A Seeds Interview With Members of Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal

  • Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal are playing at Zoo Bar as part of Lincoln Calling 2015. They perform tonight (Wednesday, September 30th) at 6 PM. 

Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal is a band that plays upbeat soul, R&B and blues. Based in Lincoln, they recently completed a month-long tour and an album recording session. Seeds chatted with Benjie Kushner (guitar), Mike Dee (saxophone), Memphis Shepherd (drums), and Josh Bargar (bass) about their experiences.

Seeds: How did you come together to create Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal?

MD: I was asked by another grad student to come to this rehearsal for this guy who was starting a band.

BK: Josh approached me in August 2012 out of the blue and said “I want to start a band and go in a different direction. I want to play more up-vibe, dance music.” I think he had been playing music with different emotions from that previously. I had just decided I wanted to play more music so it was actually just perfect timing.

JB: I was a senior in high school when it started. I remember him actually talking to me about it, that he was starting a band. I was always interested, I was a fan of the band. That’s how I grew to know it. I did a few sub gigs early on, and I had played with Josh before.

MS: I met Josh at the Waterfront Blues Festival. The Soul of John Black asked Josh to play keys with them so he did a few shows out there. Josh was like, “I don’t know if my drummer’s going to be able to tour anymore, how would you feel doing a February tour?” Halfway through it, I guess these guys kind of liked me a little bit, and they agreed to see if I wanted to make the move out here and be a part of the band. And we’re here now.

Seeds: You guys pretty much hit the ground running, winning awards, releasing two albums, and performing frequently soon after forming. What was it like to begin working together and experience these milestones so quickly?

BK: We just clicked personally and musically right away, so really I don’t know that we were seeking those milestones. Mostly we just realized we had a good chemistry and we worked really hard. And thankfully, the work was, for the most part, fun. Rehearsals or performances or travel, it was as much fun as I’ve had in any other band, and that goes a long way. The biggest milestone really is every time that we have people in front of us that are engaged, that are moved, who want to dance and have a good time and feel something. That’s the biggest thing we work for, every time we play.

MD: Josh writes good songs. They’re fun to play! Some of these songs, we’ve played hundreds of times. You would think that would get boring, but it doesn’t. You can approach the same song a billion different ways depending on the crowd, depending on how we’re feeling that night.

MS: And depending on the musicianship on the stage. Where each person can take the song.

Seeds: How do you think that being based in Lincoln has shaped the group?

BK: When we go out to different cities, we have plenty of good experiences. Bismarck, North Dakota comes to mind. But without fail, whenever you get back to Lincoln, you realize again when you play that first show back in town that this city is so supportive of music. There’s a surprisingly large pool of talent, a surprising interconnectivity between musicians, and the audience that comes out to see our shows is really consistent and enthused. And this isn’t just my experience with bands I’m in. When I see an unknown band that drifts through town, there’s people out to hear them and be engaged. It makes me really proud of this community.

MS: I just got here.

Seeds: Do you take inspiration from any other local groups? Is there much collaboration?

MS: I think one of the cool things is that the community just kind of bounces everybody around. It keeps everybody working, so we never stay stagnant and just do one style of music. We branch out and keep everything fresh. Our music, our chops, and our skills. It’s not always collaboration as far as writing music, but by just sharing a stage with them for shows and gigs.

BK: Hoyer’s been really good at that. He recognizes, and we do as a band, there’s a really happening scene here. There’s a number of bands, A Ferocious Jungle Cat, Mesonjixx, AZP, Funk Track, Lucas Kellas, Sam Ayer and the Love Affair, Chris Lager Band… He’ll book shows with them and share the stage so that we all share followings with everybody who would be interested in any of these groups. And that’s what starts to create a scene, I think. He also brings players in when possible to our shows that we might feature, like CJ Mills.

Seeds: What are your experiences with the overall blues scene in Lincoln? How does it compare to other places you’ve played?

MS: For me, coming out of a city that’s really rooted in blues, it’s interesting to see the comradery of musicians here versus Memphis. Memphis is more competitive. Out here, it seems that everybody’s helping one another more than stepping on each other’s toes. It’s like, “How can we help another person?” It helps with networking, especially since I just moved here, to meet a lot of new people.

Seeds: How has your outlook on music changed as you’ve worked with each other?

MS: I think that’s one special thing about this group. We each have our own styles and because of that, it’s what makes up this band. Of course we learn from each other, and the chemistry on stage is always fresh and we’re trying to figure out new things, but we each come from a different background and that’s what makes this music so interesting.

Seeds: Can you talk about the process of bringing together all of your different musical viewpoints?

MS: It’s just something that naturally happens. You can’t force a band. To me, a band just means brothers and you can’t force a family. Your family’s just going to be who it is. And it’s those different outlooks and different backgrounds that make up this family.

