Five questions with The Filthy Six

Photo from the band's website

U.K.-based instrumental soul-jazz band The Filthy Six is the project of trumpet player Nick Etwell. His long relationship with the musicians in roots-turned-rockers Mumford & Sons — Etwell used to teach jazz piano to Mumford founding member Ben Lovett (not to be confused with local singer-songwriter-composer-filmmaker Ben Lovett) — led to Etwell touring with that band.

During Mumford & Sons Gentlemen of the Road tour, Etwell was tapped to produce some after shows. “I thought it would be cool to use Dave Williamson (Mumford’s trombone player) on the front line with me, and Chris Maas (Mumford’s drummer), as well as our U.S. guys from before,” he says. “We also had Stuart Johnson (Blake Mills’ drummer) play a couple of shows and things really took off.I love playing with Dave as he’s got the deepest harmonic brain I’ve played with, and the trumpet/trombone frontline sounds as fat as mama-jama.” That improvised Filthy Six lineup gave Etwell a chance to bring his soul-jazz project to new audience — and they’ll perform at Asheville Music Hall on Wednesday, April 13.

The Fithy Six recently released their third record, More Filth. “We recorded it over two days, straight to tape, live in the studio with a handful of overdubs, and it really captures the energy and groove of the live stage band,” says Etwell. “A favorite to play out is a track called ‘Iguana Strut.’ It’s pretty fast and furious and keeps us all on our toes!”

Xpress: What brings you back to Asheville?

Nick Etwell: We came to Asheville with Mumford & Sons in 2011 and had a really great time. Dave and I caught up with some people we’d met at Coachella and hiked up to the start of the Blue Mountains trail, found a great bar that you could swim in the river from the back garden, and generally just fell in love with the place. I grew up in the beautiful green countryside of Derbyshire, England, so I love the hills, and Asheville … kind of felt like home. I then played here in October 2014 with The Filthy Six over at The Grey Eagle, we did an Echo Session with Josh Blake and the guys at IAmAVL and had a great jam with them down at the Asheville Music Hall after our gig. We just had the best time. We’re really looking forward to coming back with this lineup and playing to a knowledgable music crowd.

Who’s in the lineup?

I first brought the band over in 2014 for a few short tours, and due to the expense of flights and visas, etc., we had to pick up a U.S. rhythm section through recommendations of friends. The guys I found turned out to be total bad-asses — Nate Basinger on Hammond, Kevin Scott on bass and Duane Trucks on drums. We got on like a house on fire both on and off the stage, and the band sounded fantastic.

What’s the process like for you to shift from the Americana/rock of Mumford & Sons to the very different soul-jazz of The Filthy Six?

I’ve always worked as a session musician and love playing different styles of music. Jazz and soul music have been a constant inspiration since my early teens, so forming a band to incorporate both was inevitable. I love making music and thrive on the variety I get to work on, but The Filthy Six is like an old friend I get to catch up with every few weeks or so, and I love it.

Since your sound is based around the Hammond organ, do you actually travel with a Hammond?

Well, we try and take the Hammond with us as much as possible. Obviously it’s a bit of a beast, and certain logistics — steep or narrow stairs! — can be a problem, but we will always make the effort because the result is always worth it. There’s just no substitute for the real thing! If a venue really is too tough to get into then we’ll use something like a Nord C2 or a Crumar Mojo Organ and put that through the Leslie speaker cabinet. The Leslie makes a huge difference and is perhaps the most important part of the Hammond set up as the rotary speaker’s switch from “chorale” to “tremolo” is the real heart of the sound and cannot be emulated. A modern electric organ put through a Leslie is as close as damn it for that authentic sound.

As an instrumental band, how do you replace the emotional connection element of the vocals?

I grew up listening to old blues pianists such as Albert Ammons and Memphis Slim, and loved the bare emotion conveyed through a solitary piano. … You can’t beat the raw emotional touch of Otis Redding or Aretha Franklin at full throttle, but playing a wind instrument is very similar to singing. … We sing what we’re saying through the horn, taking it back to a basic form of natural communication, talking with sounds and inflections, without the need for lyrics. … You listen to Miles Davis and he can say more in a few notes than we can say in a hundred words. Instrumental music, especially in a jazz group, is a wonderful and intriguing art, and the beauty about this is that you never know where the music is going. … Every performance is different.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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