The earliest incarnation of the neo-soul band Con Brio began performing in the Bay Area in 2009 and in recent years has undergone significant additions to the lineup now seven members strong. This month holds their first official release with the Kiss The Sun EP (available now). From there, the band will set off on their first tour outside the Bay, make several festival appearances, all while already working on a new record. I sat down with vocalist Ziek McCarter and keyboardist Micah Dubreuil to talk about how Con Brio plan to conquer 2015.
Q: The original members of the band have been playing since 2009, can you describe what has changed since becoming what people now know as Con Brio?
Micah: We had been playing as that project for a few years and as time went on we decided to keep the name to keep that institution together but it has really become it’s own entity entirely. One great thing about the additions was there were so many things that worked in past projects but this new group had so much fire right from the beginning. We knew we had something.
Q: Have their been any major elements that have managed to carry through since those early years?
Micah: Well, myself, John (bass), and Andrew (drums) have been playing together for five years so what it is now is that the trust and interplay that takes so long to build is still there. Now that we have all this new stuff we are still exploring all these new dynamics so there is a great working relationship here.
Q: The new lineup is still relatively fresh but no one would guess you haven’t been playing together for years. How was it for you to jump in to their repertoire [Ziek]?
Ziek: He said it, it’s like the meat and potatoes – the chemistry was already there. At least for me I knew I just had to do my job. The vibe was already there, like chemistry, chemistry is everywhere – like you and a lover – you just need that for something to manifest.
Micah: Ziek and I had been jamming together more or less every week for awhile…we had both learned how to play with a serious band together so by the time we sat down to do our own thing we had an idea of how to do that and what the right way to approach it was. It was super fun, we essentially were on the sidelines on this tiny bench waiting to be called up surrounded by all these super badass cats.
“We blast music on our PUNK wireless speaker to make being crammed into a hotel room or van in between shows A LOT more enjoyable!. It helps us remember why we do what we do.”
Q: With the new EP, people are finally getting to hear your songs off the stage. Do you consciously put a different focus on your live sound versus how you want it sounding on record?
Ziek: Of course, recording you have to be a little more gentle on the ear. You can take a live band and put them in someone’s headphones but you have to hold some things back – it’s a completely different experience and you have to cater towards that. For a lot of the same songs we perform every night we still make them feel new and fresh by experimenting. We spend a lot of time structuring how we want the night to go. We may play the same song every night but can decide ‘this night, we’re going to try it this way’. We do this because it’s all about the moment and being about to take things from the audience. There’s a lot more factors in the live setting. But in the studio we become scientists with a completely different way to create that structure.
Micah: I think our intention with the live performance, since there’s so much movement and energy on stage, we really try to get to the point where if you’re just there to have a good time you’re going to have that. If you want to cover your ears you’re still going to enjoy what you see and if you can’t see you’ll enjoy what you hear. On the record you don’t have all these dynamics so you have to understand what works for the ears, there’s much more subtlety to it.
Q: Do you have a track you perform that is a stand out for the band? Is there anything you tackle live where it simply takes over each time?
Ziek: It evolves, for me it used to be Give It All, then it became Sex Supreme, and came back to Give It All. Now it feels like a song we have called Hard Times but it’s hard to have that approach with every song so it can stay fresh.
Micah: We spent a lot of time trying to get Sex Supreme down to ten minutes for the show at the Fox (in Oakland) and almost couldn’t do it. We work really hard on how to arch a tune like that and keep the audience entertained. Sometimes we’ll have a song like Give It All be this epic song to end a show then decide to shift and stop playing it for awhile until we know it’s time to bring it back in.
Ziek: Yeah, Sex Supreme has had a night where we played for twenty minutes, so to answer the question, that’s the one.
Q: A lot of people have that flash association with the band to classic Soul and R&B acts. Do you have any contemporary artists that you take any influence from or who just really connect with what you do?
Ziek: D’Angelo [in a big way], I really dig James Blake, Janelle Monae, a lot of Pharell’s new stuff.
Micah: It varies, I really like Snarky Puppy, Hiatus Kaiyote, and D’Angelo is the dude for me. There’s a lot of great music happening right now which always feels great to say.
Q: Let’s talk about the new EP, what is the attitude for you surrounding the release?
Ziek: We’ve been playing these songs for a while now so it’s exciting [to have them on record]. We’re also excited about what we’re working on now. We have a full length album in the works. For Kiss The Sun, it embodies a fresh thing, like Micah said it had a lot of fire in the beginning and it still does. There are a lot of big ambitious songs.
Micah: We worked on the EP for a long time, we’re really happy with it, and now we want people to be able to hear it. This is our introduction to the world.
Q: Simply talking about the existing fans it’s huge to finally let them take your music home with them.
Micah: There have been times, especially with Sex Supreme, where people are singing along and it’s amazing and we hadn’t even released much. I’m really excited for people to be able to connect with the music more and really be able to sing along with the whole show.
Ziek: You know you have an impact when you see someone singing your songs at a show. It feels so good – like we are all on the same team.
Q: All your recent local shows have sold out, you’re about to hit the road for the first time, including performances at Bottlerock in Napa and at SXSW next month. What has everyone really amped up for the year?
Micah: International tour! Well Whistler, so Canada counts. A lot of it is the fact that you need to sell CDs to pay for gas and to leave that connection with people. And now we have the means to do that. We had to wait til now and have really been itching for it.
Q: Do you need any mental or physical preparation for hitting the road?
Micah: I’m going to get a neck pillow…
Ziek: We recently got a hold of a few things we’re really excited about…I don’t think we can talk about them yet tho but there are things up through September.
Micah: We have some video projects in the works and have been having a lot of fun with that – hoping to make it a more regular thing. And just putting out more music, playing more shows, we’re really just trying to up the quality of everything we do.
Ziek: We’re trying to influence culture in a very powerful way. So far we’re doing what we love and everything else has been a great surprise
Catch Con Brio on tour across the US, with dates and tickets here. You can stream or buy the Kiss The Sun EP now on Bandcamp. Make sure to follow the band on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay in the loop!
About the author: Mike Chouinard is a habitual Bay Area show-hopper and new music junkie. Currently Artist Relations at DeliRadio and Training Director at KALX. Follow the music based ramblings on Twitter.