From sweet and smooth classics, to new names, to old names with new music...the focus here, is to shine a little light on some damn fine music.

I'll find it. You can listen, review, or tell me I wouldn't know good music if it kicked me in the ass. I personally don't give a shit.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

House of Essex: Blending Musical Influences, Creating a New Sound

Learning that Maplewood, NJ had become a hotspot for music and musical talent surprised no one more than this New Jersey native. But apparently, it has. Starting with a two-day music festival called Maplewoodstock now nine years old, the township of Maplewood, located twenty miles outside of New York City, is quietly becoming a landing spot for musicians. This year’s Maplewoodstock provided the debut performance of local band House of Essex, an eclectic, vintage rock band oozing with talent and experience.

House of Essex lead vocalist, songwriter and keyboardist Tim Welch, formed the group, adding each complementary member slowly and methodically. Veteran drummer David Longworth was the first on board, bringing the experience of playing nationally and internationally with renowned artists such as Phoebe Snow, Southside Johnny and Bruce Springsteen. David also can be found playing with LaBamba and the Hubcaps. Bassist Gregory Jones involvement with top tier artists goes back to Sly & the Family Stone. With Brazilian, Cuban, Afro and Funk influences, Gregory adds his unique style with David’s in creating a first-class rhythm section. Guitarist Courtney Sappington does more than just play guitar, he creates punctuation with it. Think exclamation point. A veteran of Broadway orchestras, Courtney has also toured extensively with artists from Garland Jeffries to Bobby Womack. Lora McFarlane-Tazewell brings her R&B, Soul, Jazz and Reggae influences into the band, empowering her rich vocal range.
While each member of the House of Essex equation is a skilled, stand-alone musician, the sum of its parts is absolute magic. The band sat down for a talk about beginnings, creativity and of course…music.

Kats's Theory: You all come from various musical backgrounds with huge amounts of experience. How did you all actually meet?
David Longworth
David: I was doing a local collegiate theatre prep production, I was in the pit and Tim was the conductor. We met at a great time, hooked up and he said “Well, I was thinking, do you do drum lessons? Why don’t you come over and do a drum lesson?” So I said sure. I go over there to do one lesson and he says ”Well I have some original tunes, you want to hear them…maybe you could do the recording on some of my tunes.” I said yeah and we started getting to know each other in a different kind of way. In one of the sessions he goes “Would you know a bass player around?”Gregory is someone I’ve known for years, more professionally than anything else, and I said I’ll give him a call. Greg came over and the three of us for six months every Thursday from 10-12, we got together working out tunes. I mean religiously. And it ain’t about money or anything else, we didn’t even know if we were gonna gig or anything like that. We just really enjoyed each other’s company, musically speaking and personally. We started to form a sort of bond and some of the songs on the CD were from the original trio thing.

Tim plays everything: the guitar, piano, keyboards. We started to think we really had something going here, if we wanted to play live, how are we gonna recreate all the stuff that he (Tim) does? That’s when we started thinking about guitar players. Courtney is somebody I’ve known for decades at gigs, and Gregory has known him too, and they're all Maplewood (NJ) people.

Kat’s Theory: And Lora, when did you come into the group?
Lora McFarlane-Tazewell
Lora: Tim is my vocal coach and I started working with him, I think it’s going on two years. I was working on getting back into singing and I was prepping for a special recording project. It was like a godsend to be able to work with him. Then he started working on this project and asked me if I’d like to be a part of it, because he knew that I really wanted to sing with a band.

Kat’s Theory: House of Essex bills itself as an eclectic, vintage rock band, which I think is pretty accurate. Tell me how you ended up going in that direction. 
Tim: You know it’s funny, our first gig out, we played 15 songs I think, all originals. Now our library of 17 or 18 songs are even more diverse than what we play in our 6 or 7 song set. The songs all came over a time period of maybe five years of writing. They were never necessarily ready for any purpose other than I have a creative idea. I’d be inspired by an artist and write a song

Tim Welch
Then it became a matter with the group, it was sort of “let’s try out these songs” and they really became more of a skeleton, or a template around which this sound that we have now kind of happened. Courtney’s addition was really a huge sonic change to the music. He brings a very specific, unique to his own playing, sort of style of guitar playing that added a thumbprint to the sound. And Gregory has a distinct style of playing; it’s not always straight rock, it’s not always jazz, not always Motown, it’s a real hybrid type of thing. So the songs that were all scattered in the beginning, were thrown into this fusion of whatever harmonic and sonic things that were happening with us getting together. So the sound hasn’t really been a formulated or calculated “let’s go this or that route” per se, because I’ll write a song and drop it into the machine, and out comes whatever House of Essex sounds like now. It becomes its own thing.

