Wednesday, April 11, 2012
The nine-piece Brooklyn-based “dhol ’n’ brass” band Red Baraat has turned heads in their four years together, fusing traditional sounds from India with inner-city funk rhythms, utilizing only brass and percussion instruments. Their second studio album, Shruggy Ji, will be released later this year. LEO asks dholi Sunny Jain about how they operate.
LEO: Kentucky audiences might recognize some of your formula from New Orleans jazz or marching bands, or Latin salsa dance bands; Red Baraat fuses this with some traditional Indian sounds, Bollywood riffs as well as dining favorites. How much of this fusion was calculated to bring in a larger audience, as opposed to focusing on one genre and appealing to just that audience?
Sunny Jain: Yes, you’ll definitely hear some of what you described, but the truth is, having seen brass bands in the streets of India during childhood visits, I wanted to meld those sounds with the American sounds of funk, jazz, go-go, hip-hop, rock. Red Baraat was really something that was a natural progression in my creative process. For me, music serves as a bridge for the two cultures I grew up with — the Indian culture and American culture. Growing up, I had always had difficulty balancing or intertwining these two cultures, and music has always served as my expression and attempt to deal with that.
So while I was leading a jazz quartet as a drum-set player for the past 10 years, I found myself gravitating toward the dhol drum. In the fall of 2008, I started up Red Baraat with the intention of creating a large, acoustic band that brought a powerful, primal sound. As I started thinking of instrumentation, I also knew I wanted a wide variety of musical voices, and to make up the sound of Red Baraat with no electrified instruments — just drums and horns. It’s the guys in the band that collectively make up the sound of Red Baraat.
Regardless of musical background, one will find something to connect with in our sound. It’s a real musical collection reflecting global unity, which is not only found in the make-up of the band, but also in our fans.
LEO: For those not yet familiar with words like “dhol,” can you explain it and how it helps define your sound?
SJ: The dhol is a barrel-shaped wooden shell drum with two heads: one high and one low. It slings over my shoulder and hangs about waist-high. I play the drum with two sticks. The high side is played with a very thin bamboo stick, and the low side with a thick, curved stick. The dhol is synonymous with Punjabi culture and Bhangra music. It’s a loud, festive, outdoor drum, and it dates back to the 15th century in India. The dhol drum is the signature sound of the band.
LEO: You made a very good album in a studio, then went back and put some of those same songs on a live album that does a better job of capturing the true live essence of the band. Now you’ve raised money through Kickstarter for a second studio album. Why did you decide to record again in a studio?
SJ: Recording live and in a studio are two different animals, and I think we’ll continue to do both. I enjoy recording in the studio because it allows us to experiment with a composition. It then also gives me that great opportunity to experiment with the music in post-production, which sometimes leads to new ways in approaching a song. Recording in the studio is much more of a project and process that requires more time and thought dedicated to what I want the “original” version to sound like.
A live recording is different in that we are much more focused on playing the show and, typically, we are playing songs that we have already learned, as opposed to experimenting with the arrangement, like in the studio … Now, that’s not to say that a live recording isn’t given proper attention or isn’t as important. That’s definitely not the case. It’s just that there are different focuses with either approach. Another key difference is that since improvisation is a key component to our music, we will typically stretch out our songs a bit more during a live show.
Thursday, April 12
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 W. Main St. • 584-7777
$22.50; 8 p.m.
Photo by Amy Touchette
c. 2012 LEO Weekly
at 9:36:00 AM
Having performed with singer-songwriters Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore, and with vocal folkies Maiden Radio, and after starting a new relationship and a new band of her own, singer-songwriter and guitarist/banjoist Joan Shelley is in a much different space now than when she released her first solo album in 2010. Shelley welcomes the release of her second album, Ginko, a more experienced and assured follow-up, with her band, the June Brides, at the Rud on Saturday.
LEO: How have you grown from the first to second albums?
Joan Shelley: When I recorded the first record, I had only recently moved back to town and was just starting to meet the people I know now. While finishing up that record, I started playing the banjo more with the girls in Maiden Radio. I then met (guitarists) Joe Manning and Nathan Salsburg, and shared the stage a few times with Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore. After two years, I’d gotten to marinate in some of the rich musical talent of this city, watching and listening to my friends and their music — original music and record collections.
When we recorded the second album, a lot of those friends came in to work on these songs with me. Their influence has been a crucial change in the sound of the albums. Then, my songwriting style is always changing alongside that.
