There’s always a really cool vibe inside the cozy rehearsal space that Hampton’s soul/jazz/funk exports, The Fuzz Band, have inhabited for the many years that I’ve known them.
Nestled amongst an artsy row of eateries and miscellaneous businesses in downtown Hampton, the space is multi-use and funky—rightfully suited for late night jam sessions and recording work.
It’s the second day of the Democratic National Convention, which is particularly notable because it’s the day that Hillary Clinton officially, following a historic roll call, becomes the first female presidential nominee of a major party. So we briefly acknowledge that, as well as Virginia Senator Tim Kaine’s place on the ticket as the nominee for Vice President. It’s been a very busy summer for the band. Once regarded as being somewhat dormant, The Fuzz Band is having one of their most active periods in years, playing significant gigs throughout Hampton Roads and Richmond, while squeezing in time for recording. Back in May, the band even played Durham’s ultra-dope Art of Cool Fest, alongside the likes of national acts including The Internet, Kamasi Washington and Anderson .Paak.
“The Fuzz Band has been working hard this summer, and like, the sun does not quit,” notes co-lead singer and popular solo act, K’bana Blaq, referring to their taxing schedule, as well as the grueling heat that they endure playing outdoor concerts. We all readily agree that this summer has been exceptionally hot and humid, but I jokingly remind the band that they simply need to hydrate. “We hydrate, but it don’t make no difference…this heat is saying ‘no’,” K’bana emphatically states, which of course makes me laugh.
Most of the band is here this Tuesday, with the big exception of musical director Tavis Simmons, who is out of town, which is also why there is no actual rehearsing today. So the remaining members, trumpeter and bandleader Duane Smith, lead singers Nakia Madry-Smith and Michon David, the aforementioned K’bana, guitarist and young-un of the squad, Aaron Benjamin Eaddy, drummer Jason Jenifer, and bassist Percy Thomas III, are engaged in conversations about the Pokémon Go phenomenon (several of them play it), and new music that they’ve been listening to, from artists like BJ the Chicago Kid and Labrinth. We’re also missing percussionist Kevin Brown and producer Chris Wilkes, who subs on drums.
On Thursday, August 4th, the band, nearing two decades of performing and releasing music, will headline the final date of Sunsets on the River, a summer concert series on the grounds of the Hermitage Museum & Gardens (who is also, I may add, the generous sponsor of this post). The series kicked off in May with Major and the Monbacks, and has featured a different headlining act every other week since.
“It feels good,” Duane answers, when I ask what it means to the band to be the finale act for the series.
For this special show, The Fuzz Band will not only premiere some of their new music, but will perform multiple sets featuring the music of Prince, Motown, and DC go-go, amongst a number of surprises.
“The Prince set is really fun to me,” says Aaron, a die-hard fan of the Purple One, as is most of the group. Classics like “Kiss,” “Purple Rain,” and “Let’s Go Crazy” will be amongst the hits performed. And then apparently there’s a funk set, which Percy calls their “brickhouse” section. “I like playing it as a bass player.”
Following the Hermitage concert, the band will wind things down for a bit, so that they can focus on finishing up the new record, which is due out next year. This fall, a four song EP is being slated as the follow-up to their last recording, 2008’s Change EP. I always tease Duane about how long it’s been since their last official recording. I mean, they’re not as bad as D’Angelo and Stevie Wonder, but they’re certainly in line with Maxwell’s infrequent output. Duane promises that this time is different though.
“There are dates in August that are allotted for recording,” he notes. Later that evening, he and the wife, Nakia, who is also lead singer of the popular funk-rock outfit, Rocky 7, play me a couple of the new songs. “Gone”, a nice, mid-tempo soul jam, sticks in the memory banks especially hard. Producer Gabe Niles, from D.R.A.M. and Sunny & Gabe fame, has even submitted music for the new album.
It will be a different world that new Fuzz Band music will have to compete in. Streaming has unfortunately become the way that a majority of music listeners now consume new music. They all understand that they will need to quickly adapt to the digital dictates of our current era. “I recognize to not have a presence on SoundCloud is to be invisible to this generation,” acknowledges Nakia.
There’s also the issue of our nation’s current turmoil, from Black Lives Matters protests, to frequent acts of global terrorism that are impacting us here in the states, to the insanely polarized nature of this current election cycle. I ask the band how all of this affects their artistry and/or sense of responsibility as creative citizens.
“This is a bad time—stuff is popping off very day, people are getting killed,” acknowledges Duane. As a band though, they focus less on making grand political statements, and more on how music can break through all sorts of barriers. “If we can touch people, and make them forget all of their worries and woes in the world, then my heart is content.”
The Fuzz Band plays the finale of the Sunsets on the River series at The Hermitage this Thursday, August 4th. Gates open at 5:30, music starts at 6. For more info or tickets, click here.