SUPERSONIC BLUES MACHINE INTERVIEW
When Supersonic Blues Machine released their debut album, West of Flushing, South of Frisco in 2015, they set the blues world alight with their passion and dedication to old-school musical bonhomie. After taking their live jam on the road over the summer, the band are back with more special guests and plenty of blues. Producer and bass player Fabrizio Grossi talks to us about the new album Californisoul.
PG: WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO SINCE WE LAST SPOKE AT RAMBLIN' MAN FESTIVAL?
FG: Well I've been working on the release of the record doing press and interviews and all that kind of stuff. I've been involved with the movie Sideman. I'm one of the producers of the movie, but also I did the score Lance (Lopez) did some work with me on that. It's just opened in theaters here in the states, so I've been doing some promotion and marketing for that. It's the story of Hubert Sumlin and Pinetop Perkins, the guys behind Muddy Waters. It talks about his influence in the genre but also we were able to get a lot of friends and musicians to talk about his importance, we were able to get in people like Joe Bonamassa, Bonnie Raitt, Warren Haynes. We finished all the festivals last year and we ended up receiving a lot of awards for it, but the challenge was taking it to theaters. It took up a lot of time, but I'm happy with it.
PG: DID TAKE ANY DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO MAKING THE NEW ALBUM 'CALIFORNISOUL'?
FG: Yes and No. The main difference between this one and the first was that we've had the opportunity to interact as a band with the material as this new outfit. Every time we played together it was because we were jamming or playing somewhere together, or working on a record. As musicians and as a producer it gave us a deeper understanding of the interaction between the guests. Everybody has their own rhythm, dynamics and a different approach to things. When you get to do this live you see what works and what doesn't, but you also get to know the musicians in a different way. This album is more what Supersonic Blues Machine feels like with these guys. It's not necessarily a step forward, but it's a better interaction between us and the musical community that is involved.
PG: THE FIRST ALBUM WAS QUITE PERSONAL FOR YOU ALL, THIS ONE SEEMS MORE RELAXED, WAS THAT INTENTIONAL TOO?
FG: I think it's just the way it's been put together. We had a bunch of ideas still left over from the original jam sessions. I think it was the actual experience of interacting on stage. We knew that if we do these type of things people go crazy, so [we thought] let's do it in the studio. We've tried to create a record of Supersonic Blues Machine for people who didn't get a chance to see us live.
PG: WHAT DOES THE NAME 'CALIFORNISOUL' MEAN TO YOU?
FG: The idea is that California is not only a state it's also a lifestyle. It's a mindset, it's an ideology and it's a sound. I've always been a sucker for the California sound, especially from the 60s – Mama's and Papas, Buffalo Springfield and the whole summer of love. We had a bunch of songs from jams that were lying around, and we wanted to go back to the music that we love and the music that influenced our upbringing. We thought what if we were taking the journey from California to San Francisco in the 60s and turned on the radio, what would we hear? Well we'd definitely hear Janis Joplin, Santana, Allman Brothers, Muddy Waters, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and all of these bands were doing their version of the blues but they throw in their own recipe. That's pretty much what we're doing. We might not be classic blues musicians but we love it and that's what we are influenced by. We wanted to bring back the approach of that music and recreate that experience with our own songs. The other important factor is the lyrics. As a society 50 years later we haven't moved a bit: all the problems we had back then are still there, but the technology has changed. As humans, we've not improved our condition and it was important to rescue the message that was important to me then as it is today. The word Love has been overused, it happens so many times in this record. But it's not the kind of love in a Céline Dion record, it's like a John Lennon or Bob Marley love.
PG: HOW DID YOU APPROACH PRODUCING THIS ALBUM?
FG: The overall idea was to do a retro record, I love retro records. For me, Amy Winehouse's Back To Black is the bible. There are people who set out to make a retro, lo-fi record we didn't want to do it [exactly] like that, but we wanted to bring in elements of what was happening in those days. That's not only with the equipment and having the vintage instruments set up but also in the playing, the extended jamming, the fact that it's a little bit freer and not just recording to the click. Of course, we recorded to the click, but if a solo goes on for eight bars rather than four, we didn't want to chop it down so we could get on the radio. So that's what we did, we have a semi-vintage band that recorded with today's technology but without fucking with it. I use Pro Tools as a recorder, not that I can go in and change the pitch and fix somebody's mistakes; we did it exactly how you would have done a record in 1968 and we are really proud of how it sounds.
PG: YOU FINALLY MANAGED TO GET STEVE LUKATHER ON THE ALBUM, HOW DID THAT ALL COME ABOUT, AND WHAT WAS IT LIKE HAVING HIM WORK WITH SUPERSONIC?
FG: Lukather was one of the people who were responsible for all this to happen. About seven years ago when Kenny (Aronoff) and I first met we were playing with Luke in a sideband called Goodfellas. It was a jam band we used to play some fusion, rock, jazz-rock. It was a very refreshing thing, especially for me being a producer and working in the studio all the time. I did go out and play locally, but it's always been a very short thing because I gave up touring when my daughter was born, almost 16 years ago, because both my wife and I wanted to be around in the years that she needed more attention. So doing those shows reignited the flame. Kenny and I often talked about how we should do this more often, but we couldn't do it with Luke because he was busy with Ringo Starr's band, so we kept our eyes and ears open to the possibility of getting a guitar player and some other people involved. Then (Billy) Gibbons called and said' hey Fab I've got this song called Running Whisky' and that gave me the idea to write some other songs and start a band and see who's around to come and play. A week later I went to see Warren Haynes and he knew I'd seen Gibbons and said to me 'when do we play?' So I sent him some ideas and that was the song Remedy. Then everything else developed from there. At that point, we said that we have to have Luke on the record because he's one of my oldest and dearest friends in Los Angeles. I always call him my Guardian Angel – I have him on the left and Stevie Vai on the right – we always wanted him on the record, but when we were making the first album it was like a madhouse in Luke's life, he was beyond booked, if they could have they would have booked him on the moon. So we couldn't make it happen. Then we played a festival in Norway and invited Luke along to play which he didn't get a chance to do on the record. It was one of the best shows I'd ever played and that reignited the chemistry between Kenny, Luke and me and when it came to making this record I called him and said 'this time you better be around.' The recording he did with us is one of the best Luke moments that I've experienced since knowing him. It's one of the longest songs on the record but the jam kept going, the groove kept going.
PG: DID YOU EVER THINK OF MAKING THE BAND HAVE A DEFINITIVE LINE-UP?
FG: Supersonic Blues Machine was never meant to be a band in the same way that Oasis is a band or the Beatles, of course, there's always going to be elements, but this was created as a music community – where people are waiting to hear what you are going to be doing next on the recording and live; it's never going to be the same or boring.
PG: WHAT'S NEXT?
FG: We are putting together shows for next year and we like the big Daddy of moving parts – putting together all the guests – it's not really easy. We have several different options. We are definitely coming back to the UK, it's one of my favorite places, it lit my fire in terms of wanting to be a musician.
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