00 SOUL SERVE UP SPICEY SOUL FLAVORS
By J.C. Tripp
Some things, like cocktails, food and music, are all about the mix of ingredients. And it´s the mix of its member´s musical histories, cultures and influences that makes Long Beach’s OO Soul (Double-O-Soul) the groovey outfit it is. Reflecting the cultural and racial mezcla of its Southern California home, the band’s members represent a broad range of experience, culture and age. The band´s 8 members have played in seminal funk, jazz, experimental and punk bands stretching as far back as the seventies–an era who´s influence on OO Soul´s sound is strong.
For anyone with a sense of underground music history OO Soul´s members have played a part in several recent movements. Drummer Troy Howell came out of the hardcore punk and paisley underground scene, playing in such bands as the Salvation Army and later the Three O´Clock. Bassist Steve Armstrong, from the seminal funk band Sol, joined the band early on. And sax-flautist Jack Fulks has played with the likes of Roy Porter, Billy Higgins and Garbo Szabo. Trumpetist Hank Ballard Jr. has worked with War, Lonnie Smith and Theodore Wilson, and the list goes on. Says Howell, in a recent phone chat, of this wide mix, “It´s a very diverse band. We come from all creeds and colors and age ranges. When the band first started we had some kids in the group, now we´re a bunch of old guys, but we still kick it.
That’s a wide gap for a group to bridge, but 00 Soul manage to put their diversity to work, combining tight musicianship, fresh ideas and funky arrangements into the perfect soul stew. There´s a strong nod to their influences in 00 Soul´s sound: a blend of soul, jazz, latin and soundtrack, without going too retro. As founding member, guitarist Ian Yater explained, “The hard part is not to be a retro band, you know? Even though it is, we try not to be. Our sound happens to be what everyone in our group likes and so it just comes out in that way. Its not like were trying to copy an old style or anything.”
It’s this diversity of influences and depth of experience that make 00 Soul one of the funkiest and tighest outfits playing out live. Like New York City´s Groove Collective, the band are in a category of their own making and are a big draw on the SoCal scene. Since forming in 1994 by DJ Gary Tesch and guitarist Yater, the band has been an innovative and popular force on the scene.
And whereas DJ-based bands are now common, combining loops with live instrumentation then was definitely a new thing. The genesis of 00 Soul was a humble attempt to make electronic music more organic, as Yater explained in a recent pre-rehearsal phone chat. “From the start it was trying to make dance music. We wanted to make music that you could dance to that wasn’t electronic. At the time there wasn’t anything I liked. Now there’s lots of stuff I like. But that’s why I started this thing: ‘I want to go dance but there’s nothing I like’. But, with all of our influences with Afro-beat, and Brazilian and a lot of latin and we just mixed it all together with all of our hip hop likes.”
The SoCal acid jazz “scene”, which blew up to give birth to 00 Soul as well as bands like the Galactic and Greyboy has since moved on. 00 Soul have evolved as well, growing from a three-member outfit to a full-fledged band. Gone is DJ Gary, who played a considerable role in forming the band’s early sound but who’s role seems to have stagnated as the “band” became a Band. Now technology isn’t such an important element in 00 Soul’s sound. “When it first started it was me and Gary with samplers. I was writing songs with samples because I couldn’t work the drum machine so I got a sampler to sample drum loops that I liked. And he would come up with loops and would write a song around a loop. And that went like that and some of the loops we would never use and some were just a noise that kept some kind of tempo. But that doesn’t happen anymore. Since he’s gone, especially, but even when he was here for the last few years of his time he wasn’t putting in any of the technology into it in the songwriting process. It was more of an after thought. We would write songs and he would put his stuff into it,” said Yater.
If technology is no longer a big part of their live show, it has certainly been useful in putting their self-released CDs out. The recordings, both done on low budgets and with home studios, have garnered them an international following–without ever having toured outside of their state. For their debut recording, “The Solid Sounds of the 8-Piece Brotherhood” the band hooked up with Chris Fuhrman, who was a big fan of the band. ”He really saw that he could do something with us. So, he cut us a nice deal but we really didn´t give him a chance to produce us because we had our own ideas about what we wanted. He was amazed, he said we were the first band that ever cared so much themselves for what they sounded like.” If the results were less than the band expected, nobody noticed. “The Solid Sounds of the 8-Piece Brotherhood” received stellar reviews and still sounds fresh.
For their second CD, the aptly titled “All Brothers, Different Mothers”, the band really took charge. “On the second CD we just did it ourselves. We just kept it low key and with friends equipment. We just recorded recorded the drum and bass tracks in our garage. We had one of those Roland digital recorders and everyone took it home and did their own part. I just did all my guitar parts at home on my own. Then we took that to a friend´s studio down the street and had him put it to tape, which warms it up.
And with 8 members contributing their opinions, how exactly does OO Soul create music? Well, democracy still exists somewhere, as Yater explained. “There´s probably three schools within our band and they all mesh together. There might be three of us that totally understand where ´someone is coming from and the other people dont even get it at all, even if you explain it. But they have their own vision and we we just give and take and what happens happens.”
Their songwriting process is basically jamming, which the do in twice weekly sessions. “I would say at least half of our songs are from us jamming and everyone in the band can tell that ít was cool. And we just keep working on it, you know?”, said Yater.
The process is exemplified by the standout song “Arroz Con Grandules”, an infectious latin groove from the second CD. “Well, that was just a jam. I don´t know if it was me doing that lick or Mike Vasquez coming up with the latin drum feel. But I had that guitar lick and it sounded somewhat latin so we just took it that way. And the song was pretty much done and Mike came up the lyrics. Every new song now has some lyrics to it and it is always an afterthought. After Mike listens to it and hears it he´s like ´I got an idea for some words to it.´
Samples also play a part in the process. “Sometimes we name a song after the sample that´s in it. We still call the song by the name of the main sample and we´ll have to change it to put it on the CD.”
With two CDs under their belt, one would think OO Soul would be touring heavily to promote them. With a strong international following and outlets like Dusty Groove and Amazon selling their releases, a tour would seem a must. But 00 Soul seem perfectly content with their SoCal presence, only occasionally venturing out of the hometown. ”We are not really pushing ourselves too hard because we have local shows and make good money,” said Yater.
“It is hard to get everybody in our band to go on the road and if you want to take a band further that´s what you have to do. And a lot of the members have families so we´ve accepted that we can´t do that. So, we just do what we can do, playing songs and doing our gigs.” A Southern California attitude if there ever was one.