I’m so excited to share this interview from the 80s funk group Nu Shooz. John and Valerie are funny, warm, interesting, and downright amiable–an interviewer’s dream. Sit back and enjoy their journey that began nearly 40 years ago, and promises to continue on for many more rollicking years to come.
(I’m so excited to share my interview with the 80s funk group Nu Shooz. John and Valerie are funny, warm, interesting, and downright amiable–an interviewer’s dream. Sit back and enjoy their journey that began nearly 40 years ago, and promises to continue on for many more rollicking years to come.)
New Wave music of the late 70s and early 80s consisted of many sub-genres. The influences were abundant and varied, and creative experimentation ran high. I firmly believe that’s what made 80s music so unique—the fearless attitude of its trailblazers (David Bowie, Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, OMD, Blondie, and Roxy Music, to name just a few), which ultimately opened up endless opportunities for others to carve a niche in one of the most exciting and downright brilliant music periods.
One such sub-genre is a retro funk sound, brought to light by artists such as Yellow Magic Orchestra (fronted by Ryuichi Sakamoto), Scritti Politti, and P-Funk master George Clinton. New Wave funk was born of a unique marriage of jazz, soul, urban, and synthesizers, and was a successful antidote for those tired of, or (in my case) resistant to the emergence of disco.
In the midst of heady experimentation, a group of 12 creative artists from Portland OR formed a band called Nu Shooz in 1979. They released their first album, Can’t Turn it Off in 1982. Subsequently, they scaled back to a group of 7, and worked hard performing and traveling for several more years before signing with Atlantic Records, finally landing on both the R&B and Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1986. The single that cemented their success is “I Can’t Wait.”
“I Can’t Wait” – Nu Shooz official video:
Jump ahead to 2016. The husband and wife team of Valerie Day and John Smith, founding members of Nu Shooz, are taking their group (consisting of previous, original members) back on tour to promote their latest offering, “Bagtown.” They have graciously agreed to an interview, which unfolds below.
Sandy Missparker (SM): Of course I have to ask the question that you’ve most likely answered about a bazillion times: Where did the moniker “Nu Shooz” come from?
JOHN: “The Beatles” was already taken.
SM: Who first inspired you back in the late 70s?
JOHN: I was lucky to grow up during the Motown era. First became aware of Soul Music around 1965. It was an exciting time in music, with every next record outdoing the last. But it wasn’t until 1970 when I first heard Hendrix that I decided to become a musician. After that, I got a guitar as soon as I could. Hendrix turned out to be the gateway drug that led me to Jazz. After Hendrix came John McLaughlin, and that led to Coltrane, and that led to Charlie Parker.
VALERIE: I was barely out of high school where, in the art room, we listened to a steady stream of ‘Tapestry’ by Carol King and ‘Blue’ by Joni Mitchell – still two of my favorite songwriters. Then it was on to learning how to play latin percussion instruments – which meant I was listening to Puerto Rico Allstars, The Escovidos (which included Sheila before she became Sheila E.) and Celia Cruz. But it really felt like I’d come ‘home’ when I picked up a Sarah Vaughn/Count Basie big band recording. Her voice and the arrangements just knocked me out. Turns out jazz was my gateway drug to Motown and R&B. My love of dance and the amazing voices – Aretha, Gladys Knight, Chaka Kahn – pulled me in and have never let me go.
SM: How did you become interested in a music career?
JOHN: At first you’re just trying to learn to play. It wasn’t till the mid-70s that it started to look like a career. I moved from L.A. to Portland Oregon and fell in with the Latin Jazz community. There was a band called Felicidades, and they had Horns! Got bit by the arranging bug, and that band let me write horn charts before I really even knew how. After that, I was pretty much hooked.
VALERIE: I always knew I wanted to become an artist of some kind. I studied dance for 10 years – from age 5 to 15. But the practical side of my teenage mind told me I’d probably have a longer lasting career in music than in dance. My mother was a world class opera and classical singer, so I NEVER thought I would become a singer too. In 1982, when the lead singer in Nu Shooz started missing gigs, I came out from behind the congas and became the lead singer for the band.
SM: How many people were in the original version of Nu Shooz and where did you find them?
JOHN: In ’79 we started out with four people. I wanted to do Temptations and stuff like that. A year later we added four horns and three backup singers. Then we were on our way. The horn players came from a Sunday night rehearsal band that played at the musicians union hall; the Walter Bridges Big Band.
SM: How did you find your way into the “funk” side of 80s music?
