Inspired by the 70’s funk and groove of Jimmy McGriff, Groove Holmes, and The Meters, jazz guitarist Eddie Roberts and drummer Simon Allen have been striving for nearly 10 years to hone their sound and refine it to something that moves dance floors in a way that few other instrumental bands can.
They began life as the guitar centric Mastersounds before quickly realizing that the sultry churning of a Hammond B3 was essential to the sound they were looking for. Though the band only lasted a couple of years and recorded one single, it laid the foundation for a long standing musical relationship between the two. Roberts and Allen struck out on their own and soon crossed paths with Hammond player Bob Birch and bassist Pete Shand; The New Mastersounds were born and the search was over.
The sound that Roberts and Allen had been searching for is a tight mix of Jazz and Funk that comes to life in the hands of these talented players. While there is ample evidence of the band member’s fondness for Jazz in their sound, the groove that is laid down by the rhythm section of Shand and Allen is what holds the whole thing together and keeps the wheels on when Roberts stretches out in Jazz laced solos.
Though they are based in Leeds, England the Roberts claims that the US is the most promising market for the band. They have been playing club nights and gigs around the UK since their inception in 2000 and though things have always gone relatively well, the scene can’t support them playing more than three or four times a year in the major cities. As a result, they were forced to hop the channel early on and expose the music fans on the continent to their sound. It was touch and go for a while but recently things seem to be picking up a bit for The New Mastersounds as the band continues to tour there regularly. “We are having more records released in Europe these days. There are more labels taking an interest and actually starting to license our albums for the individual countries rather than before when we were releasing them on a UK label and selling them on Import into the different European countries which is harder obviously because there is nobody on the ground selling it for you,” said Roberts in a recent interview with Listen Up Denver! from his home in Leeds.
The increased exposure of the bands sounds around Europe has paid off with Italian label Record Kicks taking some serious interest in the band. Record Kicks knew that The New Mastersounds tight funk-based sound would be perfect for the clubs if it were remixed by some of the scene’s best DJs. “They approached us saying ‘we’d like to release a remix album, how ‘bout it?’ We were like ‘yeah great,’” Roberts said. “Then they asked us if we could sort it out and we kinda turned it back on them because we’ve tried to get remixes done in the past and it is difficult because everyone is so busy and to pull a project like that together takes so much time and effort. It’s just not our thing. We were busy making a new album and touring and everything so we told them they could run with it and we would be happy to provide all the tracks and send them out to who ever wants to do what. They ended up pulling it together and it was relatively easy for us as I just had to dig out all the separates for every track and get them out.”
It wasn’t until the project was finished that Roberts got to hear the result and as chance would have it he heard it in exactly the right setting the first time. “We were in France I stayed at the bar late night having a few drinks after our set and Simon [Allen] had given a copy of the album to the DJ who ended up just putting it on. I was talking and all of a sudden I was like ‘I know this tune,’ and I didn’t realize he had put the album on so back to back there were all these tunes I knew and I was getting so confused,” laughed Roberts. “It was really nice to hear it in the club environment which is what it is made for as opposed to hearing it at home for the first time. The dance floor was full and people were just going for it. They weren’t batting an eyelid and they were dancing like it was all different music and it was only really me that knew what was going on.”
While in the U.S. the music of The New Mastersounds is largely heard only when they are in town and up on the stage, in other parts of the world things are different and their music is part of the aural fabric of the club scene. “With all the 7” singles and the vinyl that we have put out, a lot of DJs around the world have our music and you can be in a club anywhere and all of a sudden a couple of tracks come on and you go ‘huh, this is us,’ and you see everyone dancing,” said Roberts. “That’s how I learnt my production sound. It was being in a club and hearing a track come on and saying ‘uh I wish I put more bass on that or I wish I’d pressed it a bit louder.’”
In many ways the role of a funk band like The New Mastersounds in the UK is one of a DJ and it is up to the live sound engineer to push the bass or the volume to satisfy the demands of the party. “The places we tend to play in the UK there is usually only one band on the bill with DJs on before and after us. We are there to play for an hour and a quarter and that’s it,” Roberts said. “That’s really where our sound has come from. The dance floor is already going and we have to slam it for an hour and a quarter and give them something extra compared to what the DJ is giving them. When we’re done we give it back to the DJ and the people carry on dancing for another 3 hours or more and we usually go out and join them.”
When playing the stages of the US The New Mastersounds are looking to pack the dance floors in the same way, but, without the benefit of a DJ to help out, they have to shoulder the load and play extended sets to the delight of their rabid American fan base. “We have always found it weird when we can to The States and all of a sudden when the band stops everyone leaves,” said Roberts. “We have obviously had to rethink our one and a quarter hour sets because you can’t just go out there, play for an hour and have everyone leave. So we started to get into this thing where we’d play longer and longer and it got all the way up to four hours one time just keeping the dance floor going all that time, like a DJ would.”
In order to keep up that kind of intensity it is critical that the band work well together as a unit. There is a certain “group-think” that is required to move the music into the territory that the beat hungry dancers out on the floor insist on. In late 2006 the band parted ways with long time Hammond B3 player Bob Birch, who had left the band to focus more on teaching and settle down a bit, and he was replaced by another Leeds local and friend Joe Tatton. “Joe [Tatton] fits in well because he knows where we are coming from musically and he has played with all of us at one time or another. He is also familiar with the DJ funk scene that we are coming out of as he has been around it as well,” said Roberts.
After Tatton joined up with the band The New Mastersounds toured for nearly a year before deciding that it was time to refocus the band’s sound and get back to the deep funk roots that they had started out in search of. They parted ways with horn player Rob Lavers who had joined them on the road on recent tours, and set to work re-discovering the group-think the quartet needed to thrive. “You’ve got to get the four piece right and really working, and then you can add things on top of it,” Roberts said. “We just felt that we needed to pull it back again and really concentrate on the sound of the four. So we did a lot of work on our European run in the fall, in sound-checks and things like that; just getting the sounds right and rearranging some stuff.”
On their last pass through the states in November, Roberts felt like things were hitting on all cylinders. “Everything was feeling really exciting and fresh again. The show in Denver, with Mofro, was one of our musical highlights as a band. We slammed it! Everything fell into place and it just felt great.”
The band has recently re-entered the studio to try to capture the new-found energy on tape for an album that is currently slated to be released in late spring. If Roberts’ enthusiasm about the bands current sound is any indication, we can expect another collection of the finest in nu-jazz and funk that the scene has to offer. Until then, The New Mastersounds will continue to hone their sound, road test new compositions and fill dance floors at clubs from California to Colorado during a ten date tour this month.
Check Out The New Mastersounds If You Like:
- The Greyboy Allstars
- The Meters
- Papa Grows Funk