Kat’s Theory: "Right to Love You," I love the heavy keys at the beginning, then Courtney comes in with the accent of the guitar. As opposed to most rock songs, with the heavy guitar and the keys come in as an afterthought. Is that a trial and error kind of thing, or just absolute genius on your part?
Courtney: Oh, it’s just trial and error. It’s just accident really. It just comes out. I hope it just sounds good.
Tim: We’re still changing things all the time and it’s very much feeling it out. We’re interjecting ideas all the time. We just changed “Learn From You.” Lora’s going to sing the second half of the verses now, as opposed to me singing all of the verses. We just did that about 20 minutes ago before you called and it was like “that’s kind of perfect.” So it’s very organic.

Courtney Sappington
David: And then we’re trying to find the right key to make the vocals and the song fit and feel the best, so it’s all part and parcel. But I think the overall thing, is there’s an element of trust here that’s a rare kind of quality that allows you to go out on a ledge and still feel like there’s always a safety net around you. It’s because people are going to take your ideas seriously, give their best effort and let the chips fall where they may. And if it sounds good, it sounds good. But we’re really getting to the point where we are really trusting each other along the way. I think that’s one of the essential ingredients to this kind of thing. 

Kat's Theory: Now do you think that it’s coming from the fact that you guys are not kids and have been around the block, or is it that you think you have the exact right group right now?
Lora: A Combination
David: Yeah a combination that’s extremely rare. I can get in the room with four or five other men and women who I might know really well, but we might just not find that kind of quality. It really is almost an unspoken thing. To find it, it’s a really rare quality.

Kat’s Theory: Either during the recording process or in rehearsal, what was that moment like when you looked at each other and said “Yeah, this works. This is gonna be good”
Tim: It was in the beginning, we had a good time playing, getting together and experimenting on things, but I don’t think it was until we actually heard the first rough mix of “Right to Love You.” And we were like “Holy Cow, this kind of sounds cool.” I think maybe that was the moment when we thought maybe we had created something cool.
David: The three of us (Tim, David, Gregory) were all kind of reacting the same kind of way

Kat’s Theory: Tim, how do you do this? You have vocal studios, you teach, you have three bands in progress, you are trying to get a cabaret act going with your wife Elizabeth, and you have a life. How is this even possible?
Tim: I’m not a big fan of sleep and I love coffee. First of all, I have an extremely understanding and supportive wife, that I am happily married to, and she really supports my music projects a lot. As far as my creative time, she’s on Broadway, so she working in the evenings and my daughter goes down about quarter to nine or so. Then until she (Elizabeth) gets home around 11:30, that is a very sort of protected time for me. That’s my creative time: mixing songs, recording, writing music. I also have some time during the day. It’s all a juggling thing I guess like it is with all of us. You’re balancing spending enough time with the family, enough time on this project, that project. It’s the same that we’re all doing. I just drink a lot of coffee.

Kat’s Theory: Gregory, Your bio mentions Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, Jazz and Funk among your strengths. I can't think of any better influences for a bassist. Did you naturally drift into those genres or was it a case of being handed an opportunity?
Gregory: In the case of jazz, I grew up in Boston at a time when jazz was everywhere, and very accessible. Funk, and Soul, was the music we all heard on the radio, as well as more sophisticated bands like Steely Dan, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and the like were played on college radio.

Gregory Jones
Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, African, and various other world music, was the result of being a little familiar with latin jazz through some of my favorite players like Anthony Jackson with Michel Camilo. I could fake it a bit! I got a call to do a last minute restaurant gig with a brother and sister group, Cidinho and Vera Mara Texeira, and drummer Vanderlei Pereira. All from Brazil. I was a really strong sight reader, and could groove. They offered me steady weekends, and proceeded to school me on the vast music of Brazil mixed with their jazz approach. That led to working with bands from Peru, Uruguay, Argentina, West Africa, South Africa, Parisian-Afro scene. It's a lifelong study, as each country, and region have their own rhythms-just the individual islands in the Caribbean alone, one could spend years absorbing. It has also given me a deeper appreciation of our own music, such as soul, rock, and jazz

Kat’s Theory: Courtney, You've done a lot of work in Broadway orchestras, and also touring with some very well known artists. I would think it's a lot easier to have a normal life playing on Broadway but it's probably more fun to be on the road. Other than the economic factor, what would make you choose one over the other?
Courtney: Many factors come into play. The economic factor is very important, but so is the fun factor, the quality of the music, the travel conditions when on the road, the company, etc. And of course, once you have a family, it can be hard to leave home for extended periods.

Kat’s Theory: David, playing drums behind Ben E. King, The Shirelles, Southside and playing at the New Jersey Hall of Fame (NJHOF). Was that two different years you played at that event?
David: They started that four years ago and I’ve been in the pit band there every year. Originally I played with LaBamba & the Hubcaps since 1982. And though they were still located in New York when we did the first year at the NJHOF, now of course they are located in California. But he’s come back each year to do those, and I will still fly somewhere….to do a Hubcaps gig. It’s a great little gig for us to do, it’s a solid packed weekend and we always get to play with some nice people. And to play at that performance center (New Jersey Performing Arts Center) is really beautiful.

