Interview: Native Dancer
WORDS BY AIDAN DALY
Genre-busting five-piece Native Dancer have been regulars on the underground music scene in London for the past few years. They've carved out a niche and polished space for themselves by blending the powerful vocals of singer Frida Touray with interstellar synths and a deep, intricate rhythm section. We leapt at the chance to have a chat with them.
Last month saw the band’s debut vinyl release via Submit Records - their first two EPs grouped into one tasty package alongside remixes by Eric Lau and Slugabed. They’re currently working on their long-awaited debut album which will no doubt be a continuation of their unique sound, combining influences that span neo-soul, jazz and electronica.
Off the back of their vinyl release, we chatted with keys player Sam Crowe about their background and influences, their recent show at SXSW with Jazz Re:freshed and, of course, the new album.
First off, tell us a bit about how Native Dancer came into being.
It's hard to say really. We were all playing together in various situations already and just gravitated towards each other. There's always been a lot of deeply felt intuitions that we all share and a willingness or even a need to explore those intuitions with other people. Combined with a really varied taste in music. We've all been friends for years and hung out a lot listening to tons of different shit.
"We're just trying to be patient and as honest as possible in what we create ."
Native Dancer began life in 2013, in which time you’ve released an incredibly limited amount of music. The quality of the music speaks for itself, but do you ever feel the pressure to get more material out there?
We're working on new music for our first album at the moment. We're really grateful for the love we've had for the EPs and so grateful for the support we've had. Sometimes we feel pressured. The industry and social media makes you feel pressured. People's attention spans are very short and we've all been conditioned to want everything now and a constant flow of new stuff to hold our attention. We're just trying to be patient and as honest as possible in what we create and not let all that distract us. I think those are the records that stand the test of time. If we're not feeling it we're not gonna put it out cos we care about the people who will listen to our music. It is coming though promise!
You take your name from Wayne Shorter’s incredible 1974 album, featuring Brazilian musician Milton Nascimento. Did you take anything else from the album, aside from the name?
The band name is in part to do with our love for that record, and Wayne in general. It's not a direct lift though... Native Dancer is about the human experience. The Dancer part refers to an Alan Watts quote about life. He talks about our obsession with goals and arriving somewhere and how we so often neglect the moment we're in in our struggle to win the race. The point is not to race to the end but to dance! The 'Native' part speaks to inequality and a collective consciousness we must all strive for globally. We are one species. We are all Natives. The surface level differences we perceive in each other should be celebrated as the beautiful variations that Mother Nature produces, knowing that on a deeper level we are intricately connected.
A lot of your tunes are very complex, rhythmically and harmonically. What are your musical backgrounds? And how does this play into the creative process?
Our musical backgrounds are really varied but we all share a really deep connection with music. We've all done a lot of practice and a lot of listening. Hopefully any of the clever shit doesn't distract from the sentiment. The whole point for us is to convey a feeling and hopefully unify people with that feeling. That is the power of music. Clever stuff is fun but we try not to ever let it get in the way of what we're trying to say.
"We're the moody love-child of Beyoncè and Weather Report!"
The spirit of Jaco Pastorius is very much alive in bass work in ‘Love’, while ‘Big Blue’ features more than a hint of Erykah Badu. You’re clearly melding a lot of different styles together, but do you have any firm influences that you always come back to?
Frida always says we're the moody love-child of Beyoncè and Weather Report! Jaco and Erykah are obviously giants and have been huge inspirations. Between us there's a million things that have influenced us. How can anybody not be influenced by Biggie or by Debussy or by Miles or Hendrix or family or relationships, friends, parties... In the end though the goal is to go beyond style and genre and just be open enough to let it all funnel through you. Without judgement or categorisation just pure expression. That's the intention.
"What Jazz Re:Freshed have created in London over the last 15 years is nothing short of amazing."
You recently played SXSW for the first time, on the Jazz Re:freshed stage. How was the experience?
It was dope. Jazz Re:freshed are our family and they've supported us since day one which we're eternally grateful for. What they've created in London over the last 15 years is nothing short of amazing. All those guys have held down day jobs over the years and built up this movement in their spare time and it's so beautifully varied musically and so inclusive. There's so much love for them on the scene here and more and more, globally. For them to be able to bring their thing to SXSW was such a massive achievement and we're so honoured to have been involved.
UK jazz is booming at the amount, as indicated by its own stage at SXSW. Who are you most excited by at the moment?
There's tons of amazing people making music in the UK right now. Yussef Dayes is incredibly exciting. We're really excited by everything he's doing. Shabaka is obviously an absolute force of nature. We're also loving NAO so much...she's such a great performer and writer. Does that count? Are the jazz police listening?
What can you tell us about the upcoming debut album?
What I can tell you is that Miles James is producing the record with us. Anyone who knows Miles will know that that's an exciting prospect in itself! We're having an amazing experience making the record and working with this absolute heavyweight. We're recording a lot to tape and using a lot of vintage analogue gear. It's the most creative and experimental sonically we've been so far in our journey... We're really happy about the writing too. We've been crafting these songs for along time now. We're excited.
What have you all, or each, been listening to recently?
We've been listening to NoName a lot. Kendrick Lamar. Little Dragon. NAO. 60's Miles (an absolute constant). JamesZoo.
And finally, what does this summer have in store for you?
We're really trying to focus on the album. We're working on it constantly, but we do have a few exciting shows coming up including: Mostly Jazz in Birmingham 7/7, Afropunk Afterdark, Paris with Jazz Re:Freshed 15/7, and we're also playing in New York Aug 26th and 28th with Jazz Re:Freshed for Afropunk and our own show.
Pick up your copy of Native Dancer's debut vinyl release, EPs Vol. I & II, via Submit Records' Bandcamp