For more than a decade, The Pimps of Joytime have been living up to their name and bringing the party to fans across the country. Now they are gearing up to release their new studio effort Reachin’ Up on April 15th. The album finds the Pimps swirling funk, soul, jazz and world music into their signature danceable cocktail. Lyrically, these are songs with seemingly simple messages about coming together, living in the moment, and generally embracing the positive aspects of life. Depending on your worldview, such lyricism may be unaware, naive, or exactly the kind of musical escapism we could all use these days. Giving a listen to the full album will likely affirm the latter and bring to mind the old cliche of music as medicine.
Though their lineup has shifted throughout the years, the leader and visionary has always been Brian J, the multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who also produced Reachin’ Up. At the helm of his own project, Brian J brought in singer Carol C (Si*Sé) and electric bassist Pete Shand (New Mastersounds) to enhance the vibes while also reuniting with old friends Chauncey Yearwood and Marcus Farrar (Antibalas) on select tracks. The result is an album that exudes a New Orleans R&B sound as much as it shows Brian J’s roots in Brooklyn and San Francisco, with influences of blues, Latin music, reggae, and multiple eras of funk all bubbling to the surface.
We recently caught up with Brian J about the new album, his role as producer, his approach to collaboration and more. Glide is also excited to include an exclusive premiere of a live performance of the tune “Lesson” filmed at the legendary Tipitina’s in New Orleans. The song, with its disco Western dance vibe, group harmonies, and fiery percussion, encapsulates what makes the Pimps of Joytime such a one-of-a-kind party band. It’s also the opening track on Reachin’ Up, kicking the album off with energetic zest.
In your opinion, is this album a departure from your previous albums?
Every album I do has a time stamp of what was going on in my life at the time. Reachin’ Up is unique in that I have such a great woman in my life. Carol C contributes spiritually and musically to my work, but also helps keep me stable. As an artist with erratic tendencies, a bit of stability goes a long way.
You have some pretty neat guest appearances on the album. Did you write those songs with specific artists in mind and do you approach the recording differently when you are bringing someone in?
All the features on Reachin’ Up started as instrumental drafts that I put together ahead of time. “Paradise,” the song featuring Carol C, happened because she heard one of those drafts and just claimed it – hahaha! She is a great writer and just did her thing with it. The track “Unity” featuring Chauncey Yearwood was written by myself and Carol C specifically with Chauncey’s soulful voice in mind. I love Chauncey’s voice. He’s such a wise soul and it comes through when he sings. The title track “Reachin’ Up” also started as an instrumental draft. I invited Marcus Farrar of Antibalas over and we brainstormed on it. I had most of the song written and recorded inside two hours.
Were there any specific albums or musical eras you were listening to a lot as you went into the recording of this album?
I was listening to a lot of Lord Echo, Jungle, some Fat Freddy’s Drop, I actually made a Spotify playlist with a bunch of the music I’ve been listening to. It’s called Pimps of Joytime VIBES.
As producer and band leader, what is your process like in the studio?
It varies really. A lot of Reachin’ Up was born out of these rough drafts that I laid down in a two-week studio session in 2019. I then slowly cultivated, revised and re-revised over and over ’til it was ready. Had to really stir that Gumbo til’ it was just right.
Was this album creatively collaborative or do you show up with everything mapped out and give people their parts?
I actually played most of the instruments on this one. About half the tracks have Pete Shand on bass. For the most part he will take a bass idea I have and make it better. “All I Have,” actually originated by him sending me a rough track to write vocals to. It came out so good we decided to put it on Reachin’ Up. I should also mention that Pete’s bass performance on “Giving You My Heart” is totally next level!
Your music incorporates so many different styles from around the world. Do you consciously set out to incorporate specific styles into songs or does it happen naturally?
I am passionate about a lot of music from around the world and it certainly seeps into my spirit. When I was making the drafts for this record I really wasn’t thinking very much. I’d just wake up in the morning and make a split second decision on what kind of groove and tempo to mess with and just go for it.
There seems to be a message of hope in many of these songs, which is something we all need now. Is there a specific theme linking all of these songs?
As a writing practice these days I really try and keep it positive and uplifting. Almost like positive affirmations. There are so many reasons to get dark that why not try to uplift people through the music.
Are there any other upcoming albums that you have produced that we should be excited about?
I created an alter ego project a few years ago called Gitkin. It’s a Middle Eastern and North African meets surf twang kind of vibe. I’ve released two albums and am currently at work on the third.