The Rocks Off 100: Electric Attitude, Renegades of Funk
Photo courtesy of Electric Attitude
Who? Sitting at The Harp on Richmond with Jordan Bell, Kwesi Sackey and Blake Shepard, founding members of funk/soul group Electric Attitude, it's easy to understand why Electric is so eclectic. Of the three, Shepard is the more straightforward, serious one. Sackey, on the other hand, gives off a more personable, relaxed vibe, while Bell is all smiles. This difference in personalities translates to the band's music, which they say is a collaborative effort between all seven group members.
"When we write, we try to incorporate some of everyone," says Shepard.
Electric Attitude also incorporates various genres into the group's music, adding elements of jazz and disco to their funky sound.
In addition to Bell, Sackey and Shepard, Electric Attitude consists of Stephen Forse on trumpet, Matthew Hartnett on trombone, Michael Hatter on drums and James Murphy on saxophone and EWI (electronic wind instrument). The latter two have both been nominated for Houston Press Music Awards -- Hatter for Best Drummer in 2012; Murphy for Best Miscellaneous Instrument in 2011. The band is celebrating its third straight Best Soul/Funk/R&B HPMA nomination, and has won the category the past two years.
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Home Base: Bell, Sackey and Shepard live in the Montrose area. Shepard grew up in the Heights, and Bell comes from the small town of Cleburne, south of Fort Worth. And Sackey has been lived all over, starting in D.C., where was he born, then Boston where he attended college, and more than a decade in Saudi Arabia. He moved to Houston in 2001. Forse, Hartnett and Murphy are all from Houston, while Hatter hails from Louisiana.
Why Do You Stay in Houston? "We've modeled our music after the vibe that we all get from the Houston environment," Blake said.
"The city is diverse; our band is diverse," he says.
"We identify with this city," adds Bell. "We sing a lot about going out into the night..."
Good War Story: What do an impound lot, a police officer, a smashed guitar, a parking lot and Houston's House of Blues have in common? Electric Attitude's war story, which unfolds like a scene from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.
It started the night the group was scheduled to play their first gig at HOB. It was 2009, and both Electric Attitude and HOB were in their infancy They were set to play -- until Sackey was arrested for breaking into his impounded car to grab his music equipment.
Having heard of the arrest, the group's then-drummer, who happened to also be a police officer, quit, not wanting to be associated with him. This hasty exit forced the band to cancel its gig, leading to Shepard getting drunk off of three bottles of "wine" and destroying his guitar.
"I decided that I didn't want that guitar anymore," Shepard says, shrugging.
The guitar wasn't the only thing to take a hit that night.
"I got jumped in a parking lot on the way home," says Bell, who recalls stopping to help a abandoned woman, only to find himself face-to-fist with her enraged boyfriend.
"Punched in the face."
Where some groups might have disbanded under the weight of such calamitous conditions, the HOB fiasco deepened the group's musical resolve to succeed (minus the drummer/policeman). Sackey in particular felt he had something to prove.
"It made me work harder to try and get us bigger and better shows because I felt I let my boys down," he says. Sackey. A couple of years later, they would get that chance, gracing the House of Blues stage in a comeback performance that Sackey refers to as "redemption."
"We were all on fire that night."
Music Scene Pet Peeve: While the trio express their love for Houston's music scene, they all agree that it would be easier if the city's music venues weren't so spread out in contrast to cities like New Orleans and Austin, which have venues packed together on the city streets.
Five Desert Island Discs:
- Curtis Mayfield, Superfly
- The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street
- Betty Davis, They Say I'm Different
- Michael Jackson, Off the Wall
- The Rapture, Echoes
What's Next? Electric Attitude will be opening for funk band Papa Grows Funk tonight at Discovery Green (they should go on around 6:30 p.m.). They are preparing to release a full-length follow-up to their 2009 EP, Laser Laser Laser Beams, on July 27. The name of the upcoming album is Skintight & Solid Gold, and Electric Attitude is planning a release party at House of Blues.
See who else has joined The Rocks Off 100 this year on the next page.
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