Filed under: Interview
Certain things take a back seat for a while, only to come back around revamped, rejuvenated giving you a shot in the arm leaving you wondering why it ever went away in the first place. Providing this reawakening to the sounds and traditions of seventies and eighties soul are Defected’s latest acquisition to it’s wall of fame, UK soul group Reel People. Led by Papa records boss Oli Lazarus and long time partner and motivator Mike Patto, 8 piece Reel People have been blowing people away with their explosive live shows garnering respect industry wide.
The re-release under Defected of their debut album ‘Second Guess’, beefed up with three new singles, tight and coherently knitted together with the soulfully silky vocals of it’s leading ladies Sharlene Hector, Angela Johnson Dyanna Fearon and Vanessa Freeman, is, according to Lazarus “from top to bottom a complete album”. In Tokyo for their own 4 date tour in November where they appeared at Motion Blue in Yokohama – twice – The Tokyo Crossover Jazz Festival and at the prestigious Tokyo Blue Note, Higher Frequency managed to catch Oli for a few words about the new release, Defected and the sound of Reel People.
Interview by Mark Oxley
HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : Oli, you’ve come here quite a bit as a DJ, but how about as a whole group? How many times here as a full member of Reel People ?
Oli : Reel people have been here before about 2 years ago as a four piece, more like a DJ – PA thing, just me with the singers. And last year we played the Tokyo Jazz festival, Herbie Hancocks festival at Odaiba at Tokyo Big Site and that was the full band. So this is the second time we have been here and performed as the full band.
HRFQ : How was the response the last time ?
Oli : Good, good, it was more of an out and out Jazz kind of thing, but there were about 6000 people in the arena, and it was live on NHK, so it was quite a big thing, and we were a little bit worried that everybody was sitting down, you know our gigs are bit more where everybody get up dances, a bit more club oriented. But everybody really enjoyed it.
HRFQ : Did they get up ?
Oli : Yeah, they did it was good. It was a bit weird at first seeing mine and Mike’s big heads on the big screen, but that is like the biggest crowd we have played to really.
HRFQ : Ever ?
Oli : Yeah, most of the gigs we play are small and intimate, two to three hundred people four or five maybe.You know Southport Weekender, we did the main room there which was about a thousand people. Not really six or seven thousand.
HRFQ : You brought the band this time, how many members are there all in all ?
Oli : There are eight in all.
HRFQ : Do you rotate people, bring people in and other people go out ?
Oli : Yeah, one of the things with us is that it is always difficult… there are about 4 to 5 core members at every gig, and they have been there from the start when we created the band, but a lot of the other people we use are always busy, so it is difficult to keep the same line up, you know we might have to change the vocalist or drummer or something. At the moment we have got 3 people who are making their first appearance with us, so it is nice to change it around a bit. But we are lucky that we have got a group of people now, – we have been going nearly 3 years – that if someone can’t do it, it is not as if we are getting second best (as a replacement) we have a lot of people who can come in and do a great job. There is like, me and Mike who are always there, and Vanessa freeman who is our main singer and our guitarist Leon who has been with us all the time and on second keyboard and trumpet is a guy called Scott Davis, so we have five people who are all pretty handy to have all the time and then it is just about who can do it, who can’t do it.
HRFQ : Your track, “The Rain” kind of pushed your name to the foreground. It’s been played in a lot of clubs and in various kinds of compilations. In the recent interview you mentioned that you feel like things around you are slightly changing these days. Do you think this track was kind of a trigger for the new term of the Reel People ?
Oli : Yeah, I mean we made that track about a year after we made the first album, which is something to kinda keep things moving on and keep things fresh. And in that time our sort of sound and production developed a lot. I mean when we made the first album the last quarter was when we really found what our sound was. So when we finished the album it was almost like “shit” it would have been nice to keep going because it could have sounded better and we really knew what we wanted to do.
HRFQ : Was that because of time restrictions ?
Oli : No, what it was, was when we started that album we left it really open, we knew what we liked musically, but we left it really open, and we weren’t afraid, I mean the first version of the album had a reggae joint on it, a disco kinda thing, a rocky kinda thing, all soulful but it didn’t kind of fit together and now the re-release of the album you can listen to it from top to bottom and it is a complete album. What Reel people is. When we made ‘The Rain’ it was more like the start of a new.
HRFQ : So you are more satisfied with the re-release than the original ?
Oli : I mean I love the first album, but now I think that we have added those three tracks It is a really strong album, with a lot of good songs on there. And the great thing is having the chance to do 3 new tracks, just improves the live set as well. To add 3 new singles, and that was the thing as well, 3 new Defected singles, we didn’t want to just make 3 album cuts, we purposely set out to have 3 singles to promote the album. And now the live shows are really rocking.
HRFQ : You mentioned Defected how did that relationship start with them in the first place ?
