Sometimes when you hear musicians perform primarily as a support for a larger artist, and they get that opportunity in the set to show off their skills and you say to yourself “Damn…they should have their own group/band.” That is how I felt the first time I heard Casey Benjamin rock out with Robert Glasper. I was so impressed with his musicianship that I started to try and find different groups he was playing with around the city. And no…not on some stalker type stuff….but as a music fan. In my research, it was brought to my attention that he actually had his own band. So you know me…I find EVERYTHING that I could find online, stream, purchase, play…in that order. The artistic chemistry between Benjamin and his long time friend, Nicky Guiland (aka Ampersand Jones) is so evident that it completely blows you away at first note.
The Couch Sessions received in a dope opportunity to catch up with HEAVy and discuss their music and some new things on the horizon. Check it out.
Thank you so much for taking the time out to sit and chat! I’m really excited about all of the wonderful things you both have going on. Especially me being considerably a new fan of yours! I’m familiar with some of your individual work. Especially you, Casey, for your work with Robert Glasper. How is it different, for both of you, working with some heavy (catch that?) hitters and then stepping out on your own to create?
Nicky: Case is definitely the one more suited to answer this, but I’d say it isn’t that much different, considering the people we work with now are the people we’ve worked with for years. I’ve been working with (Jazz drummer / Vibraphonist) Joe Chambers since 2001. The “green” sensation wore itself off a couple of years back and now I just feel like a contributor to his musical vision. I definitely enjoy it more now.
Casey: For me it’s always been second nature. Nicky, myself and Robert went to college together. A lot of the folks I worked with and still do over the years (Q-tip, Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, Patrick Stump) just to name a few have been essential in my growth as a independent artist. I study their careers and apply the knowledge to what I do.
One of the things that I read about both of you, which made me actually fall in love, is that you both are of Caribbean decent like myself. The influences of our parents play a major role in how we function as adults, the music we listen to, how we work, etc. Do you feel that as a Caribbean-American, your work ethic as it relates to your music is different from many of the colleagues that you see in the industry?
Nicky: Nope. There’s a drive and focus that anyone needs to have to accomplish anything in life. Maybe that’s a life lesson my parents installed in me at an early age or learned by watching all of my family members work hard for everything they have, but the Caribbean in me is reflected in different ways. My choice of wording, my diplomatic yet methodical nature, and of course, my hot headed tendencies. Is that the Trini & Jamaican in me or just life lessons and good parenting?
Casey, you’ve been known to play, like I said, for some amazing folks. You do producing, playing the saxophone, keyboard, and I’m almost sure I saw you break out a keytar at a concert once. I always joke with my friends that musicians like you MUST be what we call the typical Caribbean because you have so many jobs (haha). How do you manage to be all over the place and together at the same time?
Casey: Well a few reasons…I’ve always wanted to be multi-instrumentalist and play/create different styles of music. Growing up in NY how could you not? Some of the credit goes to Pops too. One of his many jobs (haha) was being a DJ. He has very eclectic taste so the music I was exposed to at early age definitely started the germ. Finally, I never wanted to be an out of work musician. In my experience if you play more than one instrument and are proficient at it, you will be hired more to play/record a wider variety of music.
You guys put out a project in 2007 called JAzzmonEY$$. I was actually listening to it the other day and, I could be wrong so forgive me if I am, but you guys were tapping into that “electronica” market and mixing it with a little funk and a lot of hip hop. Do you feel that with the current wave of music that is coming out now, that genre of the electro-hip hop feel is a phase or do you feel that this is something that has always been around and folks are just now getting hip?
Nicky: Don’t know. JM$$ was less about consciously tapping into the various sounds mentioned and more about being influenced by and referencing various artists and movements. Maybe folks are just getting around to checking out some of the folks we were fans of back in 2005 – 2007. Eh, I’m sure the current sound has more to do with production being so cheap and easier to get to the consumer, than about influences.
Casey: Hmm, not sure. We never created JM$$ with this in mind. It was purely an artistic statement. What I do know is that a number of upcoming producers and musicians who make “electro hybrid music” have told me that JM$$ has been influential in their growth, so I’m happy about that.
You guys have been friends for a long time. Some people say you can’t do business with friends, but it seems to work for you. How does being friends for so long, knowing each other from school days, help your creativity as artists and business partners?
Nicky: After knowing each other for 16/17 years, Casey is a part of my family. I don’t see him as a business partner or even a friend. I know even when we go months without talking, that he’s got my back, just like family. You can not like family or their choices, but the love and support you feel & have for them never wains. Because of that, it’s been interesting to pick up where we left off a couple of years ago, but that doesn’t change the support we’ve had for each other, while doing our own things the past 3 years.
Casey: Nicky and I are kindred spirits. It’s really that simple. We’re from the same planet Nebulonopherqjsus.
In 2009, you released First Sessions, which took your music to a completely different level from your first project. It almost seems like you moved from the strong hip hop influence and threw in some jazz and a lot more soul. Why the transition in this respect? And what was so different about this project that made you feel like “Okay….I think this is it” ?
Nicky: It’s funny. You’re the second person this week to refer to JM$$ as our 1st project. First Sessions, while released after JAzzmonEY$$, was written and recorded long before JM$$, hence the title. We caught a lot of flack back in 2007, for transitioning from the Jazz Fusion & Classic Soul sound that was on our self titled EP release in 2004, which was a short version of what eventually released as our First Sessions long form. It’s funny to think people might see that transition in reverse of the actual progression of our sound.
As singers, songwriters, musicians…a team…if you had to pick 4 artists that you feel represent the future and compare them to your favorite pieces of clothing (gloves, shoes, jeans, etc.), who would you pick and why? Kind of an off the wall questions but I’d actually LOVE to hear your responses for this one.
Nicky: Dylan. Dylan. Dylan. Dylan. (A “Making The Band” reference, not Bob.) Black things: Jeans. Knee high socks. Boots. Underwear occasionally.
You guys are participating in the First Annual BK Funk Fest, which is sponsored by The Couch Sessions. How important are events like these especially considering your thoughts on where music is at this current moment?
Nicky: The request to play was a welcome surprise. I thank Heard Entertainment for reaching out. I’m looking forward to being in front of the band, standing before an audience. Nothing will ever top what you (the artist and the audience) experience at a live show. Events like these are very important for that reason. Add to that it being in Brooklyn, and I really couldn’t be happier. I don’t know much about The Paper Box, but from the line ups I’ve seen they’ve housed before, I’m excited a venue like this is in my backyard.
Well, thank you so much! I’m looking forward to seeing you guys rock out this weekend at The Paper Box for the BK Funk Fest. I just want to know if you guys will be releasing some new music soon or will you continue to tease us with First Sessions?
We’ll see. Thanks for the interview. It’s been fun.
HEAVy will be rocking out at the BK Funk Fest this TONIGHT. If I were you, I’d make sure I was in the front row. Music like this doesn’t come around that often. I’m trying to be down.