Robert Brown interviewed with Songwriters Marketplace on behalf of the band.
It’s wonderful that you agreed to an interview with us. We heard about you guys through a friend and were blown away by your music. We turned it up real loud. Introduce the band to us, and our readers.
Franck Bedez plays bass and is the baby of the band. Dom knew him as a kid and, introduced him to me about 8 or 9 years ago, as this young hotshot bass player. I liked him straight away, as our previous bass player was always busy – up to mischief, I jumped at the chance of recruiting him.
Fab Tranzer plays guitar and has just joined us. Both Frank & Dom know him. I knew he must be special, because they both said he had something different. Good lead guitar players are everywhere, but rarely can you immediately tell one from another! Fab has his own sound! Now he is with us and I feel he has been the ingredient that we lacked but never realized.
And Me! Robert Brown. I write songs and sing them! For a long time we have played as a 3 piece, with me playing about 6 different guitars a night – lead, rhythm, finger style guitar -and all styles in between.
Tell us about the music scene there in London and England as a whole.
Whenever we have played London we have always got a great reaction. So I know that rock & roots music is still accepted. Guitar bands have been making a steady comeback – which is cool. London is very fashion driven, with retro pop, and middle of the road sounds, from the late 60’s, being very popular on mainstream radio (the BBC), especially in the production side of things. I do tend to get bored, hearing singers who all sound the same, but with a different haircut! (the only way to tell them apart)
We’ve come across some incredible talent on our travels. The Raw talent is still there, at grass roots level, and will bubble up, given the chance. We also have the same problem as you guys in the US, with the likes of Simon Cowell and his empire churning out sterile pop stars, building them from the head down. Real, new music, will always bubble up from the streets. Manufactured music has always been around, but I think the business has reached new levels of conning the public out of their money with manufactured music – when the real music IS out there . Thankfully, this market does tend to attract the shut-ins, who perhaps would only buy a few records each year, and probably never go to watch live music.
“As working musicians we all had to make ends meet. Thus the Sons have worked and played with a remarkable list of artists ranging from Ray Charles to Lulu.“
You all have been gigging with some big names – tell us a bit about that.
Yeah, we have all been very lucky in that respect. I myself was very lucky, as a kid, to play with a guy called Dick Heckstall Smith. He was a legendary English Sax player and played with the likes of the Stones, Jack Bruce, drummer Ginger Baker and Alexis Korner etc. Also a few years ago I was asked to tour and open up the show, as a solo acoustic singer songwriter by Lulu, who has been a big star in the UK, since the 60’s. Dom has and still goes on tour with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. He’s also played with Imelda May, who has been touring the world recently, with Jeff Beck. He’s even been hired by people like Paul McCartney, Dave Gilmore, Joe Cocker and Shirley Bassey! Frank has toured with people like Wanda Jackson and Linda Gail-Lewis and opened up for guys like Ray Charles, Lucky Peterson and Joe Cocker. Also, French Pop stars Florent Pagny & Liane Foly (No I’ve never heard of them either!) He even played with Gypsy Jazz legend Birelli Lagrene, from the Hot Club scene. It’s amazing how much rubs off on you from playing with people like that. It’s not only what you learn musically from them, but it’s also about attitude and how things have to be done. Just watching someone like Ray Charles from stage side, for 5 minutes, is worth more than a year on a local circuit.
Fab, as far as I know, when he’s not in Europe he spends his free time living in a trailer in deepest Mississippi. I think he works for some mysterious guy at a crossroads teaching young hopefuls supernatural blues guitar in the middle of the night!
Could be. You’ve been at it a long time. That kind of perseverance is commendable. Tell us something of your journey in the last ten years.
For me it’s always been about writing the music, and performing it live. It was 10 years ago that we first started playing live, as a band. We’ve never really stopped, but to make a living we have all had to work different jobs musically and work out on the streets. It was a year ago that we got our heads together and decided to really have a big push, to get the band to another level. I had new songs and we all felt that they were strong enough to cause a big stir, if we could get them to the right ears! I’ve never lost faith in the band, or the music. But I now feel that we have the Sons as they should have always been. This is our chance to shine.
We had a chat about style and substance, as relates to a band, could you expound on that?
A band that is all style and no substance will have a short shelf life, in the public eye. You may catch a quick free ride, but if you don’t come up with songs that are original and catchy you will soon be forgotten. Trends and fashion will always change. If the music kicks ass – people will respond. A stupid haircut, or wearing your pants round your ankles, are only gonna make people laugh a few years down the road.
We find that a band is very much the sum of its parts. Different players change the sound and dynamic of a band. You, the band, have gone through different incarnations – what is it, in your opinion, that has a band click?
I think its about actually liking the people you spend your time with. Most bands last only a few years, because they can’t stand each other. Ego’s destroy bands all the time. Myself Frank and Dom have had our up’s and downs like everyone in relationships, but we have respect for one another and what each person has got to offer. Having Fab come into the Band has, for me,, been a real pleasure. I feel that he’s taken a lot of weight off my shoulders when it comes to the final band sound. I feel we have managed without even trying to get that “tight but loose” sound. The 3 piece was great but it now feels greater than the sum of its parts. We’re happy!
“Earlier this year we found ourselves in a studio in the countryside of Eastern France, just outside Strasbourg, to record an EP. The session is fantastic and we are nearly finished on the third day. A loud banging is heard and a drunken, bleeding man, falls into the control room. It’s Fab. He’s drunk and crying, and says he wants to end it all. We quickly hide the car he’s stolen and give him a jug of coffee. Later that evening Fab plays Robert’s guitar and becomes the Atom that flies within the music. The Smouldering Sons are now complete.“
You used a terrific line in our conversation ‘The Atom that flies within the music’ explain that.
