Wednesday, November 2, 2016

PACIFIC SOUL LTD.- Introducing The Band

Introducing The Band:

     When musicians feel that they’ve finally found their groove, they grow from strength to strength, refining and perfecting their sound. Often times, they end up becoming too complacent, never moving beyond their comfort zone. However, there are those musicians that are compelled to pursue numerous styles of music – their insatiable appetites for something new and exciting leads them down many paths. In most cases, they have no choice – they have a passionate desire to understand and to ‘feel’ the music that moves them and the sounds that inspire them. And sometimes – if we are lucky – these types of musicians end up in the same room, creating music together. And when that music exceeds all expectations, it is a truly remarkable thing. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to PACIFIC SOUL LTD., one such musical collaboration that has resulted in one of the most magical albums of the year. Yes, I said magical!
     Based in L.A., this trio – Norman Kelsey, Teresa Cowles and Adam Marsland – are chiefly known for their individual work with many Indie Pop-flavored outfits over the last two decades. However, their own musical tastes are far more eclectic than their recorded output would lead you to believe. At their core, they are music fans first, having ingested many different kinds of music since they were wee toddlers. Their influences stretch across many musical boundaries and are not limited to the jingle-jangle burst of a Rickenbacker guitar (although they do quite like that sound!). Inspired by their mutual love of Soul, Pop and Funk, the three combined their talents and have released THE DANCE DIVINE, an album packed to the brim with songs that combine their Pop smarts with a distinctly soulful edge. This trio knows that there is no Soul without soul and they bring plenty of it to the table.
     Like vintage AM radio from the mid-‘70s, THE DANCE DIVINE crackles with pure love and energy. Remember when you could listen to a Top 40 station and hear artists like The Delfonics, Paul McCartney, Bill Withers, The Partridge Family, The Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder and Edison Lighthouse in the same music block? Norman, Teresa and Adam sure do, and THE DANCE DIVINE mines those memories to great effect. Mix in a dash of Disco and a flick of Funk. Add in some Beach Boys harmonies (and a killer soulful take on “God Only Knows,” which could have fit comfortably on Dick Jensen’s self-titled album on the Philadelphia International label) and you’ve got one hell of a party platter. Did I already say it was magical? Well, then I just said it again!
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee caught up with the three members of Pacific Soul Ltd. and tossed a few questions their way…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Please introduce yourself yourselves!
NORMAN KELSEY: I’m Norman and I’m grateful.
TERESA COWLES: I'm Teresa and I am very happy to have helped make an album of pure joy with my friends! 
ADAM MARSLAND: Ako ay si Adam at nagsusulat ako galing sa Philippines. (My name is Adam and I am writing from the Philippines).

SPAZ: Can you fill us in on this new little platter of yours?
NORMAN: It’s vintage California pop for the 21st century soul.
TERESA: It's something old, something new, something borrowed and a little blue.
ADAM: It's kind of an amalgamation of soul-pop influences from around 1969 to 1985, filtered through each of our own personalities. 

SPAZ: Which song off of the album do you feel best defines the essence of the album and/or what the band is all about, musically?
NORMAN: "Blue Summertime." It's the springboard into the swimming pool. You can cool out to it, you can drive to it, you can dance to it. We captured that spirit on "Sunset Golden Love," too, which tells me we developed an essence.
TERESA: I would actually say the opening salvo, "Love and Harmony." In just a few seconds it introduces all three of our voices and sets up the album's underlying theme of love and friendship.
ADAM: There's a cool spot at the end of "Sunset Golden Love" where everyone kind of goes off and does their thing: Norm does a falsetto improvisation, Teresa sings a hook in this really earthly California girl kind of voice, and I'm off doing a Teddy Pendergrass riff, and the combination of the three voices play off each other and it really sends that song into the stratosphere for me. You get a sense of what each member contributes to the sound.
"Blue Summertime" was a great track though. When we did the long version of it, we each independently listened to it over and over for a whole weekend. It was hypnotic. We didn't put the long version on the record because we didn't want to grind the whole world to a halt!

