Aug 23, 2011

The Budos Band: An interview from January 2011


The Budos Band come from Staten Island but seem like they climbed out of a colossal pile of Ethiopiques comps after strength training from Fela Kuti and inspirational interludes with Dennis Coffey. Their newest album is out now on Daptone and they discuss now their own plans for an impregnable Budos compound. This interview by Jonny Bell of Crystal Antlers.

The interview

Your drummer said that he gives Budos Band songs working titles off the top of his head, and that they usually come from Dungeons & Dragons or HP Lovecraft. Are there any other fantasy role-playing card games that influence you?

I don’t know, he’d be much more qualified to answer that question. He’s really the man of that world in the group—I’m not sure what else could even be out there. We certainly appreciate the titles that he comes up with so we let him run with it, and then take it to Daptone and see what they say about it which is usually something like, ‘change the title.’

When I first heard your music I was convinced it was recorded in 1968. How do you do that? A friend of mine who listens to a lot of old music loaned me a burned CD with no info, and I was just totally convinced it was an old funk group.

Yeah, it’s the recording techniques. We use an all-analog studio. We use tape—we don’t do anything in computers. We really try to use the techniques that made those old records sound great—you know the horns, shared microphones, and it’s all recorded live, so there’s a real nice natural bleed between the instruments. No crazy overdubs—it’s a real live feeling recording, and to boot it’s all analog tape with that warm sound that old analog records have.

Your music reminds me of the music from Blaxploitation films. Do you have any personal favorites? Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song/Darktown Strutters/The Final Comedown?

You know we get that a lot and it’s funny, I don’t really think that’s a big reference point for us. It just kind of ends up going that way for whatever reason. Black Caesar is a classic and obviously the soundtrack is killer—that’s the one that springs to mind as a favorite. We don’t go in with that outlook, but it ends up taking that form on some occasion.

Where does the name ‘Budos’ come from? I googled it and the only thing that comes up is a commune in southwestern France.

There’s actually a town of Budos, France that we drove through while we were on tour over there, and there’s a Budos Castle, Château De Budos. Actually, the negative release of that is on the backside of the Budos III album artwork.

Oh right—I saw one of the press release pictures had a picture of you guys in front of a castle.

Yeah that’s the Budos Castle. Our French tour manager knew about this ahead of time and told us we were taking a ‘very special trip’ one morning, and he wouldn’t tell us where we were going. He said there’d be naked women hanging from the trees on the side of the road, which got us excited, but it ended up just being a random town on the side of the road in southwestern France called Budos. Anyway, tangents aside, ‘Budos’ actually comes from a name that we used when we first started the band ‘Los Barbudos,’ which means ‘The Bearded Ones’ in Spanish. It sort of loosely referenced Fidel Castro’s revolutionary posse/baseball team, and that’s what we rolled with for a minute. Then it took on political connotations that we either just didn’t feel comfortable with or want to make part of our ‘thing.’ We’re not really communist revolutionaries you know—just a bunch of guys playing music from Staten Island playing music. We decided to just shorten the name and make it ‘Budos,’ which doesn’t really have any real meaning other than what it originally derived as, and coincidentally a town in south western France, and apparently a commune as well…

You guys are part of Daptone Records. Most of the Daptone stuff seems to be heavily influenced by the music of the 1960s. Do you ever feel like you’re revivalists?

It’s an influence of ours, but we’re just making the kind of music that we like and sounds good to us. For Budos, we’re trying to jump a decade or two, and get into more 70s-influenced stuff right now, and make it our own.

I think you stand out from other groups on the label because of that and it seems like you’ve explored some new territory since the beginning of the band. I’m a fan of Sun Ra, and it doesn’t seem like too big of leap from what you guys do. You’ve got the right instruments—do you think you’ll ever venture in to Sun Ra territory?

I hear that totally, and I think some of it can translate, but I think his stuff is a little too in outer space for us. We’re not trying to go into the jazz realm much at this point, as much as rock. We used to do a cover by this band Cairo Jazz Band that sounded more like some east African funk that went more in the Sun Ra direction, so I can hear that similarity. But we’re not blasting off to outer space anytime soon.

Cairo Jazz band, didn’t Soul Jazz re-issue that record? I feel like I have that record somewhere…

Yeah it’s definitely possible.

Speaking of labels, there’s a lot of really great re-issue labels out there right now like Numero Group, Soul Jazz, and Now Again. Do you have any favorite labels, reissue or otherwise?

Classics like Motown, Chess, Stax—all that stuff. What’s that new label that in the past year put out a bunch of Nigerian psych rock? Oh, Soundway.

Are there any other old gems you could turn me on to?

Are you familiar with this old orchestral group called Orchestre Poly-rythmo? I think they’re from Benin, which is next door to Nigeria. They’re pretty smokin’ stuff. And one of our biggest influences that kind of come through on our second album was ‘Ethiopiques’—that whole compilation series of Ethiopian jazz. It was put out by a French label called called Buda Musique. And there’s like 25 volumes or so out now.

You guys originally started off as a straight afro-beat group?

When we were Los Barbudos, it was mostly straightforward Afro beat.

So you must be big fans of Fela Kuti. Have you seen the Broadway musical Fela?

Yeah definitely—we know the guys that play in the band. It’s kinda funny that they made a Broadway musical out of it. It’s one of those things that on one hand is cool and on the other doesn’t necessarily make sense. At the end of the day I think it’s a good thing, but it’s definitely at first glace a little bit of a head scratcher.

Have you ever considered running for political office or starting a polygamist colony like Fela?

No, but not necessarily opposed to the later. It would be cool to set up our own state within New York City, where all we did was smoke pot, write music and have sex with a lot of women, but I don’t know if that will ever happen, and I don’t know if that should be printed or not, some of us have girlfriends and they might not appreciate it!

Fela was influenced politically by the Black Panther party in the US, and I always stare at an Emory Douglas poster on my wall when I listen to your band. Do you feel like your music carries any of the political spirit from early afro-beat?

Yeah—Antibalas, for example. They’re good friends of ours and definitely influenced us early on. I feel like they have a pretty explicit political message, and I think we don’t have as much of one partially because we don’t have lyrics and it’s hard to convey a political message without lyrics there to do it. We’ve done an Obama event and a couple of other political things, but we don’t consider ourselves to be on the front lines of any political music movement.

What was it like to play the Getty?

It was cool. I’d never been there before, and it was quite a structure to take in while playing. It was pretty sweet there up in the hills overlooking the city. We had a great time and it was actually our first time playing in LA. And Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, our label mates, were playing the Hollywood Bowl that same weekend so it was kind of a big label thing and it was awesome.

I was reading that J. Paul Getty’s grandson was kidnapped in Italy in the early 70s, and held for a $17 million ransom. Long story short, Getty refused to pay until they started mailing body parts and ultimately negotiated them down to $2 million. Have you ever played anywhere run by someone as blood thirsty as J. Paul Getty?

No. Wow, that’s pretty crazy.

How would the Budos Band negotiate with kidnappers?

I think we’re big enough that hopefully we could take down the kidnappers ourselves.

This interview by Jonny Bell of Crystal Antlers.

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