The Pressure Kids' energetic live performances, cutting lyrics, and daunting musicality are without parallel, giving you the sense of attending a charismatic church for the young and inexperienced as they clumsily try to find their way in life.Read More
Amplify's Forrest Brown sat down with Daniel and Lauren Goans from Lowland Hum to talk more about their musical influences, writing on tour, and the dynamic of making music as husband and wife.Read More
In August 2015 we had the pleasure of hosting The Boy Jones as our first Amplify Night since earlier that spring. After the show, our producer, Forrest Brown, had the chance to ask The Boy Jones a few questions.Read More
We were fortunate to document A Family Christmas: Fireside Songs Vol. II with host Chris Chaput.Read More
Releasing two EPs since moving to Nashville several years ago, Corey's most recent effort, Hospital Hymns, has seen Corey touring across the country, being featured on numerous music blogs and session series, even playing a spot on a local NPR show.Read More
February 2015 was a cold month for Nashville, but despite the dreary wintry surroundings an ember of warmth emanated from a secluded jazz club in the heart of the city. Tucked away in a corner of The Gulch, The Cave is a fairly new institution that nurtures a haven for Nashville's burgeoning jazz community, and it offered the perfect venue for people to warm their hands around Mocha, an eight-piece neo-soul band from Belmont University.
Mocha emerged in the fall of 2013 from the combined efforts of Sakari Greenwell and Adam Kirincich. Drawing inspiration from legends such as Allen Stone, Justin Timberlake, and Parliament, Mocha offers a funky sound packed with soul that has been missing from Nashville's music scene for so long. Outside it may have been brutally cold, but inside Mocha lit a fire that kept the guests of February's first Amplify Session warm. Amplify Entertainment Group's Forrest Brown (FB) sat down with Mocha's Sakari Greenwell (SG, vocals) and Sheila Graves (SH, bass) after the session to talk more in-depth about the band.
FB: You have kind of an interesting sound…I wouldn't necessarily call it funk. I've heard it described as "neo-soul" "jazz," but how would you describe it?
SG: Well I know, Sheila, you come from a pretty funk background.
SH: Yeah, I come from a funk-pop background. I feel like [Sakari] comes from a funk-pop background. Horns probably come from more of a school band, jazz background. I feel like there's kind of a mix. It's not strictly soul, it's not strictly pop…it's kind of a mix of those.
SG: It's kind of like we're influenced by R&B, funk, and jazz and they all find their way into our songs.
FB: It's a really cool blend of a bunch of different styles. So are there any artists in particular that you take influence from, or do you mainly draw influence from your respective music backgrounds?
SG: I know me and Adam and Sheila listen to a lot of Justin Timberlake, especially his newer stuff.
SH: Yeah, because 20/20 was right when Mocha was forming, so that definitely had an influence.
SG: I'd say a lot of Gospel singers, just growing up. I listened to a lot of Aretha Franklin, Sam Cook…all those old time Motown-type singers. That's what my parents listened to. And then funk…I know me and Sheila listen to Parliament and some more old school stuff. Allen Stone is a current guy we totally look up, worship, and aspire to be.
FB: So when you're writing, is it like [Sakari] or Adam has an idea and brings it to the band, or is it more jam session inspired writing?
SG: Well, it actually has a lot more form to it usually. There are some songs that can be developed from jamming. Adam plays instruments whereas I don't, so he might think of progressions and then we'll try to write lyrics. We definitely take everything to everyone in the group and see what they think and see what their input will be and how they'll interpret it. We get to draw from everyone's personal musical background. That's probably why our genre isn't really clearly defined.
FB: I guess since you do get to jam a lot, what do you think is so special about the live experience when you're seeing a band or playing in a band? Do you think that live aspect is crucial to your band? Do you think you would sound the same if you didn't jam so much?
SH: Probably not. I feel like [the live aspect] is important. No matter what, with all the songs, while we do have a basic idea of what we're doing every time, it's not like "this is my bass line," "this is Ray's drum part" or whatever. As we all get to improve as musicians our parts within the songs can improve, because we can change them or modify them to whatever sounds better. I think that's pretty important to our sound as a whole, especially with songs like "Boy You Gotta." That was formed off of jamming because Sakari just had this song written and it was built out of that. And that's all important to us as musicians, too, because we like to learn and try new things within the music.
SG: I'm a performer. That's at the base of everything I do. What really gets me going is a live performance. I'm not too fond of the studio, but a lot of people love getting in the studio. And it's great, it's a great time for creativity and creation, but for me where it really hits me, where I really feel it is when I have people right there in front of me who I can engage with. And playing live really does help us improve with thinking on our feet, like doing what comes to us based off our feeling. Really I think that's a super cool thing, because Sheila could switch up her bass line, but it still works. That's just what she was feeling in that moment.
FB: Do you think it's way different for people seeing you live versus hearing you on a record?
SG: I think what we try to do is capture the energy that we put out live, but that's not to say the tracks will be exactly like how we do it live, because live there's a lot more chance for improv.
SH: It's a different aspect that we can't capture live, like multiple vocal tracks, more effects…
SG: …birds chirping. [laughs]
SH: Different arrangements of the songs.
SG: I think it's cool. Our talent still sounds the same. Y'know some people, you listen to the track and you hear them live and you're like, "That doesn't sound anything like the recording." I think it will probably be a different experience listening, but still a cool experience.
FB: My last question– how did you guys get the name "Mocha"?