JOHN: Well, before it was 80s music, it was called 70s music. It was a natural progression out of 60s soul, through Latin horn bands to Tower of Power. In the 80s I loved Rick James. That’s what we wanted to sound like, Rick James with horns by the Puerto Rico All Stars!
SM: What transpired throughout all of the years that Nu Shooz went “silent?”
JOHN: We raised a son. His name is Malcolm. Best thing we ever did. Valerie sang jazz with Big Bands and small groups, played sessions as a percussionist, and taught voice lessons for 20 years. I fell into a great gig writing music for commercials. It was all hard work but lovely too. Something different every day. After all those years just writing for the Shooz, I was ready to write some string quartets and do some heavy metal shredding.
SM: What was your motivation to craft a new collection of songs for release?
JOHN: We put the live band back together. By the end of the summer, we were getting real tight. And we needed new songs to play. So,
on October 27th 2014, we went into the studio and started the record that would become Bagtown. We’re gonna spend exactly a year-and-a-half on this. That means we’re gonna be shrink-wrapped on April 25th 2016. AND WE MADE IT! With a deadline like that, you come in focused, decisive. We were determined to have fun too.
SM: Tell us how you came up with the new title for your latest creative effort?
VALERIE: When John went out to our studio to start writing for the record, he began by writing a classical piece. Nope! That’s not quite it! Then out came a couple of psychedelic songs. Hmmmm….that’s not it either! Undeterred, the next time he went out to the studio he found himself making a bag puppet out of a leftover paper sandwich bag. Soon there were more ‘bag people’, and buildings, and cardboard signs and trees. The studio was taken over by a town full of paper bags! I’d say to him, “Hey – how’s the songwriting going?” “Pretty good.” he’d say. “I made a few bag puppets today.” The bags became his buddies in the studio. They were having a party and the party needed some music. So he wrote 33 song sketches. Nine of those ended up being on the record.
“The Making of Bagtown”
SM: What main genre of music can we expect from the new album? Does it deviate much from where you left off?
VALERIE: “Bagtown” goes back to the earlier days of the band before synthesizers and drum machines, emulators and remixes. It’s an homage to the late 70s, early 80s soul, funk, vocal harmony heavy music we were listening to and in love with. Earth, Wind, and Fire meets Steely Dan and have a love child with the Tom Tom Club.
SM: How do you anticipate touring and promotion of your new album to differ from the way it was done “way back when?”
VALERIE: On the one hand, without a label and an army of people to get your music on radio, distributed in record stores, and pitched to magazines, TV and newspapers, it’s tough to get noticed – especially with the tsunami of new music being released every day. On the other hand, we have a stronger connection to the people who love our music the most; it’s a direct relationship that we weren’t able to have with our fans back in the day. We just finished doing a crowdfunding campaign through Pledgemusic that was a blast. Being able to take our audience along for the ride was super fun. As writer/artist Austin Kleon says “Show your work…” as it’s being made. “Way back when” we felt isolated and like we were creating in a vacuum. That is definitely not the case today.
SM: What challenges (if any) do you face transforming what you’ve created in a studio into a live performance?
JOHN: I wish we could afford fifteen people. Then we could make this music as big and as free as it could be.
VALERIE: The good news is that all the musicians who contributed to the recording are in our live band, so they know these tunes inside and out now. It’s so refreshing for all of us to have new material to play. Playing live and studio recording are two COMPLETELY different animals. It’s been really fun for us to bring these songs to life visually for the stage.
SM: I know it’s probably too soon to tell, but do you think there will be future Nu Shooz releases and tours?
VALERIE: John and I continue to tour with 80s shows like The Super Freestyle Explosion, Lost 80’s and more, plus we play with our full 8 piece band whenever it pencils out financially (which at this point means shows close to home in the Pacific NW.) We never imagined that we’d be performing and recording as Nu Shooz again. This feels like it’s one of the best time periods in our creative lives – so who knows? We’ve learned to never say “never.” As long as people are interested and want to hear more, we’ll keep creating and performing.
In closing, I’d like to express my sincere thanks to Valerie and John for candidly sharing their thoughts on originally forming back in the late 70s, taking a “break” from the music world, and making the decision to dive back into the limelight with panache and gusto. Their enthusiasm is highly contagious.
For an informative bio of the band’s history, check out this highly entertaining article. In addition, do yourself a huge favor and explore these additional resources to learn more about this unique and creative band:
Bagtown is a family production. John Smith wrote the music, Valerie Day performed, and their son Malcolm ( www.malcolmsmithartist.com) provided cover artwork for the city of anthropomorphic brown paper sacks.
