Watching the funk, soul band Higher Hands play is like watching Olympic synchronized high divers nailing a back triple with four twists from the 10 meter platform. Vertical entry. No splash. This is a tight group of musicians. They play in lockstep. Their songs are full of syncopated rhythms, dynamics, accents, breaks, break downs... they squeeze in all the tricks that make songs interesting and different. But what stands out is how easily the music flows, despite the high degree of difficulty. To us, this is the epitome of funk.
Each time a group steps on stage, they learn something. They may play a song differently and discover it works better that way. They may get witty with their stage banter and notice the crowd's giving back more love. They may experiment with their volume and tempo to give their set a different rhythm and flow. But the bottom line is that each live performance is a chance to learn and evolve. So when a group goes on tour, the learning and evolution is on overdrive. Night after night, in one new town after another, the players adjust and experiment, figuring out what makes them go. We got a glimpse of this when we met Chicago pop rockers She's Alive on their recent east coast US mini tour.
When you look a little more closely at a musical group or the players in the group, you start to see connections. The bassist was in this other band, their record was produced by the guy who did that big hit record, they toured with that European group, and so on... A lot of what you get is random, but interesting connections always come up. When we met Baltimore area jam rockers Willie's Light recently, we found one degree of separation from The Grateful Dead. One degree!
When you think of a music scene what comes to mind? A specific place and time. A “sound”. A “look”. Venues. Groups. Creative people. Passionate fans. Collective effort. Shared love. A vibe on the street. The place to be… Usually you hear about a scene from afar or after the moment has passed. So when we stumbled across a scene in the making in the Adams Morgan district of Washington, DC, we had to go in and explore.
Musicians strive for "a sound". There's the basic desire to have a unique sonic identity. There's also the pride and satisfaction that comes when others recognize the sound. But it's not the easiest thing to pin down. It can take time to develop "a sound", and even so, there's no clear sign that it exists. But at some point a group of musicians like indie rockers stereosleep listens to what they're doing and realizes they've found their sound.