[laughs from Sheila and Sakari]
SG: It was finals week first semester freshman year. Adam came up to me and was like, "Hey I just wrote this song, can you sing it?" So we met up in the practice rooms and I sang the song. We had both been thinking we should form a group, so after I sang the song, we both knew we should start a group for real. It just so happened that we were already friends with Sheila, Ray, and Nick, so we were like, "Wow, we want this sound and we have all these friends who play these instruments, so let's just form a band." But then Adam was like, "So I've been thinking. We should call it Mocha." And I was like, "…Why?" I was totally not on board at first. Why would we name it after coffee? What are you talking about? But then he was like, "Well…I'm white, but a little black. You're black, but a little white." Sometimes Adam has ideas that he's just so for and you just gotta trust him. It works out that this was just one of those times. When I hear the word "Mocha" I don't think of coffee anymore. I totally just think of the band.
Made Possible By:
Back in January, we were lucky enough to have Tim McNary (he goes by McNary on stage) as our first featured artist for a new project we started called Amplify Sessions. Amplify Sessions are live video sessions that we record in front of an audience in an intimate location. We filmed our first session on January 21, 2015 in the Bongo Java After Hours Theater in Nashville, TN, and for an entire hour McNary captivated a small audience of friends who arrived mostly not knowing what to expect.
Our first Amplify Session was the fruition of nearly a year spent planning and working countless hours, so having our friends there to celebrate with us in a night of incredible music and storytelling was purely magical, to say the least. Tim shared his music and the stories behind them with us, and I think we all left that night with a deep sense of wonder for those stories and for all the stories yet to be told. While Tim's performance was one of the most intimate performances I have ever experienced with any artist, I also had the opportunity to ask him a few questions after the show. Tim is not only a talented singer-songwriter, but he is also a very humble and insightful person as well.
FB: I know you're originally from the Atlanta area, so what made you decide to move to Nashville?
TM: I'd been in Atlanta since returning from living in South America and desperately needed a change of scenery. Sometimes the energy a city you've lived in for a long time begins feeling a bit heavy. I also figured I might find more camaraderie along with a more chill atmosphere in Music City– I was right.
FB: Do you think Nashville presented you with any special opportunities that you may have not had in another city?
TM: To be honest, the jury is still out on that for me. Nashville is certainly a music business hub, and there are more people here who see the music business as a viable career. I'm optimistic about the chances of leveraging those factors as my career develops. No matter what happens, it is more of a personal fit than my former home.
FB: I'm curious to know what influences your songwriting. I remember you saying at the show in January before you played "The Heist" that you lived in South America for a brief period of time following college– do you feel as if that experience significantly impacted the way you approach writing music or viewing the world?
TM: My biggest influences have been my travels and my reading or inner journey. Lately I've been digging into the Sufi poet Rumi and American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Beautifully inspiring stuff…
Regarding South America, the two years I spent there changed my worldview and creativity drastically. I got to see both third-world poverty and third-world wealth and began to realize just how f– up so much of US foreign policy has been. Catching a glimpse of the world through South America's eyes changed my worldview and, I would like to think, made me more empathetic in general. I also had many adventures like hitchhiking on a river boat in the jungle between Mexico and Guatemala and doing volunteer work in a favela in Brazil, all of which inform the subject matter of my songs. It was then that I began to write and play in earnest. Generally there is a strong yearning for both understanding and adventure that was stoked during that time as well. I'd like to hope that comes through in some of the songs I write.
FB: You mentioned briefly that you were raised in the Church and that there were some good things about it and some bad things about it. Are those experiences something you take with you in your music? How (if at all) do you think religion or spirituality affects your music?
TM: While I don't attend church any more or consider myself to be a Christian necessarily, I continue to see music as a powerful connecting force. Worship at a church was when I first felt that inexplicable feeling of connection and transcendence one feels while listening to or performing some songs. A genuine connection was happening and music was the catalyst. That longing and appreciation for that kind of connection is something I hope for when performing and has become the fodder for several songs.
FB: With all this being said about what influences your songwriting, do you think there's a specific message you want listeners to hear in your music?
TM: It depends on the song to some degree, but if there were a general message it would be, "You are not alone."
FB: If music has meaning (which I firmly believe it does), do you think there's something lost–a sort of communication breakdown– with recorded music versus live music? Obviously recorded music speaks strongly to people, but do you think there's something special about live performances that you can't always convey with a studio album?
TM: Most definitely. The best thing about live recordings is capturing the unique, imperfect, and beautiful energy of that take and those moments. It's tougher to achieve that magic in the studio, and is why many artists leave their recording experiences disappointed or don't deliver the same feeling in their recordings as at their live shows.
FB: Kind of building off the last question– we have the technology today to make recorded music sound just about perfect. If people could always just listen to a recording on an album and hear it replayed perfectly every time, why do you think people still go see artists perform live?
TM: They want that feeling that only the live show provides. That feeling like the worship service I mentioned earlier. For the most part, they are looking for that feeling of connection and being part of the music and the energy. Most are not as concerned with perfection as with the connection they are feeling. That magic cannot be underestimated.
FB: Last question. This is a tricky one that probably doesn't have a clear answer, but what do you see as the biggest obstacle facing artists in general today, and what do you think could be done about it?
TM: Wow. That is a tough one. I think it's probably a couple things. The first obstacle is taking the time to turn off our phones, get quiet, and work on our craft. Creation has to stay one of the primary focuses of our existence if we want to continue creating genuine and beautiful work that resonates with others. This aspect can be quite challenging these days.
The second obstacle is related to the first. It is knowing how to balance time between the creative and business sides. Marketing and other business aspects must be given importance in order to see career progress, but in my opinion, should come second to the artistic process. This is a strange dance that many of us struggle with.