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Interview: Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics

Being their own legend


With a stomp and a wink, Atlanta-based soulsters Ruby Velle & TheSoulphonics serve up a sweet sound with maximum shake appeal and an undeniable throb. It'll hit you where you move. Velle's pipes lead the seduction, as the band lays down a deep shag where she can wiggle her toes and wail.

Sure, it's nouveau-soul, in that it's recorded and performed now, and the band makes damn sure it's both lyrically relevant and musically reverent. They don't pretend to be something they ain't. There are no histrionics or emotional lampoons. Simply put, Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics play music that soothes and "sassifies," comforts and cajoles. It's a powerful message, and it's something fun to do with your feet while Velle gives you the news.

The band has a new record in tow called "The State of All Things," which plays on like it was recorded back in the original soul days. If the band keeps on slingin' and singin' soul this way, those days are gonna be now.

We shot Miss Velle some questions and she fired back some answers. An edited transcript follows.

CITY: You write in a lot of odd time signatures. Why?

RUBY VELLE:I wouldn't say there are a lot of odd time signatures, but we certainly have our share of minor key songs. Our timing approach is sometimes as analog as our recording process, so there are certain parts written-to-feel and certain parts that are straight ahead. There is always the need to provide variety to a band's musical landscape, especially after being together for over a decade, so perhaps we just like to mix things up.

You strike me as a soul band more than a soul revival band. What's the difference to you?

Thank you. The difference to us has always been the authenticity behind the music. Is there an understanding from the artists that they are made better by those who have come before? Can you not just mimic but become part of the fabric of that genre?

That is the journey and experiment we've taken with The Soulphonics, and it's been one of great exploration; lots of mistakes, and tons of chill bump moments. We are proud to be considered a band that carries the sound forward while regarding the roots of the entire, undying movement of making music that moves the mind, body and soul.

What are the restrictions in playing this music period correctly?

A challenge has been to fully include horns and background singers. Ideally, we would always love to incorporate the lushness of the horns and background vocals, but it's not always in the cards for us, budget-wise. That is a challenge that we face all too often, and I've grown very attached to having a horn section for the live shows.

Another common challenge with soul bands is the amount of time it takes to record and co-produce the tracks. Due to schedules and upwards of 13 people on one track, just getting overdubs done could take weeks. It's that much more rewarding, however, to listen back to all the tracks on "State of All Things" now that they are finally on wax.

How do you break out of the cookie cutter?

I've always said, "Be your own legend." So in that respect I look to the artists of the past who blazed trails, as we look to blaze a few of our own. The diversity we bring as a band is making its own statement, and I know that my strong voice for intersectional feminism in this space has made us a soul band that truly cares and wants to better the environment around us. Maybe the new music artist has this responsibility from the jump, or maybe I'm just tired of being silent when there is so much marginalization happening.

Our songs certainly don't hold back from expressing these frustrating truths of society, and I would say that has given us an edge, but the tone of it all actually pulls from the roots of the genre, and it's nothing new. We are just making the music we love in a very independent way and hoping that our fans enjoy it as well.

How does your latest release compare to your debut?

We are thrilled that the two records can build on one another. With the newer album, "State of All Things," we really tried to expand our foundation in the roots genre and take risks on the parallel sounds the era of classic music has provided. While the debut album, "It's About Time," focuses sonically on blends of artistry from Motown to The Daptones, the new album is far more an exploration of what was possible when we took our time to create a landscape we could truly be proud of.

I am enamored with the stories told on both albums, and amazed with how our music has remained a reflection of the sentiments of the time. The albums tell their snapshots of time in different ways, but the timing of "State of All Things," and its bold call for unity and love right now, has certainly seen the best timing of any records release we've done to date. The title track caught the ear of the Smithsonian Museum, and we were able to sing it live for a healing nation at the courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery.

What is something your fans get wrong about the group?

Well, recently some fans and publications have been listing me as "formerly" of The Soulphonics, but that's not accurate. While I recently launched some new sounds as a solo artist and writer, I'm very much still fronting The Soulphonics and planning future tour dates in promotion of "State of All Things," proving that strong women can add careers at a moment's notice. Ya dig?