Providence’s Boo City is a band that has a melting pot of musical elements. Their material is a shifting flow between funky soul, rhythmic reggae and country blues. This seamless fusion of diversity in style comes from the talents of guitarist and vocalist Andrew Moon Bain, co-lead vocalist Tai Awolaju, bassist Harry Milloff, drummer Kevin White and the horn section of trumpeter Grayson Farmer and saxophonist Frank Moniz. It results in a fun time that makes them one of the top live acts within Rhode Island. To continue this trend, they’ll be coming through the Ocean Mist in Matunuck on Saturday with Newport surf shredders The Z-Boys.
I had a talk with Bain and Awolaju ahead of the show about harnessing a groove, being engaged with the crowd, a grounded vision of success and a new single they’ll be releasing soon.
Rob Duguay: Boo City has a very unique dynamic where the band fuses funk, soul, blues, reggae and even a bit of jazz into a powerhouse sound. When the band was first starting out, how was the process when it came to crafting this kind of music?
Andrew Moon Bain: It happened very naturally. We all grew up on a variety of music with hip-hop, R&B, reggae, soul, funk, blues and rock. We all have diverse tastes, which is rare in a band. We started out kind of shooting for a Stax soul type of sound but it quickly evolved during rehearsals as we jammed and got to know each other musically. Also, Harry has a very particular sense of groove, vibe and keeping the music true, if you will. He has helped shape the sound with a minimal yet solid approach to pocket.
RD: Sometimes a bassist can go unnoticed by the average music fan but their tone is vital to what a band can bring on stage.
AMB: Harry definitely serves that role for us.
RD: The both of you also have a knack for engaging with the audience while performing. Do you both find that stage presence to be a natural thing or did it take some work to ease into it?
AMB: It def took time. I had a band many years ago that Tai used to come see called Tiger Face. I can remember calling her up on stage back then and she was so shy. I felt much more of an artist over a performer over the years so it took me time to look at the crowd, learn how to open my eyes and everything else. It’s like anything you do on a regular basis, it gets better over time and with practice and now it’s second nature.
By the time Boo City came into being, the both of us had been seasoned in various different bands while honing our individual abilities. Our experience synced up and we just clicked. It was a bit magical and timely.
RD: Moon, you’ve also have made a reputable career out of being a studio musician. Notably, you got to be a part of Snoop Dogg’s Snoop Lion album that came out a few years ago. What do you think is a major thing that people might not notice when it comes to being a musician in that setting?
AMB: I am more of a record producer and songwriter in the studio. Developing songs and tracks that will become records, over being a hit man or studio musician who is called in to do a solo or play guitar on a track. A lot of which I do as well but mostly for my production team and close colleagues. That said, I think a major thing most people and even performing musicians don’t know without spending copious amounts of time working in the studio is how very different thing being a musician in the studio as opposed to a performing artist or musician really is.
We just finished up a new single called “Ride” that will have a video accompanying it. Tai, emphatically said to me after a couple vocal sessions, “I don’t like the studio!” which I totally understood. I love it and thrive there but it’s just not the same thing. You are meticulously laboring over one line, phrase or stanza for hours. You’re also disciplining your voice or skill and performance to be impeccable, honest, full of soul, vibe and life while not draining your energy before you get the final take.
As opposed to the immediate satisfaction of performing and interacting with a crowd while spilling your guts on the floor in front of a room of people. In the studio you are alone with your past, present, future and an engineer. All in a moment that lives forever. A live show is an experience that’s done in one hour or so.
RD: Tai, your voice adds a different dimension to the band that gives it a timeless feel. I’ve always compared it to classic jazz singers like Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters. Who do you consider to be your biggest inspirations when it comes to singing?
TA: I grew up listening to everything under the sun. My parents taught me to love everything from Mahalia Jackso to King Sunny Ade to Kurt Cobain. There are so many musicians that influence my heart. Gladys Knight is one of my all time favorites, the way she commands the stage deeply influences me. Another favorite is Bette Davis, I always love her bravery as a performer and she’s barely a singer.
She’s more of a percussive instrument vocally and she performs with absolutely no fear, which is big news in my book. Singers like PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Isaac Hayes, Teddy Pendergrass, Anita Baker, Pat Benatar gave me the strength of trusting in my individuality and just believing that I have a place in the world of music.
RD: So when can we expect the new single to come out?
AMB: Our good friend Ray Gennari recorded “Ride” at his studio Rocktorium Records in West Kingston. It’s coming out great and we also shot a video for it last fall with Robert Houllahan, who is a great filmmaker in Providence. The song will be a part of a compilation with other artists and we’ll push the video this summer into fall. We did track a couple other songs we will work on over the next year for release into 2020. We aren’t focusing on an album as much as singles.
For us, it is a massive undertaking to get what we all want out of an album. It’s great that we all have diverse tastes and sonic interests but it can be complicated when putting an entire project together. Making an album is a big job and even though someday we may compile all our recorded material into a full project, singles are a better format for Boo City at the moment. The time and budget alone is considerable. We also are being much more selective about our shows so working on one song at a time, without a big tour effort and financial support doesn’t make sense.
We are at a cool level, we really have fun when we are together and don’t have lofty aspirations that stress us out. We want to transform a room and infect an audience with the joy we feel when performing. That is success, right now.