SPAZ: In this age of streaming, the concept of the album as an art form seems to have been lost in the digital shuffle. Did you approach this project as a whole piece of work, or do you view it more like a collection of individual songs that you felt work together well?
NORMAN: You hope people will listen to it start to finish. I hear side A and side B. There are singular songs, but it's cohesive, too.
TERESA: It definitely has a form and flow that works really well start to finish but I think the individual songs can be enjoyed as well outside of the whole.
ADAM: When we started doing the album, we agreed that we should start as many tracks as possible on the same day, so that right away we could hear how an album would take shape and flow, and work toward building it that way. The very first day of the album sessions I think we worked on eight songs, so from the beginning we could see a sketch of how it was going to be. 

SPAZ: When you began the songwriting and recording process, did you already have a fully-formed idea of how you wanted the end product to sound like, or did it come together organically?
NORMAN: Single. EP. It just kept on going. We kept having more ideas and encouraging each other. It grew.
TERESA: It's alive!
ADAM: It came on its own. Several of the songs started as basic tracks that could have taken any number of forms. I would send them along to Norm and Teresa, and let them take it where they wanted it to go. The one thing we all wanted was for the album to reflect the characters of each of the different singers more or less equally, though Norm and T's vocals were more of the focal point and I was kind of like John Oates to their Daryl Hall, the contrast. But it did wind up being a really cool three-way vibe overall.
One song that only was on the long version of the album, "Shocking Knocking Rocking" I had envisioned as a kind of Donna Summer "Hot Stuff" kind of thing, but Norm heard the track and said "you have to make this sound like Krautrock, like a German band from 1981, or some '80s Manchester band!" And so I did that. It was all Norman's ideas that I ran with, even down to singing in a very dour, North of England kind of voice. Even though that was a track that I was more prominent on, I never would have done that by myself. A lot of things like that happened.

SPAZ: As a songwriter working in a group with equally talented writers and performers, is there a lot of give and take involved with making an album, or were you all on the same wavelength with this batch of songs?
NORMAN: The collaborations were fabulous, because we had an idea of the overall vibe. There are a trio of solo songs that we brought, but we each contributed extra spices to make them part of the whole. 
TERESA: I am especially proud of the collaborative nature of this album. We all bring some very different things to the table, but to me the combination is so easy and organic it's almost magical.
ADAM: I agree. I've mostly written alone in the past but it became clear early on that I could bat ideas over to Norm and Teresa and let them finish them, and it was going to come out as good or better than, and different from, what I would do on my own. It was so great to have that kind of division of labor. This was really refreshing – I knew that the songs were in good hands with these two.

SPAZ: Given the opportunity, an artist could tinker with an album for years before finally releasing it to the world. Are you happy with the release of the album at the moment or are you still in the ‘I wish I could go back and add this or change that’ stage?
NORMAN: I wouldn't change a thing.
TERESA: You could pick it apart under the headphones and of course there would be many little imperfections that you could change, but to me that is what makes it sound like a real record made by real people. It's beautiful in its little imperfections that go by and make it all that much better.
ADAM: As I've gotten more experience as a producer, the recording process has gotten very spontaneous for me. You can make almost anything work if you do it well, and what was fun about this record was it came together with very little forethought – we keyed it off the general idea of "soul" and the three personalities (with me kind of being the "baritone R&B guy"), and let that go wherever it wanted to. We all had ideas and we'd just throw them down and mostly they worked and we kept them. If they didn't, we junked them, no arguments and no hurt feelings. But the rule was: don't fix it if it's working.
One example of that is "The Dance Divine." My keyboards on that are all over the place. It's basically one take of me messing around trying all these Funkadelic/GAP Band things and some of them are pretty out there, on the edge of WTF. But that's how a lot of Bernie Worrell's tracks were done, too – they just had him do one take and they made him keep it! So at the end of the day I don't think we fixed a single thing on that keyboard track. It was pretty loose, but it was right. If something sounded wrong, we fixed it, but if it was imperfect but sounded good, we kept it.
That's the problem I think with a lot of records these days and why those older records sound so fresh – people had limitations in budget, time, and number of tracks, and at a certain point they had to make it work or move on. You lose that immediacy now with digital recording, where you almost have to deliberately insert a mistake, which is ridiculous. My own instinct is to always try to capture a spontaneous performance, and then take advantage of digital to get rid of the things that don't work – but wait until towards the end of the recording when a lot of the little imperfections will fade into the mix and become part of the special sauce...Also, with everyone having busy schedules and wanting to finish by a certain deadline, nobody wanted to belabor anything. We valued everyone's time and when we were together, we all wanted to make the most of it and get as much usable stuff down as possible.

