Kings Go Forth Talk Basketball and Records
In my perfect world, I would have an Eames recliner. Also, there would be a band making music today that's influenced by old soul/funk without sounding derivative. And they would be into hoops. And there would be a serious record dude lurking in their ranks. The existence of such a band, and the chance to pick their brains, would be almost self-serving for me; I'm always knee-deep in NBA, and when I need air, I pretend to be a record collector. Which is, as some of you know, so much less stressful than following box scores.
As it turns out, dreams do come true. Not long after I first heard Milwaukee's Kings Go Forth, (late on this, I know), I got an email from their publicist pointing me in the direction of a Bucks vid using KGF's "One Day" as the soundtrack. I ended up sending some questions on NBA stuff for guitarist Dan Flynn, and record nerd queries for bassist Andy Noble. It might be the ultimate in narcissistic music writing, or the moment where I am made whole as a person (at least Internet-wise), but for real, you need to hear this shit. We'll even be running a contest: Send me your best pairing of a rare record with a semi-obscure NBA/ABA/Eastern League player, along with a little bit of explanation, and you'll be in the running to win a copy of Kings Go Forth's mightily-acclaimed debut, The Outsiders Are Back. Send entries to freedarko at gmail dot com.
Oh, and I got my chair.
Bethlehem Shoals: One of the things FD has been continually baffled by is the relationship between music and sports. Sometimes it seems merely aesthetic, other times,there's a deeper kinship there. I'm sick of being told that basketball is like jazz, and on the other hand, basketball = hip-hop is almost too fraught to get into. So, the blanket question: What do you think?
Dan Flynn: I think this question comes down to if you're looking at it from a player's viewpoint, or more a spectator's. I play both music and ball, and even when I'm watching/listening I'm doing so as an active participant—putting myself into the situation. I find a lot of similarities, and I think of both as forms of self expression through non-verbal communication. In each you have a framework; in basketball an overall game plan with some set plays and defensive schemes, and in music you have a song with a verse, chorus, etc. But over that song you can improvise. Take "One Day"—there's a basic drum pattern, conga pattern, bass and chordal pattern, but really the whole rhythm section is improvising over that framework, listening and playing off of each other. We've never played that song the same way twice. And [vocalist] Blackwolf never sings it the same way. It's group improv, which is very similar to say, running an offensive set in basketball. You never know what the defense is going to do and you need to adjust, you need to improvise.
Basketball is more relatable than any other sport because of the way it flows—few sports have the same motion. Maybe hockey and soccer, but definitely not football or baseball. Basketball's all about rhythm, and of course so is music. Especially music with some looseness to it like soul, funk and jazz, you can feel that push and pull, that ebb and flow.
BS: Kings Go Forth is a band that really reflects not only a respect for the past, but a real interest in the self-proclaimed "record guy" culture. After all, you have Mingering Mike doing the cover for the new record. You guys do have a very distinctive sound, one that's not just run-of-the-mill funk revival. I keep hearing, or at least hearing about, these random records that do cast a new perspective on a tradition. Any particular "unusual" records that really influenced you?
Andy Noble: Well, I'd like to think I'm on the front line of the record discoveries, as I am out there everyday digging, both traditionally and through talking to old artists/producers/etc. There's nothing I love more than uncovering something that was previously unknown and has musical validity to today's scene. Some of the things probably sound better today than when they were initially produced. But, as far as influence is concerned, it's not like there are magic rare records that I draw from that distinguish our sound from other groups'. I am equally as influenced by a Stevie Nicks' song that is playing in my girlfriends car as I am by some private-press, one-known copy spiritual jazz LP that I found last summer. Which is to say, I am influenced by all of it.
BS: Do you ever get anyone questioning the authenticity of soul/funk coming out of Milwaukee? It doesn't have quite the same tradition as, say, Chicago.
