THE MANY SOUNDS OF WHITEFIELD

Poets Of Rhythm: Practice What You Preach
From Practice What You Preach (Daptone, 2006)

Bus People Express: Augusta, Georgia
From Original Raw Soul (Instinct, 1996)

Syrup: Chocolate
From Different Flavours (Compost, 2000)

With all the press that Daptone’s Dap Kings get for their funky soul roots revival (and deservedly so), many seem to forget the groundwork that Jan and Max Weissenfeldt (aka Whitefield) and their band of funky brothers from another mother laid down in the early to mid 1990s. Much of the time they were known as the Poets of Rhythm, but they had more monikers than Prince has had backup bands.

The three tracks above give you a sense of versatility the band has. “Practice What You Preach” is one of my favorite funk workout jams of all time. It features a bassline that rides like a rollercoaster and the syncopated chorus is a real sweat. Then you get a killer sax/drums duet followed up by a nice organ solo. And if you think these guys couldn’t have held their own with the J.B.s, check out their alterego’s tribute to James Brown’s hometown with its frenetic pace and nice touch of congas. Finally, the oft-forgotten Syrup side project finds the band still utilizing more synths. With its steady rhythm guitar riff and still keeping true to their ever-present top-notch hornwork, it could easily blend in with late 70s/early 80s sets.

Recently I had the chance to talk with Jan about his thoughts on the resurgence of funk, where he’s been, and where he’s going with music.

EL: With all the press that The Dap Kings get as being the “in” nu-funk band, people tend to forget you and your bandmates. Talk about some of the groundwork you and your bandmates help to lay with this renaissance of funk in early/mid-90s – struggles to get labels to believe in your music, issues with getting heard, etc.

JW: We self produced and released a 7″ in 1992. I gave a copy to a friend who went to Hamburg and passed it on to the DJ at a small club called Soul Kitchen. Two weeks later I got a call from the guys from the newly founded label Soulciety asking if we want to record an album for them. Of course we agreed as we never even thought that could happen. Before that we just jammed in the basement and had a couple of shows where we covered meters songs.

EL: How many alteregos did the Poets Of Rhythm have? To name a few there was the Bus People Express, The Mighty Continentals, The Pan Atlantics, and The New Process. It’s hard to keep up with your catalog! Why so many?

JW: I lost count myself but the reason is easy to explain: two of our biggest influences in the early days were George Clinton and James Brown. Both gave many of their musicians their own records which had their unique sound but still were part of the whole concept. We just imagined different projects with different sounds or styles and made records for them.

EL: Last we talked, you had mentioned that you were working on a follow-up Whitefield Brothers album to the now-reissued In The Raw LP. Are those sessions finished? Did you stick with the Ethiopian sound you talked about last time?

JW: The album is nearly done. It has some Ethiopian stuff but also compositions based on japanese and turkish scales and all kinds of exotic rhythms. Ethnic or world funk would be good description, I guess.

EL: From your Hotpie & Candy Records days, Poets Of Rhythm really had a lock on that JB’s style with the syncopated rhythms and just a nasty horn section. Then the follow-up Discern/Define went in a different direction, overall a more toned down sound. You really don’t like to stay too much in one musical element, do you?

JW: When we started making music together, Bo Baral and I were only 16 years old so you start with the basic stuff. After a while when more records are bought and you keep studying the works of previous generations, first you look at the classics from the different eras then you start looking behind the icons that everybody knows. You learn there are different approaches to music and there is loads of stuff that got lost because it didn´t meet the current tastes. So you add up and change influences all the time and as we don´t do albums every year the difference in sound can be quite big but still it contains a big part of what we grew up on.

EL: Do you have any desire to start up another label? If so, what would you do differently?

JW: I have a new label I started a couple of years ago – Field Records. So far I only did reissues of Whitefied Brothers and Pan-Atlantics as I don´t really have the time to put too much effort into label work. It´s all 7″s anyways and is more of a fun thing. Hotpie & Candy Records was a fun thing as well. We pressed up own 45s because that´s what our inspirations did. It was never handled as a serious business and in the end we probably gave more copies away for free than we sold.

EL: I read in Waxpoetics that at your live shows you don’t do much (if any) of your older Poets Of Rhythm material. Is that still true?

JW: As I tried to explain with the changing influences, it´s kind of boring to stick to the same formula too long. It´s even harder to keep the music fresh if you have to perform many shows in a row. We try to incorporate as much improvisation as possible so every concert is different and you never know where it´s gonna take you. That keeps it interesting for us and for the audience.

EL: Some in the media have speculated that several years from now that CDs may not exist; they also note that it’s one of the only times in history where the replacement technology is actually of inferior quality. Given the choice of a new album coming out, would you rather get a digital download or own a physical copy? Talk about your thoughts of the digital revolution.

JW: Soundwise digital definitely has a disadvantage compared to analog. They try to tell you you can’t hear the difference and in high resolution that might be true, but I´m sure I can feel it and digital has a cleaner, colder appearance. On the other hand, it freed the music from the industry as the access is almost unlimited. Nowadays you can listen to countless hours of music for free on the web and you can choose what you want to listen to. Just 15 years ago you only could copy music in realtime with decreasing quality. You had to wait till the program on the radio met your taste or you had to buy countless records. On the production side it gives you more freedom as well cause you are not dependent on expensive studio time to do recordings or editing. So summed up it it´s like: more quantity, less quality – more freedom, less money. Like with all things there is the good side and the bad side. Yin and yang will always be relevant.

EL: Are you sour on the music industry these days? I know you had a falling out with Soulciety. Have you had to up your music biz game?

JW: Not sour at all. The only way to do it is to find people who care about music more than money (but still make you some) and work with them. Hard to find.

EL: What other flavors of sound would you like to try? Not necessarily that you’re currently working on, but “someday I’d like to go for a _____________ sound.”

JW: Ambient soundscapes, tone poems.

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