“Point of No Return” – Nu Shooz official video:
“Should I Say Yes” – Nu Shooz official video:
From the “it doesn’t get much better than this” department….Gary Numan’s live set presented by KCRW in its total exquisiteness.
This was merely a warm-up for the mini-eastern US tour he was about to embark on, and the later more extensive UK tour.
Unfortunately, I missed Numan in Sunrise, FL when he opened for Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails on October 30. I had a ticket, but circumstances way beyond my control prevented me from attending.
Next time…and there WILL be a next time, so I hear. Perhaps in March 2014.
Until then, there are always quality videos such as this–and my dreams–to sustain me.
With thanks to Andrew Lister for calling my attention to this video.
Time to meet a wonderful current artist who would have been vital in my favorite musical decade, as he is today. Tim Langan has a very full and impressive musical resume. He gave me the opportunity recently to get to know him and I’d like to share the experience with you. Be sure to take the time to check out Tim’s music on YouTube, as well as the various websites posted at the end of the interview.
From the time I was very young, I have known that I wanted to be a musician. My very early experiences in grade 1 involved singing the National Anthem first thing in the morning.
My mother likes to recount a story of being called in to the school by the principle and being told that I had a very good voice and they were recommending that I be sent to a choir school, as they felt that I had a sense for music inside me. She and my father decided that I was a little bit too young to be travelling downtown on the subway every day for school, so they decided instead to get me involved in piano lessons.
What is your first significant musical memory?
The singing of the National Anthem was one of the very first things that I remember about my discoveries in music; however, there were a few other things that were to come that also stick out in my mind.
I was the youngest in my family. My 3 older brothers liked music a lot. They were between 11 and 16 years older than me. I remember for my eleventh birthday getting 2 vinyl records. One was Elton John’s Greatest Hits and the other was Paul McCartney’s Band On The Run. I was hooked. I also enjoyed sports as a kid and used to spend hours hitting a tennis ball against our garage door. My brother had a Volkswagen beetle with an 8-track player in it and I remember specifically listening to Jeff Beck’s “Wired” over and over again while smashing the tennis ball off of the garage door. I must have listened to that album 1000 times as a kid and still enjoy giving it a listen today.
I have almost always had a sense of wanting to be a musician from a very, very young age. It has always seemed like the natural and obvious thing for me to do.
In fact, I have tried to make it “go away” on several occasions, but it just won’t seem to leave me alone.
What was your first group/band and what part did you play?
My first performance with a band was in grade 8 when I performed with 2 friends at our grade school. We played 3 songs together. I believe we opened with Elton John’s “Rocket Man” with myself playing piano with drum and guitar accompaniment. Then I switched over to bass guitar duties and we performed Edgar Winter’s “Free Ride” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” – I don’t recall whether any of us wanted to actually sing these songs, so we may have played them as instrumentals. I find it amusing that this still seems to be a trend for me in my own writing, as the vast majority of the music that I am involved with, somehow seems to bypass the urge to add vocal to the song.
The name of this band was “Jupiter” and my next door neighbor, who was 4 years older than us wanted to be our manager and went out and bought us matching bracelets that had “Jupiter” engraved on them. We used to joke, what could be stupider than calling a band Jupiter?
The drummer in that first group was my lifelong friend Sascha Tukatsch, whom I have had the privilege to write and record with on so many projects over the years, including our high school band, which started as Reign, which would later be released on CD under the name “The Harrison Fjord”
Do you prefer to perform in the studio or live? Why?
I love both. The studio offers the very unique experience of capturing your ideas and how you were feeling at that exact moment for the rest of time. That is very special indeed.
The live experience is also very special, because there is a nervous energy and adrenaline that is created from performing in front of people, with the pressure of wanting to perform perfectly and put on the best show possible for all of the people who have come out to see you play.
What inspires you to write your best music?
This is a difficult question to answer. Inspiration is taken from so many potential sources. Music is also very subjective, so who can really say what is “best?”
My own compositions are so varied in style from one to the next that I have a hard time trying to define what it is that grabs me or guides me in a certain direction. Usually, I am just a conduit that the music flows through. Most of the music that I write happens very quickly, indeed. People, places and events are most often secondary to the writing process. In peak writing times, I just sit down and compose and usually at the end of the day/night I have a finished piece of music, whether it is a short pop ditty or a full orchestral score.
Concerts are a wonderful experience for me. I usually do not attend massive venues, as most of the musicians that I tend to be inspired to watch, are lesser known, virtuoso types of players.
