The Road to CukoRakko: The Russ Liquid Test May 8, 2018 22:17
If you're a music lover in Alabama, you've more than likely heard about an amazing grassroots festival known as CukoRakko Music & Arts Festival. Founded in 2014, the festival has been held twice a year at Horse Pens 40 in Steele, AL. As this concept has continued to evolve each year, festival producers have decided to bring the spring festival to Birmingham's Avondale Brewing Company on Saturday, May 19th, while still having plans for a full-weekend festival in October.
The spring festival will now be known as CukoRakko Fam Jam, a one-day event held in the heart of Birmingham which features a wide variety of world class talent from across the country. As we prepare for another unforgettable CukoRakko experience, we're sitting down and getting to know a few of this year's performers. For our first installment, we caught up with none other than the headliner, Russ Liquid of The Russ Liquid Test. See below for the full interview, and stay tuned for additional preview coverage in the near future.
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Let's start off by talking about your musical background. You've built a strong reputation as a multi-instrumentalist. How did you get started?
Russ: I guess I was always interested in music. My mother was the choir director for the church we attended, so I kind of got started through the church. I learned piano first, then came the trumpet. Woodwinds were next. I guess you could say one led to the other.
Tell me a little about the formation of the band: The Russ Liquid Test. You guys put out your debut EP, 1984, back in 2016. You've since released a follow up EP. How did you get together? Tell me about the dynamic of this band.
Russ: Well, it's always been a goal of mine to get back to playing music with other people. That's what I come from. When I met Andrew Block (guitar) doing the Gramatik tour, that's when I kind of knew that this was the time to do it. He shares similar musical tastes and understandings. He wants to do the same things that I do, so it really seemed like the perfect thing to do. We had a few different drummers before we met Deven (Trusclair), but once we met him, it felt like it was meant to be. He's one of my favorite people, and also one of my favorite drummers.
I feel like there are still a fair amount of people out there who don't understand the dynamics of a live electronic band. Can you elaborate on how this concept works for The Russ Liquid Test?
Russ: Well, we kind of started out more along the lines of the traditional way that live electronic acts are doing it. They have some sort of backing track being played by a computer, and they supplement that by playing live instruments over it, which is kind of what we've been doing. We're slowly transitioning away from using a computer to play more parts than there are musicians on stage. Figuring out ways to still have the same impact, where we are triggering landscapes and textures, but in a way that's freeing us up from being locked down by a computer...if that makes any sense.
How about the amount of improvisation that's involved in your live show? I'm always intrigued to hear different artists' approach towards this creative aspect.
Russ: Our view that we all share on improvisation is that when used correctly, it can be a very powerful thing. However, as with anything, if it is overused, it can really take away from what you're trying to accomplish in the first place. That being said, we really like the power of a song. The song, to us, has specific parts, so there is variation to how we play each part on each night, but we try to stick the parts to really define what it is that we're going for on each particular song. We like to sprinkle that with moments on improvisation...to kind of add as a build.
Watch highlights from The Russ Liquid Test's recent Fox Theatre show here:
I also wanted to talk about the New Orleans music scene, and the impact it has made on this band. You had the chance to work with Ivan Neville and Russell Batiste Jr. on your debut EP. How has it been for you since relocating to the area?
Russ: Andrew Block, our guitarist, is really the person who is responsible for connecting us with these amazing musicians to collaborate with. He's been in New Orleans for around eight years...maybe even ten. He's an amazing guitar player. He's been nominated as one of the top guitarists in New Orleans by OffBeat Magazine. He did that by going out and connecting with the people who he wanted to learn from and associate himself with. He put in a lot a time and effort. So, it was really neat for me when I moved to New Orleans about four years ago. I was just plugged into all the amazing connections that he blood, sweat, and teared to make. He kind of gave The Russ Liquid Test an unfair advantage to just be plugged into having guys like Ivan Neville and Russell Batiste on our debut EP.
Well sometime's it really is a 'right place, right time' thing, you know?
