Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on June 2014
Most musicians who visit Japan have ridden an airplane before. Not so for James Keovongsak.
“We went in 2012 and played Fuji Rock,” recalls the drummer for Michigan funk crew Third Coast Kings. “That was my first time on a plane—it was our first time in a foreign country—and to look down and see them singing along to our songs, it was a wow moment.”
Third Coast Kings are one of those Fuji Rock discoveries that promoter Smash unleashes on unsuspecting—but well-lubricated—festival crowds. Which is not to say that Third Coast Kings are unknowns. On the contrary, they’ve been cultivating a following since 2007 and have just had their second album, West Grand Boulevard, released worldwide.
“I’d always been in bands growing up, bouncing between acts and things never worked out. I think you have to go through that to learn how to be a mature band,” Keovongsak says. “I wasn’t really sure if it was going to work out—we’ve had a few members leave—but the vision has remained the same.”
Keovongsak remembers the moment he realized the quixotic mission of forming an eight-member 21st-century retro-funk act might actually come to fruition.
“The first time I felt like we were moving in the right direction was [when] I had a notepad where I’d written a list of labels to contact. I’d set it aside and then eventually Record Kicks contacted me—and I realized I’d written them down. I couldn’t believe they’d contacted me with an offer themselves. Then you actually put your music out in places like Portugal—it’s amazing people in such faraway countries listen to our music.”
The shiny new West Grand Boulevard shivers and shakes with feel-good Detroit funk vibes. Songs tread a fine line between slavish imitation of and devoted inspiration by funk and soul greats starting first and foremost with James Brown.
“It opens up with ‘Ice Cream Man,’” Keovongsak explains. “The idea behind it was hot summers in the streets of Detroit. You know how when you’re a little kid and you hear the ice cream truck and bug your mother for a dollar or two? It’s a fun reminiscence of an experience most of us have had in our lives.
“The second track, ‘Get Some Leave Some,’ is a more overt tribute. We’re giving back our little part of this legacy after we’ve already taken some of it.”
Keovongsak believes you have to put yourself on a funk diet if you hope to make the tradition your own. “When you’re comfortable with it you can start producing the sounds in your head,” he says. “If you keep them in your head it’s going to come out in an organic way. But if you haven’t spent the time to research what you’re doing and put some heart in it, it shows. I like to think with our music now it shows we put the work into it to get a vintage sound that’s our own.”
Third Coast Kings aren’t afraid to showboat on stage, but they also realize that first and foremost it’s about getting the audience to interact—a lesson the ’60s funk entertainers understood implicitly, but that artists of later years sometimes forget.
“We like to look around and feed off the energy and hopefully it becomes infectious to the crowd,” Keovongsak observes. “Most of the time people are shy until you really get into the groove. When there are eight people up there having fun then it sends the message it’s ok to move your butt a bit.”
Sep 25, Club Quattro.