Monday, 1 May 2017

The Steve McQueens: "The Path Less Travelled" [Interview]

While the neo-soul stylings of artists like D’Angelo, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill redefined soul music going forward in the late-1990s, the genre sees itself experiencing a similar renaissance over the last few years.  Bands like Robert Glasper Experiment, Hiatus Kaiyote and The Love Experiment see the value in fusion forming as much a part of their music’s aesthetic while still expertly building upon the music of their heroes before them.

The Steve McQueens are a band whose contributions in this field stand as tall as any of the aforementioned names – their distinct, genre-bending and genre-melding style is as exciting as it is innovative; so much so that Incognito’s Bluey (Jean-Paul Maunick) – after having seen them perform in 2014 in Singapore – invited them to his London studio to begin recording what would go on to become ‘Seamonster’.  So excited they were by the results, the partnership further developed with the McQueens becoming one of the first signees to Bluey’s Splash Blue Records, which although still a relatively young label, is fast developing a strong catalogue through albums by Carl Hudson, JD73 and Resolution 88, who are still riding high from their jazz-funk album ‘Afterglow’.

Only having formed in Singapore in 2013, The Steve McQueens initially presented themselves as more of a jazz act, before going on to incorporate further styles like neo-soul, funk and R&B, and it's that element of no-holds-barred creativity that has gone on to make 'Seamonster' such a treasured release.  It's interesting, as revealed in the below exchange, to see that the music of Frank Zappa resonates so heavily with the band as there's a Frank Zappa quote that is incredibly apt towards their whole ideology: “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible” (Zappa is also credited as having said "Communism doesn't work because people like to own stuff", and while that may be true, let's focus on the former phrase for now...).  Band members Ginny Bloop (vocals), Aaron James Lee (drums), Jase Sng (bass) and Joshua Wan (keyboards) are adept at taking listeners on a journey but then changing the route in the blink of an eye.  The destination remains the same however, but it's those unexpected twists and turns you'll love so much more.

Blue-in-Green:RADIO has the distinct privilege and pleasure of having secured time with the band to discuss the origins behind their name, the making of 'Seamonster' and what's next for them...

How did you all come together to form the band?
Ginny: The band came together in 2013. The local scene here is pretty concentrated, yet diverse. It was really about like-minded creatives coming together to make some art that we couldn’t quite find anywhere else.

What made you decide on the name of "The Steve McQueens”?
Joshua: If there is a symbol of 60s/70s cool, counterculture and individualism, Steve McQueen in the green Mustang in 'Bullitt' is it. The iconic anti-hero.. who wouldn't name their band after him?

Who were some of the influences that helped shape the band's sound?
Jase: In the early days we tapped from the likes of Erykah Badu, Robert Glasper and Thelonius Monk. For 'Seamonster', Hiatus Kaiyote was fairly prominent in our songwriting choices.

How did you come to the attention of Splash Blue Records?
Aaron: It was the first edition of Singapore Jazz Festival in 2015 where we got a slot to perform at a tiny stage somewhere in the mall of the festival grounds. Bluey heard us play our music and really liked us and decided to help us.
Ginny: We flew to London to record the album, with Bluey as co-producer and Splash Blue happened naturally as Bluey is the founder of Splash Blue Records.

What went into the making of the album 'Seamonster'?
Ginny: It came from a place of love for the consistency of the universe’s eccentricities. We decided to just keep writing and playing because those were the only things we really wanted to be doing all the time.

How does the creative process of writing and creating new music work for the band?
Joshua: It's very organic and democratic; usually one of us would come in with an idea or a grain of an idea or a musical sketch which we would proceed to toss around and make into some amalgam of whatever our musical feelings were that day. The key to that process working is that we all have a similar or at least complementary (most of the time!) aesthetic and when you add that to a very wide range of combined musical influences, you end up getting material that is unique and feels fresh and familiar at the same time. It's a lot like making babies.

What can fans expect from the follow-up album?
Jase: It seems like the band has moved further into its own sound accumulated from the past few years of performing and writing. [Fans] can expect smooth and sweet melodic content interlaced with Josh and Ginny's seemingly digestible but heady lyricism contrasting with pretty aggressive instrumental parts.

Who would be a dream artist for you to either record or perform with?
Joshua: My dream artist collab? How about dead ones? Like Frank Zappa. That would be a trip. How about Vince Mendoza? As an orchestrator for our more sensitive stuff. Can you imagine Hephaestus scored for 70 piece orchestra! Yup. Or Daniel Lanois - he produced U2 but tours as an artist with amazing drum god Brian Blade. How cool is that!?

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