Music Feature

Speakeasy : Kings Go Forth

by Sal Cannestra
Milwaukee funk and soul band bring their powerhouse live show to Philly for the first time.

Milwaukee’s Kings Go Forth are a 10-piece funk and soul revue with a live show to rival the most intense rock band you’ve ever seen. Led by singer/writer Black Wolf, the vocals may be sweet but there is considerable muscle behind bass player/band leader Andy Noble’s arrangements. The band’s debut full-length, The Outsiders are Back (Luaka Bop Records), came out in the spring of 2010 and the band is making their first stop in Philly at Johnny Brenda’s on February 18th. I had the opportunity to talk with Andy about the ins and outs of taking such a mighty (and mighty big) band out on the road.

Andy, I had the chance to see you guys play a record store in Austin at the last South by Southwest conference and I was completely blown away and...

Oh, we’ve gotten ten million times better since then! I feel like right now is the first time I can really recommend us -- like, “You need to see this show.” And it’s because of Europe. We actually went on a real tour where it was just eat, drink, sleep, play a show, all the time. We’d never done that before. We did two weeks of shows and the feeling instantly was yeah, that’s how you do it.

When you talk about the logistics of touring with a 10-piece don’t go to Europe and pick up a horn section or pick up a percussionist do you?

No. The logistics of bringing my guys everywhere are hard, but the logistics of doing that are even harder. Not to mention that I’m really particular. We’re trying all the time to get better and better and that wouldn’t happen if we were changing out members.  That’s too much like a ‘show band’. If you were in The Clash you wouldn’t have a guy who plays bass in the US and another guy in Australia! No one would accept that and that’s how I think about our group. I don’t think about us as being like Sharon Jones, I think about us as being like The Who.

In a perfect world would you like to see Kings Go Forth on the road all the time?

I don’t think so, but things change. A year ago I would have said no, I just want to work in the basement on drum sounds. But after touring Europe I just wanted to go right back. I am addicted to the point that when I eat now I kinda mimic hospitality rider food. You know, you get hummus but no pita bread, so you scoop it up with a baby carrot (laughs). Just a vain attempt to keep on tour in my head while it’s a Tuesday afternoon in Milwaukee.

But motivations change and life changes. And this band sorta ruined a serious relationship... but, without going into too many details --, a year ago that was the most important thing in my life and I wasn’t looking to go on the road and now I just wanna go on the road all the time. But the thing that greases the wheels is money. I mean, we all need it and we’re not even close to “getting rich” money, I’m just talking about sustenance. If I take these guys on the road, I’ve got to be able to at least cover what they would have been making at home. 

And you’re not crashing on people’s floors with 10 people.

Yes, but there’s a more practical explanation for trying to maintain some sort of lifestyle on the road. The show is so physical that I need to baby the group. I’ve got to make sure that the singers can sing the next night. And the drummer and conga player are basically running a marathon at every show and they’ve gotta be able to do it the next night. I can’t tell those guys to go crash on someone’s floor. Or hey, there’s no more floor space available but there’s a chair over there!

I’m curious how you feel about Kings Go Forth being included in what’s called the ‘Soul Revival’, whether it’s Sharon Jones or the Budos Band or...

Well, obviously a lot of that is business and marketing. People have to figure our how to sell your band.

But is this something you try to distance your band from or something you embrace?

I fall somewhere in between. Obviously I want people to hear about our band but also recognize that we come for a different place. It’s a double edge sword.  If I was working for the marketing firm I’d probably be doing it even more, but in America there is no precedent of ‘Northern Soul’ -- these club scenes based on black American music like you have in Europe or Japan that have existed for decades.

In America our label cares so much about something like Pitchfork, which would seem on the surface to have very little in common with what we do, but the only people who buy CD’s in mass anymore are people who buy indie-rock. So, our label has to think about that. “Okay, is this the soul group that we can get indie-rockers to buy?” My business is just to make records that I like. I know there are other people who have different jobs to do. But the way they sell our band in America vs. the rest of the world is very different. But hey, when I see on someone’s Facebook page that they like Kings Go Forth and the next band is...I dunno, Radiohead, hey that’s cool (laughs). People need more variety. I like when people take their musical inspiration wherever they can get it.

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