Recently, I had the pleasure of talking to Derrick Moss, bass drummer and co-founder of New Orleans brass band The Soul Rebels. The band, whose album Unlock Your Mind was released in January, will be appearing live in Toronto at the TD Jazz Festival on June 26th. In his distinct Nawlins drawl, Derrick shared his thoughts on traditional vs. contemporary bands, the latest Soul Rebels album, and what Toronto can expect from their upcoming show:
What inspired you and LuMar (LeBlanc) to form the Soul Rebels?
DM: Well, in the beginning, we were the Young Olympia Brass Band, which was all traditional, and was a young version [or] spin-off of the Olympia Brass Band. [They] were the older guys, and were world famous. We did that for a year or two, and in the second year, we learned all this traditional music and we were playing all of the old stuff, and we loved it…it was nice! But we were young guys, and we wanted to add a little more of a current style of music into what we were doing, so that’s how it all came about. We just started by putting a little more funky beat to some of the traditional songs, and people loved it! It made us dance, move around, do the two-step side to side, and swing around a little bit…and it grew into people liking it. So we kept it going in that direction, and it just got better and better. We wound up going into pop, and pop lead to blues, and it lead to funk. And here we are doing hip-hop and everything else in between now!
How did traditionalists, or people who were fans of that kind of “traditional” sound receive that kind of experimentation you guys were doing with different genres?
DM: Now, you have to know, this took years! The transition took years to develop. We couldn’t just dump it on them like that. We had to pick and choose our crowds and certain gigs that we would [experiment] on. [For instance], definitely not in Europe! Those people know their tradition; they know the music and the history of it, so we couldn’t do it there. We had to get home and do some clubs, or shows, or festivals with younger people that were more inclined to change, and who were already into the pop stuff. That’s how we had to do it — a little taste at a time. Then we got to the point where we would start off a show and do half of the show traditionally, and then ease into maybe blues, or a pop tune, and then to something funky. Within one year of that [we thought] “ok, now we can’t be a traditional and a funk band”.
We got to the crossroads. One of the original members of, Curtis Watson, said to the band: “we have to make a decision: are we going to be a traditional band? Or a funk band?”.
The majority wanted to be more of a new-wave, funk type [of band], so that’s the direction we went in. But we found out within that next year that there were still several people who still wanted [to play] the traditional stuff! That was another crossroads that we came to. That’s when members started changing. People who wanted to play traditional went on to play with traditional bands, and we got younger cats who were more into [playing] pop and funk. The newest member has been in the band not even a year yet! Here we are, still changing, and it’s great. We finally feel like we have the missing pieces, and the right people in place to do what we’re doing now.
Do you find that even though [Soul Rebels] have changed direction, and are incorporating more funk into the sound; that you’re actually a bridge between young people and that more traditional sound?
DM: Yes! We are! Definitely! We’ve watched that whole process over the years! I mean, we could play a gig, especially outdoor festivals, [and] there’s little babies jumping around and dancing with their grandparents! The baby might be with their grandparents, holding hands and dancing in front of the band! We’re covering all generations…from the youngest to the oldest!
Talk to us a little bit about Unlock Your Mind.
DM: Unlock Your Mind is our greatest collaboration. Within the band, it’s the greatest collaboration. On this one, almost everyone in the band has at least one song that they wrote on this album. That has never happened before. We all would collaborate on maybe one or two songs, but then there are certain people in the band that brought several tunes that we all just played and perfected. But this time, everyone brought songs, and there are some mutual ones that we all worked on together. And then we brought all these other artists that are on the CD. We’ve done that in the past, but this time it’s just more a family, in-house project that we’re very proud of.
A lot of artists today, especially in the hip-hop genre, are good at making “songs”, but they’re not too much focused on “musicianship”. What can you say about the importance of musicianship in hip hop?
DM: Well, I’m happy to see that a lot of these hip-hop artists and rappers are starting to use live musicians on stage instead of a DJ, you know? Anybody can play a record! Do people want to pay money to go to a live concert to hear somebody play records? They get that in the club! So it’s awesome to see [live musicians on stage].
I mean, I remember some years back, we opened up for A Tribe Called Quest at Baton Rouge, by LSU. We went out, a full band, with horns and drums, and we rocked out! The crowd was nice…they liked it. But as soon as we got off the stage, and these two rappers walked out in jeans and t-shirts, with a microphone in their hands, and one cat back there with two turntables, the crowd just went crazy! Soon as he played the first record!
I [said] “well, wait a minute…we just played real live stuff before their eyes and they didn’t get it! But they’re going crazy to hear this record that they could go home and play over and over! When are these young people gonna get it?”
Now…maybe because the rap and hip hop artists are getting older and wiser, they see what is really real. And with all the sampling laws, and having to pay all of these people who really wrote the music…now they see how important it is! You can make more money if you come up with your own music…so learn how to play an instrument! Make the music yourself!
I think that’s the change now…they want money. The money is in owning everything that you do, and creating your own. I think making more money is driving these [artists] to make their own music now.
Right. It helps them on a business level and a create level?
What can Toronto expect from the Soul Rebels Show at the TD Jazz Festival on the 26th?
DM: Expect to come have a great time, shake your butt, jump up and down, go down to the floor and back up! Wear your easy, comfortable clothes and your good walking shoes! Or your running shoes! Or no shoes at all! We’re gonna have you get a good workout on and you won’t even know it! By the end of the show…your shirt might be wet like mine!
So they should dress to sweat?
DM: Oh yeah! But it’s that good sweat. I like to see people that have a little moisture on the front of their collar…or a little wet stain down their back. I go to shake their hands! That’s what I look for.
Thanks again to Derrick Moss of the Soul Rebels for chatting with Bad Perm! Be sure to check out The Soul Rebels at the TD Jazz Festival in Toronto on June 26th. For more info about the band and their latest album, check out their website, or follow them on Twitter at @SoulRebelsNOLA.
—A. Harmony (Twitter: @AHarmonyMusic)