AN: Well, that's not really a matter of opinion, it's a matter of looking at my box of over 200 locally produced soul 45s from the 60s-80s and saying , yes, this was/is a thing. Hundreds of men,women, and children from this city entered mom-and-pop studios, probably inspired partly by the local successes of Harvey Scales and the Esquires, and cut some pretty great music. In my opinion, the sound of Milwaukee R&B would best be characterized as "low-budget" Chicago or "low-budget Midwest" Soul. We did not have the infrastructure of a Chicago or a Detroit as far as access to professional arrangers, string sections, etc., so the scope of the recordings are usually a little toned-down from what you would hear from those cities. I think that sound continues through our record, for sure.
BS: What players today would you say either match your guys's sound, or just generally the spirit of this style of music? Are the Bucks too scrappy and goofy? Can I cast a vote for Brandon Jennings as the lone exception?
Dan Flynn: That's kind of a tough question, I feel like I'm really reaching here. But it's funny, I'd say the scrappiness of the Bucks this year definitely fits us, and Jennings in particular. Another guy might be Manu Ginobili. We have a lot of excellent, seasoned players in our group, but at the same time I feel we often approach things with more of a punk/indie rock attitude. In fact the use of the word "janky" is pretty common amongst ourselves to describe what we're doing. That's what I feel separates us from the other groups out there in our style, as well as some of the older groups; we're not trying to be smooth. We're not afraid to be rough, ragged and raw—we don't care how we look doing it.
As far as style or aesthetics, he's not current but a year or so ago I DVR'd a bunch of early Jordan college and NBA games on ESPN Classics. I guess I hadn't remembered how hard he was rocking those Dr. J moves back then, and it was really interesting to see. He was somewhere between the style of the late '70s NBA and what he'd later become, which I think is pretty much still the modern offensive NBA style. You could see it was there, just hadn't developed yet. I guess that's where I see us, one foot in the past yet trying to see how to apply those classic elements to the present and future.
BS: Have you ever had stuff played at Bucks game, or gotten feedback from Bucks (or their fans)? That vid of Bucks footage and "One Day" worked surprisingly well.
DF: Not that I'm aware of. That video is a good fit though, but I have to say that song seems to be a good fit for all kinds of things. I occasionally play pickup games with Tony Smith, who does some commentary for the Bucks (and of course is a top player in his own right), I might ask him next time I see him. Actually I just wanted to drop his name. I remember a year or so ago someone mentioning a possibility of us playing at halftime, don't know what happened to that.
BS: How about some top five lists for the people?
Dan Flynn: For the record Steve Nash is my favorite player. But if I was putting together an all-time best as far as a team that would crush anyone I wouldn't pick him. Too much of a defensive liability. So at point, although not known for his D I'd have Magic. At shooting guard I'd have Oscar Robertson (yeah, I'm from MKE, but can you blame me?). Small forward MJ, gotta have him in there somewhere I guess (swing man?). Power forward maybe a healthy Kevin McHale. Wait, scratch McHale—I'd like to see Garnett and Bill Russell together. Defense.
Andy Noble: The five important records in my life:
-Love, self-titled debut LP. Soundtrack to my 20s.
-Pharoah Sanders, "The Creator Has A Master Plan". Saved my life a few times.
-The Impressions, "Mighty Mighty Spade and Whitey". I started digging for records because of this tune.
-Little Beaver, "Do Right Man" 45. SAADIA. First "big boy" record in my box.
-The Specials More Specials LP. Taught me that a "genre" band could completely break the mold and make something brand new out of a traditional form.
BS: Do you ever watch games on mute? If so, with what music on?
Dan Flynn: No, I don't. I no longer have cable, so when I'm watching it's mostly in the company of several others, or I'll have a game on the radio at work. Think I'm gonna have to get ESPN 360 next season. But I don't know if I'd like music at the same time, might take away from the focus/intensity.
BS: Describe your relationship to the past and the tradition, insofar as thinking about KGF's sound and style is concerned.
Andy Noble: Obviously we draw fairly heavily from the well of independent 60s-80s black american music, especially in the aesthetic department. I would like to think that the content, both lyrically and emotionally, of the music is as contemporary or "timeless" as anything else out there right now though. At least that's what I'm shooting for.
Thanks again to Dan and Andy for answering these questions, which were a lot more obnoxious in original form. Don't be shy about entering the contest! Or, save yourself the trouble and cop The Outsiders Are Back the old-fashioned way.