mardi 23 décembre 2014

Interview with Malted Milk and Toni Green (English edition)

(c) Benoit Boute

(c) Benoit Boute
Teaming up Malted Milk, one of the best soul music outfit in France, with Toni Green, a veteran singer from the Memphis scene, was probably the best musical idea this year in France. By far. The duet seems pretty excited by the cd recorded together. Here's an interview with Arnaud Fradin, guitar player for Malted Milk and Toni Green.

Mr Sebastian Danchin was an important part of the project. How would you describe his input regarding the making of the album ?
Arnaud Fradin (guitar/voice) : We were talking with our tour manager thinking about doing something different with Malted Milk and bring somebody else to the project. A vocalist. Some idea. Jean-Hervé, our tour manager, called Sebastian. They're good friends. Sebastian knows his way around Memphis, he went there several times to meet people. He had Toni in his mind for a long time. I think they met 15 years ago when he saw Toni on stage. Sebastian liked the band and send Toni a cd.

Toni Green : He gave me some Malted Milk cds before he left Memphis. 4 or 5. When i listenned i was fascinated because they were so talented. I hadn't heard that sound in a long time. Being from Memphis, the way we put music together passed with the musicians. Isaac Hayes, Willie Mitchell they were gone. And those were the people who could really put the music together. And make the hits for Stax records and Hi Recording. Giving me the cds Sebastian also gave me the opportunity to listen to something i wanted to hear for a long time. We couldn't get it in the studio because nobody knew how to put it together. Of all the cds i've done nobody knew how to do it, they were all gone to synthetized sounds.

AF : By the end of the eighties they've lost the way of recording.
TG : Everybody was dead...

It's somehow fascinating that this knowledge of music came back from a bunch of french guys...
AF (laughs).
TG : That's exactly my point. When i listenned to the cds. I can't even remember which one i put in because my girlfriend stole it (laughs) !

She has good taste !
TG (laughs) : Yeah, she said he's bad, meaning he's really good ! That was like WOW, BAM in my face ! If somebody really knew how to play this music... Don't get me wrong i've been to other places, countries and they were really good and talented. But that was really about knowing how to put that thing together. Sebastian knew something that Malted Milk and Toni Green together was fascinating. And that was the whole point.

Arnaud what was your first reaction when you've heard Toni's voice...
AF : Ah ah ! The first time was when i've listenned to her nineties cds. I didn't like the production, i guess they were on a budget. I just focussed on the voice and the songs and they were both perfect.

Malted Milk went from blues to more soulful music. Working with a singer like Toni was another step further?
AF : Yeah, sure. I used to work with other singers before. The first one to put me in a soul mood was, Carl W. Davis before that i was mostly playing blues. I met him in Nantes, he came for a festival. He was from Jacksonville which is Nantes's sister city. That was in 2001. We did a cd together in 2006. That was more soul. We wrote songs together. That was the first i paid more attention to a vocalist instead of a musician. That was another way of singing. After that i've discovered the Memphis scene, Al Green, O.V Wright, The Hi Records artists i was like WOW. I think of it as some sort of blues music. Syl Johnson, he's also coming from the blues but he did a lot of soul music sessions in Memphis or Muscle Shoals. Something is connecting blues and soul music. To me, a soul singer gave more emotions than blues. Songs, lyrics, power it's really close to gospel. It's a powerful music.

You're a singer yourself, was it hard to step back on that album ?
AF : No, no, no ! I had to put back a little. Usually i'm the lead singer on every song. I'm putting back but i'm connecting Toni to the band. That is my part. I still sing songs with Toni on stage. But she's got the main part. It's normal. We did a cd together as Milk and Green. So it's a 50/50 partnership. That is why it was important to me to have one song by myself on the cd and to sing with Toni on stage. We really did a cd together it's not Malted Milk featuring Toni Green. The energy i usually put in vocals, i put it on guitar this time. On stage when i sing and play guitar, i'm talking with Toni. When you're in the front row, as a singer, on stage you've got to face the crowd. It's really cool for me to focus on the band, talk to the other musicians for a change. I like it. I'm learning a lot just listenning to Toni. It's different from what i usually do and that is why i like it.

Toni, how meaningful is the song « I'd really like to know » to you ?
TG : Actually, in the beginning, i was fear for love it. Because it has so many things. I was afraid because i didn't knew how it would be received. But i was very proud that the song was written by Tommy Tate, one of my dear friends. One of the best vocalist ever. To just approach it was really exciting to me. I was really honored, to make sure that his family legacy goes on. On another level i was a little timid about it. The audience response had been outstanding so far. Malted Milk has recreated what Tommy laid down. He really would be proud. They took it to the next step.

AF : The song laid down by Tommy Tate was a demo. The lyrics came from another time. People won't imagine the song was written right now.

TG : At that time there was a struggle at Stax, at Hi Records, in Memphis, in America about race, identity, knowing who you are. In your job, in your daily life... Who Am I ? Can i really handle this power that was given to me ?

