Holy crap. The Greyboy Allstars are BACK. They just finished up their first album in six years, Inland Emperor, and have been touring in its support since the first Thursday of April, where they kicked off in Boston. Known for their potent individual abilities on each of their instruments, the five band members come together as one giant funk assault upon your senses, body and soul. Comprised of the one and only, baddest of smooth badasses, Karl Denson on saxophone, or "Karl D" to some, the electrifying Robert Walter on keys, Chris Stillwell on an understated bass/vocals, the harmonizing Elgin Park on guitar/vocals, and Aaron Redfield keeping the beat on drums, the band is truly a funk powerhouse. Released today, Inland Emperor, has been streaming through Spotify all day for me, and I am straight up loving it. So much time has passed since I've actively said, "I'm going to put on an entire Allstars record," and for that, shame on me. I can't believe I've been sleeping on freaking KARL D, dude. I just won't again- bottom line.
Piqued in curiosity, I guess I wanted to know...why now? And did they all come together to create each track on this album as a group, all together? Like last album? I recalled that What Happened To Televison (2007), was led in rhythm by former drummer/vocalist Zak Najor, whom Redfield has now replaced, and also co-produced by the group's original soothsayer of realness, DJ Greyboy, who founded the group. Was he a part of these new tracks? He had been sparse with them since their inception back in early 90's San Diego, so the Television cooperative was a bit of a surprise. I heard they were coming to town this Friday, and figured I wasn't the only one curious about this stuff, so, I procured a little phone time from Elgin Park last week about just what exactly is going on. At this point, the album was not yet released.
Q: So for this album, who wrote the songs? Did you all come together like last time? I know you weren't even allowed to bring in "outside music" to the Television recording.
A: Well, this time, we all did it together, but we did bring in a few songs. We just had limited time. We allowed people to bring in material; Robert had a few songs, I had a few songs, Chris always has ideas, you know, Karl has ideas... we all did it together. There's actually quite a bit of music that didn't get released.
Q: Will you turn them into another collection?
A: I guess it could be another album of B-sides.
Q: Will you release them that way do you think?
A: We might drop them into the blog world.
Q: Cool, well it sounds like you were all ready to get back in the studio together again. And what about DJ Greyboy? Was he a part of this record?
A: No. He produced the last one with us.
Q: Right. Well, to be honest, I'm a little confused about his relationship to the band. --
A: -- It is very confusing to everybody! He had his record, Freestylin, and they were doing a record release party. He got us together to play the party, and we just did this jazz-funk-thing that he basically curated. We dug it and were turned on to something totally new. We had been exposed to it before, you know, but not to the depths that Greyboy had put it on to us.
Q: That's really cool. So it's not like - he was a part of the band and fell off- he basically just brought you guys together.
A: Ya- he was like our Andy Warhol or something. Our stylistic guide.
Q: Cool. Well that actually makes a lot of sense. So as far as the new album, I've only heard one track, Profundo Grosso since it's on your Soundcloud.
A: Oh, really? (laughs) I didn't even know. What do you think?
Q: I like it. It kind of reminds me of Zappa at some points. Like a looping crescendo of live sound. How did this develop?
A: Hmm. Well, it's a cool song. It's not necessarily representative of the ...record, though. We're not a pop band, so it's hard to just put out a single. You know, it's just one song on the album.
Q: Right, that makes sense. Do you feel like the tracks on your albums tell a story?
A: Maybe. I guess- our story is long and confusing, so, that's the way our songs are? (laughing)
Q: The ole' reverse. How long have you been together officially? What's it like now compared to when you started?
A: We've been together 20 years this year! It's like, we've had a lot of fans that have come into the scene and then had to move on with their lives...which isn't a bad thing, it's just what happens when people get responsibilities, especially caring for other humans, over that amount of time. So, now when we play big festivals, we might have a mix of all types of people: newcomers, old fans, they saw our first show, they've never heard of us... and that's cool, and that's why it's always good to play festivals, even though they can be a logistical nightmare in some ways. Right now, we also just want people to feel what it is like to be in a small room with us, like when we started. We're really not trying to hit tons of big spots, we'd rather play like, a 40-person venue, four nights in a row, than just one big huge auditorium night. I want to hear the actual drumset, not just through my earpiece.
Q: Cool. So, what can you tell me about the new album?
A: It was all kind of in the world of what we love as a group. It's not that boogaloo-oriented. There's not as much jazz-soul on it, per se. These are all, sort of niche-y terms that people don't know what they mean (laughs). ...It's less open, it's less jazzy, except for a couple tracks. There are more vocals on it.
Q: That has been coming up a lot lately in new releases by artists with more-typically instrumental music. What do you think it is with that? Is there a current trend in adding in voice?
A: Voice is just another instrument. For us, it's just a natural progression. It wasn't something I've stretched to do, I was actually holding back before. The fact that we were instrumental was really refreshing to all of us, especially back in the 90's. There wasn't a message and there wasn't a pitch. It was so obviously uncommercial. Yet we struck a nerve still. I think vocals can tend to tell people what to feel. It can take away from the instrumental composition of the song, too. Shouldn't there be allowance to just let you think about whatever you wanna think about? In context it was like-come on! Nirvana and Pearl Jam... just all these bands telling us about their lives- it was making us ill. But, in the same way it was good to take it off, it was good to put it on, ya know? It was fun to add some words this time around.
Q: What's the value in adding lyrics then? Do they still tell people what to feel?
A: Well- old music lyrics are very naïve. There are all kinds of ways of writing lyrics, but things have gotten very personal. It's like you hear some of these songs and it's like..."Do I really need to know this about you?"- kind of a thing. Lyrics can be valuable for people looking for camaraderie. And that's valuable. They can add meaning or personality.
Q: So, why the first album in six years? Was there one person really egging it on, or did you all kind of want to do it?
A: We all agreed that we couldn't go out and play any more without having new music. That's what drives our output. As soon as the music stops being fresh, it's time to do something new. In the 90's we put out an album every two years, but we just don't tour as much now. If we do 100-200 shows in a year, we'll make more music; if we only do 30-40 shows in a year, the music can stay fresh. Realize that when we walk away we all make music with other people, so under that (The Greyboy) moniker...it's, "what can we do to keep it fresh?"
Q: What can we expect this Friday at The Congress in Chicago from your live show? Or, I guess, better yet, how do you want your audience to feel when they're leaving the show?
A: (laughing) ...They're fatigued? (laughing) Man, I don't know. Like they've had enough? Like you wore 'em out? I can tell you how I wanna feel at the end of the night; like I was present in the moment, and I was open to what was happening. And that’s what I’d want them to feel. Ready to have a good time, and to go where the music takes me.
Friday, April 19, Silver Wrapper and React Present: FUNKY METERS - THE GREYBOY ALLSTARS - JC BROOKS & THE UPTOWN SOUND - JESSE DE LA PENA - MAKER. Doors: 6pm Show: 7pm. 18+ $25 presale, $30 day of show. The Congress Theater is located at: 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave Chicago, IL, 60647; (773) 360-8162.