INTERVIEW: High-energy jazz fusion group Matthew Alec and The Soul Electric

Hi Matthew, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Wow. Extraordinarily busy. Between releasing the album, making all of the arrangements necessary for it, and planning my record company’s next release, I’ve barely kept my head on straight. Oh, and I got engaged to the most beautiful little person. So, there’s that, too.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Never With You”?

Yeah, so, ‘Never With You’ is this old school jazz ballad that I wrote about two years ago. The initial idea was to do something spiritual ala John Coltrane that used a strong saxophone sound and melody but was decidedly sparse both in harmony and accompanying elements. The recorded version didn’t quite turn out the way I envisioned, but it’s close. That can happen sometimes when you have a strong group that all have their own ideas like I do. It’s okay though, I love the final recording. We had never played it before prior to recording it in the studio… I mapped out the arrangement for them the day of the recording and we played it down in one take.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

No specific event, no. Thus far, I’ve not written any songs about any one thing or experience, I tend to go off of melody lines that come to me either on the saxophone or just humming in my head and build a full song off of them. The melody line on this one randomly came to me during a practice session and I liked it.

How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

I had the idea to do an in-studio black and white ‘film noir’ video quite some time ago. I came across another saxophonist’s video on YouTube that did something like that on a ballad and I thought it would work well for the song, although truth be told I thought we could do a better, higher-end production than the video I came across. I had a friend refer me to Tom Common (the videographer) and I gave him the concept and he ran with it. He, along with two other Cleveland-area filmmakers Robert Banks (who’s internationally-recognized) and Mike Wendt set up multiple cameras and filmed while we were recording. The results were absolutely stunning. Tom hit it out of the ballpark in my opinion. I’m very proud of how it turned out. He also put the ‘Give What You Take’ video together for me which is a lot of fun and I’ve got a number of other projects in the works with him in the future.

The single comes off your new album Cleveland Time – what’s the story behind the title?

I had another journalist ask me a similar question and I couldn’t really remember at that time… whoops! Ha. Since then though, I have a faint memory of sitting in my car at a traffic light when the ‘Cleveland Time’ title popped into my head. Its meaning was actually the time of Cleveland, not necessarily making the statement that ‘Cleveland has arrived’ if you catch my drift there. Time is perhaps the most essential element in music, especially jazz, so I wanted to refer to the ‘time feel’ of the region. That’s what I was going for, anyway.

How was the recording and writing process?

Both were hectic and thrown together, but also very rewarding and a lot of fun all at the same time. As far as the writing process, each tune has a different story. I wrote ‘Give What You Take,’ ‘Blues for McCoy,’ ‘Sunshine On Prospect,’ and ‘Never With You’ quite some time ago. The other three were pieced together in the months leading up to the recording sessions. Pretty much all of them weren’t finalized as songs until we showed up in the recording studio. We learned them on the fly right before they were recorded. That’s the beauty of recording in a studio as opposed to playing live. The other main obstacle of the recording sessions was the pandemic, which greatly limited the practice that we could put in as a group and it also delayed the second set of recording sessions by several months’ time. On the other hand, the recording process itself was great and ran very smoothly. Jim Stewart (the engineer) did a fantastic job and he was a real pleasure to work with. I’m planning on using his studio for the next few Cleveland Time Records’ releases.  

What role does Cleveland play in your music?

Initially it didn’t play much of a role at all. I didn’t start writing the songs with Cleveland in mind; that idea came to me later on. That said, I grew up in a suburb that sits directly between Cleveland and Akron. My mother worked in downtown Cleveland for many years so I spent a great deal of time there and always loved the city. My grandfather (her father) was a prominent union leader in the city during the ‘50s and ‘60s so it played a big role in my family and in my childhood. The city becoming the backdrop for the name of the album (and record label) just came about as a natural progression I think. 

How did you go on balancing all your different influences with your Jazz sensibilities?

Great question. I was very intentional about the different shades of jazz that are sprinkled throughout the release. Since this is my debut album as a leader, I wanted to try to show all of the different elements that both myself and my group bring to the table. In doing so, I also wanted to make an album that crossed genres and could be accessible to a wide variety of listeners, but still managed to sound cohesive. I listen to a great deal of fusion from the ‘70s and ‘80s and this album is a modern take on what a lot of those groups were doing. I think I mostly succeeded on all of those things with this release. There’s something on Cleveland Time for people that love jazz, funk, soul, and even pop music to a degree.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

The only lyrics I wrote on the album were ‘Give What You Take’ which is comprised of all of two phrases! I’m not sure I’m the one to speak on the lyrics. Brian and Forrest wrote the lyrics to their respective tunes. As far as ‘Give What You Take’ is concerned it was a shout that I wrote sometime between a shower and the car ride that followed shortly after the shower. That song clearly has deep meaning for me! Haha. As far as melody lines, they were all things that came to me at various points, usually during a practice session on the saxophone. Although I recently wrote a new song humming in a store, so you never know when inspiration will strike. The sound recording feature on smart phones is a fantastic thing to capture a melody anytime it comes to you so that you can remember it later on.

What else is happening next in Matthew Alec and The Soul Electric’s world?

Now that this album is out, my next focus will be to get the next two Cleveland Time Records’ releases done. The first will be a special release which is the very first audiobook version of the Louis Armstrong autobiography ‘Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans.’ The book was written decades ago, but does not have an audiobook version yet. It’s mostly recorded at this point, look for it this Summer as a free download. The second project is Minus the Alien (who recorded the vocal track on the tune ‘Cleveland Time’) Neon Cactus: A Hip-hop Voyage Through Jazz Spacetime, which as the title suggests will be a hip-hop meets jazz fusion album. That album is in the writing process currently and should break ground in the studio a little later this year. Some of the Soul Electric cast will be a part of that recording, but perhaps not all. I’m producing it with Ameer (Minus the Alien) and I’ll be adding some saxophone to it as well. I am planning the second MA & The Soul Electric release already, but that won’t break ground until 2022 and I’m also talking to Brian Woods about making his solo debut record. I’d love to be planning live performances and festival appearances right now as well, but unfortunately the pandemic has made that difficult, if not impossible.

STREAM NEW ALBUM HERE

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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