LEO: This album was recorded more than a year ago. What took so long?
JS: The recording was completed over the course of two months. Once we finished it, there was the question of how to find enough support to release the record in a way we thought it deserved. The record labels I knew before were not biting. And it was jarring to leave the recording world, where we worked hard to make something graceful and beautiful, and then try to be the salesman for it. Some people are really good at that. I hope to improve. The happy ending to our story is that the record found a nice place on Daniel Martin Moore’s new label, Ol Kentuck. It’s small and new, but he’s sharp, and I trust him and like to work with him. I consider those the most crucial points in any arrangement like this, especially when the focus is creativity in music or any art form.
LEO: Do you still feel as connected to these songs?
JS: I am, very much so. Playing them with the June Brides has made these songs new creatures. Now we get to focus on the arrangements and instrumentation. Then I’ll stumble back upon the lyrics and their meanings. It’s interesting.
LEO: Your boyfriend (Joe Manning, a LEO columnist) is also a songwriter, singer and guitarist. How competitive, or cooperative, is that for you both?
JS: I can be competitive, but not so much with him. We don’t approach creative tasks the same way; his style is much different — his approach to songwriting, his guitar playing. We’re bound to have strong opinions about the same things. But, thankfully, we’re pretty adaptable and complementary to each other. He’s my No. 1 when I need a second opinion. Now he’s joined the June Brides once again, and it’s really filled out the band in just the perfect way — we’re all so glad to have him. We do group high-fives all the time. Or, at least, the sentiment is there.
Joan Shelley and the June Brides with Catherine Irwin and The Hollows
Saturday, April 14
The Rudyard Kipling
422 W. Oak St. • 636-1311
$8; 8 p.m.
at 9:33:00 AM
Noir-inspired, ethereal rock band Seluah broke up early in the Bush era, leaving only one popular EP behind. They reunited in 2010, and, after an almost Axl Rose-esque wait, Seluah has finally delivered their debut full-length album, Red Parole, through local label Karate Body Records. It’s about as far from Chinese Democracy as one could ask: smart, intense, moving, full of memorable riffs and grooves, and well worth the wait. They celebrate with a Friday performance at WFPK’s “Live Lunch,” at U of L’s Red Barn, and with a nighttime show at Zanzabar on Sunday. LEO caught up with guitarist Andrew Killmeier.
LEO: The EP was released in October 2002. What have the guys been doing since then?
Andrew Killmeier: We split up when I moved to Los Angeles in 2004. I was there for six years working in the film industry, not playing any music. I moved back to Louisville a year and a half ago after the economy went to hell, and we just started playing together again without even really discussing it — just picked up where we left off, so to speak.
LEO: Reviews of the first EP often cite trip-hop, shoegaze and similar aspects, but the new album has more heavy guitar riffs. How has the sound shifted, and what inspired those changes?
AK: The simplest explanation is that I used to play a lot more keyboard and sampler in the old Seluah. When we got back together, I basically told the other guys to shove the synth up their asses; I was going back to the guitar with a vengeance. I still play both guitar and keys, but the balance has certainly shifted toward the dark side of the six-string. I’m older and more ornery than I used to be.
LEO: The band is notably cinematic in sound and scope. How have movies influenced the music?
AK: We all love fine cinema — and some lousy cinema as well. We’ve always paid attention to great scores and composers of film music — in particular, Angelo Badalamenti, Bernard Hermann, Cliff Martinez and Ennio Morricone. Sometimes a narrative element is necessary in music, and Red Parole is certainly a noir album. If I had to think about it, I’d say we approach our work from an atmospheric element, as opposed to setting out to “write a song,” though we aren’t particularly deliberate in anything we do. Everything is permitted.
LEO: For several years, many considered Seluah to be Louisville’s great lost band. Were the members aware of their legacy?
AK: I’ve always thought we were a good band — an original and soulful band. But I never thought much about any legacy. The small number of people who happened to see us play back in the day and the people who bought our old EP have always been very supportive and vocal about their appreciation. Sometimes I wonder about those six lost years, what could’ve been had we stayed together, but I listen to what we’ve done on Red Parole, I hear how intense it is, and I believe all our crooked respective paths were necessary to get us to this destination. And I don’t wish to be anywhere else.
Seluah with Sea Hero
Sunday, April 15
2100 S. Preston St. • 635-9227
$8; 9 p.m.
at 9:31:00 AM