Russ: It really is. I'm always trying to keep an optimistic perspective on all of the events that happen in my life. You never know where an opportunity can lie. That's kind of been the whole thing with this band. I was living in the Bay Area, and my place burned down. I was a bit of a transient while I was touring with Gramatik. That's when I met Andrew, and he suggested that I move to New Orleans, so we could make music together. It's kind of one of those things where good comes from bad. I don't think I would've made that decision had my place not burned down.
Russ: That's my philosophy of life, you know? You have your freedom of perspective. That's the only thing that is free. Truly freedom.
I think that's accurate. It's crazy how a disaster can turn into a blessing. It's almost as if it was meant to be in the long run.
Russ: Yeah...and it's really easy to drown in your own sorrows, but if you can stay afloat, you'll be able to see land. There's my daily preach for today. (laughs)
I also wanted to ask about RLT's sophomore EP, World Gone Crazy, which was released in November on GRiZ's label, All Good Records. Was this experience much different than 1984?
Russ: It was somewhat of a similar experience. I would say that the biggest difference between the two is that we didn't collaborate with as many people this time.
You've had the opportunity to share the stage with a wide variety of amazing performers. What are a few recent highlights?
Russ: We recently did a tour supporting Umphrey's McGee. On the last night, they asked me to sit in on a Herbie Hancock track, "Hang Up Your Hang Ups." I got to play saxophone, and I kind of associate myself as being a trumpet player. They insisted that I play sax, so for me, that was a really cool moment to have really crushing musicians ask me to play sax. It was so much fun. Even more than that, we just played Red Rocks with our homie OPIUO. There was a huge orchestra. I've known Oscar (OPIUO) for probably nine years now. He's one of my closest friends. It was really neat to see him headline Red Rocks with a full orchestra. I was really stoked for him. I played keys/horns and Andrew played guitar.
That sounds amazing. With the Umphrey's sit-in, was that much of a challenge? What's the transition like between the trumpet and saxophone?
Russ: It's different fingerings and some of the same muscles, but a little bit different. To be honest, it's pretty easy. I play trombone too, and it's way harder to go from trombone to trumpet, or vice versa, than to go from trumpet to sax or trombone to sax. Even though the trumpet and trombone have the same type of mouthpiece. The saxophone has a reed, the other ones just a brass piece of metal. For whatever reason, when you play the trumpet and then go to the trombone, the mouthpiece is so much bigger. It feels like you're swimming. If you do it vice versa, it definitely feels weird.
Before we wrap up, you're obviously headlining the CukoRakko Fam Jam in Birmingham on May 19th. What can attendees expect from The Russ Liquid Test?
Russ: Oh yeah, that's gonna be fun. Get ready to dance, and if you don't like a certain song, give it a second. We'll be playing something completely different in about one minute (laughs).
Photo by Craig Baird: Home Team Photography
CukoRakko Fam Jam Confirms Official 2018 Lineup March 12, 2018 15:00
The Russ Liquid Test
Redefining the possibilities of modern music, The Russ Liquid Test fuses the raw vitality of classic funk and the inventive sound design of electronic production. Songwriter/producer and renowned brass specialist Russell Scott heads up the New Orleans-based band. Guitarist Andrew Block and drummer Deven Trusclair round things out, with each providing a distinct musical background deeply rooted in the New Orleans jazz scene. Their debut EP 1984 featured an eclectic array of guest collaborators such as Mr. Lif and Ivan Neville—successfully creating an auditory canvas to forge The Russ Liquid Test’s irresistibly soulful future-vintage stylings.
A kinetic energy infuses each track on 1984. Giving way to a mixture of funk/jazz/electro, The Russ Liquid Test evokes a kaleidoscope of textures, senses, and moods. Featuring Ivan Neville on keyboards and the Funky Meters’ Russell Batiste Jr. on drums, the effervescent and synth-heavy title track “speaks about the current state of America from the perspective of an outsider,” as described by Scott. Lead single “Honesty,” meanwhile, finds The Russ Liquid Test slipping into a woozy psychedelia, offset by a brilliantly structured dichotomy introduced in its second-line-inspired groove.
