Today’s Feature – July 20-21

July 22, 2008 at 8:57 pm (Today's Feature)

When Curtis James says he performs as part of The People’s Party – he’s not joking. It’s quite the group. The band includes: Curtis James on guitar/vocals, Tony Glaser on bass/vocals, David Garner keyboards/vocals, Orlando Boyd on drums, Will Volume on electric violin/guitar, Justin Kirk on trombone, Robby Marshall on sax and finally Chris Bautista on trumpet. Whew. That’s a crowd!

And speaking of crowds, that’s usually what the band performs in front of… random ones. Yep, people often don’t realize they’re part of the People’s Party audience until the first couple notes blast off from their “People’s Portable Party Platform,” a 20,000 watt stage that transforms out of a truck with a push of a button. The band that combines a seamless mix of “funk, hip hop, jazz, and everything in between” is “dedicated to spreading love and unity in the celebration of life,” as well as bringing the music whenever, wherever. Their performance is the definition of spontaneous. They’ll simply pull up into your city; find a crowded intersection or college campus, and bust open the truck. Hell, lead singer Curtis James recalls “we went on a two and a half month national tour with an eight piece band and basically no shows booked, no places to stay, and no permits.”

Their album, “We Am One” reflects their support for progressive social ideals for the evolution of individuals and communities. It also reflects a slightly different sound than their usual storied live show – a more polished feel than the truck version, this studio record also contains hard to find positive lyrics that the scene generally lacks, certainly in this day in age. The music described as “Hippie Hop” was crafted on the album with the help of Grammy Award winning engineer Bob Tucker, adding even more credentials to the talented bunch.

If you find yourself lucky enough to be in the middle of a People’s Party performance, take in as much as you can. The police often show up in a hurry to shut things down (they want to see a permit or something – ridiculous). The band is preparing for a fall tour in support of the record while at the same time registering as many people as possible to vote. A pretty good deal. Get into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: The People’s Party

PensEyeView.com (PEV): My first question has to be about the massive truck the band travels in, that transforms into a 20,000 watt stage at the push of a button – “The People’s Portable Party Platform” or “The Platform” for short, which enables The People’s Party to set up and play anywhere, anytime. How on Earth did this come about?

Curtis James (CJ): David and I manifested it one day in the studio. We were talking about how cool it would be to have a vehicle that opened up into a stage where we could do guerilla shows all over the place. Later that afternoon, Angelique, David’s wife and an absolute angel, found the truck on Craigslist. Paul Ivazes, a great guy from northern California, had built it a few years ago for his son’s band after having a dream about it. We contacted him and went from there. He had received a bunch of offers from other people, but really vibed with our music and what we are about.

PEV: What is it like when “The Platform” rolls into an event and just “opens up shop” right then and there? What is the general reaction?

CJ: People are pretty much in shock when we start playing. Nobody has really seen anything like the truck before. Not to mention the fact that we roll up to some spots that don’t typically have live bands, like in the middle of a college campus or pulled over on the side of a busy street. Overall, people are really supportive and into what we are doing. Police are a bit of a different matter. We rarely, if ever, have a permit to play, so we often get shut down after ten or fifteen minutes by the police. We’ve kind of learned to deal with the cops at this point, so we don’t get tickets. We let them go on their power trip and just play dumb, like “Oh, it’s not cool that we’re blasting music in the middle of the day on the sidewalk? Oh, sorry. We’ll take off.” When you allow the police their power, they turn into little lovebugs. Usually they are apologetic that they have to shut us down. By that time, we have pretty much made our presence felt, so it’s all good. It only takes us a few minutes to get moving again, but we usually hang out for a while, register people to vote, and talk with new friends.

PEV: Now calling Venice Beach, California, but originally from Massachusetts, how did you form The People’s Party?

CJ: I found Orlando and Dave a few years ago on Craigslist. I love Craigslist. There was a moment when everything in my life I had found on Craigslist– my band, my apartment, my girlfriend. Anyway, I met them, Anton Cuyugan, a tremendous bass player from New Jersey and Brian Landau, a gifted saxophone player, and just fell in love with them. As musicians they are top notch, but they are also incredibly beautiful human beings. We clicked right away and started working up material that I had written and David had written. They added such great ideas and brilliance to songs that I had been working on by myself. We played as a five piece for many months, with drums, bass, keys, guitar, and sax. Then we added some more singers and kind of lost our direction. We broke up for a little while before we were really able to record much, only a few songs for a demo, but thankfully got back together to make love through music again. We picked up Tony Glaser, a friend of David’s from high school, on bass. The present lineup, with a full horn section and violin, allows us to bring a lot of different sounds and textures to the table, which is incredibly freeing musically.

PEV: Tell us about your earlier days in the music business when you were first starting out. How have you, over the years developed as a musician?

CJ: Before I moved to Los Angeles, and for about the first year I was out here, I was doing mostly singer-songwriter type stuff, doing open mics and coffehouses. I still love doing that and feel it brings out a certain part of my personality that feels really good, but felt limited in my expression. Putting the band together and watching it grow into the 8 pieces it is today has felt like a really natural progression. Musically, I think songwriting has always been my strength. I’ve always written on the guitar and so have been pretty decent at rhythm guitar in order to accompany myself. More and more, I’ve worked on my lead guitar chops, which, to me, is a different animal than rhythm. It has come a lot harder to me. It’s really been cool learning from players on other instruments as to how they craft their solos. It has helped me to look at the guitar in a different way than I used to as just a rhythm guitar player.

PEV: Was there a certain point when you realized that music was going to become more than just a hobby?

CJ: A big moment for me in realizing that music was going to be more than just a hobby was about four years ago when I went on a Vipassana meditation retreat in northern California. For ten days you don’t talk, you don’t read, you don’t write, you don’t look other people in the eye, you just meditate, look within, and observe what arises. In the process, you let go of a whole lot of old, limiting, belief systems, fear, doubt, and confusion. All that is left is clarity. At that point it was evident to me that I was going to play music for a living. I was making the conscious choice to play music for a living. There really was no doubt after that. Everything since has simply reinforced that decision.

PEV: Who have you not collaborated with so far that you would like to?

CJ: I would love to get together with a really serious dance, techno, electronica type producer to do some stuff, some shit people can roller skate to. I think that would be a lot of fun. There’s nothing like a good dance party, especially with roller skates. That and David Bowie.

PEV: In all your travels, which city do you think offers the best scene for music?

CJ: I don’t think there is any place that rivals New York in terms of variety of music, level of musicianship, originality, energy and just sheer amount of music. There are other scenes that are very cool- Austin, New Orleans, LA, but nothing compares to New York. For someone like me, who is into many different genres of music, New York is like a musical playground. It’s like a buffet in Vegas. A good one, though, not like The Frontier or Circus, Circus. More like Wynn or the Bellagio.

PEV: How has “life on the road” been for you? Good parts? Bad parts?

CJ: The road is a lot of fun. It’s an absolute dream come true. I kind of have an infatuation with truckers, so I get to act out a fantasy every time I’m on the road. Also, being part of a team that is all looking out for each other feels really good. You develop a brotherhood with all of the guys in the band, like platoon mates in war or something.

It can get pretty tiring, though. It’s hard to maintain a good exercise schedule, so the body gets pretty worn down. Not to mention the difficulty in eating healthy. I like to eat organic as much as possible, but it can be difficult to find organic, natural food in the middle of Arkansas at 2 am.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live People’s Party performance?

CJ: A lot of energy. A lot of fun. And a lot of love. There’s nothing like sharing in the moment of a live show with the other guys in the band and with the crowd. The transfer of energy is really a beautiful thing. We can come with a few different looks musically. Most of the time we have our full horns and a violin, so we have a really big, full sound. Though sometimes we are a lot more stripped down, maybe just drums, bass, keys and guitar. Our sets definitely vary immensely depending upon the lineup. Also, the venue can impact things a lot. Sometimes off the truck we’ll be playing for a mixed group, ranging from toddlers to geriatrics. We tend to keep it a little more family friendly for that kind of audience. If we’re playing at a club, though, you can definitely expect a raucous, high energy show to get everyone dancing their asses off.

PEV: Before a show, are there any pre-show rituals you do or is just go out there and perform?

CJ: I try to take a minute before every performance to go within and be present. I close my eyes, focus on my breath, feel my heartbeat, and really allow myself to be in the moment. There is no better way for me to tap into the well of creativity and expression than to shut off all the distractions of the outside world and focus on what is real, what I’m grateful for, what I love. A lot of times I either forget or am too busy to take a minute for myself. I can definitely tell the difference in regard to my feeling connected during those performances.

PEV: Any embarrassing or funny live performance stories?

CJ: I could probably go on for hours about the hilarity of our shows. I think the fact that we went on a two and a half month national tour with an eight piece band and basically no shows booked , no places to stay, and no permits is pretty funny in and of itself. It is a little embarrassing to roll into a city and have someone ask what venue you’re playing at and being, “uh, well, actually, we were going to try to play at the corner of 15th and main street, but we may get shut down pretty quick, so then we’ll probably try cumberland and red coat, but we might get shut down there too.” It’s kind of a double edged sword not having shows booked. For every six times we get shut down after ten minutes, we have one magical show that couldn’t possibly have been planned or permitted. The ability to be in the moment with the truck is amazing.

It always cracks me up when the cops come and try to shut us down when we are playing. At first, we try to pretend that we don’t see them by looking the other way or shutting our eyes and pretending to be completely lost in the music. Eventually, though, we have to acknowledge their presence. Then I’ll get down from the truck and talk in circles for as long as I can while the rest of the band plays. I think this may have hurt my ability to have real conversations with anyone anymore, as I have perfected the art of dragging conversations out well past the point of usefulness. Oh well.

PEV: Is there an up and coming artist out right now that you think we should all be looking into?

CJ: There’s another artist on our label, Maesyn, who is absolutely incredible. She plays violin, sings, clucks, hisses, whoops, whistles and dances around like a wild banshee. She is one of the most amazing performers I have ever seen. She used to play with us, but clearly needed her own band to front. I would definitely check out what she is doing. She has one of the more unique sounds I have heard as well- soulful vocals and virtuoso violin over some funky, kind of hip-hop beats. It’s really good stuff.

PEV: Your sound has been described as “Hippie Hop”. What is exactly is Hippie Hop and how does it feel to be a pioneer of such a new style?

CJ: Hippie hop is kind of a blend of rock, funk, hip hop, jazz, folk, and maybe some soul. Growing up in a time where so many different styles of music are at our fingertips, it’s impossible not to love every type of music and have it affect you. I don’t think I ever sat down and said, “I want to blend rock with funk, and maybe throw in a little hip hop,” it just naturally comes out as it does. Although I do recall, when I was maybe twelve, wanting to do a cross of Paul Simon with A Tribe Called Quest. I’m not really sure if that is what we’re doing. Trying to explain what the music sounds like after it comes out is a weird thing. People seem to like to define things, though, so we call it hippie hop. It sounds better than rofuhijak…or does it?

PEV: What can fans expect from “We Am One”?

CJ: They can expect an eclectic sound unlike other stuff that is out there. It’s a lot different feel than the live show. There is a lot of production that went into the album, so it’s much more polished than when you hear us live. I think there is a lot of different sounds from song to song as well. I’m not sure if people are going to like every song, but I’m sure that everyone can at least find one song or sound that we’re doing that they resonate with.

PEV: How is “We Am One” different than other albums out today?

CJ: Between the styles and the instrument arrangements, the album is pretty unique. Also, we keep our lyrics on the positive tip, which unfortunately isn’t really the norm today, especially with music on the radio and television. We take some chances that a lot of artists, especially those on major labels, probably don’t have the ability to take. We are blessed to be able to create the music we want to whatever extent we want. I’m very grateful for that.

PEV: What is one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Curtis James and the members of The People’s Party?

CJ: We have ritualistic sex with each other and each other’s pets. Just kidding. Though that would be surprising, wouldn’t it? Seriously, though, we are just little kids trying to figure out our place in this crazy universe. Just trying to be happy and spread that happiness, that love.

PEV: When you sit down to write, what kind of environment do you surround yourself in?

CJ: A lot of my songs come when I am in transit, walking around or taking a train or driving or something. I get some lyrics and a melody and write it down. Later on, when I’m with an instrument, I try to remember what melody went with the lyrics, which isn’t always so easy. I definitely don’t have a system for writing, I just try to be as open to inspiration as possible. I can feel it when a song wants to come out, though. When I feel it knocking, I am just looking to get out of the way and allow it. After the initial little burp is when the work comes in, putting it to music, arranging, etc. Although calling it work is kind of a misnomer. It’s always play, even when it might feel a little tedious. There is one environment, I guess, that always seems to illicit a song, though it tends to be my more singer-songwriter type stuff. I’ll sit on the couch, turn the lights off and light some candles. Playing just for myself, when nobody else is around, is one of the true pleasures of life. It feels like I’m making love with the unseen.

PEV: When you are not touring or performing, what can we find you doing in your spare time?

CJ: I love to meditate, run, hike, eat deliciousness, talk social theory and philosophy, look at beautiful things like art or trees or children. I’m really trying to just be present in everything I do. Be making love at every moment.

PEV: In one word, describe The People’s Party.

CJ: Evolution…no, love

PEV: So, what is next for Curtis James and The People’s Party?

CJ: We’ll be posting up in Venice Beach for the summer, releasing our album, registering people to vote and informing them about Barack Obama, having some beach parties, gearing up for a fall tour of the United States. David is in the studio right now recording some brilliance. I’m hoping to put down a couple of new songs this summer. Tony is getting his bikini line waxed. You know, just more of the same.

For more information on The People’s Party, check out www.myspace.com/thepeoplesparty


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3 Comments

  1. Ron Rivera said,

    They can expect an eclectic sound unlike other stuff that is out there. It’s a lot different feel than the live show. There is a lot of production that went into the album, so it’s much more polished than when you hear us live

  2. Today’s Feature - July 20-21 said,

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  3. Todayâ??s Feature - July 20-21 | damagefreight.com said,

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