Do you think that struggle is still going on, nowadays ?
TG : Things didn't change for the African-American people nowadays. The song is not about the past, it's also about the future. On the musical stand point, I think that for the first time in over 40 or 50 years awarness has resurfaced. Now the music have a basic fondation. Not doing all the other silly things. Going back to the basic of it. That's what is happening now. The world is evolving to that point. As a female i'm like the rough edge of Rn'B. I'm not like the normal girl. I hear different things because i grew up with jazz, gospel. He (Tommy Tate) got that fever, he knew who i was. Me stepping out, i was little timid about it.

Tell me a few words about « That wiggle » which was also on Malted Milk's live album...
AF : Syl Johnson is one of my favourite singer because he crossed over blues and funk and soul. We played the song live, we wanted to do a studio version. Everytime we put out a cd, we have to cover a Syl Johnson song. It's like that ! There is some notes of Albert King on the guitar. I like it, it's the core of the stax records sound. We have different influences, even on production terms. Hi Records and Stax Records are two different sounds. We like to use both. The reverb is coming from Stax. But we also like thing that are more « dry », harder. Take « The weather is still fine » for instance. In the beginning i thought we should not have some reverb on the voice. We add some to make the voice sound bigger. But not that much. Because we try to find the good mix on each song. We take ingredients from everywhere.

So Toni, a few words about Europe. How do you find the audiences to be like ?
TG : Very exciting, very overwhelming, very appreciative. I think the audiences here have more historical factor about what music is all about. They embrace it a little bit more. They have been so supportive ! The place we've gone this week end, it was like WOW, they have been right there for us. It's been exciting for me.

Is it different from back home ?
TG : Very different. Because back home, which is good to me now, back home was good to learn what to do on stage. You've got to learn, you've got to have a forum to work on, to build on. That was my forum to prepare me for overseas and Europe.

Half of the songs on the album are originals. How did you wrote it together ?
AF : There was different steps. I wrote few songs by myself, keeping in mind the fact that the songs will be sung by Toni. We've made some demos with a friend of mine, a female singer, to show Toni what i had in mind for melodies. It was very open. We could have change everything. Do anything with that. The songs did change little by little. And we spent some time with Sebastian, listenning to the demos and make choices for the songs. In january we had our first rehersal together and we put all the material we got, just to try and see what was going on. It lasted 5 days it was very spontaneous. We had a gig at the end. There was two kinds of songs. Songs that i wrote and we finished together, with an input from Sebastian and Toni on words, to make it sound more Afro-American. And there was the covers. « Party girl » was written long ago. I had it somewhere and found it back. Toni just found lyrics on the spot. That was the same thing for « Just call me ».

TG : They revamp it. It's like when your Grandma is about to bake a cake. She puts a mixture of everything in the pot. From the old tapes and from the new tapes. And that's what we did. When we came up with everything, in the end it was like WOW a brand new sound. The freshness of it, that was very good. Their lyrics writing, my lyrics writing we put it all together in the pot. And make a cake out of it.

Toni you've changed the words to make them sounds more from the streets ?
TG : More from reality. The frame, the connotation of the songs. Instead of making them so upthere in the sky i wanted to bring them back down. So you and me can understand what it was all about.

Is that album the beginning of a side project or is it just a one time thing ?
AF : We don't know that yet. We don't know what's going to happen, how long we're gonna tour... In France it could last for a year in a half, but if we go to other countries it might last longer. The fact that Toni is here right now is pushing up the project to the next level.
TG : It is gonna depend on you guys (laughs)!
AF : I don't know what the next album will be : Malted Milk or Milk and Green ? I hope we'll share a lot with all kind of audiences in Europe. A few distributors in other countries like England are really interested in the project. We did things with Malted Milk before but this is a bigger scale. We hope it's gonna be something big and helpful for us.

Did working with singers like Toni put some extra pressure on the band ?
AF : Not so much. The pressure didn't came from Toni. But there is a lot of expectations from different people working with us, like the tour manager, and from people who put some money in the project. They like the cd, so it's exciting for us and really cool, even perfect. But we do feel we have to step up but it's really nice and cool.

Like a good challenge ?
TG : It really is a challenge. Because in the very beginning they didn't really know me and i didn't know them. We established ourselves but we didn't know what it's gonna be about. We knew who we were individually. But when we got together they looked at me and i looked back at them and then we said : « ok let's see what this is going to be » ! All the sudden it was like a chemistry. When we got on the stage it was like WOW and after that in the studio. It was like something that hadn't been felt in the long time. And on stage it's even more magical because we worked it out. If something wasn't there we put it there or under ! That's what is missing in the industry now with everything being so mechanical. I'm pretty excited about what's going on so far. I'm just waiting to hit somebody (laughs) ! I'm kidding they're great guys, they behave. They believe in the project and you feel you can do great things.
AF : All this guys working with us, have the same passion as us for this music. Sebastian was here like an angel. He gave us the time to let us do what we wanted to do. He was confindent with the music. He was aware that we knew this music and how to play it.

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