Oli : The owner and A&R guy Simon (Dunmore) I have known for a little a while, he knew my label Papa Records whom Reel people were signed to originally and he really liked what I was doing. I don’t think he had really checked the album so much but he had heard the singles and the remixes and stuff and over a period of a year and a half we met every 3 months and talked about stuff and last year there was the first ever house music award in London and we were nominated for one of the awards, can’t remember which, maybe best live show or something like that. And as soon as I found out we were nominated I approached them and said ‘look,we will perform live’, because I knew there was going to be a lot of industry people there who hadn’t ever seen the band live. And we opened the award ceremony and played three tracks and we were the only full band there, and everyone went crazy and I think Simon saw it and thought ‘I can actually see what you were talking about now ‘. Because when you see us play you understand that it is not just about recordings, it is meant to be a live thing as well.
HRFQ : Yeah we were wondering whether there was a difference between listening to the album and listening to a live performance in terms of tempo or feel, the album is quite soulful, but you mentioned earlier that you do like to get people up and dancing ?
Oli : Well this tour now is the first time we have changed it. I am involved in the band now. It used to be a seven piece with a drummer, now I am in the band and I am adding the more DJ, club sounds to it. So it is about combining the programmed club beats of the recordings. And the live sets – we still have a drummer – but over the top of dance music and then I am doing effects and samples and percussion as well and things like that. So we are changing it up now, we didn’t want it to sound too ‘acid jazz’ you know, like too 90’s. Everybody compares us to Incognito and The Brand New Heavies and that sort of thing. Which is great, I love their records but, the difference is that we come from that, and seventies soul and Stevie Wonder and…
HRFQ : Yeah you can feel that era, and all the way through the eighties, you can catch the riffs and the sounds…
Oli : Yeah,me and Mike grew up on that music. But then I am a house head, I am DJ, so it’s about pushing it all together from club culture, dance music, and black music from the seventies and eighties. That is what our sound is. Which is different from Ingognito who are just like a band you know, not a club band.So we try and be fresh like that. The live shows are really rocking man, really happy with it. Before it got a bit too Jazzy. Because the drummer cannot physically replicate a dance beat. Playing a dance beat is not really the easiest to achieve. And sound wise as well, now it is just there !
HRFQ : Are you going to be releasing your second album from Defected ?
Oli : Yeah I mean, pretty much, we have the option. I mean nothing has really been talked about, I mean we have just been concentrating on this album. The good thing about defected is that they are known as a large independent label that have done quite well out of house music, and are known for having a lot of commercial success from house records whilst putting out underground stuff as well. So us signing to Defected, a lot of people said well, ‘that doesn’t really work out, why are Reel people on Defected’? Well one of the great things is that they are not trying to turn us into a typical Defected artist, they have done so well on that front, that they are expending their roster and realizing where to get into bands and that stuff so it is really exciting.
HRFQ : How’s your label Papa Records going? Anything in the pipeline ?
Oli : Yeah, I have got a lot of stuff I mean Reel People has started to take over my life, over the last few years, But the label, well, it is doing really well, we have a really good reputation, although we haven’t released a lot of stuff over the last 18 months due to the fact I haven’t been able to physically be in two places at once. But this year coming 2006, we have four albums, really stepping it up. The next album is from DJ Spinna and it should be out in March April time, a brand new artist album so that is really good. I have just signed a singer, a guy called Pete Simpson who is a guy from Sheffield a really lovely singer and that is going to be produced by a guy called Dominic, a broken beats producer from West London, but also Mike from Reel People is going to do a bit of writing on it and stuff. We are going to do a Papa compilation and Faze Action as well. A lot from Faze Action, a brand new single out in February, but we want to do an album as well. So yes a lot of stuff coming. One of the things I like doing is A & R, I get a lot of satisfaction out of making something, creating something and make it happen, it is such a buzz, so getting back into the label is very important for me.
HRFQ : You mentioned broken Beats, how do you see the scene in London at the moment ?
Oli : It is really good, I mean with us signing to Defected and we are partly coming from that genre, and you got Bugz in The Attic who are now signed to V2 and they got there album which they are just finishing up at the moment, and Booty La La their last single was a really big record. Selling over 10,000 copies, amazing for a broken beats record, you know. I mean it had a lot of radio play, from DJ’s like Trevor Nelson and Pete Tong playing it, but now it seems that two of the biggest acts from that scene are signed to big labels, and have albums out, for me it is getting bigger, the music is getting bigger. And I have noticed with a lot of house DJ’s that they are playing broken beat records now. I know for me personally as a DJ, I can’t play house records, I mean I love house music, I am just really eclectic, and sometimes it is my downfall.
HRFQ : Do you have any message to your Japanese fans ?
Oli : Well, Japan has been a really amazing territory for us, it is somewhere where we come, either me on my own or as part of the band, and whereas you go to other places and you feel like you are just doing a gig, here you actually feel like it is a small scene and you feel like the people are actually your fans, that is why I love coming here, it is really good to be back, so just thank you for all that, and I hope they enjoy the re-release of the new album and we can keep coming back and playing our new records and rockin it out.
HRFQ : Great thank you very much !!
End of the interview
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