Monday 10 December 2012

Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers: Making Taste! [interview]

Written by Imran Mirza

Our very own UK as the home of funk and soul?!?!??  Sounds strange but something very, very exciting seems to be happening over here…  While we’ve sat back and basked in the US-led resurgence of classic funk and soul from artists like Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Lee Fields & The Expressions, Third Coast Kings, etc., at some point, musicians in the UK stood up, picked up a bunch of brass instruments, developed women whose vocal feats matched the classic female funkstresses of the 60s and 70s (Lyn Collins, Marva Whitney) and they packed out clubs and got people dancing again like they had ants in their pants!

It’s only been a few months since The Impellers left us dehydrated and gasping for breath with their second album release, ‘This Is Not A Drill’, but now it seems that Hannah Williams & The Tastemakers are fit to leave us in the same state… if not worse for wear!

Having initially reached a lot of peoples’ ears in 2011 from their contribution to the compilation album, ‘Mo Record Kicks: Act 2’, with the song ‘Deep Fried Funk’, released via their Italian independent record label home (Record Kicks), this 9-piece outfit, who are based in London, have honed their skills and developed a formidable reputation for their live performances, so much so that they can add having opened for Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, as well as Charles Bradley, to their ever-growing CVs.

‘A Hill of Feathers’, the band’s official debut album, delivers on far more than up-tempo funky dance floor fillers: where it excels – where it’s true brilliance lies – is within its soul-drenched and string-filled ballads, as beautifully demonstrated in the single ‘Work It Out’ and further in songs, ‘Washed Up’ and ‘(When Are You Gonna) Say You’re Mine’.  Hannah Williams brings an aching authenticity and depth to powerful lyrics and emotions to a beautiful backdrop painted by The Tastemakers.  It’s our sincere pleasure to introduce you to Hannah Williams…

Who would you all cite as early musical influences?
There are too many to give you a full picture of all the influences which have lead me to right now so I will just give you a brief run down of the soul specific artists I admire and am inspired by: Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Etta James, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Jill Scott, Minnie Riperton and Aretha Franklin.

Where did the name 'The Tastemakers' come from?
We are interested in setting a trend, introducing something new to the listeners palette… we are literally making taste!

Why has heartbreak played such a significant theme throughout the album?
The record is a discussion of gender and the role it plays in the 21st century. The songs therefore naturally feature lust, love, heartbreak, confusion, sex, etc. as a result of this discussion. We believe that ‘A Hill of Feathers’ is taking a fresh look at ancient issues through the eyes of a 21st century author but through authentic soul music.

How does the music transfer from the studio to the stage?
It’s the other way round really. We have always been a live band. Everything you hear on the album is a product of continuous development in a live context.
For me, live shows are what it’s all about. I am predominantly a live artist. I like being up on stage with the band and having a whole crowd of hungry listeners around us. I personally practice, change and reinvent my vocals every time I’m behind the microphone. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the studio process but I always have to close my eyes and imagine an audience in front of me. Weird, aren’t I?!
We work really hard to polish and perfect what we deliver both on stage and in the studio. They are very different animals to feed, develop, execute and accomplish but they essentially come from the same process which is playing live to a physical audience.
There are differences, obviously, between the record and the live show. We like a bit of audience participation which isn’t something you can demonstrate authentically on a studio album (that’ll have to wait for the live album ;) ). We also don’t have the stage space or the budget to be able to take our strings section or backing vocalists on tour with us so the live show involves different arrangements of the songs to make up for not having all our buddies with us. Sometimes, we’re fortunate enough to get everyone on stage and that is my own personal Nirvana! I am a self-confessed harmony junkie and being surrounded by edgy strings and glossy vocals is my definition of a musical orgasm!!! Keep your eyes peeled for the next time we’re appearing with this full line-up!!!

Who would be a dream guest to perform or record with?
Any of my previously mentioned influences….AND SOME!!!
Again…there are too many to mention. Many of them would be coming back from the grave too.
I would love to sing with Sharon [Jones]. Wow! That would be quite something!
I would also be really interested to sing with Adele. I love her voice and what she’s done for the UK music scene.

What has been a particular career highlight so far?
Chatting with Sharon Jones and the Dapettes!
We had the huge pleasure to support Sharon and the Dap Kings in February 2012 at Leeds Stylus and they came and spoke with us for a couple of hours after the show.
Sharon is my idol. She’s a real woman, she’s been through some real shit and she’s humble for it. The woman never stops working but she never stops loving. She’s got the biggest heart in soul music but on stage….she could kill you with one look!!
She is the personification of inspiration.
Sharon aside though, the rest of the band have a similar ethos. They are SO supportive of other artists and that’s so refreshing. Saundra and Starr (The Dapettes)…man!! I wish I was related to them. They are hilariously funny and sing like sexy angels!

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