For Dallas soul-funk brother Larry g(EE), the 14 musicians who perform with him don’t feel like a crowd when they’re all on the stage together.
“When it comes to playing live, it feels like we’re this one thing, you know? It feels like we’re all part of this one thing happening,” the musician said. “It’s hard to describe.”
The singer and his band will headline the benefit concert that wraps up the fifth Adventures in Autism Intervention and Research Conference at the University of North Texas on Saturday night.
Since the release of his debut EP in 2011, Larry g(EE) has been on a slow but steady climb. He played a coveted spot in March at South by Southwest, Austin’s huge music festival and conference. He got a gig for himself and his big band of horn players, a keyboardist, guitarist, bassist and drummer on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live.
The artist took a break from the studio and song-polishing to talk about the music he’ll bring to his first gig in Denton. Weekends serves up four summer-suited tracks that are a seamless blend of soul, R&B, pop and funk. He trusted his songs to his peer and friend-turned-producer Beau Bedford, and the two are slinging inspiration hot and heavy in hopes for a follow-up.
Given that g(EE) released the EP in 2011, there’s something that feels ahead of the curve about the funk-soul brother posture and sound soaking the airwaves right now, from Justin Timberlake (“Suit & Tie”), Robin Thicke (“Blurred Lines”) and Bruno Mars (“When I Was Your Man”).
“I feel like, when someone like a Justin T. and Robin Thicke are making music with this strong relationship to soul, at the end of the day, it comes back to this history,” g(EE) said.
He said the history has fed him, Thicke, Timberlake and any savvy musician who appreciates music that evokes a sensation. And horns aren’t exactly a novelty. Madonna and Timberlake released “4 Minutes” on Hard Candy in 2008, and the track opens with a chorus of horns. Yet there is a sense that soul is experiencing a popular renaissance.
“I’ve always had this love of soul music, and it’s something than I wanted to do for a while,” g(EE) said. “I was really going off of the sounds I was hearing out in the city when I spent a summer in Brooklyn.”
It’s not that g(EE) made prophetic music on Weekends, he said. It’s that a wave of nostalgia had crashed over America’s big cities. It was as if the economic recession made older and wiser folks recall when a night out at a small club was a memory in the making. Our grandparents survived the Great Depression and watched desegregation unfold. The charm of the skittering beats and big, bad horns that belted out in dance halls rose up as a reminder that even if times are rough, well, laissez les bon temps rouler.
The Big Apple always has its share of super-cool jazz, and a new generation of R&B monsters are sharpening their chops in the city that never sleeps. New York is home to Harlem and the Apollo Theater, after all. In those hallowed halls, aspiring artists rub an old wooden stump for luck and pray that the opening five notes of their song are out-of-body-experience good. If said prayers go unanswered, the audience at the Apollo shuts the artist down, and brutally. It’s so harsh that a dancing man literally sweeps performers off the stage with a broom while the crowd basks in the humiliation.
“The great thing is that this has been a labor of love,” g(EE) said. “Everything on the record is based off of a feel. Everything came from a feeling.
When it came to choosing all the songs for Weekends — which follows the single “Yo Mama” with “Camera Phone,” an invitation for a special someone to dance like she’s making a private video for him, “I’m Your Fool” and “Game” — g(EE) said everything had to second that feeling.
“It felt like they were ready to go,” he said. “Beau Bedford and I are into, like, this positive thing we wanted to express. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We wanted all of the record to feel good, and to make the audience feel good.”
The singer embraces both the bravado and bombast of soul and R&B. In “Yo Mama,” the narrator ogles a classy lady and calls her out: “Your milkshake may bring boys to the yard/But that’s not how I’m playing these cards.” He’s no fool, and warns the object of his desire that she’d “better run” because he’s on her trail.
Larry g(EE) was born in West Texas. He grew up around professional music. His father owned a recording studio. His uncle was the studio engineer and his mother was a gospel singer. He started his musical journey with piano lessons, then switched to the guitar, and learned everything he needed to know about vocal dynamics and conviction in a college gospel choir.
While g(EE) has a knack for hooks and catchy melodies, it’s his voice that surprises. It’s a big voice, capable of caressing high notes with a Frankie Valli falsetto, then punching the chorus with a raspy croon that might approach the sonorous croon of the Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley.
He explains his schooled vocals.
“My father would have session players in the studio — session players who had worked with Elvis and Marvin Gaye,” g(EE) said. “As a kid, I just sort of sat there soaking it all in.”
He claims Hall & Oates and Shuggie Otis as favorites in his formative years. He grew up listening to Earth, Wind & Fire, which accounts for the cocky horns that dance all over “Game,” the final track on Weekends. The song is a dance-hall stomper that keeps climbing in intensity until the music collapses in a spent heap.
The singer said he’s happy for the television exposure, which drove new listeners to his social media sites, but he’s choosing to stay on top of what he calls the “humble hustle.” He and Bedford are laying down tracks and dissecting songs. He said he and Bedford have opted for a straightforward, honest partnership.
“It’s a simple relationship, really,” g(EE) said. “I typically will come up with a song, bring it to Beau, who takes the idea and creates the sound. I think we’ve got a great respect for one another. If you look at both of us, visually, he’s the hippie and I’m not a hippie. I’m in a bow tie and he’s in a dashiki. Whenever we walk on stage, it’s like, ‘What’s going on here?’ That’s the beauty of music. No boundaries. You’ve got Beau coming from one end of the spectrum and me from another.”
The artist will share the benefit stage Saturday with the O’s, Blue Bear, Goodnight Ned, Fate Lions, Jess & the Echoes, School of Rock and Special Mister Ed. Larry g(EE) is scheduled to start at 11 p.m. and play till 1 a.m.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.
DREAM 2013 BENEFIT CONCERT
What: DFW Rocks to End Autism through Music concert featuring Larry g(EE), the O’s, Blue Bear, Goodnight Ned, Fate Lions, Jess & the Echoes, School of Rock and Special Mister Ed
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday to 1 a.m.
Where: In the atrium of UNT’s Business Leadership Building, located between Maple and West Highland streets at Avenue A.
Details: Tickets cost $15, available at the door. Proceeds benefit the UNT Kristin Farmer Autism Center.
On the Web: For more information about the center or to buy tickets online, visit http://autism.unt.edu .