At the heart of The Russ Liquid Test is an improv-driven musicality that began with Scott’s taking up classical piano. After spending several years playing in a jazz quintet on cruise ships and touring with psychedelic ska band Uprite Dub Orchestra, his one-of-a-kind artistry was unveiled in the genre-busting musical performance group MarchFourth Marching Band. Capable of playing the trumpet and saxophone, Scott quickly began experimenting with electronic music, eventually adopting the moniker of Russ Liquid. As his full-length debut, 2013’s Foreign Frequency showcased a forward-thinking mentality and fearless vision, anchored by an incomparable knowledge of music as a whole. “I wanted new colors to paint with,” says Scott of his foray into electronic music. “I kind of look at the electronic world as this whole other color palette, compared to the traditional sounds we’ve been working with for the past however many years.”
While on tour with Gramatik in 2014, Scott crossed paths with Block and discovered the duo’s shared musical tastes and philosophies. A South Florida native, Block grew playing guitar in his local Pentecostal church. “I wasn’t religious, I just wanted to play at that church because the music there was amazing,” says Block. He later relocated to New Orleans, pursuing his dream of becoming a full-time musician. The guitarist’s legendary endeavors reached fellow purveyors of soul/funk/R&B, ranging from Pretty Lights to New Orleans icon Dr. John. Capable of collaborating and working as a solo artist without missing a beat, Block released his 2014 debut You Can Only Go Up From Here on Gramatik’s independent label Lowtemp.
In the making of 1984, The Russ Liquid Test compounded their potent chemistry by bringing in a lineup of equally impassioned musicians. “Coming from a background of playing in bands and then getting into electronic music, I’d really missed having that interaction with other musicians,” says Scott. “The most rewarding thing for me is being able to bounce ideas off other people, so that the music ends up having more than just one person’s vibe to it. Ultimately it lets you give the audience even more to connect with.”
The studio workhorses have already begun working on a sophomore EP. The Russ Liquid Test also presents a joyful sense of synergy in their high-powered live shows, with recent appearances including Shambhala Music Festival, Lightning in a Bottle, Summer Camp, and Sonic Bloom, among others. No matter the setting, a clear multidimensionality can always be heard in The Russ Liquid Test’s projects. “We want to make people feel good but also give them something to reflect with,” says Scott. “It’s not about just making party music or music that’s more introspective—it’s for the full gamut of human expression, and we want it to be just as dynamic as life itself.”
Blending American and West African influences into a sound all its own, Toubab Krewe has set "a new standard for fusions of rock 'n' roll and West African music" (Afropop Worldwide).
Since forming in 2005, the magnetic instrumental quintet has won a diverse and devoted following at performances everywhere from Bonnaroo to the legendary Festival of the Desert in Essakane, Mali, the most remote festival in the world. The band developed their unique sound over the course of numerous extended trips to Mali, Guinea, and Ivory Coast, where they immersed themselves in the local culture and studied and performed with luminaries.
But the group has its roots in Asheville, NC, where many of its members were childhood friends and long-term musical collaborators. It was at home in the Appalachians, where the band recorded their sophomore album, Live at the Orange Peel.
Produced by Grammy winning producer Steven Heller (who also produced the band's debut), the new album captures their outstanding 2007-2008 New Year's run. All of the songs are previously unreleased and continue to mix American rock with the West African musical traditions the band fell in love with on their travels. Along the way, they explore the worlds of surf and zydeco, fusing it all together into what the Village Voice describes as "a futuristic, psychedelic, neo-griot frenzy" and Honest Tune hails as "one of the most innovative voices in music today." The new release features col- laborations with legendary spoken word artist Umar Bin Hassan of The Last Poets and fiddler Rayna Gellert of Uncle Earl.
Listen to Toubab Krewe's new single "That Damn Squash" here:
DYNOHUNTER is truly a breath of fresh air to the world of electronic dance music. With a sound embraced by fans of house and techno and a live performance fueled by the organic energy of live instrumentation, their music is undeniable on the dance floor. DYNOHUNTER's ability to blend deep electronic influences with live saxophone, bass, and drums forges a new path in the vast expanse of electronic music.