While I have been to may rock shows in large venues, like Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Queen, Aerosmith and Rush in the late 1970’s, it is the acts that perform in the smaller venues that I truly cherish.
Performances by Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin & Paco DeLucia with Steve Morse as the opening act, The Pat Metheny Group, Frank Zappa, Weather Report, Return To Forever, Yes, Uzeb, King Crimson, Joe Satriani, Youssou N’Dour, Level 42, Adrian Belew, Marillion, Hugh Marsh, Manteca, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Alain Caron, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller, Steve Vai, Victor Wooten, Dream Theater, King’s X, Michael Manring, Fishbone, UK, Zappa Plays Zappa, Tommy Emmanuel, and Porcupine Tree are stand outs in my mind over the years; but probably one of the greatest shows that I ever saw was Andreas Vollenweider and friends on Oct 16, 1989. My reasons for liking this show specifically over all of the others is musicality. The inspiration that I drew from all of these shows is incalculable, but this one Andreas Vollenweider show was indeed something very special.
If you had a “do-over,” what would you do differently?
While I do read and write music, perhaps I would have tried to go to a “music” school to acquire a piece of paper with my name on it, although, I guess it is never too late?
What’s coming up next?
I have been quite busy this year adding my musical voice to many different recording projects. I have recently finished playing bass for a guitarist, singer, songwriter, named John Jamieson. I am hopeful that this CD will be completed and ready for release by the fall.
Also, I have recently re-connected with a guitar player friend of mine that I worked with about 20 years ago. Her name is Irene MacKenzie and she is very talented indeed. Irene called me, asking if I would record with her and her son MacKenzie Coburn on a piece of music that she wrote for her Mother, who had passed away from pancreatic cancer 20 years ago, shortly before MacKenzie was born. I had always enjoyed working with Irene and given the music that she and her son were jamming on, I immediately agreed. We initially sent a bunch of ideas back and forth through the sky drive in a common email account over the internet and when we were ready, I drove out to their home studio to record my bass and keyboard parts on the CD.
We are currently in mixing and mastering for this debut CD and I am very anxious to get this one out. The CD will be released under the name “The Green Rain Project” and the disc will be entitled “ToRUTH” – Irene and I have talked a great length at working on many more CD’s together, as the music for this CD came together very quickly.
Another project that I have been recording and performing live with is “Lisa Smith’s Powerhaus” – I had been asked to join this band after they had released their debut CD “Maze Of Souls” and we have been working to put the finishing touches on the band’s second CD – “612” – I am hopeful that this disc will be completed and released later this year. I am confident that this disc will be well received by fans and critics alike, as I feel the writing is very strong within the rock genre.
I have also been recording and performing with The David Bacha Band. This has been quite a long term project for me and I am hopeful that 2013 will be the year that we finally get this one to the market. We shall keep our fingers crossed.
I have my entire musical catalog, (11 CD’s) which does not include the 5 CD’s that I was commissioned to do for a friend’s record company, that I am trying to get remastered and up for sale online. It would be a major achievement for me to get all of these up to CD Baby and iTunes this year, I remain vigilant in trying to complete this task.
What advice can you give to aspiring musicians?
Follow your dreams, work your butt off to be the very best you can be and don’t stop doing what you love for any reason.
Where can people listen to and purchase your music?
While some projects are currently available for purchase online (try Google to search out the band names) some are available through CD Baby or iTunes – (The Harrison Fjord – Machine Tree / Splub – Splub )
Most of my catalog is not currently available for purchase, although I am trying to rectify this problem.
Should you wish to check out a lot of my music and several of the bands that I have played with and currently am playing and recording with, I have over 100 videos, slideshows and music posted at my youtube channel, which can be found at:
Also, be sure to check out these related sites:
John Jamieson – http://www.johnjamieson.ca
The Green Rain Project website, which is still under development, but can be found here: http://www.greenrainproject.com
The David Bacha Band: http://www.davidbacharocks.com
Lisa Smith’s Powerhaus website: http://www.lisasmithspowerhaus.com
The Harrison Fjord website: http://www.theharrisonfjord.com
If you’re lucky, you’ll remember this short-lived electronic band from North London. If you’re like me, you haven’t a clue who they were, but after listening to them, you’ll know you missed out on something really good. Fortunately, a dear rare 80s blogging buddy featured them on his blog Mine for Life a few years ago, otherwise I may never have had the pleasure of experiencing them
Electronic, poppy, somewhat dark, somewhat trippy….all the major ingredients for 80s music success, right? Once again and in this case, something was definitely missing in the equation; like so many other talented artists, this band went totally under the radar.
