By Brian Tucker
Not long after The Royal Noise formed in 2010 the musicians quickly realized they communicated better through music than talking things out. Mike LaBombard, who plays saxophone and keys in the band, says talking took longer than just playing, whether in the studio or on a stage.
“Somehow we all have such a trust in each other that we know that look will mean the same thing as long as we play through it.”
The dynamic band that now calls Philadelphia home, delivers a highly energetic fusion of funk, jazz and psychedelic rock. Its music that easily gets people moving and they call it “retro future funk.” Citing the strong influence of early Herbie Hancock records and the funk, fusion and jazz era of music, LaBombard also points to the modern jam/funk scene.
“(It) definitely plays a huge part in my song writing as well, bands like Phish and Umphrey’s McGee to Soulive and Lettuce,” LaBombard said. “They all seep into our playing. There’s even times when you could probably guess what band we listened to, or at least what era, in the van on the way to the gig because it will come out in our playing that night.”
Fluidity and openness play a large part in their music, often exposing organic tendencies. Their last album Unbreakable showcases a heft of influences and that organic quality, either through experimentation or atypical song construction. The album’s lead track “Bunot” is illustrative, evolving from a sunrise-like opening and exploring as the song moves along.
“That tune is a great reflection of the organic quality we have. Even more, it has grown in how we play it night to night. The main form remains the same, but we’ll explore the middle section in a very different way each night and it has become progressively more of a breakbeat disco dance vibe lately.”
Unbreakable is a great ride, like the grit on the short lived “Road Trip” or the fiery funk of “Bop Devil,” it’s an album soaring more than it lands. Different backgrounds of band members, culturally and musically, subtly texture the songs.
“I grew up on bluegrass and classic rock and then steadily got more into the funk/jam scene,” LaBombard said. “I know when I listen back on the tunes I personally wrote I can pick out certain parts I recognize as influenced from different musical points in my life. I think the jazz influence will touch at least a bit in almost everything we do as an instrumental and highly improvisational band.”
They have fun exploring on the spacey, funky “Orbital” and the album’s title track hits the ground running with ebullient saxophone playing and hard charging percussion. It sounds like something pouring out of a 70s era Detroit garage radio. But “Foster’s Flop” is just crazy, a playful personality with a thick middle that highlights the fun abandon of a band getting down.
“Crazy, indeed! That tune, much like “Adirondack Tea,” was a very composed tune. What I mean is that there are a lot of parts and everything more or less has to go that certain way each time we play it. I’d say these tunes, especially “Foster’s Flop” is more on the progressive side for us.”
Lively as the music is, its malleability is a benefit. Every night is a different place, LaBombard explained, and the band shapes their set, catering to the crowd and venue. But is the band one personality in the studio and another on stage performing?
“Yes, in that our tunes remain the same as far as the parts are still the parts, but no as far as there’s sections in almost every tune that is open for interpretation. This makes for a completely different show from night to night which keeps things fresh for the listener and for us.”
More with Mike LaBombard
How do you approach a venue? Do you select material with venue in mind or is the set list fluid?
LaBombard: Every night is a bit different. For instance, if we’re playing a place that is known as a big dance type crowd we’ll try and cater to that and come out really aggressive right off the top. Or, if we have more of a low key crowd in the beginning of the night we’ll keep it a bit on the softer side to settle into the night and then get progressively more aggressive and ‘danc-y’ as the night goes on.
Recording Unbreakable in Savannah, Georgia, did the area impact what you recorded?
LaBombard: When we recorded that record we were actually still located in Savannah. It was in the midst of post production that the relocation occurred. I definitely think the whole Deep South feel in Savannah added to some of the sounds we came up with that night. There’s a really great and interesting scene in Savannah that is unlike a lot of cities. It definitely has its own sound and tends to be a reflection of that super hot swampy vibe but at the same time keeps things a dance party.
Would you say “Bunot” represents the organic quality of the band?
LaBombard: I would absolutely agree that tune is a great reflection of the organic quality we have. What’s even more about that tune, and many of our songs at this point, it has grown in how we play it from night to night. The main form remains the same but we’ll explore the middle section in a very different way each night and it has become progressively more of a breakbeat disco dance type vibe lately.
The description as retro-future-funk seems like a nice way of stating “no labels please” for your music.
LaBombard: It was a combination of landing outside of genres while at the same time letting people know we pull from that old school funk vibe while striving for a new modern and futuristic sound. And of course, at the end of the day we like to keep it all funky.
How much of what the band does is organic versus coming to the table with written material ?
LaBombard: This is a tough question to answer. It can very much go either way. Sometimes someone will present a certain groove with one melody and another guy will try and match that up with. Other times an entire tune will be written all the way through and then presented as a finished product. Sometimes it will come from just jamming on a couple chords. No matter how it gets brought to the group it’s always open for interpretation and every member will have some kind of influence on the finished product.