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Archive for November, 2010

Discussion with Steve Raskin of Thunderball

Rob Myers, Steve Raskin, and Sid Barcelona are Thunderball

Before the show at which Thunderball opened for Bonobo at The Metro in Chicago last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Steve Raskin (the man in the middle of the photo) of Thunderball to talk about the group, their music, the new album, and all things electronic music.  Steve was the only member of Thunderball to make the trip to the Windy City (literally, it was VERY windy and freezing!) since Rob Myers their sitar player was touring with Thievery Corporation who were supporting Massive Attack on their US Tour.

We first discussed the origins of Thunderball.  Steve is a graphic designer by trade and happened to work on Thievery Corporation’s album artwork.  He was also in an indie band “Edsel” that traveled around Europe and that is where he sort of caught on to the electronic music scene that was blowing up over there in the late 90′s (Massive Attack, Air, etc).  He came up with some tracks and played them for the guys in Thievery who then agreed to put out their album “Ambassadors of Style” on Eighteenth Street Lounge (ESL) Records which is Thievery’s own label.

Another huge reason Thunderball exists is because of Rob Myers’ amazing ability to play the sitar.  Steve told me Rob ventured to India to study the instrument and is one of the best string instrument players he’s seen and can play anything.  ”One of the main focuses of Thunderball was really to allow for him (Rob) to be able to do this sitar” he said.  ”The sitar is very hard to play dynamically, but Rob can do it.  We try to have these things that are vehicles for him to be able to do his thing.”

One of the things about Thunderball I was really curious to find out more about was how they usually attempt to play the music in a live concert environment. Steve noted it is hard to perform the music with live instruments with the limited resources they have. They have done Thunderball with a full eight piece band.   Frustrating to balance the live vs electronic elements of the music.  Sound guys have no idea how to mix it and it can sound terrible.  To create music for the albums, he writes music by ear mostly.  He tries to find different sounds he really likes such as the big horn hits or flowing string parts.  However, when they do decide to use a certain sample, they try to make a point of not looping those parts, especially the sitar.  For example, they will bring in the very talented horn players from Thievery Corp and replay the riffs over the loop to give it a more “real” sound.  Steve added, “with one real lead instrument on top of it, the illusion of full orchestration is there.”

“The new album (“12 Mile High”) really encompasses everything we have done up to this point” said Steve.  He also mentioned he thought of the album as a trip around the world and each song is a stop in a new destination.  I thought that was really ironic since I thought the same thing in crafting my review for the album.  The hero of the story has different stopping points throughout the “film” and each stop has different soundtrack to it.  Steve hit on this point hard as he mentioned a couple of times that “Thunderball makes soundtracks for non-existent movies.”  In fact, he said he loves chase scenes in film and TV and a chase scene was the inspiration for the fast paced “I C Colors.”  They also wanted to have a vehicle where the entire focus of the song was the sitar, hence the opening track “Enter the Brahmin.”  Thunderball had primarily used the song as an intro to their live shows and then decided to mix it and finally put it on an album.  In fact, Steve said some pieces of songs on “12 Mile High” have sat around for up to six years but now have been chopped up and used on the new album.

On our walk to the venue, we talked about how Steve describes the “Thunderball sound” to people and he said that he usually says the name of a movie or TV show for the person to have a reference point.  I thought for this write-up I would upload another YouTube video that I think perfectly exemplifies the “Thunderball sound” from the show at The Metro which was the groovy “Thunder in the Jungle” off of their previous album “Cinescope.”  It has all of those hard hitting horn riffs, a 70′s funk sound along with a great dance beat and makes you think of Danno Williams chasing someone down in “Hawaii Five-O.”

In summation, it was awesome meeting Steve and finding out more about one of my favorite electronic artists.  Especially finding out how nice these guys are.  I couldn’t have asked for a better first interview!  ”12 Mile High” is out NOW on the ESL Music label and you can pick it up through ESLMusic.com, AmazoniTunes, and many other locales.  Go get it and support these great guys who make awesome music!

