CF: Where did the inspiration to form DopeGems come from and how did the band come together?
I’ve always listened to funk and rap music, actually my father was big on hard bop, I grew up on Hank Mobley, Cannonball Adderley, that type of hard drivin’ jazz shit, so it always was, somehow, about that street music thing. Listenin’ to WeFunkRadio on CKUT was a big help in discovering all that “rare vinyl” type shit, then of course I met DJ Skeez from my hometown and Jeremy UndergroundParis who were avid collectors of dope vinyl.
The thing is, as much as I loved that music, the idea of doin’ such a band wasn’t very clear at all at first, I was more into creatin’ a hardcore boogie funk on bass, which I’ll do eventually. It really was because during a pop gig I was playin’ bass on, the drummer, Yragael, told me he could play vibes, and next thing you know I had this idea of creating a band devoted to that late 70s jazz-funk sound because with vibes in the equation a whole range of sonic textures opens up to you in terms of arrangement.
CF: You’re mainly influenced by 70s Jazz & Funk, which are some of the bands from that period that really stand out for you?
Definitely Pleasure and Kool & the Gang. Those Ohio bands like the Players and Faze-O had some mean jazz cuts too. Some jazz-rock cats too, like late 70s Dexter Wansel, or Lenny White, but I love the richly orchestrated Philly Soul and late 70s film music too like Dave Grusin‘s stuff. It’s hard to say because our sound is really more session musicians than actual bands.
For example, I’m very influenced by Fred White, the drummer from Earth, Wind & Fire, but our music doesn’t sound EWF at all. In general, I think I’m more drawn towards that deep, gangster type sound that goes from Mizell Brothers to Lonnie Liston Smith.
CF: Are there any bands active today that inspire you?
To be honest, not really. I mean, there’s a lot of bands I dig and I go out to lots of concerts, but if we’re talking about what we’re trying to do with DopeGems… there’s a ton of the early 70s soul-funk stuff, which is great, but the late 70s / early 80s stuff is not really well represented in my opinion. I’m really more inspired by what is hot in rap music right now. For example, last year, there was this A$AP Mob joint, ‘Bath Salts’ that sampled a totally obscure OST (Sonny Carson) in a really insane way, and I was like, damn this shit is hot ! That’s where my inspiration really is for DopeGems.
CF: What’s your creative process like in the studio? How do you go about re-arranging the classics you’ve chosen to cover?
First of all, I need to decide if the track is doable or not. Sometimes, there’s gonna be a horn part that just won’t sound right, or too many elements or the vocal is too bluesy and raw and won’t translate well into our genre. Many times I need to find tricks to complete the arrangement cause I try to be extremely close to the original arrangement, otherwise you’re just cutting corners. I’m gonna be like “hmm, if I add a mu-tron on the guitar, it can sound like that little muted trumpet part on the OG”, stuff like that.
We’re only 5 guys, so when you have sometimes bands with 15 musicians or even a symphonic orchestra on the OG, it can get pretty hectic to try to play everything right. Once everything is perfectly clear in my head and I’ve decided what instrument is gonna play what notes, i’ll write everything down to sheet music and give it to musicians: then we’ll book studio time and record it live.
CF: Have you recorded any original pieces that we should be aware of? If not, is that something that you’d like to work on in the future?
From the very start it was extremely clear that DopeGems was dedicated to playing shit nobody performs live today. Coming from a jazz and rap background, recycling and playing stuff from others has always been perfectly normal for me. In bebop music, you don’t care if it’s “original compositions”, you just play tunes and nobody gives a fuck if they’re yours or someone else’s, they just wanna hear you play the shit with your vibe.
It would be counterproductive to turn it into some kind of ego thing were I would prove to people I could compose music (wich I do in other projects), like I would copy the style of the era and then pretend I’m doing something new: because we would inevitably end up unconsciously mimicking a couple of bands we particularly like. Instead, playing such a wide range of “standards” forces you to find your own sound, and that’s what’s important.
Some people talk about “covers”, but to me a cover band is a band that plays Top 40 tunes like U2 and shit like that. When you play stuff that is never played live and most people don’t know, I don’t really think it’s the same thing. Funniest shit is, we had a very famous french jazz critic awarding us 4 out of 5 star in a well known paper, saying “the compositions are well-made”! Apparently he didn’t even realize it wasn’t ours, which was pretty hilarious to us !
You have to be humble at some point and be like, “hey, let’s play that era of music”. I mean, if I like Beethoven and want to play Beethoven, it would be totally ridiculous to compose like Beethoven just to pretend you’re composing, right? Just play Beethoven right away. Why would it be different with any other composer?
CF: What do you normally listen to at home? What are 3 of your favorite albums past or present?
I listen to a lot of rap music, gospel and Detroit techno most of the times. I’ll give you 3 albums off the top off my mind:
CF: Are there any plans to bring in any vocalists to work with the band?
Yes there is, our next EP will feature a killer female vocalist. I was very, very precise in selecting a vocalist for the band, but I think I’ve found the perfect match. So the band will be best of both worlds now: half instrumental muscle and half vocal sensuality.
CF: Your debut album Necksnappin’ just came out, what’s in store for the rest of the year and beyond?
We’re playin’ some gigs and mostly very busy in the studio recording that new EP and we already have two concepts for the next albums, including a special movie-centric performance with VJing. We’re just gettin’ started and still have a lot to prove! The reaction has been overwhelming from the music fans so far, but convincing the traditional concert circuit is something else because we don’t fit in any of the usual grids they have: we’re too jazz for the groove scene, too groove for the jazz scene, and so on. But I’m confident all we gotta do is keep on pushin’ because there is indeed a strong demand from the audience for this type of music.