Fast & Furious with Fort Knox Five
By Noah Michelson
Do you have any local bands that you support?
Certainly we have our little group of bands that we are all working with. Fort Knox Recordings has become our little family affair as well as local D.C. bands we participate with. There is See-I, which is a Thievery Corporation offshoot band and is reggae and soul-funk. That is definitely one of the biggest bands in D.C. right now. We also have the All Good Funk Alliance, which we have been working with who are breaking out right now as well.
How do you go from punk to your music right now?
It all had to do with the nineties. Steve was recording with this band Edsel and they recorded an album in Manchester in the UK. When he was there he got to experience this club Cream in the nineties heyday and came back to D.C. with this affinity for dance and we all started going out to dance clubs in the nineties. I don’t think it was specifically a natural shift but for us that’s what we want to do. We were always compelled to music people could dance to.
How did you guys meet?
It starts back in high school. Steve and I went to high school and we met Sid Barcelona years later at The Rhode Island School of Design. I went there and Steve and I formed a little band and that was a punk rock thing. When that turned into the electronic scene we met Jon Horvath who was a local DJ and he fit in perfectly with what we are all planning. We all came together to form Fort Knox.
And the name?
That’s a story that actually goes back to the Thunderball days when the first Thunderball album was being made and the liner notes for the record were being put together. It was suggested we name our studio because electronica albums might be made in your office or basement so it’s a funny irony that you get to use your studio name. We had to give is something important. Steve and I came up with Fort Knox because it had this heaviness to it. Fort Knox was always the studio where we were putting our music from even though it was often in bedrooms. And then we decided to make our own record label called Fort Knox Recordings.
I like the idea of naming your studio no matter where it is.
Exactly. The name gives it a soul.
How would you define your genre of music?
We are capitalizing on a new term: modern global. What we are doing is not specifically jazz music or club music and world music, which we fit into because we use a lot of different instruments and the sitar is featured a lot. World music has become a wash as to what it defines. We latched onto the modern global term. We do a radio show up in New York called “MoGo.” Modern global is their moniker. It’s their term because that is what we are since we use sounds and influenced from all over. We are not trying to fit into a certain tradition.
What other bands are modern global?
The whole post-electronic realm is definitely fitting into that. I think that you’ll find a lot of pop music you are hearing on the radio right and a lot of the hip-hop stuff fits into that vein because you have a singer who is trying to do something in the Bonga vain, Bonga coming from India. Modern global has untethered itself from classic rock and disco and all these different genres we grew up when they all divided. Modern global doesn’t need to sound like an American band just because they come from America.
I’ve noticed at seemingly modern global concerts, audience members transcend race and sexuality.
Have you even been to a Thievery Corporation show?
Yeah, like five.
Nice! I am sure we met then.
You never know. Do you find that your audience members are from all walks of life?
Definitely. That is also an offshoot of not being a radio band or taken by pop radio. People didn’t hear about Fort Knox or Thievery Corporation by turning on the radio. There is no specific audience for how this music is being accepted. One crew might hear your music in a restaurant. One crew might be into dance music and the clubs. You get all these outlets to put your music into.
Can you talk about your live performance a bit?
It comes down to the business of the record label and what it takes to put on a show. Being in Thievery Corporation I get to witness a band on a large scale and doing large festivals. With Fort Knox, Sid and Jon are DJs. I play the sitar and guitar when I’m performing. Having energy we are able to take shows in many different formats. Right now Jon and Sid are in Hong Kong and they are doing a little DJ tour. It really depends on the budget of the show, what you want for the show and then doing DJs and visuals and then adding percussionists and vocalists and then the bigger band. What we hope to be doing more of, is Jon running the DJ rig, more visuals, me doing guitar and complimenting it with percussion or one of our Fort Knox artists. The goal is to bring a wood section on the road.
That’s a good goal. What is the performance aspect in your act? Do you includes visuals?
Definitely the visual portion is really big. Sid and I started off as graphic designers and we basically are in charge of everything visual: the logo, the album artwork, the web graphics, and the videos. That is part of our dream when we started is to include that aspect. We take the visual component very seriously because it is a passion of ours. Now we can incorporate all the art we do into our visual performance.
“Funk 4 Peace” is obviously very politically driven. Do you find it necessary to combine the world of music and the world of politics?
Not necessarily. Sometimes politics doesn’t translate through music. We collaborated with Afrika Bambaataa because it was the inauguration so we wanted to do something in D.C. While we were here we also recorded “Shift,” which includes the lyrics, “Shift to the left, shift to the right.” It’s a fun dance floor pandemic thing but it’s also about how the politics at that single moment were shifting. The song didn’t originally have that message but it came about because of the political change.
Your releasing music for free..
You have to do. It’s ironic because this one band released a song for free and that song was also their top selling song. Back in the day we would record onto vinyls and dump them onto cassettes and you would make mixtapes. If you think about, most of the music you love or have grown to love has either been given to you or fell into your lap. Part of it is to make fans and build fans.
And recording a song, what is “reminting?”
Reminting is our tongue-and-cheek remake of remixing. Yes, we are remixing, but we are doing a little bit more. We are writing a new song. Sometimes we are just using a vocal or the acapella from the original. It’s not a remix. It’s a remake.
Where do you find inspiration and how does that translate into your music?
The inspiration comes from the four of us all having these different experiences. We have Jon and Steve who are the main DJs in the group and there on DJ tours so they get to hear everything, all over the world and they are inspired by the new sounds. They come back knowing what is going on in the clubs. Then you have myself who likes to collect instruments. I’ll travel and pick up crazy items and add new flavor to the music.
What comes next?
We just finished the record and it includes all our family bands. And of course there are our many side projects. Now that we’ve finished this album we are in the position where we can reformulate ourselves right now. The music industry starved during our period of ascendancy so money and finances of trying to do this operation have come to the forefront. What we’re looking to do in the next couple of months when the album comes out is use the tour so we can showcase our other bands and show that we are all of the same family.
For more on Fort Knox Five, head here.
-- COURTNEY NICHOLS
Previously > Hummer: Kelis's "Acapella"