We pull from R&B, 1970s funk, psychedelia, and just any music that makes you want to move and dance.
San Francisco sound sensation Con Brio is seven musicians who play music that returns to the heydays of deep soul, funk, and the sweaty, live rock tradition reminiscent of pioneers like Sly and the Family Stone and James Brown. In today’s prepackaged world of synthetic studio creations, they’re the real deal. I caught up with front man and vocalist Ziek McCarter, in transit in a noisy van on the band’s trek from New York City to Kingston, NY, on their Birds of Paradise Tour. The band is touring behind their latest release Paradise, produced by Mario Caldato, Jr. (Beastie Boys, Beck, and The Dandy Warhols).
What does San Francisco mean to you as a city and as an inspiration for your music?
Definitely a great deal. My grandmother has lived in the Filmore District since the 1950s. I’m from Texas and I always wanted to live there, especially after visiting several times. I finally moved here six years ago and I feel liberated; on a day-to-day basis, I can really express myself. There’s an electronic and jazz music scene there that inspires us. Tower of Power, Sly, and all that rich musical history comes from the Bay Area, too. It’s the city where I feel like I’ve always belonged.
Do you feel like your sound and approach harken back to the ’60s and ’70s?
I think that’s our sound totally and we study up on it, and we really don’t have to go back that far. We played with Sly and the Family Stone band, but Sly wasn’t there. I got to get up on stage and do a number: “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” They were an influence for sure. We pull from R&B, 1970s funk, psychedelia, and just any music that makes you want to move and dance.
You tour nonstop. How has being on the road helped break you?
Live shows are definitely something we’re passionate about it. I’ve always loved dancing and acting, even before I knew how to sing. I just love performing and tapping into that side of myself.
You have a great social media presence. How does that help you and the band connect with fans?
It allows us to have direct contact with our fans and build great relationships. It starts out with your family, friends, people that you went to school with, and then it spreads like wildfire. It helps get the word out, even in cities we’ve haven’t played yet. We’ve been using it forever. Because we have varied ages in the band, we all seem to use it differently.
We also get opportunities through social media and most of them contact our management directly. We really love keeping in touch with our fans through Intergalactic.
What do you feel Mario Caldato, Jr. (producer/mixer) brought to the new album?
His sound is thick. He gives us so much substance and depth, and we were really impressed with him. We know we were fortunate that he wanted to work with us. Mario’s very relaxed and confident and that definitely helped us all do our best. We were there 10 wonderful days, doing our thing.
How has extensive overseas and touring informed your music?
We’ve played in Australia and the Netherlands. Overseas audiences were way into us and that was great. We were on the GMA TV show equivalent in Holland, and our shows were just packed because of our appearance.
How does Paradise differ from previous recordings?
It’s a journey that was crafted to be an experience from start to finish. It reflects more of our personalities that we couldn’t explore on our last EP; it’s the journey in flight and our path. This is us expanding and reimaging our sound, and a reflection of where we’re at. There’s some lightness, darkness, tension, and release.
What do you think of the state of America? Are you hopeful for our future?
I’m feeling a lot of things right now. There are so many words and there’s so much information coming at us. We’re focusing on our opportunities and we try to feed off of the positive things and stay focused. We’re not a political band, but I do think we reflect the reality and around us, and that’s liberating.
Ziek, when did you know music was what you were born to do? Was there a moment?
It was hearing music at a very, very young age. I remember when I was really young—two years old—and I remember hearing James Brown on a huge speaker. I crawled into the living room where my family had it playing and I crawled right in front of the speaker. I must have been thinking: How do I get closer to this? [laughs] I remember when VH1 also showed all those great movies, like the Jackson Five. That’s where I saw the music and visuals really come together.
Where do you fit in today’s musical landscape?
I think our music sits well in the current landscape. We feel like our music is rooted in what’s happening now. We’ve had some scattered radio in the U.S. and even in in Japan, where we’re number 8 on their pop charts. I haven’t heard us on the radio in the Bay Area lately, but there are some stations that play us. Touring is still what we love doing.
How did you settle on Con Brio, which translates to ‘with energy” in Italian?
It’s a musical direction within sheet music to play a composition with energy. We felt like that was accurate description of what we’re trying to create: energy and sharing high spirits.
Do you share a kinship with any current artists or bands?
We love playing with so many people, it’s hard to narrow it down. It’s great doing this tour with Grace Potter; I love studying her and her craft. We’re looking forward to working with anyone and everyone. We love touring with others artists and studying other artists. We’ve played Blues Fest, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and we’ve shared the stage with all kinds of different and talented artists.
Logan Waters did the new cover art. How important is art to your image?
It feels great to collaborate with local Bay Area artists and keep it local, organic, and homegrown. Frank Doer did our new video and we keep meeting so many great creative people. I love working with various artists in the community, and am looking forward to even more collaborations.
Have you played St. Louis before?
No, not yet, but our sax player has an aunt here. We’re looking forward to visiting a new city and a new scene. | Doug Tull
Con Brio appears in St. Louis on Thursday, June 30, at the Demo. Remaining North American tour dates are below:
06.28 | Beachland Tavern, Cleveland
06.29 | Rathskeller, Indianapolis
06.30 | The Demo, St. Louis
07.02 | Saturday Day in the Park, Sioux City
07.03 | Summerfest, Milwaukee
07.04 | Montreal International Jazz Fest, Montreal