bill bodkin continues down the road to The Royal Family Affair by speaking with New York blues-rockers The London Souls …
The London Souls are flat out amazing.
No hyperbole can do this New York power trio justice. We could wax poetic for paragraphs about how the ’60s and ’70s British blues-inspired rock ‘n’ roll sound that this band performs is a welcomed splash of cold water to the near comatose rock ‘n’ roll fan. Their sound is bursting at the seems with that same electric blues sound that made us fall in love with Jimi Hendrix the first time we heard “Purple Haze” or Cream when we heard “White Room.” And in the end — this is a band you have to hear and you will understand. The words found here can only give you a hint of just how good this band makes rock ‘n’ roll sound, so to give you an idea, we’ve included their video to their lead single “The Sound” below.
That’s why it was an honor to speak with London Souls bassist and vocalist Kiyoshi Matusyama as part of our Road to the Royal Family Affair series. Here, we spoke about recording live at Abbey Road, New York music and, of course, The Royal Family Affair Music Festival.
Pop-Break: I just finished listening to the record, and it’s absolutely fantastic.
Kiyoshi Matsuyama: Oh thank you, thank you. I haven’t listened to it in a very long time. I’ve been listening to it for so long [laughs] with the mixing and mastering stuff, it’s kind of a funny thing you get all amped about it and, then when it comes out, you’re like, ‘Oh man, I’ve listened to that thing so many times.’
PB: How long did it take for the record to be complete from recording to finished product?
KM: We went to England to record the record. When we met up with our producer Ethan Johns, who’s done work with most notably Kings Of Leon and Ray LaMontagne, he was adamant about doing a week of pre-production. We did a whole week of just rehearsing with him and his engineer in the room. It was sort of picking songs apart, re-arranging them, trying to figure out which ones we should leave alone. It was dissecting everything and getting ready for the studio, so that when we went into the studio to record we’d be as productive as possible. We recorded the whole thing live, vocals and everything. We knew that [since] we were doing a live album, we could essentially plan things out ahead with parts. Recording the album, it took five or six days.
PB: That’s interesting because a lot of bands don’t do live recordings like that anymore. The last ones I can recall, at least the most recent famous live recording was when U2 did All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which turned out to be one of their best records of all time.
KM: It was Ethan’s idea — it’s his style of producing. It’s the way he produced most of the records he’s done, which I was very shocked to find out. He has this mentality that the best musical moments that you catch in your lifetime are when you see a live show. For some reason, the chemistry in that moment, say from an amazing show, [that] is more mind-blowing and in the moment. His mentality is to capture that chemistry, which is already present rather than sorta manufacture something as it goes. He also is very picky about the bands he chooses and the artists that he works with. He wants to make sure they can play live, their live shows are good and they have that unique chemistry and whatnot. He very luckily was free and picked us which was awesome. So we were brought in on that and that it was his insisting from the beginning to do it live. We were willing to try anything.
PB: You said he’s very picky about the bands he works with. So how did he discover you guys?
KM: We had a lot of songs that we had recorded a number of times, but we weren’t satisfied with the recording. We were reluctant to put this EP out that we had done. The five-song EP was good, but a lot of the recorded sounds weren’t really there. It ended up just being really good demo. We gave it to our people at EMI Publishing, and it served as a really good demo as it highlighted some of the songs we had been writing more recently. In their opinion, they were better songs, better quality and it captured the fact [the songs] could be recorded better. So, then EMI Publishing put us in touch with Ethan and [they also started] sending out demos to producers they thought would be good people to really help us.
PB: How was the experience of recording live?
KM: It was equally as amazing and revelatory as it was scary and sort of nerve-racking at the same time. It was a revelatory experience to do that — to just see it was another possibility, it’s something that can be done if you set your mind to it. I know it used to be the way of life — people had to do it that way. But it’s still amazing that there are still people who are trying to make their chemistry stronger, make their performance stronger [by recording live] rather than do a million overdubs. We did everything to tape and we had a limited amount of tracks, so there were decisions that had to be made on the fly [because] we were doing everything live. So if the take wasn’t there, the question wasn’t ‘Was it there or not?’ — it was ‘Was that the take?’ And doing it live it was fairly obvious if it was yes or no.
PB: That gives me a completely different perspective about your record now that I know it was recorded live. My early rock ‘n’ roll experiences were from that classic ’60s and ’70s blues-infused British-style of rock ‘n’ roll. I think you guys really nailed that sound. I’m blown away those songs were recorded with no overdubs and in one take.
KM: I mean, the fact that you couldn’t tell is in fact the most telling part about the album for me. You can’t tell it’s live and I’ve had the same experience for records that I found out were done live for the most part. It blows my mind. In some ways, it’s a revelatory experience because it’s another way, a possibility of doing it. I think some people are afraid of doing a live album because the standard at which recording is set these days is not the same. There’s been so many revolutions in the recording industry these days.
