Compiled by: Jack Foley
THE Brand New Heavies are back - and they have something important
"A lot of music in the commercial arena has become homogenised
– it looks the same and sounds the same," says drummer/keyboard
player, Jan Kincaid.
"As a result, people are looking for something with an edge
again – which is just how it was when we first started out.
"It feels like there are far more new acts now pushing things,
trying out new ideas, and I’m glad because that’s
always where we’ve felt most comfortable as a band."
Hence, the Heavies have delivered Allaboutthefunk, an album which
should serve as a wake-up call to the copycat mainstream, with
its pop pap and manufactured style that the Heavies clearly loathe.
But then they've never been interested in being a part of the
'in-crowd' - rather, creating their own.
You probably already know The Heavies’ history by now.
Founded by Jan, bassist/programmer, Andrew Love Levy, and guitarist,
Simon Bartholomew, the band was born out of the rare groove explosion
and performed their first gigs at the illegal warehouse parties
of the mid-Eighties.
Always keen to break new ground, their music has kept its faith
in the funk yet always kept it fresh and contemporary.
They were there at the very start of the acid jazz movement,
they were one of the bands who helped pioneer a distinctively
British soul/funk sound, and then they were in at the beginning
again when hip-hop and jazz came together.
Their Heavy Rhyme Experience Vol 1 album was where The
Pharcyde made their recording debut and Gangstarr got hectic.
Over their long career as a band, they’ve had four record
labels, four very different singers, 15 top 20 singles and commercial
and critical success worldwide.
But perhaps their biggest achievement is that they’re still
making music for the same reason they were when they started in
Ealing, West London, borrowing instruments from school during
the holidays and messing around in Jan’s bedroom. They’re
doing it because they love it.
This is a band built on strong friendship, strong values and
a shared passion for raw, real music. Which is why, whenever the
tide of fashion has turned against them, they’ve always
found a way to express their individual style.
"It’s not an easy thing to do, but we’ve always
been able to go back to the drawing board, rethink our whole game
plan and find another way," says Jan. "And we’ve
always done something that we believe in."
So when their ten-year deal with London Records ended, they
simply went back to basics, recording in Andrew’s converted
loft with a computer and two guitars.
They still had a deal in Japan and
put together an album featuring guest singers and rappers while
they pondered their next move.
"We started as friends, and that’s been crucial to
us surviving," says Andrew. "You can’t keep a
good band down!"
"A lot was changing in music and in the industry,"
adds Jan. "We wanted to figure out where we wanted to fit
in and how we wanted to sound.
"So we threw a lot of ideas into the pot and messed around
with them, smashed a few things up and put them back together
again. Something we’ve always been conscious of is not just
repeating ourselves and making the same record over and over again.
"Bands who’ve been around a long time tend to do that,
but it doesn’t really turn me on, musically."
Which brings us to Nicole Russo, a spunky 25-year-old from Wembley,
who grew up around music: her dad was a singer, who worked with
people like Lou Rawls and Quincy Jones.
She started playing piano at the age of four, was writing her
own songs four years later, and by the age of 15 was working professionally
as a backing vocalist.
Getting a solo deal took a little longer because, she says firmly:
"I didn’t want to be singing other people’s words
Finally, she signed to Telstar, but says her debut album was
They may have been her songs, but the end result didn’t
sound the way she conceived them.
She went to Philadelphia to start working on a follow-up with
neo-soul producer, James Poyser (The Roots, Erykah Badu, Lauryn
Hill), but with her label about to go under, she was receptive
when mutual friends suggested she meet up with the Brand New Heavies.
Especially when she realised their latest music was moving in
a similarly Philly-flavoured direction.
Nicole had been given The Heavies’ Brother Sister
album as a 13th birthday present, so she knew their work.
But she was worried that being older and having enjoyed such
success that they wouldn’t be as hungry as she was.
However, after meeting up with them she realised they were getting
together at exactly the right time.
"I was so disappointed in the way my album ended up sounding
that I was ready to push the boundaries. And these guys were wanting
to push further, try new things," she explained.
The Heavies, meanwhile, were impressed not just with her voice
but with the maturity of her song-writing.
Finally, they’d met a singer whose lyrics and melodies
could stand up to their robust rhythm tracks.
Nicole has delivered a shot of youthful energy to The Heavies
and also given them a fresh focus, a renewed sense of identity.
"We’re a band again, rather than having lots of different
vocalists, which is how we work best," says Andrew.
"We’ve never stopped, we’ve always been working,"
"We started in a bedroom just out of a love of playing music
and we’ve toured and played live ever since.
"There’s not many R&B/funk bands around that play
live in the way we do. We love jamming together, performing live.
Even the old songs get a new energy – they’ve changed
and evolved along with us."