The night before Con Brio headed into the studio to record their first full-length album, 23-year-old Ziek McCarter had a dream. In it, the singer received a visit from his father, an Army veteran who died at the hands of East Texas police in 2011. His father delivered an invitation: Come with me to paradise.
McCarter woke up with a song in his bones. “It was one of the most spiritual
moments of my life,” he recalls. It was up to him, he knew, to rise above
injustice, and to perform in a way that lifted up those around him as well. To
make Con Brio’s music a place of serenity, compassion -- even euphoria --
right here on earth.
Paradise, which saw the San Francisco band teaming with legendary
producer Mario Caldato Jr. (Beastie Boys, Beck, Seu Jorge), is the result: a
declaration of independence you can dance to; an assertion of what can
happen when the human spirit is truly free.
Formed in 2013, Con Brio is the offspring of seven musicians with diverse
backgrounds but a shared love for the vibrant Bay Area funk and psychedelicsoul sound pioneered by groups like Sly & the Family Stone.
By 2015, when the band self-produced their debut EP, Kiss the Sun, Con Brio
had already become a West Coast institution on the strength of their magnetic
live show, with McCarter’s swiveling hips, splits and backflips earning him
frequent comparisons to a young Michael Jackson or James Brown.
After a busy 2015 spent touring the U.S. and Europe, playing alongside
veterans Galactic and Fishbone, and racking up critical acclaim on proving
grounds like Austin City Limits -- where PopMatters declared Con Brio “the
best new live band in America” -- they headed home to parlay their
momentum, chemistry and tight live sound into a full-length record.
In an era when much has been made of the “death of the album,” there’s no
question that Paradise, out DATE HERE on LABELS, is a fully-formed journey
-- a trip made all the more immersive by Caldato’s raw, live style of
production. “We tried to create a narrative in the studio, in the same way that
we segue between songs live,” explains McCarter of the record’s arc.
From the first primal wail of Benjamin Andrews’ electric guitar on the title track
-- Paradise is bookended by intro and outro versions -- the album tells a story
about modern life through its contradictions: “Liftoff” speaks of an urge to fly,
to transcend the day-to-day with a starry, bird’s-eye view. “Hard Times” brings
us crashing back to earth with the struggles of city life, inequality, and a
fractured society desperate for healing. “Money” is a revolution, a rejection of
societal pressure to equate success with a paycheck and abandon one’s
dreams in the process.
“Free & Brave,” the band’s most overtly political anthem, is also arguably its
most infectious. Over a driving R&B groove courtesy of veteran rhythm
section Jonathan Kirchner and Andrew Laubacher (bass and drums),
McCarter name-checks Trayvon Martin and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Clearly
inspired by his own personal relationship with police brutality, the song is
equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful.
“‘Free & Brave’ is in part a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, but
it was also created to serve as a reminder -- to myself and to whoever finds
joy in that song -- that there is a light there. We don’t have to get bogged
down, we don’t have to feel helpless,” says McCarter. “We might not see it on
a daily basis, but we are still ‘the land of the free and home of the brave’...I still
take pride in that, in what pieces of joy and happiness we can create here with
Of course, songs about love and passion remain Con Brio’s native tongue. (At
a recent Australian festival in which the band shared a bill with D’Angelo, one
journalist told McCarter his sex appeal had eclipsed that of his longtime idol.
McCarter continues to have no comment.) So it’s a refreshing surprise that the
strongest love song on Paradise, in fact, is “Honey,” a sweet, spacious and
vulnerable tune that allows the band’s horn section, Brendan Liu and Marcus
Stephens, to shine. Though the band’s built a reputation on sonic bravado, it’s
choices like these -- moments in which the music’s power flows from its
subtlety -- that truly highlight where Con Brio is going.
As for where they’re literally going: The second half of 2016 will see Con Brio
embarking on an ambitious international touring schedule, including stops at
the lion’s share of major American music festivals (Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza,
Summerfest and San Francisco’s own Outside Lands); Fuji Rock, Japan’s
largest annual music event; Montreal Jazz Fest, the North Sea Jazz Festival
in Rotterdam, the Netherlands; London; Paris; and more.
