What happens when some of the finest purveyors of soul music in the modern era team up for an album? The Olympians, that’s what. With the venerable Daptone Records behind it, this all-star cast of musicians features members of Charles Bradley, The Dap-Kings, Menahan Street Band, Budos Band, Tonight Show Band, Lee Fields, El Michels Affair, The Arcs, Sugarman 3, and the musical Director for Steely Dan and David Byrne. Despite the massive roster of talent, there are no egos on display across the album’s eleven instrumental tracks, which will be available as the band’s self-titled debut on October 28th. Named after planets and constellations, these tunes capture a group of musicians functioning as a unified whole dedicated to crafting exquisite soul music that would be at home in a nightclub in the 60’s. There is something authentically retro yet not at all cliche or novel on The Olympians, and it comes from a group of musicians who understand the power of a big, finely tuned band. As a listener, it’s hard not to wonder how amazing this album would sound with a fine tuned soul singer like Charles Bradley or Sharon Jones, and perhaps this is only the beginning of bigger things to come. Glide Magazine recently talked about The Olympians with Toby Pazner, who is also the manager and keyboardist of Lee Fields & The Expressions, and we are excited to share an exclusive listen of the tune Mars.
You formed The Olympians from members of both The Dap Kings and Charles Bradley’s band. Both of them are battling cancer now – does this project hold a certain significance in your mind?
I’m friends with both Sharon and Charles, having played with them live and on their albums. I know it’s been a difficult battle for them both. It’s a hard road but I hope they will beat it soon. For me it is just an honor to be on the same label as these incredible singers.
Why do you feel Daptone has been able to stay a step above in terms of quality when it comes to producing soul records?
Daptone is a rare label that prides itself on putting out great music that it loves. They have a great team of people that they work with who share that same passion. It has a complete family vibe that allows the label to grow talent from within. I’m fortunate to be a part of it.
Where do we draw the line between what Daptone is putting out sounding retro and making instrumental soul that is modern in its own respect?
It is a hard line to walk. Obviously Daptone’s music and my own is heavily influenced by legends from the past, but whose music isn’t? I feel the difference in this particular album is the boundaries being pushed in terms of arrangement, instrumentation and composition. I tried to use not only the great musicians at my disposal but the art of recording itself to add to a different sound. From the beginning I set out to push the boundaries on this and try to find a different angle and way to make the album.
Was it tempting to have possibly Sharon or Charles on a track or too?
I would love to work with either one. However, they both have tremendous producers in Gabe Roth and Thomas Brenneck and that is a dynamic I wouldn’t want to get In the way of. I’m just happy to hear what they put out next! I hope to find a singer to collaborate with them in the future. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Lee Fields on songwriting and it is a process I truly enjoy.
What’s it like working with Gabriel Roth and Neal Sugarman? They seem to have a vision of soul music that is above and beyond what anyone else is doing.
I met Gabe and Neal back in the late 90’s when I was a teenager backstage at what were the first Antibalas shows. From the beginning they both have had an immense knowledge of writing, producing, and engineering, yet a great feel for the business side of music. That ability allows them to put out the most choice records. They also have a forward looking vision that allows them to look ahead from what may be in style at the time and try to find what sounds good.
How did Michael Leonhart get involved in this? He’s been doing the Steely Dan thing for so long which shares some common musical ground with The Olympians but not the gritty club soul vibe?
Mike is a good old friend of mine. We worked together first on albums for El Michels Affair, then later Lee Fields and Aloe Blacc. We’ve crossed paths several times and continue to work together today. He has an amazing sound and approach to the trumpet that gives the songs he plays on a very melodic and smoother feel. He’s also a great guy to hang with.
It’s been said you acquired the best microphones, tape machines and recording equipment you could lay your hands on. What was the process of finding this and how did you acquire it?
It was a lot of trial and error. I spent some time reading about recordings I liked and how they got sounds. I would buy mics I had seen used in other studios. Gabe Roth was also very helpful. He pointed me in the right direction on a couple things, especially when I would run into issues in the studio. He was also kind enough to lend me one of his tape machines.
Listen to Glide’s exclusive premiere of “Mars”:
How quickly did the music on the album come together and what was the most difficult part of making the album a reality?
The album really came together after a dream I had in Greece. Strange as it may sound, a vision appeared to me and advised me to build a new studio and tell the story of the ancient Olympians through song. It was a very strange dream indeed so I ignored it. Yet it came again and again until I thought it best to follow that path. It actually helped focus the project and guide the sound and instrumentation.
The biggest difficulty about the recording process was getting everyone in the studio. Everyone involved including myself are extremely busy and finding the time to get them in was challenging, but we got it done.
Any chance we can see The Olympians live soon?
I would absolutely love to. I think it would make for an amazing live show. Just need to find a stage big enough for all the musicians.
The Olympians will be out on Daptone Records October 28th. For more info visit daptonerecords.com/theolympians.