This was a phrase of great wisdom from Frank. We had just got Fab on board and we were recording the EP. I was listening far too hard to every note that we were playing. Fab was doing his thing within the music and just bouncing around off beats and riffs and creating this sound I hadn’t felt in the band before. To be honest it unnerved me. I started to question what was happening. Frank came in and soothed me, saying relax and go with it. He said “Fab is the atom that flies within the music”. And he was right. Fab is a guy who not only plays guitar but he creates a vibe, or an emotion within the music.
In our conversation you mention that you have been on the road for four years now – that’s tough. Tell us about that and where you see the band going.
Yep. Four years is a long time to be constantly on the road. It’s been great fun and it certainly sharpens and hones the performing muscles. It knocks off your corners and teaches you what’s important for the audience. I feel that if we can tour this band on a bigger stage, on a higher level, we can connect with a lot of people who want honesty and guts from a band and their music. I feel that this band could go a long way given the chance.
A hard question I must ask is this – What is it that you want a fan to get about Robert Brown and smouldering Sons?
I always try to give the very best of myself when I play and sing. We are all very into the music and believe in it. We are definitely a band of contrasts and love to use heavy dynamics in a show. I want the audience to feel the emotion that exits in the songs and connect with the energy. Even if it’s just banging your head up and down. Because sometimes all you want to do is Rock!
Friends in bands, and troubadours since the 90’s, Robert, Dominique and Frank first formed the ‘Sons’ in the late 90’s.
“Back then the scene was completely at odds with the kind of band we were. We cringed at some of the acts that were on the scene. Image was king. All froth and no substance clogging up the job. Sure image is important, but we also wanted to send people away thrilled and completely satisfied… like they had been laid properly!“
We laughed out loud when you said you want your audience to go away feeling as if they have been laid properly. What do you have to do on stage to have that remarkable thing happen?
Ha! Well if I walk away from the stage feeling I hadn’t reached my peak, I definitely know that the audience haven’t reached theirs either! It’s about looking someone in the eye and saying “We Damn well mean this!” “Let’s go for a ride!” “Give it to me all or none!”
You mentioned that Fab spends time in Mississippi – there are some good ole rockers there, for sure – do you guys ever play stateside?
We have all played stateside but never as the Smouldering Sons. I played all through the southern states many years ago when I was a kid playing lead guitar as a hired gun for a black New York funk rock band. To be able to return to Mississippi and the US with the Smouldering Sons would be a dream come true.
Well, you have fans here and I’m sure more will most certainly discover you guys. What is on the horizon?
At the moment we are going to do our darned best to get this EP to as many believers as we possibly can. I know there are people out there who want their cup full to the brim & piping hot! Come and see us and we’ll give it to ya steaming!
We discussed style and substance – that would also apply to songwriting – do you find that you write differently depending on your targeted audience, or on the style you are trying to produce?
I’ve never targeted any specific type of person with my writing. The person I try to Target is me! I’ve never felt apart from the audience because I’m a guy that’s always been in the audience as well. I have in the past tailored my writing to specific members of the band. Sometimes to good effect, and bad.
You are the songwriter; since our site has that focus, tell us about your role in the band?
I only started to write songs because I felt that I was never going to be an outstanding musician. Plus, no one I knew wrote songs. I can play guitar pretty good but I’m no Jimi Hendrix, that’s for sure! It was the same with singing. I only started singing because there was no one else to do it! I’m the guy who’s the catalyst for these great players to weave their magic around. I do my best to come up with a good idea and then throw it out to the guys. I feel it’s very important for a band to all have artistic input. Sometimes I will say I want it like this with no variations at all for a certain part. But mostly its “hey guys just go loose, play it as you feel it”.
Give us a little insight into your process as a songwriter.
I try to be honest when it comes to writing songs. I’ve never tried to copy anyone. Sure I’ve been inspired by certain artists, but I’ve always tried to walk my own path. Sometimes a song can come from a simple phrase or a riff I hear on the radio, or usually it comes from just sitting down and noodling on the guitar. First maybe a riff or a couple of chords. Then a few words and I’m away! I find the first 95% easy. The last 5% is where the hard work starts. It’s the attention to detail that can make a good song into a great song!
How does ‘Place’ affect your writing?
It’s usually about how I’m feeling rather than where I am. Though I have produced one or two tunes that have come about completely from the environment. I guess I’ve written songs about the places where I’m not at Physically and spiritually, but perhaps where I want to be.
What in your opinion makes a great song?
A great song should work on a number of different levels. It can be lyric content, or maybe just an insanely catchy riff. Something that will stir emotion and create a vivid picture, or a feeling within the listener. Above all a great song should stick in somebody’s memory so they are humming it when they go to work the next day. This is why we all still sing along to “Pretty Woman” (A monster pop rock song)
In closing is there anything else we need to know about Robert Brown?
One thing for sure is that I will be Rocking & Rolling till I draw my last breath! Never deny the past because without it there aint no future. There’s Gold in that ole Country & Rockabilly Boy! Very strong foundations!! I’m not trying to fool anyone either what you hear is what you get.
Thank you for the revealing article and we will see you again!
A big thank you from Myself, Dominique, Frank and Fab. We really appreciate the chance to tell our story. We hope to see you all very soon.
Their new EP is being released on the bands own label Topers Rant Records.
Please contact Robert & the Sons at: email@example.com
00 44 (0)1728 860179 / 00 44 (0)7795 956650 ask for Robert
Robert Brown – Acoustic Performance “Oh My Head”
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