Which is not to say they’re intimidated. After performing most of these songs
live throughout the past year, the team is running on adrenaline, and they’re
thrilled to finally put this record in people’s hands. To bring old fans along for
the journey, to help new fans lose themselves in a beat or a message. To
spread music that, hopefully, shakes away the daily grind -- and nurtures
listeners’ dreams about what their version of paradise on earth might look like,
even for the duration of a song.
Ziek McCarter already knows what his looks like, because Con Brio’s building
it. And from where he’s sitting, they’re well past ready for liftoff.
“We don’t want to walk, we don’t want to drive,” he says with a laugh. “We
want to fly. We want to levitate.”
Lyrics Born relocated to the United States from his birthplace of Toyko, Japan right around the time Hip Hop was exploding on the East Coast.
From the moment he heard Sugar Hill Gang’s 1980 classic “Rapper’s Delight,” the Bay Area Hip Hop luminary knew he’d found his calling.
Twenty-five years later, LB has obliterated the stereotypes of what an MC is “supposed to” look like and captured the hearts of countless fans who gravitate to his distinctive voice. He’s now the only Asian-American MC to release 10 studios albums and the first to play major music festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza.
From his Quannum Recordings debut with Latyrx,1997’s The Album, to 2003’s seminal solo album Later That Day, he’s consistently pushed the boundaries of his craft. His newest project, Quite A Life, is like the exclamation point on his milestone year.
“Ten albums is a lot for any artist, let alone an indie artist who colored outside the lines, so to speak,” LB says. “I'm just appreciative there was always somehow a path for me, no matter how impossible it seemed — either on paper or in practice.”
As the first Asian-American to release a greatest hits compilation, he’s pumped out multiple smash singles across four official studio albums. From “Stop Complaining” to “Callin’ Out” and “I Like It, I Love It” and “I Changed My Mind,” his material has always retained a musically eclectic feel.
The self-proclaimed “funkiest rapper alive” carries on his tradition of weaving funk and soul into classic, boom-bap Hip Hop on Quite A Life. Without the influence of icons like James Brown, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Zapp and Rogers, LB admits he wouldn’t be who he is today.
Coupled with his love of rap pioneers such as KRS-One, Rakim and Snoop Dogg, LB’s music is the perfect Hip Hop and funk-flavored gumbo.
For live shows, LB often recruits a full band to “keep it all the way funky” for his audience. Coupled with wife/singer Joyo Velarde’s powerful voice, the unrelenting energy of his performances electrify every crowd.
Since establishing himself among the upper echelon of indie Hip Hop artists, LB has expanded his empire into film. This year, he has roles in Boots Riley’s critically acclaimed film Sorry To Bother You and the Netflix movie Always Be My Maybe starring comedian Ali Wong and Keanu Reeves.
“I'm funny, or so I’m told [laughs],” LB says.“I absolutely love comedy and being ridiculous. These past couple films have been an incredible experience. I'm especially proud to be a part of films that challenge norms and it doesn't hurt to work with your friends either.
“I really love comedic acting. As an artist, it's like another color on my palette. I will be doing more advocating for the underserved in the arts as well, particular for Asian Americans and other people of color. The world needs the same diversity in the arts as we do in real life.”
As LB continues the next chapter, he jokes that he’s become that “old stubborn Japanese man” who says what he wants and he’s not planning on going anywhere. In fact, his goal over the next 25 years is to make another 10 albums and more films. Most notably, he wants to continue providing a platform for other Asian-Americans, a slice of the population that is consistently underrepresented in pop culture.
When he looks back on the last 25 years, he has nothing but gratitude for his position in the Hip Hop space and life in general.
“I'm just blessed and grateful to be alive and pursuing my passion after 25 years,” LB says. “That’s mind-blowing for me when I really think about it. All the obstacles I've faced and accolades I've received, I can only be thankful.”