I think they call it soul music because it makes you feel that much more alive. The drum is like a pulse, the brass makes the blood in your veins feel electric, the percussive hooks get you dancing and the vocals fill up the room and fly up to the rafters. That's the kind of music, a music with a signature kind of energy, that Virginia and Joe were drawn to when they started working on songs together in 2016. It wasn't long before they formed Virginia Violet & The Rays--the story of which lies in the interview below...
This coming Friday, Virginia Violet & The Rays celebrate their debut album, On The Fringe, at the Loving Touch in Ferndale. Below, we've got the lead single from their soundcloud (where you can also find their first EP), and right after that, their second single, "Where I Belong," which just came out Friday as a music video.
While countless other contemporary bands may dig deeper into searching for strange new sounds on synthesizers and sequencers, Joe Myers and Virginia Violet realized there was still so much raw, untapped potential left to be revitalizing from the classic soul and funk of the 60's and 70's, particularly Motown and its sometimes grittier or higher-energy offshoot, Northern Soul....
...And I feel like energy is the word I'll repeat four more times before this post about Virginia Violet & The Rays is done...
A band of nine musicians would inherently generate a lot of kinetics, but their arrangements, tempos and key signatures are meticulously composed to manifest movement, whether its frenetic or just a slow swoon, with exuberant serotonin-rushes from the warmth of the saxophones, trumpet and trombone, to the ambient flavors of the organ, that extra rock n roll kick of the guitar/bass/drums, and then Virginia's splendid vocals, that can glimmer across a spectrum of emotions, so expressive and grand that you wouldn't need the visuals of the video above to otherwise suggest how vibrant and animated she, and the entire band, can be.
The band includes Eric Childress (drums), Tommy Porter (guitar), Evan Mercer (keys), Garrett Gaina (baritone sax), Adam Dib (alto sax), Chris Kendall (trombone), and Dave Vessella (trumpet). You, of course, can hear Virginia's vocals leading the way, with Joe providing sleek rhythmic anchor on the bass.
I spoke with Joe and Virginia recently, and they mentioned the importance of "balance" when it comes to composing for a large ensemble. Akin to the Dap-Kings, Mayer Hawthorne, Leon Bridges, or Lianne LaHavas, the songwriting duo appreciate that balance builds into optimal an harmonization of such distinctly effervescent flavors and arranging them into a balletic composite of metre and melody that's meant to, more than anything else, set a groove....
...and this is the kind of groove you just want to let loose to..., dance to, clap your hands to, close your eyes while singing along to...., perfectly inline with the spirit of Motown.
On The Fringe was produced in Woodbridge by Gordon Smith (of The Kickstand Band), with assistance in mastering by Adam Cox.
Release Party, May 11
The Loving Touch
with Ryan Dillaha & The Miracle Men
and DJ Ben Van Camp
When and how did the band start? Was it always a 9-piece ensemble? Was it always inclined to soul?
Joe Myers: Virginia and I met in early 2016 after I had just gotten back from Europe. I spent some time traveling and my old band was breaking up, so I wanted to start fresh in Detroit. We hit it off over our mutual love of old Motown. But I had also just been turned on to Northern Soul when I was over in Europe. It blew me away that there was so much English interest in old Detroit soul records that I had never even heard of. It was definitely a "where has this been all my life?"-kind of moment, and I got super into the idea doing something like that. Virginia brought strong musical ideas and wanted a big ensemble, so after we started writing and got the band together I don’t think there was ever a chance of us being anything else. Motown runs deep.
What's the key to arranging all the various instrumental parts? And, for that matter, what's the key for capturing your signature soul-sound?
Joe: Normally, I’ll come up with the music and cut a demo at home with all the instrumentation and then send it over to Virginia but it varies all the time. Sometimes she comes up with the structure on guitar and sends me an idea to work off of but she handles all the lyrics. Usually we’ll do the melody together. It’s pretty back in forth but once we’ve agreed on most of it, we’ll introduce it to the band and make adjustments with them. I think the key for our creation process is balance. You need a strong foundation to get through the trenches but being open-minded to change is essential with a writing partner.
What drew you to go back to a classic soul sound, and what is it you always aspire to create when you work toward a new song?
Virginia Violet: I’ve always had a soft spot for songs that I can dance to but, being raised on a lot of gospel and folk music from my mom, I have always been drawn to strong voices telling stories, putting their soul into everything they’re writing. I think that expression of creativity encompasses soul music to me. I aspire to create characters and tell stories in each song that reflect the experiences of life through different perspectives.
What was the recording experience like for 'On the Fringe?' What were some standout moments from the recording?
Virginia: Recording ‘On the Fringe’ was a summer long process, a lot of sweat and love in that record. My favorite moments of recording were the sweaty sweaty days I spent in Woodbridge putting down my vocals, playing with Allison the tiny cat under the bed-- we became best friends.
What inspired the title? And what, overall, guided it, in terms of, just, what kind of record you wanted to make, or what experience you wanted to foster for a listener?
Virginia: The title was inspired from a painting my grandmother did titled "On the Fringe". The phrase represents where we are as a band, as we approach the release of our first full length album. Like the rest of the experiences I have had with this project, the record guided itself into its own unique thing that I don't think any of us could have planned for at the beginning.
Joe, what do you appreciate most about the contemporary Detroit music scene?
Joe: Diversity. I love going to things like Dally and WheteverFest because it’s an opportunity to be exposed to great bands I would never know about. There are phenomenal bands in Detroit but you’ve gotta do your homework. Or keep up with a blog that will do some of that homework for you. Thank God for you, Jeff Milo.
Virginia, what about the road ahead? Plans for the rest of the year and beyond?
Virginia: Just keep on pushing and writing tons of new music! Maybe tour at the end of the summer? We’re shooting for another release by the fall of this year.