Surrender To The Brand New Heavies


Written by Aneta Janssen
Photography by Martin Cairns
3rd April, 2005

The Brand New Heavies 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.

Nicole Russo 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.
Andrew: Actually, our 1970s influences are much more subtle than a lot of the hip-hop and soul music at the moment, where you literarlly take a 1970s sample and build a track over it. That is much more direct than what we do, which is just draw the inspiration from the 1970s sound.

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?

The Brand New Heavies Andrew: I really like the new Tori Amos album. It's a great calming collection of songs, perfect to just chill out to.
Jan: Bah Samba's album, which is just incredible.
Simon: The new album by Rootz Manuva.
Nicole: I'm into Lenny Kravitz' music, and more recently I've been listening to the John Legend album.

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!
Simon: Do you know a band called Westlife? They've been releasing covers of tracks from the 1970s. They are a 1970s covers band without the flares!
Nicole: Without the personality!
Jan: Most dance records nowadays are also using 1980s pop hits for the hook, and they just use one part of it and make a whole dance record. That's the latest form of covers.
Andrew: Nowadays you can make your own record really easily. You can find the drums on the Internet, you can sit on your own, all you need is one eye and a hand, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when you have a bunch of people in a room, fighting, laughing and loving and making music together, then you get the music that comes out of community. That is not how the industry is working now; instead you have a songwriter, a stylist, you chose a singer etc. You have all those separate things coming together, whereas a band in the old days was a band. A band that wrote together, lived together and played together. It's a big difference to the type of music that is being made. Because human beings naturally form groups and that's been disolved by the industry.

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!
Jan: "Surrender" came about from a really long jam session, which we recorded. There was an 8-second-long section of it, which we loved, so we looped it and played it to Nicole. She then had some ideas for melodies straight away, and the song grew from that. Once Nicole has written the top part of it - melody and lyrics - we went back to the studio, messed around with the music a bit more and made it into a song.

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.

The Brand New Heavies 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.
Jan: I'm not too sure, I go through phases, and I actually haven't listened to the album for a while, after hearing ir over and over again when we were making it. But it is nice to be surprised by it, for example when you walk into a shop and hear it. I don't have a favourite as such, I like the whole record.
Simon: "How We Do This", because it's got a touch of the 1920s to it, which was actually quite a big influence on the 1970s, fashion wise. Plus there's a drumroll in that is quite fun!
Andrew: Like Jan, I haven't listened to it for a while, because we've heard it about a 100 times, but there is a little section on a track called "How We Do This", which sounds like we're going on a holiday to Morrocco, and that moment for me is the greatest part of the whole album. Nice, exciting and happy!

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.

VIDEO: "Surrender" - The Brand New Heavies
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