Published on May 9th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Stereo Reform’s Dance-Funk Jam Lands on the Future
Greenville-based funk-rockers Will Evans and Neil Turner felt slightly lost and off-track a few years ago. After forming Stereo Reform as a guitar-based trio in the Upstate, they relocated to Charleston, then to Los Angeles, and then back to Greenville. On stage and in studios, they tinkered with their music, adding disco beats, soul brother harmonies, dance-pop accents, and heavy riffage, but they never quite hit it right — until recording their latest album, a spellbindingly funky collection titled The Future Started Yesterday.
“I think we’ve finally landed where we’ve aiming for years,” says Evans, who mostly handles guitar and keys in the band. “We’ve been digging for a specific sound, one where our different influences are present. The sound we had when we recorded our first album, Robots of Evolution, in Los Angeles in 2008 was pretty raw. We’d only been a band for about a year, so we were still developing things. The sound was kind of thrown together at that point. More straightforward. The engineers out there were not into our ideas of adding synth at all — like, ‘If you can’t reproduce it live, don’t put it on the record.’ We’ve definitely added things and experimented over the years.”
Last year, Evans and Turner hooked up with the Atlanta-based, Grammy-nominated production team of Bravo Ocean, comprised of veteran engineers and studio musicians Nick Chahwala and Charles Malone. Stereo Reform scheduled the The Future Started Yesterday sessions with them at Triangle Sound and Namaste Studios, owned by acclaimed producer Tricky Stuart.
“We’d met up with several studios and producers about recordings, and the Bravo Ocean guys were the last ones we ran into,” Evans says. “They turned out to be the best fit. We explained what we wanted, which was to take this vision we had and blend it with organic and modern elements. They really got that on The Future Started Yesterday and understood what we going for. We trusted them, and they nailed it.”
Between the velvety disco groove of “Fire” and the cross of soul man swagger and pounding, robotic beats and electro-rock on “Lights Out Mama,” the production quality feels modern and lively, with hints of ’70s-era rawness. Detectable influences include elements of Quincy Jones’ earliest Michael Jackson sessions, George Clinton’s brassy work with Bootsy Collins and Red Hot Chili Peppers, anything from Prince’s vast catalog, and Nile Rodgers crisp recordings with Chic and Diana Ross. There’s a touch of hip-hop and Danger Mouse’s Gnarls Barkley and Gorillaz stuff, too.
Turner chimes in, “We actually didn’t try to model the production style after any specific album, although we loved the guitar placement and tones on certain Quince Jones records, like Off the Wall. Really, there are a ton of different sounds that we liked from a hundred classic records and singles. We discussed different drums sounds and bass sounds. At the end of the day, the Bravo Ocean guys were hot-shots who got the job done really well.”
“I think 80 percent of what you hear on the album was from pre-recorded tracks that we brought in,” Turner adds. “We spent about seven months in pre-production before we went in, recording a lot of the instrumentation and vocals. We gave them [the engineers] everything they needed. Charles Malone was a real synth master who could stack lead lines and take things into a new direction. Nick Chahwala acted as the main producer, and he pushed up to consider the overall sound and guided us to try new things.”
The Future Started Yesterday officially hits the street on May 13. Stereo Reform celebrates with a CD Release Party at the Pour House this weekend with support from local funk band Wadata and Atlanta’s Electric Sons. Stereo Reform’s touring drummer Joe Tamburro will be on hand, as will guest keyboardist Greg Wallace.
If Evans and Turner were learning how to tour and get the most sound they could out of a three-piece set-up a few years ago, they have it all down to a science nowadays.
“I think it’s cool that this record doesn’t sound like typical rock three-piece,” Turner says. “I think a lot of people might wonder how we’ll pull this off on stage after hearing the new record, and I think that’s really cool. We might have one or two special guests join us on stage, but we’re playing out as a trio with no horn section or dance troupes.”
“It took us a while to figure out how to properly embrace technology and take it out and make it work for us on stage,” Evans adds. “We have stuff popping in and out, and we have to be very tight and well prepared for everything. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work, and there’s a lot of shit going on. It can easily get out of control. But I don’t think that it’s too over-the-top during the performances. We’re up there playing, singing, and triggering everything. It’s like having a little extra backup.”
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