“A MELTING POT OF CULTURES, IDEOLOGIES, AND GENRES, THE SOULJAZZ ORCHESTRA HAS MADE SOME AMAZING MUSIC OVER THE LAST 15 YEARS. BLENDING RICH BRASS SOUNDS, WITH TONES OF 80S POP, DIGITAL, ANALOG AND THEIR OWN MIX OF INFLUENCES FROM VARIOUS COUNTRIES, THEY’VE NOT MANAGED TO STAND OUT OVER THE YEARS, BUT THEY’VE AVOIDED ANY RUTS ALONG THE WAY”
By OWEN MAXWELL
The band previously got attention in part from their strong criticism of the U.S. Bush administration. With their upcoming September release Under Burning Skies, expect the band to be just as critical. We caught up with keyboardist and vocalist Pierre Chrétien ahead of their new album to check in on the process behind their record and their road to international acclaim.
HOW DID YOU WANT TO SHAPE THE ALBUM MUSICALLY, ON TOP OF LYRICALLY, TO PROPERLY RESPOND TO THE DIRE TIMES?
Pierre Chrétien: On this one there’s more of an 80s feel and a little more of an electronic feel. That might be a consequence of Michael Jackson, Prince, and Rick James passing away, and getting into some of their music more. The band when we first got started was a lot more purist, brass, percussion, and keys, bringing back that James Brown kind of funk. Fifteen years later we’re thinking it might be interesting bringing in synthesizers and drum machines, the forbidden elements.
WHAT’S YOUR SECRET TO BLENDING ANALOGUE WITH DIGITAL SO NATURALLY?
Chrétien: Sometimes we wonder if it’s working or that it’s too weird but we made it work for us.
CONSIDERING YOUR POLITICAL STANCES IN PREVIOUS RECORDS CAN WE EXPECT A LOT OF FOCUS ON THE CURRENT STATE OF NORTH AMERICAN POLITICS ON THIS RECORD?
Chrétien: Of course the songs evolved during the rise of Donald Trump, the alt-right, and causes like the Black Lives Matter movement. We do tackle these topics head-on on with songs like “Dog Eat Dog” and “Holla Holla.” There’s another side to the album where we feel bombarded by politics so much that it’s nice to get a break from it sometimes, so some of the tunes are about forgetting it all for a while.
We try to keep things interesting musically too, not playing the same thing on each album so we can stay interested musically
WHAT WAS THE MOST EXCITING PART OF PULLING FROM YOUR HERITAGE AS A BAND? HOW MANY CULTURES ARE REPRESENTED THROUGH THE BAND?
Chrétien: It happens organically, there’s no saying what parts we’re blending on a song. It’s really interesting seeing the music we’re blending after the fact, it happens on a subconscious level. We had guests on this record so there were even more influences.
HOW HAVE YOU MANAGED TO KEEP THE AND INTACT AFTER 15 YEARS WHERE SO MANY BANDS ARE ROTATING PEOPLE IN AND OUT?
Chrétien: It does feel like a family after 15 years, these are my brothers and sisters. We try to keep the communications open, and of course we have our ghts, but we talk it out. We try to keep things interesting musically too, not playing the same thing on each album so we can stay interested musically.
WHAT’S BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN THIS TIME AS A BAND?
Chrétien: The big catalyst was when we put out Freedom No Go Die in 2007, and the tune “Mista President” was on there and really took o then. The CBC really played the shit out of it and it be came one of their top tunes that year. Radio Nova in Paris played it a lot, so it really became a hit in Europe, so it allowed us to do our rst tours over there. It turned us from being a local band to an international band, it really changed things.
WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP FOR YOU GUYS NOW?
Chrétien: The album’s coming out on September 22 and we do our Ottawa release show on the 23rd at Babylon. Then we take o for Europe, it’s a good month on the road with only two days o , just crazy, 10 countries, 30 days. Then back to Ontario and Quebec. In 2018 we have big tour plans, we’re hoping to go back to West Africa some time too.