I Start Counting was actually a duo made up of college friends David Baker and Simon Leonard, who, according to Wikipedia, shared a love of pop music. The Wikipedia article goes on to report:
Baker and Leonard had met at Middlesex University; both had affection for pop music. In 1982 they began to DJ together which led to them to form the I Start Counting project. Leonard specialised in the technology side and Baker was biased toward the musical side of the project. They approached Daniel Miller with some demos of their recorded material. These demos led to Mute Records signing the duo in 1984.
In 1986, I Start Counting recorded and released their debut album, My Translucent Hands. This accomplishment led to them becoming a support act for Erasure the following year. They released a second album in 1989, Fused, which included a new version of “Lose Him” comprised entirely of sampled voices.
The duo would morph into two more groups, Fortran 5 and Komputer, migrating to a different sound and experimenting with the dance/techno genre. Needless to stay, the enduring success they deserved eluded them, and they faded into 80s rarity oblivion.
Purchase I Start Counting music here.
As “I Start Counting”
1986 – My Translucent Hands (Mute Records)
1989 – Fused (Mute Records)
As “Fortran 5”
1991 – Blues (Mute Records)
1993 – Bad Head Park (Mute Records)
1995 – Avocado Suite (Mute Records)
1998 – The World of Tomorrow (Mute Records)
2002 – Market Led (Mute Records)
2007 – Synthetik (Mute Records)
2007 – Intercom (Self-released)
I Start Counting ~ Letters to a Friend ~ via YouTube user GeneLovesBowdie:
I Start Counting ~ My Translucent Hands ~ via YouTube user The Jesbel:
I Start Counting ~ Modern Sunbathing ~ via YouTube user MilesFiles2008:
I can hardly contain my excitement. There have been rumblings over the past couple of years of a re-release of Abecedarians music. The moment has finally come!
Bassist John Blake contacted me a couple of months ago to let me know this long-awaited treat was on the verge of becoming a reality. It was hard to keep quiet about this news, but I didn’t want to spoil the delicious anticipation that fans all over the world have been experiencing.
I received my copies of both Eureka on vinyl and CD and the Eureka “Bonus” CD this past week. Also available from the Pylon Records site are Eureka color vinyl, an Abecedarians leather iPad cover, and T-shirts in both tan and dark blue.
Track listings are as follows:
Eureka double vinyl or single CD
Beneath the City of the Hedonistic Bohemians
Mice & Coconut Tree
Misery of Cities
Other Side of the Fence
They Said Tomorrow
Bonus CD (included in select packages only)
Beneath the City of the Hedonistic Bohemians
Get yourselves over to Pylon Records and order your Abecedarians merchandise and music now. Or, if someone you know is struggling with what to get you for a gift this holiday season (or for any occasion whatsoever), drop a big hint that they should indulge your Abecedarians music cravings.
Abecedarians ~ I Glide ~ via YouTube user missparker0106
Not included in the re-release, but one of my favorites.
Abecedarians ~ Dinner ~ via YouTube user missparker0106
Short-lived, yet talented–that’s what we’re all about here at Rave and Roll. Frozen Ghost, a Canadian 80s new wave band founded by Arnold Lanni (vocals, guitars, keyboards) and Wolf Hassel (bass, vocals), is no exception, with one slight twist. Lanni and Hassel were also previously members of another short-lived and talented band called Sheriff. The 80s was a decade of band-hopping and “six degrees of separation,” and Frozen Ghost fits right in with that scenario.
To make matters more interesting, Frozen Ghost and Sheriff became rock chart competitors. Lanni, who owned the rights to Sheriff’s name, benefited from both bands’ royalties, so it turned out to be a successful business venture for him. Unfortunately, this somehow watered down the drive to make Frozen Ghost a musical force, and they ended up disbanding in 1993 after a long-awaited and mediocre album release.
Check out the band’s first two album releases: Frozen Ghost (1987) and Nice Place to Visit (1988) to experience the essence of what Lanni and Hassel had to offer before the musical waters were muddied. This is Canadian 80s at its finest, and another example of how regional music was criminally underrated and under-promoted here in the states.
Frozen Ghost ~ Round and Round ~ via YouTube user frozenghostsongs:
Frozen Ghost ~ Should I See ~ via YouTube user kurdtss:
Frozen Ghost ~ End of the Line ~ via YouTube user frozenghostsongs: