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Written by Aneta Janssen
The Brand New Heavies showed their newest incarnation while talking to UKMIX at a cosy venue in London. Joining the three original funk masters, Simon Bartholomew, Andrew Love Levy and Jan Kincaid, was the 25-year-old singer Nicole Russo, whose vocal and songwriting talents feature on the band's latest album, "AllAboutTheFunk".
Critically acclaimed and commercially successful, a rare combination in the current age of quick and dirty tricks of the music industry, the Heavies have celebrated fifteen top 20 UK singles and a massive success worldwide.
Expressing their artistry through voices of four very different lead singers seems to be a guaranteed recipe for success, as far as reinventing their music goes, Russo providing a new edge never heard on the Heavies' records before.
It's difficult to deny the band's spontaneity and friendly chemistry - the fact that Jan, Simon and Andrew have known each other since school days, when they shared their sheer love for music, clearly giving the band an advantage over any manufactured act.
UKMIX: Nicole is your new singer, following the footsteps of N'Dea Davenport, Siedah Garrett and Carleen Anderson. Have you found it difficult adapting to different vocalists over the years?
Jan: Not at all. As a band we are contantly developing ourselves as musicians, challenging each other, listening to new things, being around different musicians. Taking all those things on board helps to keep the music progressing and changing. We wouldn't want to stagnate, as recording the same record over and over again must be quite boring.
UKMIX: Nicole, following the footsteps of N'Dea Davenport, Siedah Garrett and Carleen Davenport can't be easy. How do you feel about the inevitable comparisons people are bound to make?
Nicole: It's funny that we get asked this question many times, but when it comes to me versus the previous singers, the comparisons are not there. I think it's very nice that people are willing to accept me as the new voice of the new Brand New Heavies, without there being a relation to the previous singers.
UKMIX: Talking of comparisons, we've seen your name mentioned along the likes of Joss Stone, Fergie from The Black Eyed Peas or Anastacia. How do you feel about that?
Nicole: I'm flattered, they are all incredible talents and have earned their success, so it's a very positive thing.
UKMIX: The Brand New Heavies' sound has often had noticeable 1970s influences... are there any artists in particular who you feel have influenced you?
Simon: Definitely, the jazz and soul classics such as James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye.
UKMIX: Nicole, what were your influences when you developed your vocal style?
Nicole: Soul singers such as Aretha Franklin, Chakha Khan, Stevie Wonder. I grew up listening to their records and their music have always been a big part of my life.
UKMIX: How about more recently, who do you like listening to when you're not playing your own music?
Andrew: I really like the new Tori Amos album. It's a great calming collection of songs, perfect to just chill
UKMIX: You've released a few successful covers over the years... would you ever consider recording an album full of covers?
Andrew: We could release a Brand New Heavies cover album! How about re-recording everything? That would
be fun! I'm kidding!
UKMIX: So how does the creative process of the Brand New Heavies work? How do you make a song, for example, how did you make "Surrender"?
Andrew: First you need chicken!
UKMIX: Sounds fantastic! And what does the song "Surrender" mean to you?
Nicole: It's very special to me. It took me ages to get the lyric right, I had the chorus straight away, but the way it made me feel was that I knew something really exciting was about to happen. So I was trying to find a way to put that into a lyric, and "surrender into the feeling that feels good" encapsulates that. That's what the song is about for me - doing something because it feels good.
UKMIX: Your latest album - how would you compare it to your previous work? Do you think your original fans will enjoy it, or are you hoping to gain a new audience?
Andrew: We definitely want to keep our original fans, because they have supported us and bought the 4 million records from us, so we do have them in mind when me make new music. But we also want to get new fans involved, people who haven't heard us before, so while it might seem tricky to keep everyone happy, at the end of the day it's really about what we like.
UKMIX: If you had to name one track off the latest album that you feel particularily close to, which track would that be?
Nicole:"Surrender", because most of the other tracks were about either previous mistakes or about having a good
time dancing, but "Surrender" was emotionally deeper for me.
UKMIX: Thanks very much for talking to us, and we wish you good luck with your new single!
"Surrender" is released on 11th April 2005, on OneTwo records.