SOULFULLY MAKING THAT CHANGE
AN INTERVIEW WITH DURAND JONES
Durand Jones is not what you might expect from a Soul-singer that commands so much attention on the microphone. He is a humble and jovial soft-spoken gentleman, true to his upbringing in small-town Louisiana. Herein we talk about how Jones found his calling to Soul music, the recording process for his and his group’s self-titled album (Durand Jones & The Indications), and how he discovered his true voice. We’re so glad he did.
Q: What was it like growing up in Louisiana?
A: I was born in New Orleans, and soon after my Dad moved us back to his hometown, which is called Hillaryville. If you’re ever in Hillaryville, nobody pronounces the ‘L’s in Hillaryville; everybody calls it “Hareville.” It was real small, roughly 750 folks. Four lanes, Cow pastures, right on the Mississippi river. It was pretty interesting growing up there.
Q: How old were you when you realized you were a singer?
A: About 16 or 17 years old. I was always a really shy person; also a saxophone player through high school and college. So I never really wanted to be a singer; I wanted to be a saxophone player. My grandma always heard me singing at home, and said, “I’m gonna put your ass in the youth choir.” I was reluctant. But one day the organist could hear me in the choir, and said “boy I’m gonna give you a song.” So I sang the song, and it really surprised me, the whole church just flipped out. People were running and jumping and afterwards they were giving me money and stuff. Man it was really cool. That’s when the realization came that maybe I could make something of this.
You know all those people, they started out real small, like Stevie (Wonder), Michael (Jackson), Gladys Knight, they were all children when they started singing. I wasn’t always a good-sounding singer. I can recall being in the car and singing with my family, and they were all laughing at me. I’d have my headphones on and trying to vibe with the music, then I’d take them off and they’re all laughing at me. I was like, “Goddam.” But they’re not laughing at me no more. So I guess I got them. [laughs]
“Staying up until 4:00 in the morning working on tunes down there, trying to get it in. Man you just gotta pull it out of yourself.”
Q: What was the first song you ever wrote?
A: The first song I ever wrote was for saxophone, not for voice. When I was a teenager I would like to write these little pieces for sax, but I’d never share them with the world. When it comes to writing Soul music, or being a singer/songwriter, that’s something fairly new to me. When I moved to Bloomington’s (Indiana University) I came with the intention of being a saxophone player, and I had no idea I was going to be singing on a solo record and talking to you right now. So with this album I collaborated a bunch, with Blake Rhein and Aaron Frazer. Damian Falkey, he recorded one of the tunes. It was really a learning process. Being that Blake has moved to Chicago and Aaron has moved to New York, it’s been more of a task with me to start writing a lot of tunes. It’s been coming along pretty well; the guys are digging what I’m sending them. The first tune is called “Feeling;” it’s about leaving this woman in New Orleans, about a break up, you know.
Q: Do you have a plan to release that?
A: What we all agreed on when we split out was we would all be writing on our own and when we got together we would just mash those ideas up. Whenever we get together it’s like they never left. They had some awesome suggestions for my tune, and really like the Gospel feel of it. I am really trying to get inspiration from Sam (Cooke) in my writing. When he crossed over, I really like what he did with the Soul stuff. That raw, gritty Gospel sound. I take a lot of inspiration from that. You know man, trying to get my Sam on.
Q: Moving from Louisiana to Indiana, was there a certain culture shock?
A: It was the first time I was ever far away from my family, so that was pretty weird to me. I would say the food. . . the food man, the food is totally different. It’s not Louisiana. So much good stuff I miss from home. But I was pleasantly surprised at how culturally diverse it is, in some ways more than others; there’s a lot of people doing some cool stuff here. I mean this town (Bloomington) is basically in the middle of the cornfields and they bring in musicians from all around the world. That’s what attracted me to come up here. One difference I notice here, compared to Louisiana, is that a lot of musicians say the school here (Indiana University), that’s the hub. But the way I was taught, you gotta get out into town and do your thing. That’s how I really put that vibe out with Blake and Aaron and got that Soul music going.
Q: Do you think Soul music is making a comeback?
A: Yeah I think it’s making a really beautiful come back. You got people like Lee Fields and Sharon Jones – people who were trailblazing away in the late ‘90s – they were paving the way. All the people before them that were backing them up. But, I mean, it’s definitely making a comeback. It’s quite beautiful and I’m really glad to be a part of it. I’m learning my niche and my place. I definitely see that I can try to have a future in this thing.
Q: How did you capture the grit of your sound in the studio?
