When Staten Island-based instrumental Afro-soul collective The Budos Band was last in Asheville it was the Harvest Records-sponsored Tranfigurations festival. During their sweaty, thronged set the band announced that first, they were bringing the f—king doom (which they did, thank you very much), and second, Asheville was the farthest south they had ever traveled. (They return next Wednesday.)
During the year-and-a-half interim, they've played in New Orleans and Florida and toured the Southwest but, according to de facto frontman Jared Tankel, "Not that South that people maybe think of as the South."
It kind of seems like the N.Y. group, with its haunting grooves and promise to "bring temperatures from the realm of Dante and the underworld," is made for the South — even a Faulknerian South. ("An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn't know why they choose him and he's usually too busy to wonder why.") But the Budos (as they call themselves) cite a different genesis.
"We feel pretty open to taking turns with the music that we write and play," says Tankel, who joined the group just after its rhythm-section-only Afrobeat phase (they were then called Los Barbudos, the bearded ones) when they decided to up the ante with horns. But prior to that the core members, a group of guys who grew up together on Staten Island, had been funk outfit Dirt Rifle & the Funky Bullet and hip-hop band Schlitz 66.
According to Tankel, the Budos' drummer found Desco records (Daptone’s predecessor) and N.Y. bands like Antibalas and Sugarman 3. A combination of "some lucky circumstances and also hanging out enough" led to the Budos being signed to Daptone Records, best known as the home of soulful songstress Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings. The Budos — 10 regular members and as many as 13 on stage at times — has a sound grounded in the funk and soul influence but, according to Tankel, "We discovered Ethiopian jazz and it took that turn."
A saxophonist since fourth grade, Tankel says that moving to N.Y. City and meeting musicians in the Afrobeat and funk scene "really changed the way I played and thought about music." Joining the Budos, he traded in his alto sax for a heavier, deeper, more menacing baritone.
These days, he continues, rock and metal influences have worked their way into the sound, as evidenced by the venomous shimmy and rumble of The Budos Band III. "We're following the path where it takes us. We don't feel like we have to be a soul band," says Tankel. "In our live shows it’s more of a rock show than a soul review. … We're not big ‘80s guys, but we're not solely focused on 1968 Motown."
One influence to which the Budos are not particularly open: digital recording technology. All of the Daptone artists record with analog equipment, a creative choice that lends itself to a particular sonic experience — something between Stax Records and Blaxploitation soundtracks, Fela Kuti and James Brown. "We definitely employ older technologies," says Tankel. "We listen to some contemporary bands but we also revere the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, usually above all else. It's interesting to think of what the state of music was then as opposed to now, especially in regard to certain pop acts that don't have the same outlook on things that we do."
In an interview with MyDallasMusic.com, Tankel said, "We’re not concerned with being involved in some hipster Brooklyn indie scene." Which, he tells Xpress, is not to say that some Budos members don't like some indie bands, but their general aesthetic derives a lot from their gritty Staten Island surroundings, including a practice space in "an old burnt out Evangelical church on a dead-end street near the train tracks” and frequented by metal bands.
"That we are on Staten Island, even though it's not that far away, that small separation and the fact that our studio is out there means we're able to do our thing a little more and not feel the pressure to become part of some scene that we wouldn't feel comfortable being a part of," says Tankel. The Budos have been approached by certain indie artists for collaborations and have declined — it's just not their style and, fashion be damned, "we're not going to do a collaboration with somebody just because it's going to end up being a big story in Pitchfork. That's not our motivation."
Which is not to say that this band is flying completely under the radar. It's their track, "Hidden Hand," that runs during the credits of the 2009 film New York, I Love You. And that's not a one-off: The Budos have a credit on 2010's The Other Guys and their music has made it onto skateboard videos, the comedy series Botswana, USA, and more. Though the band doesn't angle for such placements and they'll turn down any show that “doesn't seem that great,” for the most part, says Tankel, "You get a call about a song and, 'Great! Sounds good.'"
Which is probably exactly what any savvy soundtrack advisor thinks when coming across an especially choice, demon-driven, horn-haunted, smoldering, doom-delivering Budos Band track. Sounds good.
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: The Budos Band (with DJ Rob Castillo)
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Wednesday, Feb. 23 (9pm. $12 advance/$15 day of show. thegreyeagle.com.)