Named for an overstuffed Nawlins sandwich drenched in flavor and seasonings, the Soggy Po’ Boys are determined to bring the spunk and funk of ridiculously fun early-South music to wherever there are music lovers! Their latest foray is to the almost tippy-top of the US, to Maine, where on November 3, they will pay a rip-roaring tribute in a fascinating lecture-performance devoted to the music of the lovingly dubbed Professor Longhair. (For deets on the event click here.)
The group’s latest CD “Smoke” evokes the long-gone days of the smoke-filled jazz club with all its grit, screams of laughter and bourbon-soaked outbursts. Tracks include “Yeah Alright OK” where even if you were tied down, you’d bust out in dance (the most fun part is the chorus’s shouts of biting sarcasm: “Yeah Alright OK!!”) and “Answers for Sale” with its rich, minor-key edginess.
True pros…not only is their tight teamwork which is evident from first listen, but the tonal quality of each instrumentalist which is completely stunning. It’s pure joy to hear every one of them totally break loose and solo which, fortunately, is done in abundance.
The Soggy Po’ Boys explode with a fantastically fat sound, leaving nothing on the table: sassy attitude pours out of their instruments and right smack into your face. The po’ boy sandwich might be a cardiac nightmare, but this music is a cardio workout with all the ebullience and spirit that’s the stuff of life. Eat up.
First, that name. Please explain?
Zach: The idea is that had we transplanted the sandwich of New Orleans to New England as we did the music, it was sure to get soggy.
What is it about the spirit of your music that moves you?
Stu: To me, it is the interactivity of it all. We play jazz music from an era when jazz and pop were the same thing. It is designed to engage and move a listener and because of that, there is a relatively low barrier to enjoyment. It isn’t particularly complicated or esoteric, so we can really be expressive in our delivery of it.
Zach: I find this music to be charming and earnest. It’s sure to put a smile on your face. As a performer, the improvised nature of it keeps it fresh and always a new thing to explore.
How did you all meet?
Zach: Some of us grew up together, some of us met in college; but we all had played music with each other in some form or another prior to coagulating as this ensemble.
Is this style of music in demand?
Zach: I think it’s a great gateway for the audience into improvised music. We often hear “I didn’t think I liked jazz.” The buoyancy of spirit in this music makes it pre-approved, and listeners respond.
Stu: I believe that it is the opposite of esoteric. I think jazz has become a very loaded term these days. The perception of it seems to be “you need to be smart and you need to have studied music in order to understand it.” For the music we play, that couldn’t be further from the truth. When we play, it is visceral and because of that, an audience member who came in expecting “jazz” might be surprised. I think that it is a little difficult to find a good band that plays traditional jazz honestly and without it being a shtick. I feel proud that the Po’ Boys presents this music honestly and without bow ties and monocles and suspenders and straw hats.
What are your favorite small clubs in the Northeast?
Zach: Blue in Portland, ME is a great listening room, they bring in amazing music. Also our home stage at Sonny’s Tavern in Dover, NH where we play every Tuesday, which is such a comfortable spot. The Dance Hall in Kittery, ME is also one of favorite venues.
What do you hope for in an audience?
Zach: I hope an audience feels at ease and compelled to move; after they go home I hope the music struck something within them and they want to investigate the rich tradition of the genre.
Stu: I hope that they walk away thinking: “I didn’t think I could sweat to jazz.” I want an audience to enjoy the breadth of our music and realize that it isn’t just swing music. It is blues, gospel, calypso, funk, and a several other styles of music in one handy and (relatively) compact little band.
How do you all mesh together so cosmically?
Stu: We are friends who care about each other. We would spend time together if we didn’t play music together. That is why we are passionate about and connected to what we are doing.
Zach: Even shorter answer: We like each other and recognize each other’s strengths.
Is it fun to play or are you in a deep, contemplative place when you perform?
