There’s a moment before each Con Brio show — before the backflips, the guitar solos, the buoyant horn lines over bass, drum and synth — when all seven band members come in for a huddle. It’s a way to say grace; an acknowledgment of live music as a team sport; a moment of stillness before they explode.

“Let’s work,” they say, their heads bowed together. And then they do.

Named for an Italian musical direction meaning ‘with spirit,’ Con Brio is a San Francisco Bay Area band that plays soul, psych-rock and R&B as fresh and freethinking as the place they call home. With charismatic singer Ziek McCarter bringing “the dance moves, splits and all, of James Brown” (KQED) and a band that “comes across like a party punk version of Sly and the Family Stone” (Consequence of Sound), Con Brio is known to convert anyone who sees their electric live show.

Founded in 2013 by veteran players with vastly different musical backgrounds*, the band quickly became a favorite up and down the West Coast, then across the U.S., and then overseas in places like Japan and the Netherlands. In 2016, Con Brio’s debut LP Paradise paired uplifting dance party-starters (and some psychotropic electric guitar work from Benjamin Andrews) with powerful lyrics about inequality and the Black Lives Matter movement, instantly putting the band on the map for their earnest, inspiring, and thoroughly American ethos.

Explorer, out on July 6th, both builds on the success of Paradise and serves as a travelogue of sorts — a reflection on the two years of nearly nonstop touring that followed their first record’s success. (The band, known in the industry for their tireless work ethic, has played high-profile sets at Outside Lands, Lollapalooza, Bumbershoot, Austin City Limits, Japan’s Fuji Rock, the Montreal Jazz Festival, Australia’s Bluesfest Byron Bay, and the Netherlands’ North Sea Jazz Festival, to name just a few.)

Having proved themselves on an international stage, Con Brio breaks new ground on Explorer, expanding beyond raw energy and retro sounds toward a more contemporary, layered production style, all delivered with road-tested confidence.

On “I Wanna” — a lusty, mischievous ode to the art of catching a stranger’s eye across a crowded club — McCarter pours his voice, richer than ever, over a thick, irresistibly danceable rhythm from Jonathan Kirchner (bass) and Andrew Laubacher (drums). “Body Language” slows that theme to a simmer, with a nimble, lyrical horn line from Marcus Stephens (saxophone) and Brendan Liu (trumpet) front and center.

Songs like “United State of Mind” and “Royal Rage,” meanwhile, reflect on America’s current political moment, urging strength and perspective in the face of cynicism and apathy. Over a cheerful guitar lick from Andrews, the former track sings the praises of travel, the ways it can make the world feel bigger and smaller all at once — and how sometimes you have to leave home to see it with fresh eyes. “Rage” is a rally cry, a call to resistance, with Laubacher’s kick drum leading the march: “Feeling the world pulling apart, where is the we in who we are?” asks McCarter. “When will it end, where do we start?’

Then there’s Con Brio’s tendency to upend expectations: they’ve never been afraid of a little genre-bending. “Heart Shaped Box” began as a fun cover the band arranged on a whim on a rare day off on tour; within weeks it became one of the most exciting moments in the band’s live show. On the record, it’s a playful yet potent tribute, served surprisingly well by horns and a smart, slinky synth line from Patrick Glynn.

Ultimately, Explorer is a leap for Con Brio in more ways than one. It’s a big record, with plenty of joy, a few growing pains, and more questions than answers. What does it mean to be an American band traveling the world in the year 2018 with a message of hope and tolerance? The record sounds, unsurprisingly, like a band on the verge.

Wherever Explorer takes them, they go with open eyes. They’re ready to huddle up, take the stage, and get to work — where they’ve found that, night after night, the things that divide us don’t stand a chance on the dance floor.

Dirty Revival


"Big, gritty, and honest. Our sound is unique but pulls elements of our
favorite genres: soul, funk, hip-hop, R&B, jazz, gospel, and rock," says
Sarah Clarke, the resounding, and resonating, front woman for Portland,
Oregon-based Dirty Revival.

Also comprised of Evan "evv'n'flo" Simko (M.C., guitar), Terry Drysdale
(drums), Karl Ludwigsen (keyboards), Jon Shaw (bass), Chris Hardin (tenor
sax), and Jon Clay (trumpet), the septet shines on their self-titled,
debut full-length.

"Someone once described us as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind
and Fire, and Rose Royce all blended up as one," Clarke says of the
comparisons her band has already started to receive. "I nearly fainted.
What a massive compliment."

Expanding on that, Simko says, "I think people will find a great variety
of influences or comparisons, to name a few: P-Funk, Aretha Franklin,
James Brown, Bill Withers, Charles Bradley, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu,
D'Angelo, and The Roots. It's hard to say. I think there are so many
influences that it won't quite sound like anyone in particular."

