The New Mastersounds to Funkify Taste of Randolph & City Winery: Q & A with Drummer Simon Allen

The New Mastersounds to Funkify Taste of Randolph & City Winery: Q & A with Drummer Simon Allen

Chicago has been Jah-bless'd throughout all of 2013 by the major funk.  We've been super lucky that tons of  funk, soul, jazz-fusion, and even full-horn section'd bands have been rolling through to drop our booties to the floor.  With huge brass sound from bands like Galactic, The Greyboy Allstars, Orgone, Snarky Puppy, as well as non-brass-based acts like Melvin Seals on those CHURCH-ass keys, The Meters, and The Marco Benevento trio, our soul-shakedown parties have been more than abundant.  And for that we are lucky.

But there is no act, in my opinion, better for the firemost dance party, the musical chakra alignment, the goofy on-stage antics, and the offering of an instrumental snorkel we can strap on to delve into a sea of non-stop, Hammond-driven melodies than The New Mastersounds.  Their improvised, jazz-funk sound flows so seamlessly from start to finish that when the show ends you'll be like, "Yo, dudes, how is it over!?" But then you'll be like, "Oh wait, you've been playing for three (four even) hours, nonstop.  Ok, wow. Thanks for EVERYTHING."  You will be sweaty.  They will make you feel good.  Righteous in their output, internalizing in this case is, for once, helpful, and even suggested. They will provide the energy you need; they will make you do the splits when you don't even know how.  The four-piece UK outfit does sometimes come equipped with various horns who sit-in with them from time to time, but the band themselves is made up of Eddie Roberts (guitar), Simon Allen (drums), Pete Shand (bass), and  Joe Tatton (Hammond organ & piano).

After a few changes in scheduling while the band was at JazzFest in NOLA, I was able to get an hour or so with Simon, the New Mastersounds' drummer and rhythm engine, to discuss their upcoming Chicago shows this weekend, and it was seriously hilarious.  I had to cut this in almost half... and the whole time I was cracking up.  This guy is comedy, and a huge talent.  They will be playing a late-set on Sunday for Taste of Randolph, as well as a latenight at City Winery to follow right after.  Sidenote, big-ups to Silver Wrapper for curating the strongest and most musically diverse street festival in Chicago this summer, and thank you in advance.  Here's what Simon had to say...

Q:  Welcome back to Chicago! We've missed you.

A:  Thank you, thank you. We love Chicago.

Q:  Last time I saw you here was an after-party for North Coast at the Bottom Lounge, do you recall?

A: Ahhh yes, that was a fun show.

Q: Yep- Eddie had a fake bird on his shoulder the whole show, and was tripping out all the spun festival-goers.  Everyone was all messed up and asking each other, "Is that a real bird?" and freaking out.  You guys played a really long show, and it was awesome.

A: (laughing) Haha, to be honest I think that's why he did it.  That was really fun, we had a blast.

Q:  Well we are excited to have you back.  Have you ever played street fests before? What is the vibe like compared to a show where people come just to see you?

A:  Yes, we've done our fair share.   The audience is not necessarily committed, and they're not there because of you.  People haven't bought tickets, and are excited from the beginning, you know?  You kind of have to win them over.   At the end of the show if everyone is melted, then you realize that you've made a lot of new fans.

Q: Do people tell you at festivals or after your street fest sets in the day, that that's how they originally got turned on to you?

A:  YES.  When I'm wandering around, it's like, "Oh! I love the New Mastersounds. My friend found you on Pandora by accident," or something like that.  Or, my friend told me about you guys, or you know...whatever.  It's a smaller, more personal scene that we'll always be on.

Q: Compared to a more commercial type thing?

A: Ya, I think people will always find us "by mistake" or through a friend.

Q: Right on. And what about lyrics?  I personally prefer no lyrics most of the time, but I know a lot of people don't feel that way.  You are pretty instrumental-only, will that ever change?

A: Well, Breaks from the Border, and Out on the Faultline... they both have quite a few vocal tracks.  We've occasionally used guest vocalists on albums, but its tough to sound right without them, so for touring we're trying to use our own, limited skills in vocals (laughs).   Some people really like it and others say ... "Please, just stick to your instruments!"  On our upcoming album, we will sing some and have a few guests.  We went in the studio for a week, and we worked through eight - to-  nine new ideas and recorded them in a rough way.  In six months' time or sooner, we can get back in the studio, and we'll see how it plays out.  I, too, much prefer instrumentals only, and I prefer to play that because that is what we absolutely do best.  I'm kind of proud of it now, and that's how it works.  A lot of people just don't "get" instrumental music.  And to them, we want to say, "You can make sense of this."

Q: What about Marco Benevento?  He will be in town the same weekend for a show Friday with Bustle in Your Hedgegrow, and has recently started instating some more lyrics into his music.  Is that a trend that is happening in instrumental music?

A:  Well- I've partied with him more than I've shared a stage, I think.  Last year he and I were staying at the same apartment for Jazzfest and I had a morning with him in the kitchen wherer he played me a lot of tunes he was very excited about.

