Remember that Cool Uncle you had? The one who would let you sneak in a sip of beer or would slide some lollies in to your lunches when he was looking after you? What if you found out your uncle was the inspiration behind one of the 90’s biggest RnB songs or 2000’s biggest Hip Hop songs? How cool would that be? Grammy winning producer, multi-instrumentalist, frontman of Plantlife and perennial hitmaker Jack Splash teamed up with underground Soul legend Bobby Caldwell to treat the nieces and nephews with some beautiful new music.
Our website is called Cool Accidents and you teaming up with Bobby Caldwell seems like the coolest fucking accident of all time. Was it an accident? How did you two hook up?
Yeah, Bobby & I linking up was definitely one of those weird cosmic cool accidents. Really, it's more like when you put certain energy out there in the universe & then the universe speaks back to you. I had been doing interviews for my funk band Plantlife and I mentioned people that I really loved and looked up to (both newer artists & classic OG's). One of the people I guess I always mentioned was Bobby. It just ended up that Bobby's wife (Mary) read one of my interviews and then reached out to me on Facebook. I thought it was a joke at first, so I didn't hit her back. I had my assistant reach back out to her & then get on the phone with her to make sure it wasn't somebody messing with me. Funny enough, it was 100% legit, so we ended up meeting in Miami (where I live now & where Bobby grew up). We were both a little shy at first so we both got wasted on Jack Daniels….after that it seemed like we were long lost soul brothers.
You are so prolific with your writing. Do you just have a stack of soul music lying around that you feed out to various publishers or writers and they get placed accordingly? I feel like a lot of this music was written for Bobby but I imagine on a more niche, indie project like this you might not have had the luxury to take the time and write the album together from scratch. Can you explain the process?
As strange as it might seem, I actually don't like making music the way most producers and artists nowadays like to do it. I can't stand just sending a tonne of tracks to someone and then just having them pick what they like. That seems so cheap and superficial to me. I know that's the way most people do it, but I don't like doing it that way, so I almost never do. Whether it be with a big major label project that they are paying me tonnes of money for or something like Cool Uncle or Semi Hendrix that I am just doing for the love of music, I ALWAYS like to make the music especially for the artist I'm working with. Sometimes we end up going back and "digging through my crates" of older stuff also, but most of the time, as long as the artists are open-minded, we end up going for some of the stuff that I wrote specifically for them. With Bobby in particular, because he is an extremely talented multi-instrumentalist (like Prince or Stevie Wonder), a lot of the songs we just started form scratch at my studio. Just jamming. Vibing. Drinking. Smoking….I start playing some drum groove or messing around with various percussion & then Bobby picks up his guitar or sits down at the rhodes, etc. It was a really fun process with him. Felt like we were two dudes in high school jamming in the garage (except there was no mom or dad to tell us it to turn it down).
What’s Bobby Caldwell been up to this century? Is he aware of the renaissance his career is having with DJs and the Boogie and Hip hop scenes through all of the samples and re-edits of his older jams? Does he embrace it?
It's funny, because until we met I don't think he really UNDERSTOOD the real renaissance that his career was having. For a lot of guys of his generation, they like to stick to the basics, which is writing and touring. The "hip hop" and new funk/disco generation is like a WHOLE DIFFERENT world to a lot of them. Bobby included. So initially with Bobby, I didn't want to "force" the hip-hop vibe on him. I kind of figured that his CLASSIC Soul & R&B was indeed hip-hop in it's own way. I mean, hip hop at it's core, is a DIY music. And the way Bobby originally made his music was very DIY. So I figured that if we just HAD FUN and made some classic shit then we'd both love it. Of course I can't help but throw some of my hip hop & new funk aesthetics in there & Bobby can't help but throw his classic soul & jazz chord phrasings in there also. It wasn't really until later that I really tried to explain how guys like Dilla, Common, Questlove, etc. really reintroduced his music to an entire generation of music lovers. Even then it was kind of funny, because I kept saying Dilla and he originally kept thinking I was saying "Dylan". I had to laugh and tell him that Dilla was like the Dylan of hip hop. He definitely embraces it now though and thinks it's great that he's inspired so many artists.
It could have been pretty easy for you to make an album of just straight party joints but you really go deep in the album and also hark back to a lot of synth sounds and the like that many people might have left in the 80s. Did you have a game plan to make an authentic throwback soul record?
That's cool that you picked up on that. I don't think we had a specific game plan at all. We just both wanted to make sure that we were enjoying the process. As a producer, one thing I was 100% sure about was that I wasn't going to put out any bullshit. It was really important for me to respect his legacy. I look at him the same way that I look at all of the other GREATS of that generation (Earth, Wind & Fire, Sly Stone, etc.). Basically, if I am going to do a full album with anyone, I want to make sure that I am presenting the very best version of them. That's not always the easiest thing to do, but honestly that's the producer’s job. With Bobby, the experience was nice because although we had some different opinions & views about sonics, etc. he was extremely respectful and trusted me. That really made all of the difference in the world. Because of his being open-minded, we were able to have fun and also make something that I think is a continuation of some of his best work.
