Liquid Thickness: funk that finds the balance between adventurous and engaging

. October 25, 2019.
Photo Credit: Stefan Petrmichl. Instagram.com/Ashtewan
Photo Credit: Stefan Petrmichl. Instagram.com/Ashtewan

Local ensemble releases debut album this month | Nov 15 at the Blind Pig

It’s hard to start this article without just asking you, the reader, to repeat that name: Liquid Thickness. It’s evocative of the live experience (and forthcoming recordings) of this Ypsilanti-based funk/soul ensemble, balancing a flexible fluidity with a solid synchronicity. Liquid Thickness are a bright eight-piece beacon of a band amid a luminous community of post-millennial music makers who embrace (but don’t abuse) the pliant and adventurous virtues of improvisational music.

“I always wanted it to be a funk band,” admits Liquid Thickness drummer Riley Damon Bean. “The vision was always toward funk, soul, and disco, and anything groove based or danceable; even slow-dancing stuff like Motown.” The original members include Bean and Weber, along with Aidan Cafferty (keys), and Devin Webster (trombone); Tim Martin recently joined on bass, replacing former founding member Ryan King (of Stormy Chromer). After some membership fluctuation, they’ve locked in, now, with Jordan Smith on guitar, Jacob Lachance on saxophone, and Sam Swanson on trumpet. “We were just getting our chemistry down, for a while, just jamming, but then it moved into compositions, and those compositions started to fill in more within that (funk) context.”

Bean has been playing drums his whole life, with past bands like The Paths fitting more so into the indie-rock realm. Bean, along with Cafferty and Webster, grew up around here, attending Pioneer High School; Weber came over to this scene from Howell. “I knew of Riley, but I didn’t know him yet, I just saw him mention on Facebook that they wanted to start something up, because they had been jamming for a little while,” this was about three years ago, “…I always wanted to do something like this, but it’s hard to start a band when you’re just a vocalist!”

Weber is a former theatre major and he’s been serving as an Emcee for hire (as D’s Entertainment) for years, now, where he’s facilitated karaoke nights and DJ’ed events. Evidently he had a lot of performance. What he was looking for was a band that could fulfill his yearning to substantially connect with every audience. “Intentional,” is the word Weber uses, “or more so ‘genuine.’ That way we feed off of a crowd is not a stage act, that’s genuine. Early on, at our shows, I was trying to find a balance of who I would be as a ‘frontman,’ but eventually I just dropped trying to be a character and became myself up there really fast. We just go up there and give back what the crowd is giving us.”

“We wanted to create something that was crowd-pleasing, but also not selling-out,” said Bean. “Appealing more to a, not necessarily ‘mainstream crowd,’ but for people who wouldn’t necessarily go to a jam (band) show.” They’re built for versatility: shows can be tighter, lighter and/or feature more covers for daytime gigs and hired events, while on festival and jam band lineups they’re known to be more untethered to play outside the lines with improvisation. It’s a sonically symmetrical design, detached but within orbit, barrel-rolling, but with a firm grip on the controls.

In the early days, the band would have more jam based practices incorporating jazz hip-hop and other genres. It’s evolved into an aerodynamic composite of pure funk and soul, with ebullient rhythmic arrangements flourished by the shimmers of guitar and horns, while Weber, tapping into a middle ground between Bradley Nowell-ska and Al Green R&B, soars his smooth vocals over the boogie-able mix. Their debut album, Cool City Light, is out on November 15, with a performance at the Blind Pig, with Violet Sol and Pajamas.

“It’s amazing, the love that we’ve received early on from the bands in the community,” said Weber, referring to groups like Pajamas, Chirp, and Honey Monsoon. “And then Stormy Chromer took us on early as a bunch of little brothers in a way, and all those connections spur everyone on to grow. We’re establishing relationships now with bands on the west side of the state, even up north to Traverse City; Michigan now feels like a scene onto itself, because all these bands in these markets fell in love with each other and connected.”

That “community” that Weber referenced has been mobilized for two consecutive years to fill out lineups for the Groove On Up festival, hosted in South Lyon two months ago. Bean is the founder/coordinator and host of the event (started in 2018), and Liquid Thickness split headlining spots with Ypsi-based jam-fusion band Ma Baker over a two day stint that also featured their musical comrades like Desmond Jones, Paddlebots, Act Casual, Chirp, as well as a “Silent Disco Stage,” and on-site camping. Bean said Weber and Martin, along with Ma Baker, were integral contributors to helping this big event run smoothly, along with several more friends who volunteered. In the year ahead, along with more shows and likely heading out of town for some gigs, they’re hoping to continue fortifying the bonds between the bands in this community.

Coming up to about three years as a band, now, Liquid Thickness are looking forward to putting out their debut record. “I think we felt like maybe we could have done an album sooner,” admits Bean, “but we wanted to have enough (material) to choose from. “We try to establish a base version of all the parts to rely on . The unison horns parts have to line up in rhythm and harmony so they’re non-improv parts were already laid out well for the album. Every instrument has its own space so toes aren’t stepped on and the syncopation comes through. We can return to these parts for studio recordings and shows where we want to present a super clean set and dial it in.”

“(Recording) was a neat experience for me, because I was in the room by myself after they’d all finished their parts. I could see them through the glass, watching them, it was pressuring at first but then actually really comforting. You get used to having the band behind you and feeding off of their energy. So singing alone in an empty space took a second for my natural energy to acclimate.” The challenge, as Weber put it, during the recording process, was “keeping that energy…” specifically his own signature energy as a vocalist. But that could be said for the entire band. It’s all a delicate balance that they pull off gracefully, the melding of the more meandering jam and the tight-formation funk. Liquid Thickness’ new album, Cool City Light, will be available on CD, November 15, at their Blind Pig release party, as well as on Spotify, Youtube, and other streaming platforms.

facebook.com/LiquidThickness/ https://liquidthickness.bandcamp.com/
Liquid Thickness Album Release Show
Friday, November 15 | 8pm
The Blind Pig, with Pajamas & Violet Sol
208 S. 1st St., Ann Arbor | 734-996-8555 | blindpigmusic.com

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