KC Roberts & the Live Revolution Choosing Sides
Published Feb 19, 2014They say it takes the right amount of narcissism to run for public office, but it also takes a precise measure of audaciousness to make a record. Too boisterous and your ego is off-putting. Too humble and you're merely half-assed, lacking the necessary ambition. Musicians and politicians have to aim for that sweet spot in order to capture your attention. And then of course, they must perform. KC Roberts of KC Roberts & the Live Revolution is confident of all that. With a tight group of fellow musicians backing him up on stage and in the studio, they've played numerous festivals, opened for the likes of Lee Fields and Lettuce, and this past autumn released their crowd-funded sophomore double CD Parkdale Funk 2: Sides. KC is determined to prove when it comes to serving up funk in this part of the world, they're the best candidates for the job.
For those who aren't yet familiar, who are KC Roberts & the Live Revolution?
We are an eight-piece funk band from Toronto. We have three horns, a rhythm section of percussion, drums, keys, bass and guitar. I would say we're a cross between funk, hip-hop, rock and dance. We sort of lay it all down with a funk undertone to all the styles.
In 2009 I'd taken a year off for the first time in my life, and I came back and just started hearing about some different players that were rooted in funk and playing pocket music. It really started with the drummer Chino [de Villa] who is sort of the force in the band. We met and then in a month we recorded Parkdale Funk 1, and then we just kept playing together since then.
With so many band members, how does the songwriting work?
The latest record we just made was the first time I'd really co-written with some of the guys. I tend to bring in the ideas and keep them loose enough that there's room for everyone to push in to them and make them their own. There is this thing that what we've got from jazz and improvised music where songs can become elastic and there's room for stuff to come out live. That's what we do in rehearsals, just find the feel of my ideas and take them places.
What made you decide to go the double album route with Parkdale Funk 2: Sides? What gave you the confidence to do this?
I had to be worried, because I probably am the type of person who would want to just make more for the sake of making more. But I'd been trying to make records for a long time the way that other people made records. You sort of fall into that peer pressure thing where you see all these bands are doing well, and you wonder how they're doing well. For a long time I was trying to look at other groups and do what they did, and I think it just wasn't working for me. I wanted to make something that was as unique, and just change as many formats as I could. So we'd sort of pushed all these boundaries of what we were, so the double record concept was Sides. Could we harness it into something where there was two distinct sides of the band, and we could showcase these different sides, but you could still listen to it all the way through?
It definitely has a consistent sound, but with so much material to go through, how do you pick a single, or a video?
I think we want to do a lot of videos this year. I don't think of it as a single, because I don't think we can put ourselves in on the same playing field as a pop artist or artists that fall into specific genre categories. We don't even fall into the jam band category, we're too song-written. Our weakness is that we're very diverse because it's hard to categorize us, but I think our strength is that we're so diverse we have so many opportunities to work with different people. I guess I just don't have any expectations that there's something that mainstream radio will pick up and grab.
CBC was playing you guys though. That was my introduction to your music.
CBC is awesome. CBC is the best thing in radio in Canada. It's funny that I don't think of it as mainstream radio, but it is. They have helped us every step of the way, even with the first record. They didn't care how successful or how much hype we'd built. They just listened to the record ["As The Credits Roll"], they liked it, and they played it. I don't know where else you can get that done anymore.
The artwork for Parkdale Funk 2: Sides is quite captivating. What's the meaning behind the lion?
The lion represents the fierceness of what we want the band to be. Some people could see it as pretentious at times when it's like, "Why are you calling yourselves the Live Revolution?" Well, I like having something that snaps like that because this band better be good. For me the lion represents that "fuck you" in the face of the industry and the people who always want you to take the paths most travelled. So the lion was supposed to be someone who has just gone through this battle, and who represents two sides. We were searching art collectives and we found this guy Viktor [Miller-Gausa] in a small town in Russia. We were talking through Google translate, and it wasn't even working. But I was writing this mission statement of what I wanted this lion to be with two sides and he just understood that. All the heavy artistic stuff he just got. Suddenly he was drawing on his tablet, and he was sending it back to us, then we sent him some music, he listened to it and horns started popping out of the lion's mane. It was all so organic and awesome.
And there are 40 guests who helped make this album?
