Monday 19 October 2015

"The Professional Mastersounds": The New Mastersounds [Interview]

Nine studio albums, two live albums, one remix album, three compilation albums and twenty-six 7-inch singles: it’s a lot for a band to boast for just over 15 years and, in truth, is a résumé as impressive as anyone, anywhere, has been able to amass in that time.  But for the funk & soul quartet known as The New Mastersounds – it’s a fairly standard measure for a veracious band with a tireless work ethic.  At press time, the touring schedule for The New Mastersounds sees them closing out 2015 with nearly 20 gigs left to complete all around the US, including North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Alabama, all in a bid to promote their brand new album, ‘Made For Pleasure’.

And what an album it is!

‘Made For Pleasure’ sees Eddie Roberts (guitar), Simon Allen (drums), Joe Tatton (keyboards) and Pete Shand (bass; fresh off his work with The Haggis Horns for their album ‘What Comes To Mind’) emerge from a sweltering New Orleans studio to present their latest offering released though Legere Recordings with a little help from guests, percussionist and vibraphonist, Mike Dillon, and The West Coast Horns.

Charly Lowry proves a real asset to this release appearing on three tracks as a guest vocalist and bringing a distinctive and classic, sweet-sounding vocal to the tracks ‘Joy’, ‘Enough Is Enough’ and ‘Just Gotta Run’ – the latter of which a clear contender for the standout song in an album with a lot of highlights to choose from.
‘Made For Pleasure’ also sees The New Mastersounds comfortably dabble into jazz-esque territory on this release – perhaps inspired by the New Orleans backdrop the album was recorded under – providing some of the album’s most memorable moments.  There’s excellent guitar work on ‘Sitting On My Knees’ and the blissfully sublime ‘Tranquilo’ which is a perfect balance of lush horns and dreamy keyboards.

It’s The Blue-in-Green Blog’s great pleasure to have secured time with The New Mastersounds’ (NMS) drummer, Simon Allen, to discuss everything surrounding ‘Made For Pleasure’…

IMRAN MIRZA: With the vast amount of material the group has managed to release over the years: do you still feel the pressure of releasing new music?
SIMON ALLEN: The pressure is self-imposed.  We always want new material to add to the live set to keep things interesting, and we usually manage to find time to get into the studio for a week every 18 months or so.  The first couple of days in there can be a bit tense because we know we need to end up with an album’s worth of material by the end of the week, and on this occasion we started with nothing.  We had all the gear set up, a great sound in the control room and we all just looked at each other and said “Now what?”

Can you tell us about what went into the making of ‘Made For Pleasure’?
We were in New Orleans for a New Year’s Eve show and had found an amazing studio with all the right vintage gear – drums, keyboards amps - that we need for our sound.  Eddie was living there at the time so we crashed in his apartment.  We ate a lot of Vietnamese pho that week as there was a splendid restaurant in the neighbourhood.  The tune ‘Pho Baby’ is a reference to Joe’s distended belly at the end of the week.  That’s what went into the making of the album: pho, plenty of wine, and a couple of fat cigars.

How does the new release hold up to previous efforts?
Surprisingly well, given how the week started - there’s definitely evidence of the band’s evolution, we love the dynamic sound and the range of styles, and the production.

How did you go about picking the collaborators for this album?
Horns: Eddie had been working with them for a couple of years with his side-project, The West Coast Sounds.  They had then performed with NMS at some of the larger American gigs.
We really wanted to capture their energy on a record.  Mike (Olmos) and Joe (Cohen) had been together as a unit nearly as long as we have, so they have developed an intuitive way of working – they can improvise lines and harmonize them "on the fly”.  One of them taps out a rhythm on the other’s shoulder and then they both start playing flawlessly at the same time.  It’s very impressive on a live gig, and we knew that their fluent creativity could easily be harnessed in the studio.
Charly Lowry: Eddie met her two years ago when performing with an all-star band in Asheville, North Carolina (her home state and had wanted to co-write with her since then.  Like the horns, she has also performed on stage with us in the USA, but up until MFP we have had to choose cover versions for her to sing (Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Alice Clark etc..).  That’s always fun, but now we have three original songs we can play with her too!
Mike Dillon: We’ve been rubbing shoulders with this guy on the US live scene for nearly a decade and have enjoyed many sit-ins from him (the most recent one being in New Orleans last JazzFest when he joined us for an entire set).  He’s so much fun to work and play with and has an impressive command of a whole range of different percussion instruments.  He was on Jamcruise (Caribbean cruise-ship floating music festival that we will play again in January) during our recording week but he jumped straight off the boat in Miami, onto a plane, then drove straight into the studio on the last day to overdub parts on three of the tunes.

The new album covers Iggy Azalea's 'Fancy' and the last album covered 'Treasure' by Bruno Mars: what makes you decide on a song to recreate?
‘Treasure’ (on the 2014 album ‘Therapy’) was the result of a poll of our Facebook fans.  We were in the studio (near Denver) and wanted to do a pop cover but none of us had listened to any pop music for a long time so we asked the fans.  The response was immediate, several different people suggested ‘Treasure’ and when we pulled it up on YouTube Eddie realised straight away that the melody would work really well on guitar, George Benson-style.  We had our version arranged and recorded within an hour.
This time, Eddie asked his daughter, Minnie, to suggest a pop tune and she sent him a link to Kasabian performing a live acoustic version of ‘Fancy’ by Iggy Azalea.  None of us had heard either version before but we could tell straightaway that a reggae approach would work.  Initially our version was going to be instrumental like ‘Treasure’, and we had horns with us to lift the melody, but a few months later when Eddie was in the process of mixing the album, he walked into a bar in Denver and saw this rasta MC called Spellbinder toasting over a DJ.  He introduced himself and invited the guy to come and put some vocals onto our track.  Spellbinder changed the line from “I’m so fancy” to “I’m so irie”, and he sounds great!

You're famed for having performed all over the world: how do audiences differ and where's been a particular highlight?
Fifteen thousand people in front of the White Stage at Fuji Rock Festival was pretty memorable because a significant number of them were singing along to our songs from an album that had been out for less than a year.  It was raining and they all had pretty coloured hats on.  American audiences party the hardest.  The Spanish are the best dancers – how’s that?

If you could hook up with any vocalist for a full album, who would it be?
Aretha Franklin.  Next Question.

Which one song from The New Mastersounds discography would you play to a prospective new fan?
Hmm. Too difficult. I would play all the opening tunes of all the albums: ‘Nervous’, ‘This Ain’t Work’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘102%’, ‘Hole in The Bag’, ‘San Frantico’, ‘Take What You Need’, ‘You Mess Me Up’, ‘Old Man Noises’, ‘Made For Pleasure’.

What’s been a career highlight for The New Mastersounds?
Playing a late-night show with Ziggy from The Meters in New Orleans (two drum kits) – amongst other tunes we performed ‘1 Thing’ by Amerie, the pop hit from 2005 that is based on a killer Meters sample [‘Oh, Calcutta!’].  That was super fun, and I had to pinch myself to check it was really happening.

For more information on The New Mastersounds, please visit:

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