SPAZ: Listening to an album, one can decipher some of the main musical influences that helped shape that artist. However, there can also be some surprising influences as well. Who would you pick as your chief musical influences on this album?
NORMAN: I was feeling 1974 to 1978, in general. That's the joy of this record. We had freedom to explore. Adam does this Bob James-thing on "Aching For You" that gives me all the feels. Dazz, man. Disco jazz. It's totally Adam, but that's where this record is at. It's not nostalgia, but it's evocative.
TERESA: Definitely mid to late ‘70s soul and pop records with some ‘80s thrown in as well.
ADAM: Bee Gees, biggest influence on PSL I would say. And for me personally, Stax, Thom Bell, and Hall & Oates. It was so fun for me as a guy known for power pop to fully get into this kind of sound, instead of just doing a song here or there. My roots are as much in '70s soul as they are with power pop. More so, actually, and with Teresa and I having played so much with Evie Sands over the years it definitely rubbed off. And with Norman, the common vocabulary was there, so we were finishing each other’s thoughts with arrangement ideas and such. 

SPAZ: Did you have any non-musical influences that inspired you during the making of the album?
NORMAN: Los Angeles. The freeway. The sunlight. The sunsets. The neighborhoods. The whole vibe. I come at it with this ideal of living in some cool imaginary past, but I'm digging our time.
TERESA: Norm said it well but I would add an overall California influence, today and in eras passed. 
ADAM: The spirit of friendship and positivity reflected in song.

SPAZ: Was there a particular moment during the writing or recording when you realized that you were definitely making something special?
NORMAN: Recording the vocals for "Blue Summertime." Singing with Adam and Teresa is a mystical experience. When the voices blend and we multi-track and playback, I could listen to that on loop forever. Every cut had magic. By the time we got to "We Go High," it was ridiculous. I couldn't get over how much fun I was having. 
TERESA: "Tomorrow Brings Tonight" was my first inkling that we were really on to something special. That was the first track where we went back and forth and really co-wrote to a large degree. Adam had the basic track and the pre-chorus lyrics in place, Norm came up with the verses and I came up with the choruses. Having done very little collaborative writing in the past, the fact that it actually worked as a cohesive (and in my opinion very good) song, and that it was a fairly quick and painless process made me sure good and interesting things were going to happen.
ADAM: Agree. With "Tomorrow Brings Tonight," Norm and I couldn't agree on the direction the song would take, and Teresa walked in with a new part that made the whole thing work, and Norm and I just stepped back and went "whoa." Right away it became clear that this was something that was going to work, as everyone had their own crucial contribution to make.

SPAZ: What is next for the band?
NORMAN: Making sure people dig this album.
TERESA: Making sure people hear the album and releasing a new video!
ADAM: Norman and Teresa tell me they are going to be doing the Ellen show while I am off living on a tropical island. So there's that. 

SPAZ: What are you currently spinning on your CD and record players?
NORMAN: You know I love my vinyl. Been listening to the Monkees, Prince, Wings and this new cat named Jodie Abacus. 
TERESA: Last three albums spun (each purchased for a dollar at a sidewalk sale at Amoeba last weekend): The Best of Bill Withers; Gordon Lightfoot, Sundown; and Badfinger, No Dice. All awesome!
ADAM: Loved the Monkees record. I have been so busy with recording that I have not listened to much outside music, but while I am in Asia I plan to use the downtime to check out the music being made here. I'm especially interested in Asian pop bands from the '60s and '70s, finding out about all that stuff. And I'm going to listen to Jodie Abacus. Or buy an abacus. Depending on what's available here.

Thanks to Teresa Cowles, Norman Kelsey and Adam Marsland
Special thanks to Nick Kominitsky


Available NOW

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