I guess guests to us just means musicians, so anybody who played on the record. We're eight people, and then all of the sudden there are all these people in the room for different things. It doesn't feel like a band that's just hiring strangers, it feels like people we know, our friends. I think the craziest biggest parts were the strings. I've never had strings on anything I've ever done, and it was like 12 strings — eight violins, two violas, two cellos. That sound, you hear it all the time, but when you hear it and it's something you wrote, it's like "holy cow!" There was also this day where we had a big band day. That sound was just so powerful and so smart and encompasses all of these different harmonic things. So to have that in a room was unreal. It was a really cool artistic project and it seemed like all the people we knew in the community around us came and helped.
D-Sisive and the Airplane Boys make appearances on the album. How did those collaborations come together?
Well, we approached both of them, because we just love both of them. With D-Sisive there's a longer connection with us. Him and Matt [Fullbrook, KCLR bass player] went to high school together. We sort of watched him climbing fast, used to hang out and go to his video shoots. As we got older he'd call us like, "Hey I need some instruments for this track" and we'd come by. Once the band had started after 2009, he asked us to come out and play for him. Basically we'd just lift his record and rearrange some stuff the way the Roots do. It just instantly worked. Both him and the Airplane Boys are just so prolific. With the Airplane Boys we sent them that track ["Get Back To The Middle"] and they sent it back the next day. We were just blown away.
So how did the recording process go?
The engineer [Phil Spencer] was sort of the unsung hero of the record. We got together before we started the record and I said to him that we wanted to do this to a tape machine like they used to in the old days. Then he found this 800 pound Studer that was Metalworks' old Studer, so probably like Rush or Guns N' Roses recorded on it, and we just co-bought it, the band and him. And we had to move this monster out to Acton where we started recording in this big barn. He just helped us get everything done right until the end. It ended with me and him in my apartment on the last day of mixing for like a 24-hour session.
Basically we bought the tape machine going into 2011, and then we ran out of money. Then my girlfriend and I built a crowd-funding site and we started raising money, so when we hit $26,000 in funding we got back together and planned the whole thing out. Phil was there the whole time, late nights. Halfway through we moved back from Acton because the barn got bought, so we came to Parkdale, which seemed like the right place to finish it.
It seems like you've created a good blueprint for artists to crowd-fund effectively, not only in terms of achieving funding goals, but also in delivering a nice product. What made you realize that was the route you had to go, and how did you determine you needed $20,000 to get it done?
It was around the time where we'd run out of money and I had this big idea. I knew this was something crazy that we could do, and we had the tape machine at this point. I remember having a band meeting and saying, "I think we have to do a fundraiser." I think most people are terrified of that, what if I can't do it, I don't want to bug people, or this and that. I thought, no, I think if we really work hard at this people will root for us. We're really just pre-selling the record.
My girlfriend and I sat down and started building the website. I knew nothing about it, she knows about that. And then when we got to the point where it was about to be released I got the feeling that I'm going to have to do something to keep this interesting. [After it launched] every day was like a battle for me, I needed to get in touch with as many people as I can, I needed to push this. So we did this thing where once a week the band would get together in whatever format we could and we'd just do a cover song. The first day Chino was coming over and he was like, "What are we doing?" It was Nuit Blanche and I heard everybody singing "Space Oddity" by David Bowie, and I came home and just wrote a funky guitar thing. He came, got in the bathtub and just played pots and pans.
I think it was just inspiring people, I think that was the secret behind the fundraising, that sort of karma of it. These guys are following their dreams, I can do this. That's what I think it's really about. And the $20,000 target, we're not going to be able to make this record for less. And you have to shoot high, you have to go all in and take the risks. This is our life, this is what we really want to do and people have to believe that.
Having the album out for a few months now, what sort of doors have opened up for you?
This is the first record my mom has ever liked, so that's really cool.
This is the first piece of art that I've ever had in my life that I just want to tour on. I'm proud of it, it's our baby, I'm ready to hold it over my head and say this is what I've done. We've already gotten into a bunch of festivals and play out of town. Opening for Lettuce is insane and we're so excited about it. I remember when Chino came over and brought Lettuce Live in Tokyo and we just sat there and listened to this record from front to end and my jaw hit the floor. They're like the tightest funk band ever. For us they are sort of the pinnacle of what we're trying to do. Hopefully we'll get more of that kind of stuff. Right now we're looking forward to working with bands like us around Southern Ontario and maybe build a scene and hook on to each other. This is what it's going to be like this year.
KC Roberts & The Live Revolution open for Lettuce at Toronto's Phoenix Concert Theatre on February 22. On April 25 they'll be celebrating the CD's release by replaying the album in its entirety along with guests at The Mod Club.