I've been anxiously waiting to see the live show of one band featuring a "hometown-boy-made-good" in Cincinnati this year. No, not our beloved "Dulls" and his Twilight Singers, but Steve Lay and TransLove Airways.
"TransLove who?" you ask. Well, as their song "If You Have to Ask" says: "I know." TransLove Airways (Kathleen Cholewka, lead vocals and percussion; Daniel Collas, organ, piano and vocals; Michael D. Lo, guitar and vocals; Lay, bass; and Jonathan Nigro, drums) is the New York City five-piece that's this writer's pick for Next Big Thing. No kidding.
And the Queen City is fortunate enough to count one of the five as its own. Lay was active in the local scene in the '90s playing guitar with groups like Mickey & The Audreys. He ventured to the Big Apple a few years ago and found his way into one of the best Rock groups around right now.
Collas describes how the five discovered each other.
"In 1998-99, Michael and I had been playing together and were looking for a new direction," he says. "We were talking about experimenting with Latin and Brazilian influenced music, and we both liked the idea of female singers. I knew Kathleen because she was a like-minded DJ on the scene and I thought she might be able to play bass with us. Instead, she ended up singing with us."
Using Cholewka on vocals created Lay's spot in the group.
"We had been through a few bass players when I ran into Steve at one of the clubs I was spinning at," Collas says. "I was telling him how hard it was to find a good bassist. He told me he'd been messing around with a bass his friend had given him and he'd come down and try it out."
They then brought in Nigro on drums, the five gelled and TransLove Airways was created.
The band's influences are vast and varied, creating an eclectic, upbeat, Funk/Soul/Lounge/Psychedelic Rock hybrid that's positively infectious. Collas claims among his influences early '70s Motown and some "crazy Brazilian psychedelic Soul" they were turned on to by local DJs.
"That stuff is truly amazing and very influential on us as a band," he says.
"I love Latin music from the early '60s and '70s," Cholewka says. "There's a sense of fun and, at the same time, duty in those musicians' playing. They are playing gorgeous and natural and sexy. I'm always captivated and moved by that music. I dig Soul and soulful Rock from the '60s and '70s. Mavis Staples is really truly one of the biggest idols I have right now."
But it's not all exclusively exotic or purely Soul-based.
"I represent the other side of the coin," Lo tells me. "I was always a rocker."
Their influences make them one of the most unusual acts playing these days, and they defy being pigeonholed.
"With so much music available today, it seems closed-minded to look to the same six or seven bands for inspiration," Collas says. "It's not like we've made a conscious effort to be different, but I think we all hear music in a similar manner and happen to be collectively drawn to a sound that isn't really in step with what else is going on."
"The only thing "New Yorky' about the band is that's where we happened to all meet up," Lo says.
Their accomplished musicianship has led to an important side project as the backing band for Soul legend Joe Bataan.
"I was a big fan of Joe Bataan's and had written a song that reminded me a lot of his style," Collas says. "After seeing him play, I asked him if he'd be interested in coming down to the studio and trying it out. He did, and we ended up having a Joe Bataan single on our hands, his first recording in like 15 or 20 years.
"So I shopped it around a little and eventually it was picked up by VampiSoul records in Spain, who signed me on as a producer and commissioned me to do a full-length. So I wrote about six songs and got the rest of TransLove (along with other musicians) to play on it."
The record is scheduled for release in September. The first single — the funky, catchy, "Chick-A-Boom" — has been playing on a few dance floors in Cincinnati for several months already.
The group has a disc of its own, a six-song EP, that's available now. It's an impressive first effort that should be spinning all over Cincinnati (and beyond) long after the group has gone.
Lay still has much love for his hometown, saying, "I really do miss it there."
"Steve is so into Cincy that when he went home for the holidays, he returned to NYC talking about possibly planning to move back out there in the near future," Lo says. "Of course, we wouldn't let him. But who knows, if we have enough fun out there we might all relocate!"
TRANSLOVE AIRWAYS play at Lava Saturday for "Girls & Boys" night.