Phone Interview: Chris Powers - The Hip Abduction
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Last Monday I had the fantastic opportunity of interviewing Chris Powers, the bassist for Florida’s own The Hip Abduction. We had a really great chat over the phone ranging from the band’s sound and influences to their own influence in this day and age. Needless to say, I am very excited to see The Hip Abduction at the Fox Theatre tonight and to soak in some of their legendary positivity and West Africa-meets-roots reggae sound.
TLS: We are very interested in the background of the band when it comes to your musical sound and I know that your influences are pretty well known as a group. You’ve got West Africa, reggae, even some funk and, at this point, you’ve all come in with varied backgrounds. So, I understand that one of your earlier connections to Dave (New) came when he listened to a Cheikh-Lo CD you loaned a mutual friend. Is that right?
CP: Absolutely. That was actually PK (Pat Klemawesch), one of the kamale ngoni, and guitar players in the band. That was absolutely one of the beginnings of the idea of blending sort of the reggae and western song aesthetics like Paul Simon with West African music.
TLS: Excellent. You mentioned that Paul Simon sound and I remember listening to you guys and, from the very outset, hearing that connection to some of his projects like Graceland and some of the songs from that. And, knowing those influences, I thought that there’s a connection with this band and instantly liked what you guys were doing as a result.
CP: Thank you, man, I really appreciate it, Parker.
TLS: Of course! So, just a question for you personally, what’s your own experience or connection with West African music? Where was your beginning with it?
CP: Well, you know, I really got connected with the West African music through playing with Dave a bunch, actually. I started playing with Dave, the lead singer of the band, about ten years ago. We were playing a lot of roots reggae. When that connection happened with PK and with having a kora, kamale ngoni, and running music and sitting down learning traditional West African songs and listening to lots of that music and its connection with the Blues, that’s really when some of my bass lines in the songs sort of developed. And, the unique sound that we started I think probably One Less Sound, that first album that came out in 2011.
TLS: Sure. Fantastic, man, it’s pretty fascinating to us because we listen to a lot of bands and come in contact with a lot of musicians, and to hear an influence coming from another part of the world that we’re not really used to hearing certainly within our circles or our community. You are obviously bringing something special and a sound that’s unique to the front and from what I understand and everything that I’ve read and everything that I’ve seen from you guys so far, people really respond to it. There’s something special about it, especially through the eyes and lenses of The Hip Abduction.
CP: The kamale ngoni is…think about it, it’s a West African harp but it has similarities to the banjo and it’s a predecessor to a lot of instruments that we listen to, so no wonder we are connecting with people because it’s really roots music. So, it’s cool to have that jam and it’s challenging because you can really only play in one key, the harp. So, having those constraints in song writing and developing, actually makes for more interesting song writing, I think. So, it’s a fun instrument to play with, for sure.
TLS: Interesting. I hadn’t really noticed that before, but it kind of makes sense. Playing in a single key is just yet another interesting aspect of your music that isn’t going to be found with anybody else.
CP: Absolutely, you’ve got the relative minor and you can do a quick tune and play in a couple of different keys, but it’s definitely a cool instrument to play with and it’s also something that is handmade. You know, it’s not just fishing line and a bowl from Bed, Bath, and Beyond and a drum head from a conga.
CP: //laughter// You know, it’s an interesting instrument that you simply can’t get at Guitar Center.
TLS: Exactly, and I am sure there’s no Kamale Ngoni Center, either.
CP: Absolutely. //laughter// Not yet.
TLS: Right. Maybe one day, with you guys, who knows? //laughter//
CP: //laughter// That’s the next idea. But, the blend of music and the concept of latest album of the band, Gold Under the Glow, had much more of a synth-pop element to the music, mixed in with some West African aesthetics…you know, it was definitely a step in that direction and then, the stuff that we’re writing right now is going to be something different. So, the band is just constantly consuming music and creating music and, you know, we’re just really thankful and blessed that this is what we get to do now with our time. It’s pretty amazing, so…
TLS: Fantastic. I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be to be honest.
CP: It’s just a wonderful thing to go around the country and share. We did over 100 dates last year…we’re hoping to do many more this coming year. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
TLS: Perfect. That actually leads right into my next question seamlessly. So, thank you.
CP: Yeah sure. //laughter//
TLS: So you guys are coming from the ocean back to the mountains again, you’re spreading your message of uplifting and unique positive dance music, things that people really respond to, and, it’s always cool having bands from other states and other subcultures of the United States, other music communities, come through Colorado and share and combine, etc. So, what are you guys hoping to bring to these Colorado crowds from Florida this time?
CP: There’s a commonality, I think between people who love the beach and people who love the mountains. And that’s just sort of an awe that happens when you’re looking around at the Gulf or looking up at the Rockies. A common feeling. And we like to spend a lot of time out in nature, be connected with that, and because of that, we connect well with people in Colorado. Our last run was amazing…the response so far from people reaching out to the people we met on Jam Cruise from Colorado, it was just absolutely awesome. So, we’re hoping to bring you guys some sunshine and a little bit of time to escape and maybe imagine your toes in the sand, but we’re really excited just to tour back through and play the Fox again, too. That’s going to be outstanding. It was a really great experience last time so we’re really excited to get in that room again.