Their sound journeys from dark tribal meditations, exotic rhythms, and deep hypnotic grooves to hard hitting dance tracks, uplifting melodies, and soulful improvisations. Equally at home playing underground clubs and festival mainstages, DYNOHUNTER brings a relentless and unmatched energy to each and every set.
They've opened for some of the biggest names in livetronica including Conspirator, Eoto, Opiuo, Ott, and The New Deal as well as supporting world renowned DJ's Shpongle, Bonobo, Infected Mushroom, Klingande, and The M Machine. No stranger to the festival community DYNOHUNTER has performed at music festivals across the country including Wakarusa, Summercamp, Joshua Tree, Sonic Bloom, & Great North. With an unparalleled work ethic and a one of a kind performance DYNOHUNTER has established themselves as the livetronica artist to watch.
DYNOHUNTER has set themselves apart from the pack by creating timeless music that speaks to true lovers of dance music. Always paying respect to the artists that have inspired them and paved the way, yet always striving to make music that is contemporary and progressive, a genuine expression of their own unique human experiences and a reflection of the times.
Watch DYNOHUNTER perform "Knew Conscious" here:
From the Heart of the Midwest, Steady Flow brings a unique style of powerful funk music like you've never heard it before. Formed in 2012 by 18 year old, soul guitarist extraordinaire, Tanner Brown, and his older brother, Ky "Goonie-Mom" Brown on bass guitar, the group has now transformed into a six-piece funk-powerhouse, quickly claiming their spot as one of the best live acts around.
In Steady Flow's short existence, the group has taken on music festivals such as North Coast, Summer Camp, Phases of the Moon, and the list goes on. The band is constantly turning heads at every performance as their hard hitting Funk Rock compositions shake the room and force all audiences to dance, rage, & simply feel good.
Steady Flow released their first EP, "The Oneoff Sessions" in 2013, and their debut album, "Loud." in June 2015. The band released their newest full length album, "Do You Like That?" in April 2017! Do not miss a live show near you. Steady Flow is "The Future Of Funk."
Watch Steady Flow perform "Do You Like That" here:
Jimmy Lumpkin & The Revival
Straight out of a cabin in the backwoods of South Alabama, Jimmy Lumpkin belts out sublime sounds that are altogether Country, Rock, Soul and Blues. Jimmy is a singer, songwriter and guitarist with an intoxicating voice and a stirring, soulful bend to his own brand of music. With the voice of a 100-year-old angel from the delta, the soul found in Jimmy’s music is like no other. Skate Mountain Records is proud to present to the world music from a point of view they have never heard before. In the likes of Sturgill Simpson, Bo Diddley, The Black Keys and Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Lumpkin & The Revival set the bar higher than any other with their August 2017 release of their new album, "Home" - a unique blend of soulful roots rock and Americana.
Watch Jimmy Lumpkin & The Revival's music video for "The Best One" here:
After the disbandment of Festival Expressions, Ransom Pewitt (lead singer and guitar player of FestEx) created Barnaby Rudge as the new vehicle for musical endeavors. In the style of Steely Dan, Barnaby does not have a set line-up of musicians; rather, the best artists for the songs are chosen on a show by show and song by song basis. Some of the best local talent around Birmingham, Alabama aided in the first show at Workplay Theater. The line-up included members of Little Raine Band (Justin Sledge, Daniel Raine, Davis Little), local favorite Jason Grubbs, along with members of Tragic City and Taylor Hunnicutt & Co. Bassist Beck Hall played a few tunes in addition to the original FestEx bassist Marcus O'Neill. The next show, May 19 at The Cuko Rakko FamJam at Avondale Brewing Company, is sure to be another great night of live music with Beck Hall, members of Little Raine Band, Jason Grubbs, and Taylor Hunnicutt returning for the special event. The band will continue to evolve as previous Festival Expressions drummer Josh Wiseman joins the lineup in 2018. Stay tuned. Much more to come.
Watch Barnaby Rudge perform "The Music Never Stopped" at WorkPlay here: