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Issue 1084

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Feature

Down To The Bone - Diggin' It

Stuart Wade - Down To The Bone @bluesandsoul.com
Stuart Wade - Down To The Bone @bluesandsoul.com Down To The Bone @bluesandsoul.com Down To The Bone @bluesandsoul.com Down To The Bone Dig It CD cover pic

Down To The Bone, one of the UKâs finest jazz groove bands and one of the most successful jazz exports to the US, celebrate their 10th album release with the superb new album âDig It.â

Next year, producer-writer Stuart Wade and his band mark two decades of injecting fresh and funky grooves into the UK and US jazz groove scene.

The new album features guest vocals from Katie Leone on three tracks (Incognito), and the line-up includes former Incognito bass player Julian Crampton, Davide Giovannini on drums (Snowboy, Lisa Stansfield) and Mark Jaimes on guitar, who is currently working with Rod Temperton. Keyboard players Alex Bennett and Neil Angilley and Simon Allen (sax) complete the line-up.

Surrey-based Stuart spoke to Blues & Soul about the milestone 10th album. âIt is a very special landmark. I only set out to do two EPâs to see where that went, after the reaction I received from a Down To The Bone remix I did for soul band Think Twice , which I was a part of at the time. Little did I know that ten albums down the line I would still be doing this.â

He admits he was under extra pressure with this latest CD. ââ¦â¦.to make the tenth album a worthy one. I am always my own worst critic, and I do tend to beat myself up every time. But this one certainly came with the extra awareness.â

His aim was to make the tracks less âclutteredâ for this record. âI have used as many as three guitar parts playing at the same time on previous albums and this time I tried to cut it down to just one part for each section. The same with keyboard parts to try to free up a bit more space within the tracks.â

âI have to set out to do each album for myself first, and then hopefully others will like what I do. But I do have to keep one eye/ear towards getting stuff played on radio too. So to a certain extent, I have to be aware of the format, especially for the US.

âBut I never set out to do music just to please others, as it would fail if I did. As long as it grooves, then everything is cool.â

Guest musicians on previous DTTB albums have included Roy Ayers, Brian Auger, Reuben Wilson and Jeremy Steig. Featured vocalists have included NâDambi, Hil St Soul, Flora Purim, Guida De Palma, Imaani, and most recently Katie Leone. Stuart chooses the title track as his favourite for âDig It.â Revealing the inspiration behind that track was not being able to afford to hire a certain legend to guest on it! "One of my heroes is Roy Ayers, and I could not afford to get him on this album like I could on two of the others. But I wanted to try to do a track that would slant in that direction, and stand out on itâs own without Roy being on it. I think I came fairly close, working with Neil Angilley on that track. I was also very happy with Davide Giovanninâs drums and Joeâs percussion on that one in particular.â

There was a potential disaster half way through recording the album though: Stuartâs MAC computer died, but luckily the hard drive was okay, so he did not lose all the music up to that point. Phew!

DTTB is much bigger in the US than in the UK, with many more gigs and lots more radio exposure. But US radio goes for the more slower mellower tracks, and UK radio plays a mix of the funkier tracks too, and Stuart says UK radio is âmore open minded and not as strict with pigeon holing everything. It is a slight juggling act trying to appeal to both. But I do wish we could get more exposure over here and particularly in Europe. Although I feel if we were a US band we would be even bigger over there, and maybe the music business would take us more seriously over here too. But I am proud to be a British act, and it is why the music sounds as it does.â

Why did DTTB take in the USA? âA lot of it was being in the right place at the right time. I think the airwaves in the US were crying out for something different, but everyone over there are force-fed a format controlled by a just few people. It was our luck that two radio guys; one in New York and the other in San Francisco, risked playing DTTBâs first album unsolicited, which is not allowed over there.

âApparently the stations were in-undated with people ringing in about us, and it took off from there. It has since tightened up, so would be nearly impossible for that to happen again. Also, the word of mouth thing, where people who heard it went out of their way to let others know about us. Itâs why I called the third album, âSpread The Word,â in recognition of the fans who had done just that.â
So is it frustrating for Stuart as a Brit,â that the band and its music has a bigger profile and in demand for live work far more in the USA, than his home land?

âIn a way itâs flattering, as here am I, a Brit, selling the Americans back their own music! To me it shows I am doing something right. I try really hard to show respect to the type of music I love, and always drive myself fairly hard to achieve something that would fit into the scene I grew up listening to - black American soul and funk music. So I am very humbled that it has worked out the way it has. But it is still very frustrating that itâs not bigger than it is at home.â

So how did he feel when DTTB achieved the # 2 Billboard Jazz album (with their 1996 debut from Manhattan To Staten) and the best selling independent jazz artist of 1999 in the US? âIt felt unreal and a complete surprise. I felt we would not stand a chance against all the other established acts getting airplay over there. I thought we would be too groovy and not fit in enough. The Grammy nomination was just as amazing.â

So where do we file DTTB in a record store? Jazz? Soul? Funk? âAll of the above! If there was a category for âGood Groove,â it would go in there. Failing that, good old âJazz-Funkâ is good.â

*************************************************************************

A dozen extra questions & expanded answers from the interview with Stuart Wade:

1. It took 2 years to make. Why so long?

Two years is about right. I have to rely on others to play their parts , so sometimes itâs dictated as to when they are free . Once I have the basis of the track I may sit down for about two weeks thinking up possible guitar parts, humming them onto a Dictaphone. Then working out the parts to concentrate on. Then I have to get the guitarist in, spend a few days going through all the possible ideas and recording them. I then spend at least three weeks editing and cutting up all the parts and choosing the best sections to keep. That is just one instrument. Put that process across everything and you start to see where the time goes. I also have to work with the co-writers before hand, spending months trying to come up with the ideas first. Everything revolves around me initiating everything, which also takes time. How I wish I had paid more attention in music classes at school, that way I would be able to do more of the playing myself and save time that way.

2. How do you feel it differs to previous releases?

Well the mixing process was different. This time round I came up with the ideas and recorded it all at my place, and then Richard Sadler the mix engineer took it all to his place and mixed it there. I then went around there and continuously made lists of tweaks, until we got it to where I was happy. Although for me I donât think a track is ever truly finished, as I continuously want to tweak. But I think the overall mixes may well be better on this album from doing it this way, but there are always other things I wanted to look at. But I can do that on the next album. I have used as many as three guitar parts playing at the same time on previous albums, and this time I tried to cut it down to just one part for each section. The same with keyboard parts, to try to free up a bit more space within the tracks. Which is actually more difficult than it sounds. Less is more, but getting that concept to work is not all that easy.

3. Describe the direction of this record?

I donât really set to go in a certain direction with any particular recording. You find that each idea, once it builds, tends to take a direction of its own. I just make sure itâs steered in the right direction that suits my taste. I just set myself the goal of making it as strong as its predecessors. I also try to make each track stand out on its own merit, without fillers. I have to set out to do each album for myself first, and then hopefully others will like what I do.

But I do have to keep one eye/ear towards getting stuff played on radio too . So to a certain extent I have to be aware of the format, especially for the US . But as long as it fits into my overall criteria then thatâs okay. But I never set out to do music just to please others, as it would fail if I did. That is always my direction. As long as it grooves, then everything is cool and I can relax with what I am doing â¦..to a certain extent.

4. Has the sound of DTTB changed much since the first album?
Yes, itâs changed a lot . Mainly because I know far more musicians than I did when I first set out to do this .At first it was just myself, my co-writer and keyboard player, playing and programming everything with the odd few guys we knew, playing on one or two tracks. We had far less to work with then. Now there are guest musicians; like in the past Roy Ayers, Brian Auger, Reuben Wilson and Jeremy Steig. Then there is the main difference of including one or two vocal tracks on each album, with fantastic singers such as NâDambi, Hil St Soul, Flora Purim, Guida De Palma, Imaani and most recently Katie Leone. So there is a lot more movement with each composition now, as I am able to make things a little more âfluidâ than I could in the past. Having a full horn section to work with has also changed things from the first three albums.

5. Which is your favourite track and why?

There are a few. I am really happy with the vocal tracks, but I will go with the title track âDig It.â Really happy with the way that turned out. One of my heroes is Roy Roy Ayers and I could not afford to get him on this album, like I did on two of the others. But I wanted to try to do a track that would slant in that direction, and stand out on itâs own without Roy being on it. I think I came fairly close working with Neil Angilley on that track. I was also very happy with Davide Giovanninâs drums and Joeâs percussion on that one in particular. Although, like all the others, I would still tweak it more, but the tracks have to be finished sometime.