That said, a lot of the beats are really modern and so it’s definitely looking towards the future in some regards. How did Bobby take to the newer sounds and ideas?
It's funny, because if it were up to Bobby, it would be ALL newer sounds. He's really badass and futuristic and LOVES all of the new synths, drum-machines, etc. I think most of the guys that were progressive in that era are probably the same way. I mean if you think about it, it was guys like Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder & Prince who started experimenting with drum machines & synths WAY before us hip hop dudes could get our hands on them!! That being said, it was really important to me for the album to have a nice balance of EVERYTHING. Like a time-travelling record. I don't think artists should be limited to the sounds of the era in which they originally blew up in. Guys like David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Prince & others have always understood that.
‘Destiny’ is one of the greatest songs I’ve heard all year. Was that a big moment when that one was in the can? What are your favourite songs on the LP and what are Bobby’s?
Wow, thank you so much! I'm really happy you dig that one. Bobby & I were both verrrrry happy with that one. We originally started it off as an Earth, Wind & Fire type of vibe (because both Bobby & I idolize EWF). Once we had it recorded though, I looked at it & thought about what EWF & Outkast & Goodie MOB might do if they were all jamming together. I also thought about what Dilla might want to do with some of Bobby's "warmup vocals" or "adlibs". That's why I did that weird chopped up "jazz in outer space" outro. In my head I was envisioning Bobby Caldwell playing Willy Wonka (the Gene Wilder version), walking down a yellow-brick road in Oz while Dilla chopped up his vocals. I know that sounds maniacal, but I really wanted there to be some subtle "cinematic" aspects to this album. I think Bobby is special, so I wanted to treat those small moments as such. Bobby says he loves all of the songs for different reasons. I have some favorites, but if I said them then i would feel like I was cheating on the other songs!! Hahaha.
Back to writing - you must have completely different processes for writing beats as you do for writing songs, right? Your beats for MCs are usually pretty musical, anyway, but this album is just so rich and textured - were you working on this and Semi Hendrix at the same time and was one kind of like an outlet for the other, if that makes sense?
Oh yes, my songwriting is always different depending on the project I'm working on. And yeah, I was actually working on Cool Uncle & Semi Hendrix (with Ras Kass) at the same time. As different as both of those projects are, the constant was that I was working with two LEGENDS in their respective fields. The one thing I kept reminding myself was that no matter how cool the artists were being it was my job to push them a little bit in order to make something that I was truly proud of and that I felt showed them in their best light. I know I'm very lucky and blessed to be working with so many talented artists so I never want to take that for granted and be lazy. If I can't give 100% of my soul & spirit to a project then I'd rather not work on it. I don't really care about all of the accolades, plaques, etc. What matters to me most is that I can sit back, as a fan of music, and listen to the music I make with people and truly enjoy it. I want to leave some beautiful artifacts behind for future generations that they can study & be inspired by, just like I was inspired by so many artists before me that you can tell TRULY cared about their art. When you listen to Marvin Gaye albums or A Tribe Called Quest albums or Beatles albums or Slum Village albums or even Kendrick Lamar's albums, you can tell that these artists are putting their entire spirits into their music. I try to do the same and always encourage the people I work with to do the same. If they aren't down to do that then I usually don't end up working with them that much!!!
Are we ever going to get another Plantlife album?
Oh yes, for sure!! I actually have it almost done, I just feel like I need to push it a little further & when I drop it I want to go back on tour with it. It's the same thing as I was saying with working with other artists. even when it's with Plantlife, I feel a true obligation to come with that real shit. There are so many fake ass funk bands nowadays who play music that sounds "funky", but don't really stand for anything. That's bullshit to me. What the hell is that?? Funk (just like hip hop) was rebel music and was and is extremely important to humanity. All the best funk artists stood for something. I don't care whether it was Parliament, Prince, EWF, Sly Stone….ALL OF THEM. None of them just made music that sounded funky. That's very corny to me. Since the very first Plantlife album I've been about that also. Not purposefully. Accidentally…but that's how I know that it's actually the truth. I really can't help but be any other way. Plantlife was and is for unity, world peace…and is very against racism, sexism, classism, ageism, homophobia and every other kind of xenophobia that exists. I've been fighting against all of that with my music since the first Plantlife album dropped over a decade ago.That being said, I've kind of been quietly working on my true Plantlife masterpiece that will be both super funky & subtly empowering. I'm very close. Probably early 2016.
Do you feel like soul music is having another swing at the moment? People ears certainly seem to be opening up to more creative ideas on the radio in the clubs - would you agree?
Yes, 100%. That's why I always stick to my guns. Never went after the "EDM" craze, because I'm not trendy. Even when I do electro music, I usually do electro-funk. I think people always come back to Soul music because it makes them FEEL something and reminds them that they are alive. Especially in this futuristic digital age, soul music is more important than ever.
Jack Splash was running in to a recording session so could not do the obligatory top ten list, mixtape or playlist because ‘mixtapes ain’t no joke.’ Once again, a man who would rather not do it at all rather than to put out something half arsed. Respect.