TLS: So, would you say your experience at the Fox last time lived up to your expectations? I know that in an interview you said for your last tour through here that you were most looking forward to that venue. And, that’s one of my home venues, so I love going there and seeing music there…how did it fare for you?
CP: It was great, man. The low end was killer. Playing my bass and the bass end in that room was outstanding. It was all just super pro. Which is great…to roll up into a venue and know that it’s going to be a good show. It definitely lived up to whatever expectation I had of it. I remember it was definitely a great experience. And I’m excited to go do it again.
TLS: Fantastic, man. Well, we’re certainly excited here in Boulder to have you guys coming through. I know that we’re always excited to get a band like you coming through on our schedule. Like you said, bringing some sunshine, bringing some happy…bringing some of that joy to us from Florida. We’ll take all we can get and hopefully we can share a little of it back with you.
CP: Absolutely, I appreciate it. And we’re looking forward to it, too.
TLS: Awesome, well you guys have certainly made a splash here, I know you’re definitely on the minds of a lot of folks and I know a lot of people are looking forward to this run coming up…and thanks to the likes of JamOn and social media you guys have got a great presence, you know, and you’ve made quite the footprint so far…so is there anything I can clue some folks into for this Boulder show coming up? Anything special we should know about? Or is going to have to be a ‘wait and see’ or just show up?
CP: Well, we’re going to play a new cover that we haven’t ever played before. And we’re also going to be playing a new song that’s probably going to be…we’ll see how the response is and how things go. It’s going to be a fun run and I’m excited to see what the response is going to be for these new tunes, for sure.
TLS: Excellent. I always love hearing new music, I always love knowing that there’s a debut coming out — it’s always something fun to look forward to in a show, so I appreciate that, thank you.
CP: You know it, man. It’s going to be fun.
TLS: Awesome. That’s definitely going to whet some appetites for Friday night, I know that for sure.
CP: You know, a song, we can’t tell if it’s done until we see how that happens, between the audience and us.
TLS: Oh sure.
CP: That’s the testing ground, you know? //laughter//
TLS: Absolutely. Well, that’s the second half of a piece of music…it’s what you write and what you play and then it’s also how it’s consumed and how it’s received.
CP: Yeah, absolutely. The feeling of playing in rooms, playing a new song and seeing how it’s connecting…definitely an amazing experience. More often than not, by the time we get there we know that it’s written.
TLS: Awesome. That’s fantastic. It’s cool that you guys have that as a part of your process.
CP: I think it’s an important part of being able to perform, you know, and being able to perform our songs like they are on the records.
TLS: And I do love that about the videos I’ve seen of you guys — they certainly showed that you have a really great sound in concert. It makes me super excited for Friday for sure on a personal level.
CP: Yeah, man. It’s going to sound good. Excited to drop the low end at the Fox Theatre again. //laughter//
TLS: Well, we’ll look forward to that for sure, my friend. //laughter//
TLS: Well, Chris, this has been great. I’ve got one last question for you. Like I had said, we’re going to skew a little bit on a wider scale here. It’s, no doubt, an interesting and uncertain time for us in our world. With the music of The Hip Abduction seeming to always have focused on such a positive sound and message, things like hope, love, light, do you and maybe even the band as well feel any sort of calling to deliver your message even stronger and maybe even more joyfully than before, you know, because of what is going on?
CP: Absolutely, and we just want people not to disengage. Yeah, don’t give up. Just stay positive…it’s very easy to get into your own world, your own thing, and be surround by all the people who agree with you. But, it’s really important to stay engaged and fight important battles and just stay positive. We absolutely feel invigorated to be playing and doing what we’re doing.
TLS: Excellent. That’s wonderful, man. That’s fantastic. I think, personally again, in my opinion, we can use as much positivity and hope as possible right now…
CP: Absolutely, absolutely.
TLS: Keeping the hope alive, like you say, and keeping people from disengaging, that’s a perfect way of putting it.
CP: Very cool, man. Well, it’s definitely something that we feel here in St. Petersburg, Florida, and I’m sure it’s something that’s happening up in Boulder, Colorado.
TLS: Most definitely. And I think having you guys come here, you know, to reaffirm and bolster our resolve here…we need as much goodness as any other folk so we can do good works with it.
CP: You bet, man. You know, that’s why we love coming to Colorado. We go there and we feel like we’re already home. //laughter//
TLS: //laughter// Well, you guys are certainly very welcome here, always for your music, for yourselves, for your good works, and everything that you are. So, we just want to say thank you in advance — very much looking forward to Friday and the rest of the run.
CP: Well, thanks. It’s been great talking with you.
TLS: Thanks very much, Chris. Have a great rest of your evening and see you on Friday!
CP: Alright, see you Friday!