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The New Mastersounds carry the funk torch to Fuji Rock

'The Nashville Session'
‘The Nashville Session’

TOKYO (TR) – In recent years, British band The New Mastersounds have made regular visits to Japan to showcase their brand of soul and funk. But, as drummer Simon Allen remembers, the band’s first trip, way back in 2006, did not exactly go smoothly.

“We flew in under the radar,” says Allen from England during a recent Skype call. “There was a maverick promoter who arranged several gigs for us. We didn’t bring instruments. So we had to kind of borrow basses and guitars. We had a great tour but we didn’t get paid. It was one of those early exploratory missions but what we found that there were really appreciative audiences there; we kind of felt like The Beatles but on a much smaller scale.”

The next mission in Japan for the quartet from Leeds will be this week’s Fuji Rock Festival, which will find the band fresh from the release in April of “The Nashville Session,” an album of tracks from its back catalog recorded live.

“The idea was to record what we do in the live set but with updated arrangements, and do it in front of a small audience so we get the energy of a continuous performance but also get the sound that we like of the analog tape, properly mixed,” says Allen of the album recorded at Nashville’s Welcome to 1979 studio at the end of last year. “It was the best of both worlds.”

“The Nashville Session” is a bit of a pause following 2015’s “Made For Pleasure,” a more conventional release in which the band collaborated with numerous musicians, including vocalist Charly Lowry and San Francisco-based West Coast Horns.

“With this one, we were playing tunes that we have been familiar with for years and years, and that we have developed over the years,” he says of “Nashville.” “Some of the arrangements have deviated from the original versions of them, because some of them are 10 years old. So it’s an updated document of what the band sounds like live but with that old studio sound that we think suits the music best.”

Originally intended as a vinyl-only album, “Nashville” will get a digital release. But the use of vinyl takes the band back to when it started, releasing short tracks on seven-inch singles during a period when it played live to complement DJ sets at The Cooker club in Leeds in the early 2000s.

“The scene that we were on was a DJ-led scene,” says Allen. “DJs would cover from opening to closing. On special occasions, maybe once a month, they’d put a live band on. The band would only play for about an hour, and the DJ would take over and play until closing. We understood our responsibility was to kind of emulate what they were doing: keep people on the dance floor, keep it really snappy — and only play for an hour.”

Once the band started playing in the U.S., however, their sound began to evolve — or as Allen says, “the entire thing turned on its head.”

“When we first went to the States the guy that had booked our shows, in Chicago, said we should probably do two sets, 90 minutes each,” he says. “We looked at each other flabbergasted. I think we were used to harsh British audiences with short attention spans who kind of tolerate live music but would rather depend on a DJ.”

The band then learned to jam.

“We have completely changed as a band as result of that,” he says. “We now do three-night residencies in Brooklyn where we will play at least 2 hours a night and we won’t need to repeat a tune.”

Looking ahead, Allen expects The New Mastersounds to revert back to collaborations — “The Nashville Session” was a one-off. “There will always be that strong influence of (New Orleans funk band) the Meters; we’re kind of carrying that torch: just bass, drums, guitar, Hammond (organ), quirky, funky tunes — all of our albums have something like that.”

For information on tickets and access, visit the Fuji Rock Festival web site.