From the Clubs of Leeds
Individual Strengths, Obama & Amsterdam with the New Mastersounds

Words by Audra Tracy

New York, New York — While the groove daddies are on holiday, the Waster talks with drummer Simon Allen and guitarist/producer Eddie Roberts about their individual strengths, Obama, playing in Amsterdam, and their craziest UK nightclub story.

After watching an old episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, it became clear that each member of any ‘gang’ fills a role that benefits the group as a whole. For the New Mastersounds, four musicians from Leeds make up one funky-ass dynamic. So who’s got the brains? The muscle? Who’s the wildcard of the band?

“I have the best formal education, read the most and speak the most languages”, Allen pipes in. “Pete (Shand, bass) is totally ripped and would be forced to defend the rest of us in a fight. Joe’s (Tatton, Hammond organ) probably the wild card – the quiet, unassuming, pensive keyboardist is sometimes known for his out-of-character outbursts!” Which leaves Roberts, the fearless leader of vintage funk exploration. “Eddie has the musical vision and direction, the production skills and the optimism”, Allen says. “And the radio-friendly voice.”

NMS keeps a room moving like a solid dance party should. Their sound is a steady, up-tempo joyride through channels of soul, Afro-beat, jazz, and old school funk. The quartet from England learned to make floors shake by gigging between DJ sets in Leeds, a city once revered as the ‘clubbing capital of the world’. Preferring that warm vinyl hum, the band also put out a number of 7″ singles, and soon DJ’s started sampling NMS records in their own live sets. Today the band has collaborated with some of the DJ scene’s biggest stars, from Keb Darge to Lack of Afro to Mr. Scruff.

Basically, The New Mastersounds were bred to put on a party. If they can’t get you off the barstool, then you probably just hate having fun. When asked about their craziest gig at a UK club, Roberts recounts the night of the stage-crashing bachelorettes. “The bride-to-be was sporting a 4 foot inflatable penis”, he describes, “and as she moved about the tiny stage she was unknowingly knocking members of the band into the audience!”

“I think we all feel that Leeds has lost its title at the moment”, Roberts diverges. “Most of the good clubs have struggled, and many closed over the last few years.” So when the party stops at home, what’s a British funk band to do but turn transcontinental. They’re the first to admit there’s a small market for meaty funk in the UK, but they have been well received across the U.S. jamband scene. NMS has made the festival rounds at Jam Cruise, High Sierra, moe.down, and Equifunk, to skim the surface. In 2009 they recorded two nights Live In San Francisco, sold out New York’s Bowery Ballroom, and released the full length Ten Years On.

“I do feel that the rest of the world has a much more positive view of Americans than when Bush was president”, he asserts. “At that time the world thought, ‘what kind of people would choose someone like that to represent them?’ The opposite now applies.”
– Eddie Roberts on President Elect Obama

“It’s not a wild departure from our previous funky form”, Allen says of the album, “except that it features a bit more piano than usual, and even a bit of Moog. We also have guests we’ve not recorded with before”, he adds. They share their new record with good company, including Chip Wickman on flute (“Chocolate Chip”) and Seattle’s scariest saxophonist, Skerik (“OOOM”). The CD also hooks you up with a bonus track featuring Grace Potter on vocals. “She lent us her song to cover”, Allen says, referring to the band’s reinterpretation of Potter’s “Nothing But Water”.

We Americans love our tasty jams, and these gracious guys are giving the people what they want. But what does the band want? What is their ultimate funk show fantasy? “We would have a lighting designer who knew our material as well as we do and could jam with us”, Allen envisions. “We would always have the right backline, including a B3 with two Leslie speakers for Joe. We’d fly guests over from the UK – Sam Bell on percussion, the Haggis Horns, Chip Wickham, and maybe vocalists Cleve Freckleton and Sulene Fleming, who were guests on our first album.”

Since they are spending so much time in the U.S. these days, this writer was compelled to get a little political. Does the UK love Obama as much as we do? “We actually flew from the UK into NYC the very day Obama was voted in, and we were very excited”, Roberts recalls. “I do feel that the rest of the world has a much more positive view of Americans than when Bush was president”, he asserts. “At that time the world thought, ‘what kind of people would choose someone like that to represent them?’ The opposite now applies.”

Roberts adds, “then there’s the obvious-yet-powerful fact that a country built on slavery and injustice toward its natives has voted for Obama based on his abilities rather than his ethnic origins.”

Up next is a string of dates in Japan, Spain, and the UK, followed by a stop in Amsterdam for the Jam in the Dam festival with Les Claypool and Umphrey’s McGee. “It only takes 50 minutes on a plane to get there from our home town Leeds”, Roberts explains. “We’ve actually played the Melkweg before, but something tells me this is going to be a completely different experience. We’ll be flying in from the U.S. at the end of a two-week tour, so we really will be on fire.”

In terms of band dynamics, these guys are stacked for 2010. They’ve got the musical muscle, the DJ’s respect, a new jamband family, and our backing vote. Good things are happening for the New Mastersounds, and they may be on a path to finding their own idea of an American dream. | UK