6. What is the status and profile of DTTB in the USA as compared to here in the UK?

DTTB is much bigger in the US. More gigs and more radio exposure. But radio over there goes for the more slower, mellower tracks. Over here radio plays a better mix of the funkier tracks too, and are more open-minded and not as strict with pigeon-holing everything. It is a slight juggling act trying to appeal to both. I do wish we could get more exposure over here and particularly in Europe. Although I do feel if we were a US band, we would be even bigger over there and maybe the music business would take us more seriously over here too. But I am proud to be a British act and it is why the music sounds as it does.

7. How do you keep it fresh and come up with the inspiration to deliver music that retains its wide appeal over here and over in the US?

I have a large record collection full of inspiring records. I am always buying new vinyl, both old and new, by musicians and bands I admire. That makes me want to continue to do it myself, and helps drive me to put a little back into the music scene that has meant so much to me over the years. I am also never satisfied with the albums I finish, so I always want to try to keep coming up with new tracks, which keeps me hungry for more. Once I finish an album, I usually take a complete break from the studio and music for a while. I then start to get the itch again and start listening to stuff, then when I am hungry enough I switch the studio back on again. But having a complete break after each album does help a lot.

8. What is your biggest challenge in being the mastermind and the heartbeat of DTTB?

Self motivation probably. If I donât get off my backside and do it, it will never get done. No one is going to do it for me. It is very daunting and I do find myself at the beginning of each album thinkingâ¦..how the heck am I going to do another one? Then the wheels start to set in motion and the process rolls on. But itâs up to me to keep it all going. So I have to keep driving myself to do it.

9. Why do you think it has stayed the test of time and has such a large global fan-base?

Maybe partly by trying to keep the business side and structure of DTTB as simple as possible. Just by being a sole, permanent member of DTTB has helped financially. Keeping budgets tight, as this is a business too. Also fans who like this type of music tend to be more loyal, and this type of music seems to mean a lot more to them. Word of mouth from fans has been a huge factor. The music also seems to appeal to a wide range of different people. Young, old, male, female and all races. It seems to have less boundaries when it comes to music-loving fans.

10. Who are your main influences as a writer, producer and artists & bands?

Oh heckâ¦the list is endless and itâs always growing as I am discovering and buying new music both old and new, which then go on to influence me. I love most types of this music from soul, funk, Brazilian to the newer stuff like house and nu-beat from a little while ago. I love some of the re-edits that are around at the moment, such as on GAMM Records and by guys like Onur Engin. Other influences are Roy Ayers, Brian Auger, Deodato both as artist and producer, Lonnie Liston Smith, Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds.The Mizell Brothers, Willie Hutch, Leroy Hutson as artist, singer and writer. Ronnie Foster, Creed Taylor (CTI Records), Tommy LiPuma (Blue Thumb Records), Cal Tjader; a musician I wish I had been able to catch live while he was around. Newer stuff such as The Rebirth, DJ Day, The Bahama Soul Club. Early pirate radio was a big influence on me and opened up my ears to so much more music. Stations like Horizon, JFM and KISS (when it was a pirate). All the clubs I went to as well, such as No Room For Squares with Gilles Peterson and Joe Davis, Floorshakers with Martin Lewin, Chris Brown, Chris Bangs etc. All the record shops I used to visit such as Spin Offs, Mr Bongo, Beggars Banquet, Honest Jons and Soul Brother etc., all played their part in driving me to do this.

11. If you were to do your own review of this latest album in one or two paragraphs; what would you write?

Other than, âitâs a blinking relief to get it finished!!â, I canât really review my own music, as I am never satisfied with it as a whole. I am my own worst critic. I prefer to leave it up to others to decide how they feel about it. As long as I can sit there and say I did the best job I could at the time, then I am happy to let it go out. I have always been amazed at how the same piece of music can affect different people in different ways. You can spend a lifetime creating what you think is the perfect piece of music, only for others to decide in a few seconds as to whether they like it or not - without realising the effort that went in to it.

12. Plans for rest of this year and 2015 with DTTB?

Trying to get more live shows. In 2015, Iâll have to start the next album. I already have a handful of ideas, but right now I am avoiding the studio. Each album seems to take a heck of a lot out of me, so I take time to breath. Iâd love to do some more DJâing. I have done a bit in a few places, but not for a while. I love playing my records loud to people, especially when you get good reactions.

The album "Dig It" is out now on Dome Records
Words SIMON REDLEY

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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