Keep chilln’

-Chris

Bonobo with Thunderball at The Metro- Chicago, IL

I had a chance to make it to the Bonobo show with Thunderball supporting this past Thursday and it was quite epic!  It was a cold, windy, and rain/sleet filled night but worth every mile I drove to get there.  This was the first show of the tour for Bonobo’s US stint this fall.  The opening act Thunderball was limited to a DJ set by Steve Raskin as Rob Myers was out on the west coast touring with Thievery Corporation who were supporting Massive Attack.  I actually had a chance to sit down to have a chat with Steve about Thunderball before the show.  Check back here soon for that article!

Steve Raskin commanded Thunderball's set at the Metro

Thunderball began a 45 minute set with the sitar-featured “Enter the Brahmin.”  It’s a great intro track on the new album “12 Mile High” and it would have been great to hear the sitar live, but the song still had the crowd nodding their heads along with the groove.  The highlight of the set for me was “The Road to Benares” off of their previous album “Cinescope.”  This was one of the first tracks I first heard of theirs (on their MySpace page) and could listen to it on repeat and grow tired of it, so it was great to hear it booming on The Metro‘s sound system.  The high energy beat and huge sounding strings create that sense of urgency which makes it a perfect soundtrack for a spy movie.

“Dub Science” turned the venue into a reggae dancehall with its reggae beat, quick hitting horns, and dubbed vocals.  Another highlight was the frenetically paced “Thunder in the Jungle” which Steve mixed superbly.  The crowd definitely  appreciated the efforts with a loud ovation at the end.

Bonobo started off his set with a long intro which was the track “Recurring” from the 2006 release “Days to Come” and as each new part of the song began another performer stepped out on stage to add their instrument to the ensemble.  Simon Green (aka Bonobo) didn’t spend much time at the DJ table, although he made up for that later in the evening (or should I say morning) with his appearance downstairs spinning at Smart Bar, but he did throw down a lot of funky bass lines throughout the show.  My favorite track off of Black Sands “Kong” was the first song after the intro and did not disappoint.

“El Toro” probably did the best job of featuring all of the instruments in the band.  The violin has a great part that stands out to begin the chorus where then the horn ensemble follows suit afterward.  Sometimes the horns seemed to get a bit loud, but I think that small issue could be fixed with more time to rehearse and play with each other.  The band only had two days rehearsal time in Nashville before getting started on tour.  The woodwind player (who played mostly flute, but also wailed on the tenor sax, soprano sax, and the clarinet) was the stand out performer of the horn ensemble.  He played a peppery hot solo on “We Could Forever” which was a stand out track on the album and was even more enjoyable live.  Check out a snippet of the solo below.

The crowd was treated to Andreya Triana‘s beautiful vocals early and often with her first appearance being on “Stay the Same” from Black Sands and her voice is even more dynamic live than on the studio recording.  She stole the show and did a masterful job on every song she performed.  I highly recommend checking out her work.  Here’s a sample of her performance I have also uploaded to YouTube for your enjoyment!

The end of the show saw everyone switch instruments (other than the awesome flutist) and the ensemble gave us one more long jam on “Picks Up.”  The crowd roared in appreciation at the end of the set and a few people headed downstairs afterwards to check out the DJ set at Smart Bar.

It was a great show and you can catch Bonobo and Thunderball on tour NOW!

Keep chillin’

-Chris

Thunderball setlist

Enter the Brahmin

Vibrations

Dub Science

The Road to Benares

Heart of the Hustler

12 Mile High

Stereotonic

Thunder in the Jungle

I C Colors

Make Your Move

The Panther

Bonobo setlist (via Setlist.fm) 

Recurring

We Could Forever

Kong

Stay the Same

Days to Come

The Keeper

Drey’s Solo (drums)

Kiara

Ketto

Nocturary

Flutter

El Toro

Eyes Down

Nightlife

Between the Lines

Encore

Black Sands

Picks Up