JC Brooks & Uptown Sound reviving classic soul
By THOMAS CONNER firstname.lastname@example.org October 27, 2011 7:16PM
JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound
JC BROOKS & THE UPTOWN SOUND
With: Satan’s Youth Ministers;
DJ Sloppy White
† 9 p.m. Oct. 28
† Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee
† Tickets, $10-$12
† (773) 489-3160; doubledoor.com
Updated: January 23, 2012 4:18AM
Mayer Hawthorne made sweaty women swoon at Lollapalooza. Van Hunt has one of the hottest new records available. Raphael Saadiq backed Mick Jagger at the Grammys in February because Mick called him.
In some corners of 2011, it sounds a bit like 1966.
Chicago has its own answer to this revival of America’s classic soul sound: JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, one of the city’s liveliest live acts.
Brooks isn’t that surprised by soul’s return to the fore.
“It also has to do with the times,” Brooks said during a recent interview. “Originally, soul music was happening during a very politically and socially tumultuous time in this country. Now there is, I think, a feeling that we’re in a similar time, that people are eager to be more physically responsive to what’s going on around them. I mean, I was out of the country when Occupy Wall Street happened. It was genuinely surprising to me that people were getting out in the streets about something, anything. Strong times call for at least a more engaging music.”
Brooks and the band — guitarist Billy Bungeroth, bassist Ben Taylor and drummer Kevin Marks — just returned from a three-week tour in Spain and Italy. This weekend they’ll celebrate the release of their second album, and first on Chicago’s Bloodshot label, “Want More,” along with a full horn section and backup singers.
In Europe, Brooks said audience energy was just as he likes it: “unruly.”
“Not that I’ve been to a genuine roadhouse, but I love that feel to a show,” Brooks said. “The more energy there is, the more there is to direct.”
How exactly does he wrap an audience ’round his little finger?
“I just get on stage and ask for-slash-take it,” he said, chuckling. “Once you have people’s attention — I’m not entirely sure how it happens that I throw the switch on the ride. The first few minutes are very important. It’s about getting their attention and making sure they know what I’m asking of them. A lot of people go to listen to music and talk and have conversations, and that’s fine. I don’t demand theater-level silence. But we have an interactive, audience-participation show. You know, it’s like Catholic church. When it’s your turn to get up and shout, we’re gonna tell you.”
Before he was honey-voiced soul man JC Brooks, Jayson Brooks was a local actor. Last spring, he starred in the acclaimed Bailiwick production of “Passing Strange”; it’s a play about a musician’s struggle, so the band joined him on stage for several scenes.
But, in a sense, the Uptown Sound is its own acting gig. The band came together through a Craigslist ad placed by Bungeroth in 2007. His sole goal was to make aggressive dance music, but not the electronic variety. Brooks’ band background was in alt-rock, punk and rockabilly. The gathered group threw out some songs they had and began jamming, and a soulful vibe showed itself.
“We basically settled on soul,” Brooks said, “because these songs that I’d brought in and that Billy had, they just took on a new thing when we started playing together, definitely with an eye toward soul. We started refiltering stuff to fit our sound.”
That retooling process contributed to a modest online hit last year with the band’s retro-soul cover of Wilco’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” which appears on the “Want More” album.
“That song started out as a joke,” Brooks said, “but we’d also been informed lately by the idea of doing a cover not just as a tribute but transforming the song in such a way that it might raise questions with people. In maybe 2007-2008, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings played the Vic, and Bill and Ben went. The band played Janet Jackson’s ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately,’ and it sounded so authentic that Ben actually had a moment thinking, ‘Wait, did Janet cover this song?’ That’s what we hoped to accomplish with this Wilco song by taking it in such a radically different direction that people might go — who wrote this?”