Kat’s Theory: Now do you go into it with a different mindset when you’re playing with somebody like Phoebe Snow?
David: Well, I played with her and had done international touring with her before and she was a Jersey girl. Everyone in the band has known her and done some stuff with her, so that was easy.
I will tell you a very funny story about the NJHOF. It was in 2011 and it was all politicians, scientists, doctors and athletes. It’s the governor, Woody Johnson and it’s just to create some publicity for New Jersey, so to speak. They had Susan Sarandon, Jack Nicholson, Yogi Berra, I mean all these famous New Jersey people bought into the concept. So they’re given some sort of award and they have some other famous people introducing them… that maybe have a relationship with them. We start to rehearse during the week because there’s always a special guest,  And Southside was a guest in 2011.

It’s a long day, lots of rehearsing. So we do the show and we’re at the last three minutes of a two-hour show. “We’re Having A Party” with Southside Johnny, and the producer of the whole event is standing in the wings and Joe Piscopo is standing with him…with a pair of drumsticks in his hand. We’re in the last song, the last part of the last song, and the two of them come over to the drum riser and he points to me “Joe sits in.” I’m like“You’re kidding right.” But I didn’t have a choice. All the guests were on stage, like sixty people on stage and so I sort of move over on the drums. So Joe comes up and sits down and I take literally a step and a half and I’m going “Oh my god, he can’t play drums.” He can’t play and we’re in the encore.

It was like a tidal wave from the back of the bandstand through to the front. The groove is destroyed. Joe Piscopo cannot play and I’m pissed and upset all at the same time. So really quickly this tidal wave hits the front of the stage and Southside turns around like “What the fuck?” And it really messed him up, and the gig had gone great. His songs beforehand were great. So he throws the mic down, storms off the stage and there he practically runs into me. We are standing about two inches from each other and he’s spitting at me “How could you fucking do that to me? What the fuck did you let him go up on stage?” “Don’t be yelling at me, I had no choice.” I mean we’re like face to face spitting at each other. And I did eight years with Southside, I know him. So he leaves and the show sort of just collapses at that point in time. We made up, it was fine and everything like that, but to me it’s just another Southside story.

Kat’s Theory: Lora, You step out in the front for “Bright Lights.” Great vocal. How did you approach that vocal and did you have to fight Tim to get the lead on it?

Lora: Actually Tim wrote that for me. Being the amazing vocal coach that he is, he created a song that he thought really complimented my vocal register and helped take me out of my shell a little bit. He really had me in mind with that song and said Lora “I have this idea, can you come over and hear it?” And we went through it maybe five or ten minutes and it was so natural. It was a natural fit. Before I had even performed it or recorded it, it felt like it was so much a part of me. So that’s a very special song.

Kat’s Theory: “To The Bone” You have this big wall of sound that comes at you and it’s just fabulous. How did you come up with huge tidal wave of sound to start it out with?

Tim: Well, as we’re playing out live more, we’re starting to get a feel for how we want to interact with the audiences and what sort of energy to bring. When we did our first gig, our library of songs, maybe half of them are mid tempo, some of them are ballads, bluesy…very much not this kind of raucous, wild, in your face live energy six song, half hour set. Our whole library of music is much wider ranging. Real diverse. So sometimes it feels we need, in a six or seven song set, to bring a little more energy, more punch. Because in the sort of in-and-out half hour set, sometimes the slower songs feel like they dip the energy too much. When “To The Bone” came out, it was like "let’s do something raucous, a little dirty, a little sort of wild" and think of a great opener. That was how that idea started and then the whole lyrical content really came more from the chord progression. Usually the lyrics always come second for me. The chords come and I’ll get the energy of the song.

Kat's Theory: You don’t seem to get writer’s block…
Tim: See, the trick to not having writers block, in my opinion is, to in any moment write a crappy song. And be ok with it. Just don’t stop. I just don’t stop. I try to be very careful at what stage I edit. I’m a big believer in complete, unjudged brain-dumping, look at what comes out and sort of move it around. Turning off that editor for a large part of the initial creation of a song. I haven’t had that (writer’s block) in a while

Kat's Theory: What does the future hold in store for House of Essex?
Tim: We’re just gonna keep playing and trying to reach people that would connect to our music.
David: We’ll see how it goes. There’s going to be bumping and bruising along the way. I mean the gigs we’re doing right now, we just sort of throw ourselves up on stage. At the level we’re at, there’s no sound check or nothing. Just going up and hittin’ and quittin’ and that’s just part of the process. So it’s all good. I know we’re just all excited about keeping our momentum moving forward.

Follow House of Essex:

Twitter @HouseofEssex1

Article first published as House of Essex: Blending Musical Influences, Creating a New Sound on Technorati.


No comments:

Post a Comment