I've got a prophecy: I predict we'll be hearing a lot of moody Dance Rock on the radio in 2009. I didn't have to consult chicken bones or wait for angels to visit with this information; I simply adhere to the axiom that history repeats itself, Black Magic Rhythm-style.
Five years is about the amount of time that the mainstream seems to lag behind the members of BMR. For 15 years, this group of musicians has been exploring the cutting edge of Rock music. Five of the six were members of BuBu Klan, Cincinnati's seminal Rap/Rock band. Aside from being innovators in that style, they also acted as a local precursor to the explosion in the popularity of mainstream turntable and sample usage, particularly in fusing them with Hardcore.
When Black Magic Rhythm All-Stars hit the scene in 1998, they incorporated Dance rhythms and '80s synthesizer into R&B influenced Pop Rock, an idea that's really caught momentum in the last year or so. They have since dropped the "All-Stars" from their moniker and undergone several musical transformations, but have not abandoned their dedication to Funk-tinged Party Music.
"We started off with no guitars, just dance music, Hip Hop, drum machines, turntables," recalls Guy "G-Ray" Guzzardo, "We definitely evolved into more of a New Wave Rock band. We're a lot more guitar-oriented now."
G-Ray provides vocals, keyboards and samples for BMR, but he's not alone in that endeavor. Todd "TMU" Utley and "King Don" Marsh also fill this role, while adding percussion and guitar as well. This setup gives the band three distinct voices, keeping performances fresh. You get Chili Peppers-esque rapping, traditional Pop crooning and Punk-ish yelling, all in the same song.
In addition to three singers/multi-instrumentalists, BMR has a smokin' power trio at its core. Doug "Stringy D" Brown (guitars), Marty "SA-1" Ferrara (bass) and Eric "Zeus" Moreton (drums) plow through all of the band's stylistic turns while implying sonic tangents to such diverse artists as The Tubes, Black Sabbath and Frank Zappa.
"We all grew up on Punk, Metal and Hip Hop," says Guzzardo.
The rest of the band begins spouting influences and common ground. "Prince," suggests Ferrara, "and The Clash is definitely the unifying force for the band."
Ferrara also acted as chief engineer on their latest disc, a self-titled and self-produced effort. The eight tracks are diverse, but thick with beat-driven P-Funk sounds. Choruses have the dark '80s Pop leanings of The Cure, yet the mix of heavy guitars and break beats is more akin to Lords of Acid.
The singers also have distinct writing styles, adding to the band's intangible style. There's only one hard rule.
"You write it, you sing it," says Marsh, who was the most recent addition to the band a few years ago.
The entertaining lyrics are understandably varied, but have one consistent quality. "They're definitely dark and emotional," says Utley. "I think it's from living in the city, you get that vibe that nothing is safe."
"We have some happy songs, but they always turn dark," laughs Guzzardo.
As if all this wasn't manic enough, the band's performances and studio work also find them stretching in different directions. The latest disc has a live feel, but there is also embellishment.
"A lot of the stuff on there is just meant for the headphones," says Brown.
"If we really want to, we can reproduce anything live," says Marsh, and with their extensive lineup, he's right. In concert is where the band shines, grooving and improvising as one giant, organic unit. Individual parts are very fluid and are often completely different when played live.
"Sometimes it's genius," says Moreton of the unscripted improvisation. But he also admits, "Sometimes it's, like, 'No.' "
"If you play something and like it, you keep playing it that way. It's an evolution," says Utley.
The fact of the matter is that Black Magic Rhythm produces new material at such a blistering pace that it's hard for a song to morph significantly. The band already has enough material for a new CD, so the set list is ever changing. Often, crowd reaction determines the longevity of a tune.
"If it's not working live, it's gone," says Guzzardo.
Though not quite "elder statesmen" of the music scene, the BMR crew is part of the pre-'90s crowd. But their tenure has not jaded or stagnated them. While the group of friends joke about their age, they reflect on their good fortune in having assembled such a perfect group of like-minded musicians. It's a safe haven when real world pressures encroach.
"This is our bowling night," laughs Moreton.
BLACK MAGIC RHYTHM hosts a CD release party on Friday at the York Street Café in Newport with special guests Buckra and New York City singer/songwriter LP.