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Published on June 22nd, 2016 | by Dr. Jerry Doby


Editor’s Choice: Meet Afrobeat heroes Gentleman Brawlers

I was introduced to Gentleman Brawlers (@Gent_Brawlers) a short time ago via one of my favorite online platforms, where I reviewed their single “My Theory.”

My 4/5 rating entry says, BIG sound! Great arrangement, I graphed out your sonics and it highlighted the tight dynamics, great harmonic and melodic partnerships. I enjoyed the slow entry of the garnishes like the synth that gradually invades at 3:33 along with the cowbell(?).

For those just hearing them here’s some background

Gentleman Brawlers, a Brooklyn 5-Piece, are psychedelic Afro-soul revivalists known for their spooky, stylized tunes drenched in analog tape echo and spring reverb.

Formed in 2011, the group consists of Becca Fox (vocals/keys), Jim Thomson (vocals/guitar), “Chatty Matty” Walsh (vocals/guitar), Ben Charnley (drums) and Trevor Brown (bass).

Their first single “I Ain’t No Brian Wilson (I Was Made For These Times)” appeared on Occupy This Album, a musical tribute to the Occupy movement. The following year the band dropped an EP, We Were Made For These Times, on the band’s own Brooklyn Fields imprint. Since then, the band has been a stylish presence on the tour and festival circuit.

While working on the tracks for their first full-length LP (due September 2016), the ‘Brawlers have honed their live show on college campuses and the festival circuit. Notable performances took place at Daryl’s House, Princeton University’s storied Terrace F. Club, Bethlehem’s Musikfest, WNYC’s The Greene Space, and Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory.

Adventurous art-pop experimenters by trade, the band recently expanded their lineup and narrowed their focus to create a live music project dedicated to just one of the sonic ventures hinted at on previous recordings—the Lagos-by-way-of-Brooklyn Afrobeat sound of their single My Theory—and began performing in NYC jazz & world music clubs as the Gentleman Brawlers Afrobeat Project.

We got Becca and Matt to answer a few questions while handling a busy schedule…

From the outside looking in, talk to us about Gentleman Brawlers and how the group came to be.

Matt: Becca and I had just started dating and I was making a living as a touring musician, with Andy Friedman and the Other Failures, around the time of Andy’s critically acclaimed country/folk album “Taken Man.” One night she came to see ‘the Other Failures at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn. We played an amazing show, but Becca had so much charisma about her—when she came into the place and started dancing, all these people forgot about the band and were gathering in a circle to watch her dance. So, it was a little weird to be like, “we just got offstage after a great show—but this girl creates a fantastic energy just by walking in the room to rival what we just did!” As a musician, I’m not a big performer, I just like to write songs and play guitar—so when I meet someone who’s a natural entertainer—that sort of thing impresses me! By the next time I left to go on tour, she and I had started singing together. Eventually we wanted to have more focus on the vocals, so we sought out a third singer and that’s when Jim came along. That was the beginning of a great musical relationship. We were interested in 3-part vocal harmony in the beginning, as it was going to be an indie-folk sort of thing. We wanted to be Crosby, Stills, and Nash, basically! Then somehow we got into Afrobeat, and all that folk stuff went out the window as we honed in our sound. Perhaps to be revisited in the future!

What brought you to the entertainment industry, music specifically?

Matt: I decided I would be a professional musician when I was 6. I remember walking down a path near my house, and I was daydreaming about the end of that Prince song, “Let’s Go Crazy.” You know, where there’s like this 2-minute long mega-rock ending, that just goes on forever with like 5 guitar solos back to back? In my mind, I rearranged the ending to be even longer and more dramatic. So I was still basically learning to walk and already thinking “Prince is awesome…but that ending could really be bigger.” I didn’t know anything about playing an instrument, but I knew that when I grew up, this is what I’d be doing. Making loud and ambitious music with fabulous, over-the-top endings. When I met Becca she had a similar story, dancing and singing entire theatrical productions in her backyard. I think that’s why our paths crossed so naturally.

What do you want people get from your music?

Matt: Our two goals with this LP were: One, to make an alternative dance record with a live band, which had the sound of a 1975 Afro-disco party in Lagos, Nigeria. And, two—to release a full length that had absolutely no filler, and was completely engaging all the way through. To my ears, only a few LPs—like maybe five—are awesome front to back! I’m not sure if we met this goal, but we certainly tried.  I think we came close. We’ll see what listeners think.