Even in The Beatles’ days, they set the standard for people who want to record their own records. It’s like, ‘Well, The Beatles did two million takes of each instrument and it came out amazing, so that’s what I’m going to do.’ But The Beatles were of a different class, they really knew what they were doing. To have an unlimited amount of time and unlimited amount of possibilities is something that really has to happen after a band or artist have put in the time of making records the old-fashioned way. It’s really different from person to person, but the fact that there’s been so many records done live especially the further back you go is just amazing to think about.
PB: Speaking of The Beatles, you guys recorded the album in Abbey Road Studios. Being in such a legendary recording studio must’ve been a bit intimidating and added pressure to you guys, especially since you were recording live.
KM: Well, I think that in terms of the intimidation factor in terms of the studio, it’s definitely intimidating, but it’s not something you can rely on. Anyone can go into Abbey Road Studios and try make an album that sounds like The Beatles. I mean, we recorded there and we don’t have an album that sounds like any of The Beatles’ records. At the end of day, whether we’re recording at Abbey Road or not, what Abbey Road has to offer, it’s an outstanding room to record in, it sounds amazing. It has a lot of history, but I think when The Beatles started recording at Abbey Road they just really liked it. Now it’s this legendary studio where so many classic albums have been recorded. At the end of the day, the recordings are so classic because of Ringo, John, George and Paul — it has a little bit less to do with Abbey Road than the people they were working with and them themselves.
Sonically, there is a quality to it — it’s a really awesome sounding room. It’s the kind of thing where we had rules — no playing Beatles songs. For a while, we weren’t crossing the street. We didn’t want to get caught up in it because we had a very limited amount of time. I think it was a very fortunate case that when we got there all three of us had the mentality that we were there to work. We each had our moment where we let it soak in but after that it was like, ‘You have to put it aside.’ We tried to utilize the room for us, to do it our way and realize the history was just made the same way.
PB: How has playing the New York scene foster your sound and you guys as a band?
KM: As a band, I think it helps because it is one of the most competitive markets. Everyone you talk is in a band — there are just so many bands. It just blows my mind how many bands there are that come in and out of New York. There’s competition for slots, competition for getting fans. I think everyone has their own plan on how to do it — they’re all so completely different. What we try to do is to work really hard on having each song being a complete package that not only hits hard and has that edgy sort of ’60s hard Bonham kinda sound, visceral reaction rock ‘n’ roll music but also make it, I hate to use the word accessible, but to try to do it in a way that it’s a concise song. I think since it’s so competitive, you need people to walk away remembering you for whatever reason.
PB: So how did you guys meet up in New York and form this band? And what was the inspiration to develop the sound you guys have and make it your life’s work?
KM: It didn’t happen overnight. We met very naturally, it wasn’t a Craigslist ad or a thing where we needed to form a band. Each of us wasn’t looking for a band that we could make it big with. Each of us was keeping our ears open for musical experiences we might have in common. Tash [Neal] and Chris [Saint] knew each since high school because they’re both from New York. I moved to New York to study at The New School for college. I met someone there who was a mutual friend, and we all just hung out and started jamming. It was very natural, it was a musical experience, but we were just getting to know each other — it was very light. It wasn’t necessarily the thing that where when started [we thought], ‘We could make big bucks with this.’ It was this thing where we played and we thought this is something to pursue, sonically this was fun, there’s something about this that feels really nice. Speaking for myself. the first time I had jammed with people where I was like, ‘Oh man I want to be in a band with these guys.’ The chemistry really brought it together, it was a very unique chemistry even from the first hit. It was a lot of mutual understanding in terms of feel, groove and interests.
PB: What are the plans for the rest of the year?
KM: Play as much as possible.
PB: You guys will be performing at Soulive’s Royal Family Affair in Vermont this weekend. What has Soulive meant to you guys as a band? On the Bowlive DVD and in various interviews I’ve done with them, they have really spoken highly of you guys as a band to watch. What’s your relationship with them?
KM: They’ve helped us out so much because they’ve been so generous. It feels really good to be accepted in that group in a lot of ways. It seems like a very exclusive group, they want to keep it all in the family. I think that they opened their arms and said come hang with us, come play with us is just so generous on their part. It happens randomly by accident, it was a complete random meeting. For them to hang out with us, if they had liked our band and hung out with us and didn’t like us, I’m sure they wouldn’t be asking us to play with them. I really like hanging out with those guys, they’re really good people. It’s helped us get some exposure, sure, but that’s them believing in us.
Pop-Break’s Road to the Royal Family Affair Series: