“We’re not the type of people to say “all artists have a duty to write political music.” We just write about the things that are important to us.”
We caught up with Indiana-based soul artists, Durand Jones and the Indications, to get to the heart of their music and it’s power to connect with such a diverse amount of people worldwide.
Premiering new songs of their latest album: ‘American Love Call’ the other week, at Dingwalls, Camden, their sentiments resonated with the crowds; the album itself is very much a love letter to life and an expression of how people are feeling right now – their deep lyrics feed the soul.
Elizabeth: Firstly, take us back to the start of the band and where you all met?
Durand: This project got together in the autumn of 2012. I was working with the IU Soul Review as a graduate assistant. Soul Review is a class students can audition for. The ones who get in learn about and play soul music. I taught the horn section, wrote horn charts, and arranged horns parts. I was asked to sing for the class as well since this year was short on guys. They knew I sang with bands back in Louisiana, and since it was my job I reluctantly said yes. The particular category of study this semester was Motown. I sang backgrounds on some Temptations stuff, and had a solo on a Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell duet— ‘For Your Precious Love.’ That’s how I met Blake Rhein who gave me Charles Bradley’s ‘No Time For Dreaming’ on CD one day after class. In that way he established a friendship with me and invited me to hang with him to sing on a tune he was writing. The tune became ‘Givin Up’. He then introduced me to Aaron Frazer. And we all began writing together. We started to hang and listen to records as well. They introduced me to a band that they played in called Charlie Patton’s War. They were a rowdy rock and roll band and the first time I played with these guys was in a basement to Otis Redding’s ‘Dock of the Bay’ at party in a basement. That was the start!
E: Durand, you mentioned you were from a small town, in what ways has coming from a small town impacted you?
I’m from a very rural part of Louisiana. A place called Hillaryville, Louisiana. Coming from a rural area I got to explore for miles in the woods, go fishing and swimming in the Mississippi River and learn a traditional style of singing that isn’t practiced much anymore in the Baptist church. Our parents forced us to be outside and wouldn’t let us back in until the sun was going down. That is how I discovered my love and need for nature. In the country things are still so all of your senses and emotions are heightened. Moving to Bloomington was a wake up call. I didn’t realise how poor I grew up until I moved up there, or how country I was. I recently moved back to Hillaryville after doing stints in Chicago and NYC and I must say it truly feels like a completely different world between Hillaryville and those places. I love the country life and it’s where I want to be for the rest of my life.
Aaron, when we met at your Dingwalls show, you mentioned you played in a punk band. How did you find the transition in going from punk to soul?
Haha, well more punk-blues than straight up “punk”. Before we met Durand, 3/4 of The Indications had been in our own rock n roll band called Charlie Patton’s War. We had a reputation for putting on super rowdy performances; Blake used to stand on top of my kick drum etc. We played a ton of shows over 3 years – mostly house shows and dive bars. But that meant that when we met Durand, the band was already tight. The soul and rock artists we enjoy are ones that celebrate passion and prize grittiness.
And at what point did you all realise you guys had something special as Durand Jones and the Indications? – Do you guys still play in other bands?
Blake: Last year when we played the Troubadour in L.A., the whole room sang every word to “Is It Any Wonder,” which was completely surreal. People we’re even singing along to “True Love,” which at that point only existed live demo on YouTube.
Aaron put out a really great 45 under the name The Flying Stars of Brooklyn. That band featured Eli “Paperboy” Reed and they are amazing live. They play a fundraising show once or twice a year, so if you’re in NY keep your eyes peeled.
You all have such amazing energy on stage. I remember the first time seeing you play (at the Lexington, London) and was blown away by your energy and humbleness. You guys put so much energy into each show. How do you consistently maintain this?
Durand: A lot of it comes down to touring smartly. We don’t drink or smoke much and try to eat right. There’s so much music out there, and so many touring artists, that when people decide to pay attention to what you’re doing, you better return the favour and give them your all on wax on stage.
How do you find touring? How was last years 10 week tour – any crazy stories to share with us?
Blake: I had a hard time with being on the road for long periods of time at first. I love having my own space to be creative, draw, and paint. That’s basically impossible on the road. But I’ve found my ways to stay happy and healthy on the road and I’ve really come to enjoy it.
One of my favourite stories was from Kansas City last year. After the gig, we all ended up at the same little jazz club down the street from the venue. Most of us were at a table in the back and there was a little quartet in the front playing standards. Out of nowhere comes a wild-as-hell trumpet solo, and sure enough it Kiinch, who was touring with us at the time. The crowd was way into it, but the house band, who were undoubtedly upstaged, were not.
At Dingwalls the other week, we really loved the bands matching shirts, reminds us of the soul bands. We were also admiring how there was a real diverse mix of people and ages. Soul music is what brought them there, you have really connected to people. Tell us more about the support coming through as of late?
Blake: Early on, we had a small coalition of fans who came from the record collecting community. That group along with the independent record stores clerks that were recommending the record were crucial in getting us off the ground. But the more we’ve toured around, we’re meeting all different types of music fans. We’ve met some fans who love live music more than anything and will come see us multiple times over the course of a week on tour. We’ve met fans who are totally new to collecting soul 45s who probably bought their first single at our merch table. One of the most rewarding group of fans we’ve connected with is the lowrider community throughout southern California. A lot of these folks have been listening to this style of music for 50 years. They’ve been incredibly enthusiastic and supportive about what we’re doing.
Congratulations on the new album: ‘American Love Call’ – it feels like a love letter or expression of your feelings to America. Tell us more about the dynamics in writing and sharing vocals.
Durand: Everyone writes and brings ideas to the table when it comes to the songwriting. Sharing the vocals is something that reminds us of all of the vocal groups that we have come to love. With the resurgence of this style of soul music, many bands call upon high power shouting soul singers but no one has embraced the musings of someone like Eddie Kendricks or Damon Harris, and Aaron has filled that void I believe. He gives us a unique and refreshing dynamic to the group. Although I’m not doing much soul shouting anymore, it’s a nice contrast between us two.
I’m loving the political commentary on your songs. It really connects to what people are going through. I heard what you said at Rough Trade East, that 78% of Americans are living from pay check to pay check. It kind of reminds us of Charles Bradley ‘World is Going Up in Flames’ and Aloe Blacc ‘I Need a Dollar. It feels like you are following on from them but doing it in your own way.
Aaron: It’s a crazy statistic, but it’s true. We’re not the type of people to say “all artists have a duty to write political music.” We just write about the things that are important to us. And among those things is the idea of intersectionality. Racial identity is at the forefront of the political conversation, and that’s essential! But only focusing on that leaves out the things that unite us. And a big uniting force is class. We can acknowledge what makes us different while working together to improve conditions for poor people, regardless of their colour.
We spotted that you raffled one of your records for The Poor Peoples Campaign – can you tell us more about your involvement in this movement?
Aaron: I learned about the Poor People’s Campaign last year, and it verbalised so many things I’d been feeling. It’s a non-partisan movement created by Martin Luther King Jr. that revolves around uniting people across racial lines to address issues of economic, racial and environmental inequality. I’ve been trying to organise shows and fundraisers like this to raise money for the organisation because I believe this movement could be the source of hope and positivity so many people are searching for.