Jon Epworth brings the soul

Former Halifax resident Jon Epworth has always been one to wear many musical hats and nowhere is this more evident than with his solo work. Epworth’s newest solo offering, Soul Mange, sees the mufti-instrumentalist wears a Stax Records influence on his sleeves with outstanding results.

You can preview and purchase Epworth’s Soul Mange EP via his Bandcamp website. A cool video for the track Happening is posted below the Q&A that Jon recently took part in with The MusicNerd Chronicles.

You’ve always been very musically diverse, especially with your solo work. What do you chalk that up to? 

Epworth: Oddly enough, playing in a ‘punk’ rock outfit (I always felt more like a nerd poking fun at punk as opposed to a real punk, like a poseur who sometimes pulled it off), and being heavily ensconced in the adult-contemporary world of dinner ‘theatre’ (I’m no thespian) simultaneously, helps one build chops in a variety of genres.  Knowing your enemy (ie: Rob Thomas & Carlos Santana) allows you to skewer them all the more accurately (ie: any number of tunes I may have penned with The Dean Malenkos).

That I was raised on my father’s record collection is probably a big factor.  I didn’t really have many friends when I was a little kid, and my little brother and I were latchkey kids.  We’d get home from school and crank Yes’ Close to The Edge from beginning to end, and then maybe Huey Lewis’ Sports.  (In our teens we’d play air guitar and drums to all of Rust In Peace and then  Blood Sugar Sex Magik).  

Of course on Soul Mange, I’m wearing my love of soul/R&B on my sleeve.  We did have a few Stevie Wonder albums, but my real attachment to the Stax/Motown sound came though listening to Fishbone’s The Reality of My Surroundings, which I bought (like so many teenage music geeks, I’m sure) after they got a brief mention in a Chili Peppers’ tune on Mother’s Milk.  I got Reality… and thought “this is what the Chili Peppers wish they could be”.  Just mind-blowing. Though my stuff doesn’t really sound like theirs, I would say that their ability to weave in and out of genres while keeping it strange yet highly ‘listenable’ – not to mention that lyrically they run the gamut from poetic and profound to sheer inanity – has had the biggest impact on my approach to songwriting.

Anyways, that one album was a portal to all sorts of music: Otis Redding, Lee Scratch Perry, Curtis Mayfield, Desmond Dekker, etc.  Over the last few years I’ve really been gravitating toward old soul records.  I love what acts like Raphael Saadiq and the Dap Kings are doing; and though I don’t purport to come anywhere near their brilliant take on the genre, Soul Mange could be seen as my attempt at sculpting a different approach to old-school R&B – albeit from very white-bred, corn-fed clay.

Oh yeah and I’ve listened to Zeppelin pretty much non-stop since I was five.

Is handling all of the instrumentation yourself a convenience thing, a control thing or a little bit of both?

Epworth: Both.  It’s funny because when I’m recording an album by myself, I sweat every last detail and try to get things sounding exactly as I intended.  When I’m in a situation with some great players, as long as they know a few specific things here and there and have the basic gist of the song, I like it to feel loose and off-the-cuff.  Most of the beds for Wet on Wet were cut in one or two takes off the floor – when you’re working with great, intuitive musicians who feel comfortable taking the wheel from you now and again, it can be very satisfying.

Recording by myself can be a little taxing – and a little lonely, too – but I don’t think I would have stretched myself as much in the production if I had done it with a band.  I feel more comfortable spending hours finding that perfect guitar passage (and I mean this could be 4 seconds of music) when there aren’t other people waiting around for me to go ‘eureka!’.

There’s also a little less concern for whether or not people are into material I record myself. Not that any of my band member has ever said “Jon, man, you gotta write something people want to buy or we quit”. I’ve never felt that expectation from any of my colleagues, but when people sacrifice a good deal of time and energy helping hone and promote material that I’ve written, I can’t deny that a certain amount of anxiety will come with that.    When people would come see a show and the first thing out of their mouth is “where did you get that band?” it would always be my favourite compliment, and not because I have some natural inclination toward humility or altruism – it just helped alleviate some of the guilt I would feel after having to pay these incredibly talented musicians with beer.  (They stick with me, though, and I’m lucky to know such people.)

I would like my next album to be written and performed with other musicians, though.  These self-imposed insular writing conditions will abate at some point.

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