Their debut is a representation of all of this, a melting pot of
influences and personalities, with all five members getting their voice,
literally and metaphorically, contained within the sounds of the album.
While navigating different musical waters, the album also vacillates
between fiercely political uprisings to down and gritty party jams that
are meant to make you smile and dance.

"The album is about honesty," says Clarke. "It is candid and sincere, the
same way we as a group approach music in general. 'Breathe' is a song
decrying the racial tensions in our society as we see it. 'Lay Me Down' is
about the brutal affect addiction has on people. 'Take It Off' is a take
on lust. "Make It" is about the need for personal betterment. And then
there are songs like 'Dirty Love,' which highlights our passion for
performance. Essentially, every song on this album is an unadulterated
take on music and the world that we see every day."

Adds Drysdale, "It's serious when it needs to be and fun the rest of the

The band decided on self-titling their debut, as a representation of who
they are.

"[This album is] our soul and identity as a group. We've spent the last
three years writing, touring, and playing shows, all the while our sound
has been evolving into what it is now, Dirty Revival, and the self-titled
route just felt appropriate," comments Drysdale.

While self-describing themselves as "soul-hop," and stating that at the
core they're a soul band, anyone that listens to Dirty Revival will hear
so much more than just a soul group, something the band is very proud of,
and really set out to accomplish on their debut.

"There's a lot of throwback soul out there that's really great, and is a
big influence for us, but we differ in that we're not trying to 100%
emulate that style," says Shaw. "We take a lot of pop music cues from the
70s, 80s, and 90s and then use classic soul as a lens to focus our ideas
into a song. With this album we're casting a wide net of influences to
help us hone our sound. After this whole process, I think we're really
starting to get there."

The record is as natural as the band's beginnings, with no long
discussions or debates, just things gelling and making sense.

"People always ask how we picked the name Dirty Revival. I can never think
of anything cool to say, that is just who we are. The day we came up with
that name it wasn't a big, long conversation, it was just accepted as
fact," remembers Clarke. "Over the last couple of years we have been
growing into our own name and our music has begun to take on a unique
sound. If you listen to our EP, The May Fourth Edition, and then to the
music we have written in the last year and a half you will hear some of
the same gritty sound in the EP, but with less direction, less purpose.
This album represents us learning to musically articulate as a group,
taking five different voices and blending them together in one strong and
harmonious statement. Calling the album Dirty Revival is our way of
introducing ourselves to the world as a unit, we are putting ourselves out
there. This is who we are. Take it or leave it...but hopefully take it."

Adds Drysdale: "The music was recorded live. This is how we sound when we
play; the underlying force and energy behind each track is the band
playing and tracking together in the studio. Most of the vocals were
recorded live, too. Dirty Revival is just that, it's Dirty Revival here;
no tricks, layers, or studio magic - we performed these tracks and
captured that in the recording."

One of the album's highlights for the band is the political "Breathe," a
hard-hitting, honest song that confronts the big issue of the racial and
social-class issues we're facing today.

"'I am not on my own, please say that you'll agree...'" Those are the
beginning lyrics in the chorus of 'Breathe.' The lyric resonates with me
because of its obvious meaning in the song, it's about solidarity in
response to the current events of police brutality and racism," comments
Simko. "But I also think of it as having a broader meaning; it is a
statement about how nothing can be done alone. Accomplishing a dream,
supporting each other as a community, and even making an album, and
pursuing a career. There has been so much support and positive feedback in
our efforts and we hope to return all the love by make a positive impact
on our fans and friends."

Before entering the studio, the band rehearsed more than ever before,
fine-tuning what they thought would be every detail of the songs. However,
once they hit the studio, they encountered many challenges, and realized
how time consuming it really is to record seventeen people, including
drums, bass, guitar, keys, lead vocals, four horns, three back-up singers,
a string quartet, and percussion.

"This is my first experience working on an album," admits Clarke. "So,
when we started talking strings, percussion, punch-ins, synths, and
everything else, I was having a hard time connecting with the idea of
these embellishments. It just seemed so over the top. Then I started doing
something I had never truly done and began listening to music with a hyper
critical ear. It was crazy to really focus on some of my favorite albums,
pulling things out of the mix I had never really heard before. In some
ways, that made the music come to life again. If you can imagine hearing
the same songs over and over again, day in and day out, hearing them with
those subtle changes makes a world of difference. The final product is
better than I could have imagined and I am still finding little things
that make me excited when I listen to it. "

"I think this was a good learning experience," confirms Ludwigsen. "The
quality of our songs really surprised me. "I mean, you play them all the
time and then when you have a chance to finally hear it back, I just
thought, 'Wow! I like that.'"

Now, with the record done, the band just wants to get their music out
there, share it with people, and hope that those people want them to come
to their city and play live for them. And, the band, will be happy to
oblige, with heavy touring this fall into next year slated in support of
Dirty Revival.

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