshing for us to have a different dynamic to the band.
I'm sure your sound has changed over the years as you guys continue to grow and the sound develops. Correct?
Yeah, of course. I mean, you're influenced by it. Everything you do and hear and see. So, you know, there's, there's no way that it can’t change over the years. But then again, I sometimes listen back to stuff from 20 years ago and I'm surprised how I play. I'm like, wow, I'm still paying the same licks.
I guess you show your influences then.
Yeah. I can, I kind of feel that I've changed a lot on my playing – but then did you? I listened back and, 'right... Okay.' Maybe I haven't changed that much.
What were some of your influences back in the day?
I did come from the jazz background for sure. I had a bit of rock influence as well, you know... Hendrix, a bit of Sabbath. Like I said, in the Leeds scene, I kind of got exposed to my, that Boogaloo sound, that kind of soul jazz stuff... early George Benson and things like that. With the four members of the band all have their different influences and Pete played a lot of reggae scenes... was brought up playing reggae and brings a bit of that to the table. Joe was more of a jazzer as well. The four of us together, we make the sound because of all that different influences and then all the experiences that we've had on the road and all the people we've played with. It all comes together.
Excellent. And I read that you guys got to play with Art Neville at one time and th Meters with some of your heroes.
The band pretty much started out doing Meters covers 20 years ago. We've been so fortunate to play with many of our heroes. We did a few, a few little runs with Art. One very memorable one was the Tipitina's on Halloween and we were dressed as the A-Team and he came up to join us.
Which one were you Eddie?
I was Hannibal, yes, of course. Yes. Smoking the cigar. You know, I've also had the privilege of playing with George and Zigaboo and with the Foundation of Funk and it's quite incredible to to call them friends, you know,
And coming full circle that you start out playing their music and then you're on the same stage with them and that's great.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's quite incredible.
So, you say you just built a studio. Are you now located here in the United States?
Yeah, yeah. I've been here for several years and, I did, I did stints in San Francisco and New Orleans and, the last few years I've been in Denver, so yeah, built the studio in Denver and launched this label August 2018. And, it's called Color Red. We put out music every week and it's me and a team of producers and we just try to capture all the music that's coming through the town. You know, there's so much music going on in Denver right now. So many musicians have moved here... half of Lettuce are here and all these people that are constantly moving. It's crazy, a crazy scene going on. So I just really wanted to capture it and build the studio using tape, you know, old school sound that the new “Shake It!” album was recorded there. Altogether a really fun project and things seems to be going down really well. People are really liking what we're doing.
That's interesting. I would not have thought of Denver as a music Mecca, but I guess at one time, Nashville wasn't a Mecca either.
You know, it's, it's everybody comes to Denver and there's, you know, there's just been such a, a rich theme here for, for so long and, and I think really in the last 10 years maybe deal more the last two to five years, it's really boomed. And I'm, I'm sure that, recreational weed had something to do with it, but, you know, it's just the mentality in the people that kind of started moving here and you know, and obviously rent is much cheaper than New York and San Francisco. And so, you know, the same has happened with the food scene. A lot of chefs that moved here and they can kind of do things a bit more experimental and, you know, cause there's not so much pressure and I feel as that's what's happening with the music scene.
Are you the only member of the New Mastersounds that now lives in the United States?
Yes. They're all dotted around while two, of them in the UK and one in Spain. So we are dotted around the world, but you know, we're on the road so much and we've had, again, we've been around 20 years so we know what we sound like and we know how we play with each other and as soon as we get on stage it's all there.
It is indeed. You guys were in St. Louis just a few years ago I believe. Is that correct?
I'm trying to think of the last time we were there, I know we came through a couple of years ago... it's going to be good to be back.
What's currently is in your MP3 player, CD player, cassette deck, 8 Track player... What presently is top of mind musically for you?
Well, I get a bit lazy and I drive around listening to Soultown quite a lot.
Is that a satellite thing?
Yeah. It's all early 70s soul music. The last thing I bought was probably the last Kamasi Washington album and I bought that, and the new Coltrane album that came out, not the very new one, but the one that was, I guess it was a year ago now. And this young harpist called Brandy Younger, who is incredible, and she's kinda got that Alice Coltrain, kinda vibe about her, but really quite amazing. I'm trying to learn the harp, so I know how hard it is. And I'd hear this girl playing and I was like, wow, that's, that's some talent.
And that's a particularly Welsh thing, the harp?
Yes it is. It's the national instrument of Wales.
I know you guys are booked regularly at jam cruises and I'm curious about how that affected your ability to come to the United States regularly and sort of act as, as an anchor for the band.
There's been a few things, you know, Jazzfest is kind of one of them too.We've always had that regular slot, you know, the second weekend. Having those kinds of anchors where people travel to see, you know, like people come from all over the country, the Jam Cruise and then, you know, so then when you go hit a city that you've never been before, you find that there's, an audience because you know, 50 or so people that have seen you on Jam Cruise and they told all their friends and suddenly you've got like a 100 people showing up to your show in a town you've never been before. And Jazzfest kind of worked like that for us as well.
So, you know, they've, they've been really instrumental in building our career in the U S for sure. The great thing about Jam Cruise as well is that you meet all your peers, you meet all the other musicians, you get to play with them, jam with them, and, a lot what's going on with the label in Colorado. And it's like all the people I know from Jam Cruise and JazzFest, tthey come through Denver and I see them on the schedule and I'm like,' Oh, I hit them up and say, do you want to come to the studio in the afternoon? And, you know, write and record some tracks?' So, you know, these things are definitely been really important for all of us musicians.
Recorded 9/24/19 for air on Hip City 10/16/19.
New Mastersounds perform Saturday 10/19/19 at Atomic Cowboy.