Stu: It is the most fun you can have on four legs! I love the feeling of walking away from a show thinking “I gave it all away.” I love walking away from a show knowing there are surely people who could have played the music better than us in a technical sense, but very few can match our honesty and fervor.
Zach: You know that feeling when you are riffing on a joke with your friends? It’s kind of like that. It takes playing off each other and presence of mind, but it’s got to be fun!
How many people usually will get up and dance at your gigs?
Zach: My favorite is when people who would have otherwise no business dancing in public get up and feel like moving.
How do you keep the music fresh? Related: talk about some of your favorite original compositions.
Zach: Definitely writing and developing original material, a song like “Birdseye” (off the new album) came in to our regular Tuesday night gig and evolved week to week (in rhythmic feel, in harmonic content) until it is polished. It’s kind of like playing Marco Polo with a piece of art.
Stu: I believe the acknowledgment that this music is traditional doesn’t mean that the canon is fixed. I love writing music in this style. My favorite original compositions are “Would I Lie to You?,” “So Simple,” “Carmona A.D.” and “I Hardly Know Her” – each one highlights an element of us that is very unique be it humor, loss, love, joy.
Name one strong attribute of each member of your band.
Stu: Brett Gallo: Rock Solid. Efficiency enthusiast and overall process-improver.
Eric Klaxton: A thoughtful and exceptionally hard-working individual with an unwavering sense of duty.
Zach Lange: The most charismatic member of the band by far. He has an innate ability to read a situation and respond in the correct way.
Mike Effenberger: The most musically gifted individual I’ve ever encountered on planet Earth. Also one of the kindest.
Nick Mainella: Doesn’t get wound up about silly things. He has the ability to let things roll off him… I wish the world had more of that. He is a thoughtful and helpful person who picks up slack when it is needed.
Scott Kiefner: A funny, beautiful, sweet animal lover just absolutely tears it up musically. He is very difficult to faze and his level of calm is eerie.
Zach: The tie that binds is definitely sense of humor about ourselves and each other.
What was it like to produce and record “Smoke”?
Zach: We brought up the very talented Lu Rojas up from New Orleans to produce “Smoke.” His presence had a calming effect on the band and his ethos helped us capture a strong performance, rather than to capture a “perfect” execution of a take.
Stu: I absolutely agree. In terms of process, having outside help did wonders. Lu did an outstanding job. He kept us out of our own heads and out of each other’s.
What track do you think is the most outstanding and why?
Zach: “I Hardly Know Her” – I think the lyrical content matches the visceral emotion. It’s a great collaboration of pianist Mike Effenberger’s writing and vocalist Stu Dias’s lyrics.
Stu: Very hard to choose. Gun to my head, I’d have to say “So Simple.” I think it conveys a lot of information very quickly and in a way that allows the listener to map their own emotions and life stories onto it.
Will you tour for this CD?
Zach: We have! We went down the East Coast this June and will continue to put it in front of audiences in the New England area!
Festival or concert you have always wanted to play?
Zach: The Newport Jazz festival would be awesome, it has such a storied history and is in our backyard.
Stu: I would love to play festivals in Europe in general. Besides that, I honestly just want to bring this music to people who have an appetite for it!
Plans for the rest of 2018?
Zach: Start the writing process again. We have plenty of performances coming up to start refining new original music in addition to the huge catalog this tradition has.
Stu: 1. Become more kind and considerate people.
- Shave my back.
- Develop prosthetic reindeer antlers that can be attached to a cat.
- Write and develop new music and continue to add to our catalog and organizational structure.
Zach: Listen to the new album! We’re super proud of it and would love for it to be in everyone’s ears!
Stu: We put a lot of thought and emotion into this record. It’ll make you dance for sure, but there is more to be gained from it than that. The content reflects a group of men entering a new phase of life. We have loved and lost and lived quite a bit in the time since the last record and the content of this record reflects that.
For more information, visit www.soggypoboys.com/band.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of Soggy Po’ Boys.
(c) Debbie Burke 2018