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Drummer Daniel Yount Talks Afrobeat Band Brand New Life

Ben Gray
Contributing Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

The Brand New Life is a six-piece Afrobeat band based out of Greensboro, NC. Following up on the release of their self-titled album in 2010, the band is releasing a new EP, titled The Brand New Life EP, this week. I had a chance to talk with their drummer, Daniel Yount, about their new album, their writing process, and their live shows.

So this is Daniel, the drummer in Brand New Life?

Yeah, drums and percussion, but I play the drum set.

So just to start, who’s in the band? I picked up your album that you guys came out with in 2010, but it looks like you had someone on tuba on that one and at least when I saw you guys live the other night it looked like it was a little bit different lineup, so can you tell me who’s in the band now?

Yeah, our current lineup is one of the smallest lineups we’ve had in a while, but for the past few months it’s been Walter Fancourt on tenor sax, Sean Smith on trumpet, Seth Barden on bass, Will Darity is our electric guitar player, Evan Frierson on congas, talking drum, percussion, and myself Daniel Yount on drum set. And like most Afrobeat bands, we have a rotating cast, so at times we’ll have more horns, more percussionists, things like that.

So you guys are an Afrobeat band coming out of Greensboro? I wouldn’t have guessed that there would be much of an Afrobeat scene in Greensboro, but from what you just said it sounds like either more people just jump in and have some chops? Or is there more going on in Greensboro that I don’t know about?

Well, Greensboro has a really interesting music scene, and there are people that are into that kind of stuff here, sort of randomly. There’s a percussionist in town named Atiba Rorie, who’s a fantastic djembe player, he’s featured a little bit on our record that we’re about to release, and we’ve just found some of these people in the craziest ways. Our band had a Senegalese griot for about 3 years. His name was Mamadou Mbengue, and he’s also featured on our EP that’s about to come out. But he wound up in Greensboro all the way from West Africa totally randomly. So it’s interesting, there’s not a huge community of people that really know Afrobeat, whereas when we go down to Atlanta or up to New York, there are people that are just obviously way into that music, that are collectors of those albums. But it’s sort of random that we’re from Greensboro and have gotten into all this stuff.

So, not being a hotbed for Afrobeat - and I saw your guitar player at a jazz show about a month ago - are most people coming out of a jazz background? Funk background? Where do the people come from? Outside of Brand New Life what are you guys up to?

All of our members grew up on jazz, most of us met each other in jazz band in high school in Greensboro, and so we’ve definitely come up on that. And in the beginning we were sort of going for a world beat/free jazz kind of thing, and you can sort of hear that on the first CD. So there’s definitely a jazz influence. We’ve been kind of getting into pop music and indy-pop, college radio kind of pop lately, and our horn players play with a group called Reptar out of Athens, and they’re a huge indie-pop band, they played at Bonnaroo this summer with our horn players. So we’re sort of trying to bring in pop influences and new things that are going on in new music, trying to bring that into the Afrobeat thing.

It’s hard to classify, it’s Afrobeat I guess, but you’ll play a real jazz-influenced lick, then a real rock kind of thing, it’s…

Another thing to consider is that all of our compositions are original, so we’ve sort of found a good place in the niche of Afrobeat/worldbeat band around here. Because when it comes down to it, you’re kind of categorized by the bands that you tour with or the bands that you get paired up with at club shows. So, one of the biggest gigs we’ve played was opening up for Fela’s son, Seun Kuti. That show was in Atlanta, which is like five hours from Greensboro, but we got the call to play that gig I guess because there just aren’t that many bands.

Bara Mbaye (excerpt):

You’re the Afrobeat band in the South.

Yeah, but it’s not like we’re that traditional. I mean, if you even listen to Antibalas, they’ll throw in a Fela cover, and when we did the shows with them, they encored with Fela's "Open & Close" both nights, but we don’t do anything like that. It’s our own thing, it’s just how we position ourselves. We’ve do lots of things that are outside of Afrobeat, you know?

Sure. So everything you guys play is an original - how does the writing go? Is it a collective thing?

Well, it’s a unique process. People ask us all the time because when they hear the music they can tell that the process has to be sort of different, you know? Usually, one person will have an idea and will collaborate with one or two people to get some ideas going, but we always keep it kind of loose and bring it to the full band or to a couple more people and we definitely arrange everything together. Even if somebody has a really strong idea for a song, it somehow ends up different.

Never ends up how it starts.

Yeah, but in a really good way. We’ve had a lot of luck with, like, our drummers might come up with an interesting groove that’s in an odd time signature or something, or is traditional in some sense and it’s something that we’re learning at the time. And we’ve had a lot of luck starting songs by making a foundation of a really interesting groove and then our horn players and whoever can have a field day by composing to that. I need to get you this new CD to give you some examples of that. The first song is an Afrobeat song but it’s in a 9/4 time signature, which you don’t really hear too much. But unless you count it, you wouldn’t really know.

Gigs/$$$ (Excerpt):

Yeah, I noticed when I saw you guys live the other night, and I don’t know, maybe it was this song, but it doesn’t seem obvious that you’re trying to do some tricky time signature.

Yeah, we want people to be able to dance to it without feeling too crazy, it’s kind of odd.

So, you just mentioned the new album - it’s an EP coming out?

Yeah, it’s a 4-track EP.

Who’s on it? You mentioned that there are some people featured on it?

Well, we recorded it with our previous guitar player, so it’s everybody that I said before except for Will. And in place of him is a guitar player named Ben Rayle. And in addition, Mamadou is on the whole record, the Senegalese griot that I mentioned, and Atiba Rorie is a guest on one track. And Casey Cranford, he’s on alto on the record.

So when I saw you guys live the other night, the horn players were playing keys alongside their horn lines, is that something you guys are doing there?

Yeah, that’s sort of a recent thing, we’ve been writing our new songs with keyboard parts in mind and trying to expand the sound without any more hands on deck I guess.

Yambateers (live, excerpt):

It’s a lot to juggle I’m sure.

Yeah, we’ve had some keyboard players sit in. Most of the keyboard parts are sort of minimal and they’re so involved with the writing process. Those guys wrote the song parts and now they’re just playing them onstage, it’s kind of natural.

I was looking on your website and it looks like you guys have an album release show coming up in Greensboro?

Yep, this Friday.

Anything else coming up?

We’ve only got a couple more shows before we’re moving the band up to New York. So we’re playing the CD release, then a show in Atlanta with the Youngblood Brass Band next week, and then we’re playing Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival next week. That’s what we’ve got coming up.

The Brand New Life will be playing 3 upcoming shows:
October 4, Greensboro, NC: at New York Pizza with The Bronzed Chorus
October 8, Atlanta, GA: at The Basement with Youngblood Brass Band
October 10, Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival: Opening up the entire festival

Following these 3 shows, the band will be moving up to New York City, where they’ll re-start things. Be sure to check out The Brand New Life website, where you can find out about upcoming shows and order the self-titled album from 2010 and the new EP.

Ben Gray is digging on the Brand New Life right now in North Carolina