What happens when a jazz drummer and a classically trained pianist listen to too much hip-hop and decide to record an album? A euphoric fusion of electronic and modern jazz. Cincinnati-based FLOCKS composed a masterpiece of eclecticism in their debut, self-titled album released earlier this year. INHAILER sat down with the band to discuss the album and their future in music.
How did you guys meet? Tom: We all met in CCM and just through playing a lot of music together around town throughout the years in a variety of projects, and also playing jazz together, but Steve and Josh were in a bunch of bands together. Josh: [Steve and I] played in Fresh Funk this funk band and everything from wedding bands to original projects. Tom: Josh and I played in a band called Art & Science which was sort of a mix between electronic music and modern jazz and that band existed from 2012 to 2015. Josh: We had been getting into some ideas in that band that have stayed consistent in FLOCKS with more electronic, experimental approaches with synth beat textures. In the back of our minds, I think we all wanted to take that thread further but the opportunity didn’t present itself for a few years.
Where did the name come from? Josh: Naming things is a classic struggle. We had already been working on this project and writing music for it and thinking about things we like about the band musically and how those translate into how we think about the tone or vibe we want the band to have. The music is serious at times, it’s minimalist at times, it’s intense at times and there’s all these words that come to mind so we tried to think of something to represent all those different elements. I was watching a bunch of indie films one week and I watched a film, I think the film itself was called “Rams”, and I thought the vibe was right. The word “flocks” came up a lot, and the word just stuck out to me.
It’s the band’s first album, what’s it like to have it finished? Tom: It’s great! It was a very long and time-consuming process, and we were in the studio a lot longer than I think any of us were anticipating. To finally get the music out and to have it in a way in which we are really proud of, the end product is fantastic. It’s far and away the most work upfront I’ve put into any music. Josh: It’s the most work I’ve put into anything. Other than practicing and my marriage, this is the most work and time I’ve ever invested into any one venture. We spent hundreds of hours at Marble Garden Studio.
When you first started playing together did you set out to make an album? Tom: We both remember vividly when we had the idea to start this band. It was in a synagogue parking lot. We were playing a gig. Josh: We were in this parking lot after a gig and we just started chatting. We had both been listening to and inspired by a lot of similar artists. Everything from Chance the Rapper to Mark Guiliana - this New Jersey based drummer. A lot of hip-hop. Tom: That James Blake record The Colour in Anything was huge. We had been listening to more of the same things so it sort of made sense that we should start another project so we can pursue some of these things that were both interested in. Josh: These different types of music are the most inspiring to us, and we felt like we didn’t have an outlet for them. We were playing other types of gigs, which were all great, but we were both feeling this itch to create. And not only that, but we wanted to spend more time in the studio recording music. We kind of spoke that into existence and this project became a thing where we were in the studio all the time and we learned a lot from that.
Do you consider FLOCKS more jazz or electronic or both? Tom: I would say if I had to choose one I would say more electronic, especially because of the sounds in particular. Even though there is some improvisation in some of the music, it’s all based more around written parts. Josh: People can consider it having more jazz textures at times when there are thick chords and a lot of improvisation, because those are things people immediately associate with jazz. If something is instrumental, there’s already a fifty percent chance people are going to say it’s jazz. There are a few moments where there’s improvisation, but only a few in the record itself, almost everything else is written out and decided upon ahead of time, which is more what defines electronic music and hip-hop. So we hesitate to say that it is at all jazz though that’s been an influence on us as people and musicians, you can’t dodge that nor am I offended by that title. Tom: Outside of this project, almost all the music that’s close to my heart and that I play is jazz.
What direction do you find FLOCKS going in? Josh: we want to develop the things we’ve already been touching on conceptually, whether that’s rhythmic ideas or ways to use samples and synthetic textures. one cool thing I think is going to help the direction and development of the band is introducing another member. Our friend Steve joined on bass recently, since the recording of the record, to help interpret it and flesh out the texture. Introducing a new voice really brings a lot of new ideas. Even the live performances have changed since Steve joined the band.
Tom: I know one of the things we’re also interested in as a band is exploring collaboration with different people, specifically around town. I think just using the human voice in more interesting ways whether that’s rappers or just vocalists. The rapper we have on the record Eric Rollin is really great. He’s from Columbus and we’ve talked about potentially working with him more.
Steve: I find the record at this point to be very cohesive after listening to it many, many times. There are a lot of avenues - the record’s very eclectic. The record could have easily been ten tracks of the direction of any one of them, either the ambient stuff or the hinting of modern jazz stuff, hip-hop or just straight heavy synth. So when Tom talks about collaborating, I feel like there’s a cool opportunity to focus that sound and decide what direction to go in with different people.
Josh: I feel sort of free now that we have this record down to go anywhere with it. We felt this need to get all these different ideas out, and we were even unsure how they were all going to fit on one record. I think they now flow together really well, and now there's a freedom to go in any one of thoses directions. We are even thinking about shorter projects - EP’s. Three to five songs with this vocalist, or this rapper, maybe even with instrumentalists that develops some way.
What has the response been like so far?
Tom: Seems very good! [laughs]
Steve: All of our friends seem to like it, and a lot of our friends are musicians, so it’s nice to have some feedback from people who are heavy musicians and tough critics.
Josh: The response has been great! People I haven’t heard from in fifteen or twenty years, like kids I went to boy scouts with, have been reaching out and telling me they’ve been listening to the album on repeat and are really inspired by it, and that’s the most moving thing to me. It’s moving that people are taking the time, you know? Time is valuable and when someone tells me something about the eleventh track on the album it’s just incredible!
Who are some of you favorite local musicians? Who would you want to collaborate with?
Tom: Steve Patota is my favorite local musician, can I go on record saying that?
Steve: I feel super inspired by my friends, I love these guys. Jennifer Simone, I’m really inspired by her, really inspired by Eddy Kwon, Ben Sloan, Brianna Kelly, all people who write and perform in various weird ways.
Josh: The band WHY? from here are good friends of mine, those guys are inspirations to me musically. Jon Massey’s got this band I really like, Silo’s Choice, that is really interesting singer-songwriter music. A band Steve is also in called A Delicate Motor is really cool, as far as the scene goes, that’s a band I’m really excited about.
Tom: Matt McAllister’s group Animal Mother. A really great saxophonist Josh Kline who I play with as well, is one of my favorite musicians in town.
What can fans expect in the future?
Tom: I think at this point we’re going to try to play as much as possible in the Cincinnati area, maybe do some small touring.
Josh: We’re open to big touring too. International tours. If any arenas want to call we’re open for that! Put that on the record. We spent so much time in the studio, were truly excited by spending a lot of time on stage now. We want to play live as often as seemingly possible. Tour as much as we can and collaborate as much as we can.
Josh: We’d just like to thank INHAILER for giving us the opportunity to talk about this music and we love what you all are doing. We’re excited that there is so much interest in local music that’s growing that enables a thing like IHNAILER to exist and do what you do. It’s cool, INHAILER is right next door to the studio we made this whole record in, so this just feels proper. It’s close to home.