WALKING THE TIGHTROPE Budos Band

The Daptone Recs’
ten-piece branches out while retaining its signature sound.

 

BY ANDY TENNILLE

 

“It’s sorta Afrobeat, it’s sorta soul, it’s sorta funk, and
it’s sorta rock,” Jared Tankel says, pausing for a few seconds to consider his
back-of-the-tour-bus assessment of the Budos Band en route to a gig in Quebec.
“Shit, I don’t really even know what music we’re playing at this point. It’s
just us.”

 

Tankel is right, of course. With the release earlier this
month of Budos Band III, their third
full-length since debuting on Brooklyn-based Daptone Records in 2005, the
Staten Island ten-piece have cranked out authentic Afro-soul music that deftly
walks the artistic tightrope of paying homage to their musical forbearers while
simultaneously charting a course decidedly their own.

 

“We started out writing and wanting to play 10-minute-plus
arranged Afrobeat songs, but after a while, we found ourselves getting bored
playing these long songs without a vocalist, so we cut the songs down some and
found a more Afro-funk sound,” says Tankel, the band’s baritone saxophonist.
“That was really what you hear on our first record. After that came out, we got
into a really heavy listening diet of Ethiopian jazz. We also listened to a lot
of American soul. Both of those come through strong on our second album, I
think.”

 

Both slabs won widespread praise as fans and critics alike
compared the young upstarts to the likes of the legendary Fela Kuti and
Ethiopian jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke. For Daptone label chief Gabe Roth, who
produced and engineered all three Budos Band albums, all the lofty comparisons
missed the point.

 

“None of them sound anything like Fela to me,” Roth says,
“and none of them sound really Ethiopian at all, but they’re influenced by all
that stuff. If you listen to any of their music, you can hear the influences,
but none of their records sound anything like that to me. They all sound like
Budos records to me, man.”

 

For Budos Band III,
Tankel and company began writing shortly after the release of their 2007
sophomore effort and spent the subsequent two years road-testing the new songs
in front of audiences across the country and around the world. “We really used
the time on the road to hone them down, so the songs aren’t really that new to
any of us,” he explains. “But I think they really benefited from that
experience because we were able to play them out and see what worked.”

 

In January, Roth summoned the band to Daptone’s House of
Soul studio in Bushwick just as the group ended a long tour. “Those guys were
fresh off the road, so they’d fleshed out most of the songs pretty good and had
their arrangements together,” Roth remembers. “We cut it in three days. I think
we did one day to get sounds and two days of recording and overdubs. That’s
it.”

 

“Went in on a Friday night and finished Sunday afternoon,”
Tankel recalls. “That’s kinda been our style the past couple of albums.
Everyone was on point. On a couple of songs, we did only two takes and chose
between the two. It went super smooth.”

 

Roth – who normally takes charge of both the production and
songwriting for Daptone’s flagship artist, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings –
says his role changes when working with the Budos Band.

 

“Those guys know what they’re doing, so I mainly just stay
out of the way,” Roth says about the session. “I weigh in here and there on
which takes to keep, and I’ll throw out a small idea every once in a while on a
new intro or a different beat. I probably contribute a little bit of the
psychedelic stuff to it, throwing delays and other stuff in.”

 

In a lot of ways, Budos
Band III
picks up where its predecessor left off. The band’s trademark
sound remains intact, but the whole affair has a heftier feel that Tankel
credits to the band’s current listening habits. “It’s funny,” Tankel says, “we
drive around in our van, and all that the guys ever want to listen to these
days is rock music. I don’t think you could ever say a Budos Band album is a
rock record, but the drumming and bass parts on this record are definitely more
rockin’.

 

“Unbroken, Unshaven” may be the best example of the more
rockin’ Budos sound. A super heavy song with fairly straightforward guitar and
horns parts, the song is one of the simplest tunes on the record and is
indicative of where the band’s next album might fall. “When we wrote that, I
think we all recognized the emergence of a new voice,” Tankel says. “It was
like a light was turned on, and we all saw a new direction for the band to head
in.”

 

“What I like about the Budos Band is that they’ve got their
sound: they know what it is, and I know what it is,” Roth says. “It’s pretty
clear what we’re gonna do when we get together. Not that we don’t experiment
and explore when we’re in the studio, but for the most part, everyone heads in
the same direction.”

 

[Photo Credit: Kisha Bari]

 

 

The Budos Band is
currently on tour in the U.S.
Go to the official website for dates.

 

Leave a Reply