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Monday, August 4, 2014

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings interview

My interview originally appeared in the Aug/Sept issue of Riverside Magazine and can be viewed at riversidethemag.com.

The band plays the Hollywood Bowl later this month; details are below. Photos by Kyle Dean Reinford. 

With computerized recording shortcuts so readily available and songs crafted by committee, finding fresh and genuine soul music can be an arduous task these days. 

Look no further than Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. The multi-racial New York City band takes an old school approach. 

“People look to us to make music that is honest and soulful,” said Dap-Kings bassist Gabriel Roth (aka Bosco Mann), from his cozy downtown Riverside mixing studio, where vocals are often done amid vintage gear. 

“One thing that sets us aside from retro acts we get compared to, is we don’t really fall into the clich├ęs of the genre…the arrangements are new. We’re not taking licks from people or putting on Afro wigs. In that way, I think it’s more revolutionary, bold and innovative than a lot of music now that people would never dare call retro.” 

Roth likens his group’s approach to punk rock labels and techno music producers. “It’s not a genre thing; it has to do with being true to your heart.” 

Sixth and strongest studio effort “Give the People What They Want” reflects Roth and the Dap-Kings’ attention to sonic detail. Dynamic first single “Retreat” finds lead vocalist Jones belting away (key lyric: “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”), “Slow Down Love” boasts a smooth luxurious groove, the jaunty upbeat sax work on “Stranger to My Happiness” recalls vintage Motown, while “Making Up and Breaking Up” is pure bliss.

Originally scheduled to come out last year, the album release date was pushed to last January following Jones’ battle with pancreatic cancer (stage 2). Fortunately, it was caught early. The front woman has a clean bill of health and the Dap-Kings began a world tour this past February. 

“She’s singing stronger and better than she ever has before…on the road, I’ve seen a really renewed and thankful [attitude], noted Roth – a two-time Grammy winner for session work on Amy Winehouse and Booker T. Jones albums (he also handles Dap-Kings production, engineering, arrangements and co-songwriting). 

Since the acclaimed band’s 1996 inception, Jones has forged a real force in concert a la Tina Turner, prone to dancing up a storm as female backing harmonies and the horn section elevates it all. 

“She has this strength, a soulfulness about her that’s almost super human,” said Roth. “When she’s up there pouring her heart out, it’s not an act. It’s very real. Through the years, we’ve had real challenging shows…and she rises like a phoenix through all of it and lays waste to the place.” 

New songs like “You’ll Be Lonely (After I’m Gone),” “People Don’t Get What They Deserve” and “Retreat” took on added resonance in light of Jones’ illness, despite being penned pre-diagnosis.

“I wrote that for Sharon because she is a fireball,” Roth said of the latter track. “There are times when you don’t want to get in her way…It’s very empowering now and about her perseverance and power; being a survivor.”

Roth, a North High School graduate and “proud Riversider” corrects anyone that refers to the old hometown as Los Angeles. As a North student, he was the drummer in a “funky blues” band.

“We’d play house parties and a coffeehouse downtown,” but nothing serious. “My sister taught me music theory as a kid and showed me chords on the piano and guitar. I used to take drum lessons at Liers Music on Magnolia Avenue (currently Music Mike’s). I learned a lot of music theory there too.

“I’ve always had a math head,” admitted Roth, who would be open to teaching high school mathematics here in the future. “I thought of everything systematically, but never really aspired to be a musician.” 

Forced to pick a major during junior year at NYU, he chose music technology. Eventually, Roth joined a friend and “crazy millionaire dude” label owner in New York specializing in reissues, compilations and bootlegs. “We started making records for fun in basements and heavy metal studios on the cheap on weekends. The first one I did was a fake kung fu soundtrack.” 

A few years later, Roth started the funk and soul-oriented Desco Records. By 2001, he and Dap-Kings saxophonist Neal Sugarman had launched the Brooklyn based Daptone Records. 

Among the more successful indie labels in America, Daptone operates from a two-level residence. Everything from recording and distribution to design is done in house. Roth produces or oversees most releases on the company’s eight act roster. The catalog includes CDs, vinyl releases on 45 and LP and even some cassettes.

Eagle-eyed fans who saw the Oscar-nominated Martin Scorsese drama “The Wolf of Wall Street” might’ve caught Jones and the Dap-Kings’ brief cameo as a wedding band. They performed the Shirley Bassey hit “Goldfinger.”

The band was asked to do two James Bond themes that were “beautiful and fun, but definitely not in our wheelhouse,” said Roth, plus some other “challenging” tunes. 

Then the film’s star Leonardo DiCaprio (“who is a cornball, by the way”) wanted the Dap-Kings to do Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 chart-topping rap novelty hit “Baby Got Back.” 

“We’d [already] spent days in the studio a month before, working hard on these other songs to lip-sync them on the set.” Roth and the musicians were surprised to be asked to return and record something else. 

“Personally, I was lucky enough to be stuck elsewhere,” he said with a grin. “But some of the Dap-Kings went and knocked it out for them.” 

SELECTED STUDIO ALBUM CREDITS 

Gabriel Roth (aka Bosco Mann); Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings 

2014 Paloma Faith, “A Perfect Contradiction”
2014 Jennifer Nettles, “That Girl”
2013 James Hunter Six, “Minute by Minute”
2013 Michael Buble, “To Be Loved”
2013 Various Artists, “The Wolf of Wall Street” soundtrack
2011 Amy Winehouse, “Lioness: Hidden Treasures” 
2011 Booker T. Jones, “The Road from Memphis” (*Grammy winner, Best Pop Instrumental Album) 
2009 Michael Buble, “Crazy Love”
2008 Al Green, “Lay it Down”
2007 Lily Allen, “Alfie”
2007 Mark Ronson, “Version”
2006 Amy Winehouse, “Back to Black” (*Grammy winner, Record of the Year) 

DISCOGRAPHY 

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings 

2014 Give the People What They Want
2010 I Learned the Hard Way
2007 100 Days, 100 Nights
2005 Naturally
2002 Dap Dippin' 

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings perform during John Legend’s Tribute to Marvin Gaye with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, 8 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Hollywood Bowl. Information: www.daptonerecords.com

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