Q: Were they tracks from Tigerface?

A: I think ... it was a track they we were working to add on a woman's voice and he was working it all out.  He was very excited about it.

Q: Sounds like "This is How it Goes."  That's really cool you shared that experience.  He is also one of my favorites.  Which, makes me want to ask about Phish... are you a Phish fan?  Or a TAB (Trey Anastasio Band) fan?  I saw a picture of you from Brooklyn Bowl where you were wearing a TAB shirt.

A:  Well... I'm more a Jen (Hartswick) & Natalie (Cressman) fan.  We met some fans in NYC and they gave me that shirt.  They were fans of Phish and Trey.  Natalie (trombone) and Jen (trumpet) both play with TAB, and they were sitting in with us that night, so I thought I'd make them feel comfortable.  We started in 1999, and the first album has horns on most of the tracks, so if there is ever someone who wants to sit in as a guest in the horns section, I send them those tracks and they just have to figure it out.  They nailed it.  This past Saturday at House of Blues, they both sang backup vocals for a 1983 set we did.  We chose ten songs to play from that year with Jans (Ingber, singer for The Motet).

Q: Wow, that sounds REALLY awesome.  Do you always do special shows like that? And is it a free-for-all at Jazzfest or do you advertise it to be a special show with songs from 1983?

A: It was... a bit scrappy (laughing).  It worked.  Nobody was stressed.  It was a lot of fun.  It's different from playing the music we know really well, and it's more exciting to play the stuff you don't knwo, and see if you do okay. Then... it's a relief when you play on your own. We've never done that before...we needed to do something special.  We wanted to do a special theme, so we did 1973 songs on Friday, and 1983 songs on Saturday, to let people celebrate their 30th & 40th birthdays.  It went well- I think... I don't remember much of it -haha(laughing).

Q:  So you were partying a little bit, eh?

A: I had a ... little... tequila. Haha (laughing)

Q: One more Phish/Trey question... Do you think Trey (TAB) ripped off your song title, "Land of Nod?"  When that first came out on Traveler, I thought of you right away and wondered if it was bothersome for you guys.

A: I don't believe Trey ripped off the title.  He claimed it was a coincidence, which I entirely believe.  We initially named our band, "The Mastersounds," ...without realizing it was a band (already)!  The  TAB episode is not at all bothersome - I think it generated a bit of awareness amongst some of the less New Mastersounds-conscious Phish fans. I've not heard his Land of Nod yet though, and I wonder if it's any good.  Ours is epic.

Q:  Well that is the best answer ever. Cheeky, even. What is your relationship to Umphrey's McGee?  Didn't they help get you started touring in the US, and within the jamband circuit?

A:  Yes- we've done a bunch with Umphrey's.  Joel's (Cummins, UM keys player) wife was our tour manager.  Sometimes he'd join us and be our keyboard technician.  Ryan (Stasik), Joel, and Ryan, tend to stay in touch, and we've done some gigs with them.  We opened for them at Red Rocks once, and a few times we've played with them at Bear Creek.  Actually, at Jam in the Dam, I sat in on drums and was kind of baffled.  I was surrounded by Kris's (Myers, UM drummer) drums and I could barely see any members of the band.  I was thinking, "How do you guys even jam? You can't even see each other!"  But it was cool.  I really want to play Power of Love with them by Huey Lewis, and have Kris sing.

Q: That would be hilarious.  Please do that, and do it when I'm there.  As far as your fans, how do you differentiate your UK fans from your American fans?  I've read in other interviews with you guys, that the UK is heavier into the DJ/Electronica scene than a more jam-oriented setup, and that in the US you are able to be more free with your solos and longer instrumentals.  Is that the case?

A: The general answer to this, is because, ... since we came out of a scene where a band fits into a DJ-night, we'd play 45 mins to an hour, with DJ's on before and after, and we as a band were doing just the same job as a DJ-- keeping the dance floor going.

When we came to the states, there wasn't much of a DJ culture, and we had to learn to stretch songs out and lengthen tunes, and now, we've gotten used to it, and it's like...weird if we have to only play 45 mins.  We did it at All Good, but then, at Jazzfest, we played for three hours excluding breaks.  We have enough repertoire to do that.  I much prefer if there's a banging DJ before we start and people are already dancing, and then we play, then as soon as we encore, we seamlessly throw on an old school funk 45 and keep everyone going.  The focus is on the live band, and the fans.

Q: And the dancing?

A: (laughing) Yes, of course.

Q: Well, what, then, is your favorite funk 45 to throw on?

A: Uhhh... one particular record?  I can't answer that really. I can randomly name one, but I mean... basically, I know DJ's have a nice collection of records and I know what they sound like.  I always like when Pete (Shand, New Mastersounds bassist) is on the decks. He is awesome.


The New Mastersounds will play at Taste of Randolph from 9p - 10p on the East Stage.  $10 suggested donation.  They will then play an after-party at City Winery directly after, listed as Doors & Show at 10pm sharp.  City Winery is located at 1200 W Randolph St, Chicago , IL 60607. (312)-733-WINE. $14.


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