“We like to think of it as clever pop.” Smoove & Turrell chat to Northern Soul
North East soul and funk band Smoove & Turrell have been creating big banging dance tracks for more than a decade. To celebrate, they’ve released Solid Brass: Ten Years of Northern Funk, a retrospective of 18 of the biggest numbers from their live shows. Currently on tour, if you’ve never seen Smoove & Turrell live, you’re proper missing out.
Northern Soul: Can you believe it’s been ten years?
Smoove: “Not really, no. It feels more like two or three to be honest. We actually met about 12 years ago. I was working with keyboardist Mike Porter in Newcastle and one day overheard one of his neighbours singing in the garage. The voice turned out to belong to John Turrell.”
Turrell: “I used to write songs with friends in that garage every Friday just for the love of it. We always said if we couldn’t remember what we’d written the week before then it wouldn’t have been good enough anyway. It was a great apprenticeship.”
NS: Funk can often involve a lot of self-indulgent riffing, but your music is big, joyful and feel-good with a strong commitment to melodies and the song.
S: “Funk music is renowned for getting stuck on a groove and that’s about it. We try and write some sense into it. We like to think of it as clever pop. I’ve always liked funk, soul and boogie and being a DJ also helps because you know what works and what people remember.”
T: “I come from a singer-songwriter background, so the melodies are taken from that side of things and put into the funk and it just seems to work.”
NS: The album includes your take on classic songs by Hot Chocolate, Chicago and Yazoo. You also incorporate clever samples of other tracks from unlikely sources including 70s pop star Lynsey de Paul. Why is that?
S: “My background is hip-hop so that’s where the sampling elements came from. We realise you can obviously get sued if you don’t go through all the correct channels. With Lynsey, I just found her album and thought it looked interesting. When I look at the back of a sleeve and see instruments like a Fender Rhodes electronic piano, I think it must be good. I only realised afterwards just how prolific a songwriter she was. She was great to us and personally cleared the samples for just a penny.”
T: “She also worked for the Performing Rights Society which really helped. Some people can get a bit precious about stuff, but she genuinely liked what we’d done with her track.”
T: “Because we tour so much and travel all around the world, it’s really handy for Smoove to find a record shop in say Moscow, St Petersburg or the States where they don’t have the same collections we have here. You can always find some real treasures.”
S: “Record shopping is something I’m totally into. I’m addicted to vinyl and have loads of records I’ve never even listened to yet. There’s something special about finding a drum break or riff yourself. If someone else brings it to your attention it doesn’t feel as good because it’s not your discovery.”
NS: Can you Northern Funk any track up if need be?
S: “Kind of. Sometimes I’ll try out a song in my DJ sets and if I like it great, if it doesn’t feel like it’s working, I’ll just scrap it.”
T: “6 Music asked us to do a Michael Jackson cover but all the best ones had been taken. We still made a decent stab of doing a Northern Funk version of It’s The Falling In Love from Off The Wall. We ended up putting it on our album at the time.”
S: “It’s got a similar vibe to our version of Hot Chocolate’s You Could’ve Been A Lady.”
T: “Now that’s got a fantastic guitar riff. People only reference that band for You Sexy Thing, but their back catalogue is immense.”
S: “That’s the idea, really. A CD of all the bangers from over the years. We know what our audiences have reacted to the most and we also went on what you’d stick together as a DJ to get the party going.”
NS: You’re touring the album all year. Is it more exhausting or exhilarating?
T: “By mid-December I’m spent as far as touring goes. We’ve done it for so long and it remains our main route to getting our music out there, but we’ve got a great set of lads in the band so it’s like a family.”
S: “We’re really fortunate that through gigging over the years we’ve built up a great fan base so we can go to all the major cities and know there’s going to be a crowd there. We wouldn’t still be able to do this if we didn’t have that audience.”
T: “It takes a lot to be in each other’s pockets for months on end, but we have a great work ethic and have great musicians so there’s no egos or big arguments. Like any family you have rows here and there and band members have come and gone but our line-up for the past two years is the most relaxed it’s ever been. There’s no conflict of interest and everyone’s in it together to do the best we can.”
S: “One of the things we look for in a musician coming in to the band is, can we share a room with them? It comes down to the person themselves as much as how good they are on their instrument because they aren’t going to last five minutes if no one can get on with them.”
NS: A lot of the influences in your music are classic and timeless but are there any recent artists interesting you?
T: “There’s so much good music out there that isn’t in the mainstream. I love people like Anderson Paak and Kendrick Lamar who come up with their own unique sound.”
S: “I’m really into this Scottish guy called C Duncan. His stuff is beautifully recorded.”
NS: After the tour what’s next for Smoove & Turrell?
T: “We’re writing a new album, our seventh, at the moment. It wraps up the trilogy of albums following Crown Posada (2016) and Mount Pleasant (2018). So far, it’s edging towards a more dancier sound. We wanted to reflect our inspirations growing up. I was massively into Detroit House and Smoove loved golden era hip-hop so it might turn out to be more of a house party album. We’re also thinking about doing an acoustic album with live singers and brass.”
S: “We do the occasional intimate gig like that and they sell out straight away so that’s definitely worthwhile.”
Photos by Jack Stocker
Solid Brass: Ten Years of Northern Funk is out now on Jalapeno Records
Solid Brass Tour: smooveandturrell.com
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