A: I think a big part of it has to do with aesthetic and taste. Aaron and Blake both really love Soul music. Aaron really leans more towards the Gospel side of things, where Blake tends to lean more towards a Rock and Soul type of thing, and it’s really cool mashing them up together, you know. Working in the basement, doing it straight to tape down there; there’s something that just feels gritty about doing that shit too. Staying up until four in the morning, working on tunes down there, trying to get it in. Man you just gotta pull it out of yourself. That was a realization I had working with Aaron because he can be on the intense side sometimes, and that’s not a bad thing; that’s a real good thing. He really pulled it out of me sometimes.
Q: Tell me about the first song on the album, “Make a Change.”
A: I feel like that was the most magical tune on the entire album. We literally tracked that song in a night. Blake and Aaron were working on the music early in the day. Blake was playing guitar and Aaron was playing drums, and I was just coming up with lyrics. I was just singing about what was on my mind, working for the city and not making any money at all. Minimum wage is seven-twenty-five; I mean what the hell can someone do with that? That’s the reason some people resort to crime and to doing things they don’t want to do like selling their bodies; all kinds of stuff man. I’ve seen that shit firsthand, down
in Louisiana. The poorest person in the United States is the black workers from the South. So you see a lot of people living with nothing, and it’s not like these people don’t want to make a change in their life. They’re stuck making just the change. Just the dollar.
So I was throwing all these ideas out, and Aaron was just really intense this night. He was like, “you gotta make it percussive!,” and he really pulled it out of me that night. I’ll never forget waking up the next day and going into class, I walk in at 10 to 9:00 after leaving the Hideaway at 4:30 in the morning, smiling and feeling so good. If I could do that all the time. I didn’t give a shit about class. I knew that collaboration was the real deal after we worked on “Make a Change.”
Q: What do you think is the most important thing for a person to exemplify to have success in music?
A: That reminds me of an interview with Lee Fields and he said, “people who are very successful but also really mean, they’ve always been mean.” You have to assess your situation and ask yourself what it is. I think humility, watching Charles Bradley, he always seems so gracious to his audience. He always seems to be moved to tears in his performance. That’s a form of humility and gratitude to the people and the art. Then there’s the vigilance; you really gotta put yourself out there if you want to make it happen. You have to find some people who believe in your dream to help you get there. An old teacher of mine always said it’s easier working with folks rather than working alone. Find a coalition that’ll believe in your project and wants to gun down the road with you. It’s so much easier.
“…and it’s not like these people don’t want to make a change in their life. They’re stuck making just the change. Just the dollar.“
Q: If you could sit down and have coffee with any musician that has passed away, who would it be?
A: Nina Simone, the High Priestess of Soul. She started out as a classical musician, and obviously moved to a different realm. But you could always hear a reverence in all her music, from her love for classical. I feel like I’m going down a similar path. For two years I was with this classical saxophone quartet and we were winning awards and travelling around the country. But I decided to leave because I didn’t want it as bad as those guys did. I’d love to talk to her about that.
I would love to sit down with Sam Cooke for sure. I really love his transition from Gospel into Soul, and I like what he brought from Gospel into Soul music. He was just really revered by all of the greats. Joe Tex loved Sam. Donna Burke loved Sam. Otis Redding loved Sam. All the greats have huge reverence for Sam. I would love to sit down and have a chat with Sam. I’m coming from the Gospel area too, from a small Baptist church. So I really feel for that dude.
I should pick a Saxophone player too… the answer may have been different yesterday but I would totally say Cannonball (Adderley) today. Just hearing that dude speak, but he’s got some pretty good soul too; “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” comes to mind. Pretty soulful and pretty groovy and I dig it a bunch, and I also dig his hard jazz that’s just straight up swinging. Yeah, I really like his stuff.
Q: What would you pick if you could only have three albums on a desert island?
A: I’m looking at the records on the wall here. I would stick with Otis Redding and Carla Thomas King and Queen. I would also say John Coltrane’s Ballads album. I’ve been listening to this all the time lately, so I gotta also say Stevie Wonder’s Where I’m Coming From. I dig it. It’s just funky.
Q: What’s coming down the pipe next for Durand Jones & The Indications?
A: Well I’m hoping to premiere a music video for “Make a Change” pretty soon. It’s gonna be coming out pretty soon, be on the lookout for that. We’re gonna be playing some shows in September; we’ll release the dates online. As for now there’s gonna be more music coming in the near future. It’ll be out in the world real soon.