by Walter Price
When the soul stirring sounds of Clyde McPhatter, Jackie Wilson and Solomon Burke inspired names like Little Richard and Odis Redding who in turn helped shape the music styles and careers paths of the fair-skinned counterparts Roy Head, Joe Cocker and everyone in between who has had the deep rooted love of ‘secular gospel’ (to paraphrase Ray Charles) I don’t think they had any idea how far this style of music or its lineage would go.
Portland, OR’s funked up soul outfit Brownish Black (M.D.Sharbatz,Mz V, mub FRACTAL, Rob Taylor, Ethan Boardman, Mr. Magic, Stephanie Shea, Marco Fusaro, Don Malkemus) is undoubtedly the heir apparent to this heritage and they fervently slide right into the rhythmic and righteous sounds that have to be felt, lived and loved to resonate proper.
Brownish Black’s new single Life Lessons, the first off their debut full length via Breakup Records (out in June), is a hip swiveling romp of smoky club thumping power of new soul perfection. The band has found itself solid, churning and driving with lead vocalist M.D.Sharbatz compelling and honest but he couldn’t do it without the secret ingredient, the incomparable Mz V. subtly reinforcing the truths of the track. Check it out below and testify…
I caught up with frontman Sharbatz to get in a bit deeper to what is Brownish Black.
Let’s get to the roots of Brownish Black, what is it about Portland that made you want to form a funk/soul band? I can’t think of any artists from that area in this genre, perhaps Pleasure.
I moved here from Metro Detroit. Maybe there’s something in that. It wasn’t my intention to play soul music, it kind of just happened. A lot of my songs have always been blues derived. I just needed a rhythm section to make ’em hop.
The obligatory and cliché question must be asked, musical heroes?
For me personally, it’s the rebellious singers. People have something to say, and we’re pissed about it. Back in high school, it was the personal/political messages of punk and hardcore bands. You know, the screamers. I also love historical music like the Irish folk songs that influenced the American folk movement of the 60’s. But for me, saying something culturally significant, whether anti-government or pro-love, it’s gotta be fun. Soul music easily allows for that. I don’t really latch onto heroes, though. I fall in love with songs.
The band started off small and has grown steadily, is the larger group easier to work with when trying to find a sound?
With a large group, it’s certainly easier to perform the sounds we come up with. The writing group of Brownish Black is small – mainly myself and bass player mub Fractal. mub always writes in broad soundscapes. We’ve never had trouble coming up with ideas, even when we were a four piece. With the horns and backup vocals, we have a much easier time realizing our visions. That first time when all the elements of the song click together and everyone starts to see the vision, that’s still a great moment.
How did these players come together?
Drummer, Ethan Boardman, and I were linked together when he moved to town and stayed at my house, on account of he and my roommate, Derek, being buds from Maine. We jamed a few times in the basement and wasted no time asking Craigslist for a band. That’s how we met mub, who had recently moved from Olympia. A few great players came and went. The band slowly grew through personal connections after that.
Over the generations some critics and music fans alike have given the raised eyebrow when it comes to a white soul singer. Any of these wobbly eyes or criticisms for BB?
Ha. No, but I’d like some. Plenty of great white boys have paved the way for me. Thanks to Mitch Ryder, Eric Burdon, Joe Cocker, and many more, most of all, The King, Elvis Presley. One thing I’m not doing is faking it on stage. I’d know if I was, and that would be the end of it.
The dynamic raw sound of a band like Brownish Black really stands out in a world of over produced pop, is there a plan outside of making the music in gaming a foothold in the mainstream?
I think I can speak for the group when I say, we intend to keep our integrity. That said, I know the main stream portions of the industry worship money and simply recycle the same pop hits over and over again. It’s not the world I want to live in. Since I’m forced to work and make money in this society, I just want to make an honest living and get what I deserve. Whatever success we see, it’ll be us in the driver’s seat, I’ll tell you that much.
Speaking of dynamics, the vocal pairing of you & Mz. V is beautiful and somewhat rare in music. How did this combination come about?
Thank you. It came seemingly effortlessly. When Mz. V joined, our differences complimented each other, naturally. Don’t get me wrong: we worked hard at it, but only to dial it in, really. We are certainly lucky to have her on the record.
The cohesiveness of the band on the new single is above all others how much of it is working it out in studio vs. what you do live?
Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to work things out in the studio. Most of what you hear has come from performing live. I like finding what works best in the moment. Not to say we don’t spend a lot of time in the basement. It’s once you’ve got the basics down, though, that you can add the flavor. A solid foundation and interesting ornamentation make for a quality song.
What can you tell us about the new album?
The new album is called “Life Lessons.” It’s almost 2 years in the making. We were able to put it together with the help of hundreds of Kickstarter supports and friends in town. It will be available in real and digital formats. The vinyl will have 10 songs, and CD and download will have 13. I can say that I am very proud of this body of work, of my bandmates and of our producer/engineer, John Neff for what we all created together. It’s a modern, original soul album. I’m hoping that with it, we can help push forward the R&B genre a little with our creative and interesting take on what has come before us. I have a good feeling that public will dig it for years to come. A lot of love went into the making of it, so I expect some to come back.
For those like myself who haven’t witnessed it explain the atmosphere at your live shows?
Each live show is a celebration. We love performing. For me, it’s all about energy, tension and release. I love to move and dance. Get the crowd riled up if I can. I love that moment when the first person or group in the audience cracks and starts moving. I love to witness a dance party unfold. I’m gonna go all out. The way I see it, you spent money to be at our show. But, you didn’t get dressed up, leave the house, get a baby-sitter, find a parking spot, probably in the rain, or whatever else, just to stand on your tired feet and watch us enjoy life. You did all that for a taste of freedom that only comes from the mind, body, music connection. With that said, I challenge all who see us live to be free for this rare, non-taxable moment of whatever you want it to be. It will be loud.
What are 5 things the world should know about Brownish Black that would blow their minds?
- We do the occasional Dolly Parton and Pink Floyd cover
- One time, a random guy in the audience offered us $300 cash to keep playing, after we finished playing our already extended set. We took the offer.
- Our tenor sax player, Stephanie Shea, is an Astrologist. For a reasonable fee, she might read your chart for you.
- One time, I met Lee Fields in PDX and gave him our 45. Only a few days later, I saw him again in Detroit and asked him if he liked it.
- We have one item on our rider, for out of town gigs. Hot tub.
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