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Kings Go Forth

27 Jul

The Milwaukee-based band Kings Go Forth is a grand endeavor, a ten-piece soul and funk group fronted by a wailing, dreaded dude named Black Wolf and organized by Andy Noble, a musician, record label entrepreneur and owner of Lotus Land Records & Tapes, an independent record store with a specialty in hard-to-find music. By the time Noble and Black Wolf (born Jesse Davis) met in 2004 at Lotus Land, both had become fixtures in the Milwaukee area- Noble’s parents owned art galleries and brought him up in the local arts and music scene, and in the 70s, Black Wolf was part of a group called the Essentials, whose main claim to fame was having recorded in Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom Studios. They began recording in 2007 and in April released their debut full-length, The Outsiders Are Back, on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label. With a range of influences from Mayfield to the Philadelphia Soul Sound to reggae, The Outsiders Are Back is a propulsive argument for classic sounds and a great rhythm section. Before their Minneapolis debut at the Cedar Cultural Center on July 31st, Cake In 15 caught up with Noble to talk about keeping control of a group, prison bands and the importance of dancing.

Cake In 15: It’s good to talk to you- I saw Kings Go Forth down at South By Southwest this March but it’s surprising that you haven’t played Minneapolis yet. I take it with the size of the band, touring must be difficult.

Andy Noble: We do as much as we can, which is not as much as other bands. There’s just a lot of dudes, and you know, everybody thinks we don’t travel because of people having jobs and families and stuff, but it’s actually because there are so many guys in the band that lot of the trips are cost prohibitive. We just canceled a trip to California in late August because we’ll get good guarantees but we’ll still lose money on it. It’s so expensive to bring 10 guys on the road that you have to be making a lot of money before you even break even.

CI15: Have you been losing money on the band so far, or found a way to break even?

AN: Definitely losing money.

CI15: Fortunately Minneapolis isn’t too far away.

AN: I know; I’m really surprised that it took us this long to book Minneapolis, but it’s going to be great to have Minneapolis in the loop. That’s something that really helps, that the band has towns we can play that aren’t a plane trip away.

CI15: With Kings Go Forth, it feels like the relationship between your music and Black Wolf’s lyrics and vocals are the driving relationship in that band. Is that the case?

AN: It’s one of them. Really, it was just kind of a basement project, we were recording songs on an 8 track recorder in the basement and they got really popular and so we had to become a real band to back that up. The way that people, the world looks at groups, they think that every group is a group and they’re hungry to go on the road and make money and that’s what you do for a living and in our case that wasn’t really correct, it was just a little basement project and it’s had to become a real band to fulfill the public I guess.

CI15: What kind of records were you and Black Wolf bonding over when you started working on the Kings Go Forth project?

AN: Well it wasn’t any specific records and if it was it wouldn’t be anything that anybody would really know. When you talk about black music history it is these epoch moments and there are so many releases. I am very focused on single releases and 45s, I am not very much of an LP oriented person. I really like to hear 2 or 3 minutes of a band. So many people are capable of making a single that aren’t capable- very few people make full length albums that are worthwhile to listen to the whole thing. So me and him bonded over our knowledge and our enthusiasm of the local music scene from that era, 60s 70s and 80s, actual soul era, golden era. Acts like the Esquires and Harvey Scales would be the really famous ones but going on from there you’re talking about [bands like] Upheaval. The [track] “Paradise Lost” on our album is a cover of a song that only 20 copies were ever made and it was a group where everyone was serving life sentences in Waupon Prison. They were Milwaukeeans and they were in prison, and the song was discovered from one known copy, so things like that, hopelessly obscure things like that. But just the concept of local heroes, no hit wonders, people who self finance things where the artists paid to make the record.

CI15: You have a wide knowledge of under-appreciated and unknown bands. In the light of that kind of music history, what kind of success do you want for Kings Go Forth?

AN: Well, honestly, I want it to get to the point where it feels like we’re steering the ship. If you have success for one of your projects it should make your life better and not worse, you know? [Laughs] And that’s tricky, because where there’s a lot of demand for what you do and there are other parties involved like managers and booking agents and clubs it gets really tough and there are other people that rely on your band for income. It’s really tricky at this point when a band is beginning to establish a name that you establish a precedent that we’re doing this to make our lives better and not worse and so really trying to have the freedom to go play shows because we want to and not because people tell us we have to, to have the freedom to write and record music because we want to and not because we have to. I honestly believe that music is a byproduct of life and that life comes first and music comes second.

CI15: With that desire to retain your own control, what was the impetus behind signing with a label?

AN: I was planning on putting out the record on our own, I was not shopping it to labels at all and so they came to us. Yale Evelev, president of Luaka Bop convinced me it would be a good idea and I like Yale and he’s really into music, he likes a lot of music that I’m really into too and Luaka Bop had a good track record in selling CDs. I am such a vinyl person that almost all my connections in distribution and sales for the record were just going to be in LP and 45, I really didn’t know too much about digital music sales or CD sales and a lot of people aren’t even buying CDs any more but Luaka Bop still has a fairly faithful CD audience which is a bonus. We retained the right to create and distribute our own singles on 45 in our contract though, so those still come out on Mr C’s, which is our own private imprint.

CI15: Who do you see as your target audience? From the promo I’ve been seeing it seems like you’re being marketed towards an indie or rock crowd as opposed to a soul audience.

AN: Anyone who makes a record, they’ll market you towards those people, I think it’s totally an economic thing, those are the people who buy the most music and go and see the most concerts, it’s not kind of a musical consideration. It works, I’m not slagging off indie music in general. There’s some of it that I like a lot, there’s some I don’t like at all, the whole gamut really, but they’re not that rhythmically oriented. Even indie dance which has been this big thing over the last ten years is really just a guy who obviously grew up in punk bands playing his version of a disco beat. It’s OK, but in our group, our rhythm section is coming straight out of Latin jazz or Afro rhythm and these are guys who really know their rhythmic stuff and have a great rhythmic sensibility, you’re coming from a lot more in-depth rhythmic place with our group and Sharon Jones and all that. Sometimes people want to sit at home and cry and listen to some indie songs and that’s fine and there’s a time and a place for that, but sometimes when people go see live music they just want to have fun.

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