BK: It does happen pretty organically. For instance, I’ve had a rock background. But before I played in a couple of local bands, it was all R&B and blues back then. It was really fun to come back to that music because it’s always been in me. I think sometimes we help each other with direction, and I think we all take part in that and we’re all open to each other, so most of the time our diversity just happens. Occasionally we have to direct it a little bit.

MD: And we feed off of each other, too. I’ve played with a few different trombone players, and each one brings out something different in my playing. Like, Marcus is a straight up jazz player, and I feed off of that so I’ll take that direction sometimes. But Tommy’s more in the pocket, so I’ll dig into that. It’s just who we’re playing with.

JB: Ultimately, we listen to each other a lot. I think in the end we have a pretty good sense of understanding each other and really listening to what we’re doing and making it sound musical.

Seeds: You just recorded your next album, “Running From Love,” at the Sound Emporium in Nashville. What was that like?

BK: Sound Emporium with Ken Coomer, where we just recorded, was an apex of recording in my life. The studio itself was legendary, the space was comfortable and professional at the same time. Ken himself is amazing. He is uniquely qualified to produce a record for us and he was really enthusiastic about it. And it still had the same kind of feel to me as recording live, to a degree. We were still trying to capture that live initial track.

Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal in the recording studio. Photo Credit: Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal
Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal in the recording studio.
Photo Credit: Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal

Seeds: You’ve been playing some of the songs from your new album live already. How have they evolved after recording them?

MD: In pre-production on the first day we got to Nashville, we sat down in Ken’s studio and went over some things. He had suggestions. Just little things, like shortening a section from eight bars to four. They really made the songs have a stronger statement. You didn’t need to say that much to say the same thing.

BK: So then it’s weird because we’re trying to play live and we’ve been playing them in these more tightened arrangements for a very intense period of eight, nine days. And suddenly we’re back on stage, and we’re like “uh, should we do the studio way?” and that’s very strange.

Seeds: How collaborative is the songwriting process?

MS: He usually already has an idea. A few lyrics, maybe a chorus or piano line, and then he just has an idea of what he may want on it. From there, we make it our own individually. See what works, see what doesn’t work, try to help each other out and see where we can take the music.

JB: Yeah, I think it depends on the song. If you listen to his tracks, he’s pretty much playing my part. And there’s not a whole lot of leeway on a whole lot of tracks, but there are some where there is, and I still get to put my feel into it. It depends on what everyone else is playing.

MS: It’s a really long math equation. You add some, subtract a bit, divide it in half: math equation.

BK: He’s open to letting us suggest things and try them while maintaining an identity of what the song is really about, and I think that really fires us up. Because we feel like we’re empowered and we’re taking part in the creative process.

MD: For horn lines, sometimes he has a really strong idea and I just have to harmonize it for trombone. And other times he’ll just have a form and he’ll send me the audio file and I’ll just work on it. So it’s a nice mix of his strong ideas and our convincing him to do it this way or that way.

Seeds: What’s been the most rewarding part of this past tour and recording session?

BK: I think the playback, when we went to Ken’s studio and listened. It wasn’t mixed yet, he just put things up relatively okay so you could hear them and we listened to the record. It was really fun. To me, it was the high point. As far as live playing, the high point to me was in Las Vegas at the Showroom at the Big Blues Bender in the Plaza Hotel.

MD: But to contrast that, the next day we had like, five minutes to check.

JB: Our drummer didn’t have a monitor.

MD: That just takes the energy right out of you. Because we can’t communicate. We don’t have that magic on stage if we can’t hear everyone.

Seeds: What was the most difficult part of the tour? Was that show the biggest challenge?

MS: For me, at least. I couldn’t hear anything but myself and I could barely hear myself.

BK: Driving in a van with gear. Not just gear for shows, but gear for recording and being on the road for a month. And six of us sitting back there and driving straight from Las Vegas to Nashville. A hundred degrees. that’s a challenge.

MD: To drive eight hours after playing the worst gig of the tour. Everyone’s deflated.

BK: Hoyer did something really fun to lighten our spirits. Just after sunset, we’re crammed in there, sweaty, tired. He took the tuner of the radio and balanced it between AM stations somehow. And there were storms all around us so we were picking up a lot of different cities and it would be this weird music, and then fading in behind would be like “Well, he’s got a first down and 10 now…” and Native American music. And it kept fading in between because of the electricity in the storm, so we would pick different stations up and it was super funny.

Seeds: Do you think recording this new album has impacted how you guys are going to play together?

MS: A lot of songs were extended before, so I think we’re just writing with a whole other mindset of how to make it short and sweet. I think that was one of the biggest impacts, definitely.

JB: For me, the experience with Ken and listening to how shortened everything was, it really opens your ear up to listen more for what is absolutely essential to be there and what isn’t. Serve the song, but only have what’s necessary to say what you’re gonna say in the song.