Becca: We also want people to get a feeling, listening to us, that we’re bringing a new sound they’ve never heard before. We don’t want to be just another band playing music sort of adequately, so we can say “we’re in a band too.” We feel there’s too many musicians out there sounding the same! I think bands should work a little harder to justify their existence out there, because there’s just too much mediocre music nowadays and people are sick of it. We’re not trying to say that we’re sure we pass this test—but at least we’re asking ourselves the question! And we feel others should ask it as well. When we started this new album, we asked ourselves what kind of record could we create that is worthy of listeners’ time and bring a sound they aren’t hearing anywhere else? That’s what we want people to get from our music.

Matt: We also take some pride in throwing out the typical band playbook, and doing things our own way. For one thing, we consider ourselves video artists almost as much as musicians. We really have fun making videos, all of which we’ve produced ourselves, including the animated video for our next single, “Power Surges.” We also incorporate Becca’s dancing to a degree than isn’t really popular in bands anymore. There are a lot of Disney-pop acts that have a troupe of dancers doing dopey, choreographed MTV moves together, but not since Prince or Michael Jackson and Madonna has there been a band fronted by someone who’s just as creative as a dancer as they are a singer/musician. We should give a shout out to F.K.A. Twigs as an exciting exception—she’s a lady who can seriously dance, we’re admiring from afar her way of presenting herself as a music/dance artist!

Tell us about your current project and upcoming September release, what will we experience?

Matt: We put out an EP in 2012 that laid out a wide range of sounds that we would want to explore as a band. Basically, every song was from a different genre! So, with this LP called “Truth and Magic, we decided to create an album that explored just one of the sounds that we’ve hinted at in the past. Our goal was to learn to play Afrobeat, and use that as a rhythmic engine, but then write pop songs over the rhythms. Sort of like Led Zeppelin did with the blues. Tighten it up, shorten the songs, so you’ve really created a new style—Afrobeat by nature is long and jammy, sometimes having a looseness and storytelling pace to it, but we shortened the songs and cut the fat, to make something short, powerful, and focused like pop and rock songs are. Think of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” It’s a blues song, but it’s been squished into a tight verse-chorus structure, without the more meandering pace of the blues. We’ve done a similar thing, only with Afrobeat—we used that rhythmic vocabulary to inform carefully crafted pop songs, and the results seem unique, at least to us. It isn’t what you’d call Afrobeat, but some people who hear it identify it as Afrobeat, and others just say, “What is this strange music you’re making? I don’t know what it is, but I like it.” Afrobeat is powerful music…there’s magic in it that you’d have to be incredibly jaded not to feel!

For new listeners, what song of yours would you pick as an introduction to you as an artist?

Becca: From our upcoming LP, I’d say “My More Successful Ex-Friend” is a great 1st song to hear. But that won’t be released until September, so if you want to listen in the meantime, “My Theory” and “Power Surges” are songs which are already available to listen to on our website or on Spotify.

Tell us a bit about your work and passions OUTSIDE of music…

Matt: Becca is a bit of a Renaissance woman—going to school for graphic design & photography and now making a living as a dancer, singer, and actor. She’s been in off-Broadway plays, been on Billboards around the planet with her commercial stuff—she’s a regular show biz pro! Jim’s pretty into photography and works at a tech start-up, I’m into cooking, and Ben and Trevor are professional musicians—so, they don’t have any passions outside of music. They’re, like, aliens from another planet, they have their own language pretty much. When you tell them, “Why talk about something besides music,” they fall completely silent—it’s awkward. Immediately you feel bad, and you start a conversation about the best kinds of bass strings or drum heads to use—and instantly, everything is ok in their world again. (internal smirk)

Last but not least, HYPE wants to know…What’s your CRAZIEST “Where they do that at?!” aka WTF?! Moment…

Becca: When we played Sofar Sounds last week, the city of New York shut down the streets for 10 blocks around the building. So, we had to ask the wonderful Sofar Sounds people to help us walk a drum set, 3 guitars, 3 amps, posters, t-shirts—a whole van full of stuff—10 blocks to where the street was not closed.  So there were, like, 30 people walking down the street, in the middle of the night, each carrying 1 piece of gear, past all the paving machinery and the work men. It was pretty surreal! Our video for Sofar Sounds will come out in two weeks, which we’re excited about. If you haven’t been to Sofar Sounds, you really must go—it’s an amazing experience.

Stay up with the Gentleman Brawlers:

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About the Author

Editor-in-Chief of The Hype Magazine, Media and SEO Consultant, Journalist, Ph.D. and retired combat vet. 2023 recipient of The President's Lifetime Achievement Award. Partner at THM Media Group. Member of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, the United States Press Agency and ForbesBLK.

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