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2023 so far has been a vintage year for soul albums. Lovers/collectors of quality contemporary soul have been treated to wonderful sets from Paulette Mc Williams, Joe Leavy and Bobby Harden. Now joining that class of ’23 elite we can add OUTPUT/INPUT. Their recent ‘Forward Motion’ long player has been both critically acclaimed and it’s found real commercial success – proudly sitting atop all the credible soul charts. The band are marshalled by Chaka Khan’s MD and stellar bassist, MELVIN LEE DAVIS (above) and though he’s a busy man – always either on the road or in the studio – he kindly took out a little time to speak to us. We began in the logical place – wanting to know how the band came together….

I decided to put together a new band during the various lockdowns, that was 2020. I’d been working with Chaka Khan up till then and so linked up with saxman Jacob Shaw of the Triple H Horns who had also been working with her on the 2019 tour. We then contacted the drummer in Chaka’s band, Jay Williams and it kind of took off from there!

What kind of sound were you hoping for?

The sound was always intended as a contemporary take on classic 70’s and 80’s Soul R&B.

And what about the name… where did the name OUTPUT/INPUT come from?

It’s music studio terminology … output, input – commonly found on mixing desks, amplifiers and so on!

OK – tell us about backgrounds of both yourself  and some of the other key band members…

Right now I’m Chaka Khan’s bassist and MD. I’m also bassist for Lee Ritenour’s touring band and in the past, I’ve produced four O’Bryan albums for Capitol … that was between 1982-86. As we said  our drummer Jay Williams is also Chaka Khan’s drummer. The Triple H Horn are  Jacob Shaw, Nick Mead and Patrick Hayes: (below) they’re well-known and in-demand session players who’ve worked right across the board with people like Christina Aguilera, Chaka Khan (that’s how we met up!)  and most recently, Olly Murs.

I believe that you recorded the music remotely –  what was good and what was bad about that process?

Well, it was good that parts could be recorded during a time where it was impossible to be in a room together because of COVID and musicians being on 3 different continents and many different time zones. Adjustments and different ideas could be made fairly rapidly as everybody in the band has their own studio setup. Obviously, it would be better if the recording process took place in the same room – that is definitely an ambition of ours, maybe for the second album, but the results of working this way have still been great for us.

And how did you piece the album together – I mean you’ve not included previous singles ‘Soul Deep’ or ‘Eye To Eye’ yet included all the other singles….

‘Forward Motion’ features nine new original songs all sung by Antonio McLendon; ‘Soul Deep’ featured Hamish Stuart and ‘Eye To Eye’ is a Chaka Khan song, both of these covers are 2-3 years old at this point, so not necessarily representative of how we sound now. Tthey didn’t quite fit in with the sound of the rest of the record. We still love those tracks and think they are strong enough to stand on their own. The Isleys’ ‘Here We Go Again’ was included as it is the most recent, and also as it had an incredible reception from fans and DJs and was a real turning point for the band. It’s definitely a fan favourite.‘Doin’ Alright’ isn’t really a cover, it’s a re-recording featuring original artist O’Bryan himself on vocals. I co-wrote that one and produced the original way back in 1982.

Antonio McLendon (pictured) fronts nine (I think) of the 11 tracks – where did you find him?

Antonio is a great singer. He’s known as “the best kept secret in Soul Music’  and we met him through main songwriters Mark Love and Noval Smith.

Back to the album now, there are two non-original songs on the LP. Why did you choose the Isley Brothers’ ‘Here We Go Again’?

Well, it’s just a great song… and it was the most recent cover of ours. It had a lot of exposure when released as a 7” single on Expansion last year… so it had to be included!

Then there’s O’Bryan’s ‘Doin Alright’ – tell us about that one – how did you get the man himself to take part?

As we said, O’Bryan’s ‘Doin Alright’ isn’t really a cover, per se, it’s a re-recording featuring  O’Bryan himself. And as you know I co-wrote and produced the original so when we came to cut it I  just called him and he thought it was a great idea!

What other tracks are you particularly proud of….

All of them! UK Radio has been playing ‘Smilin’ Faces’ (spun by Tony Blackburn three times on three separate BBC networks in one day, last Sunday), ‘Someone I Used To Know’, ‘Time Of Our Lives’, ‘I’m In Love’ and ‘Doin’ Alright’. The CD bonus track ‘Every Time You Touch Me’ is currently getting some serious airplay right now… Jazz FM, Solar, Mi-Soul, Delite, Starpoint, BCFm have us on rotation, we went to No.1 on the UK Soul Chart last week, and on the BCFm chart this Sunday. More to come I think… and hope!

The album’s been universally praised in Europe –  your reaction? Were you expecting such a response and how is it faring in the US?

The response has been phenomenal everywhere, we are blown away by how well it has been received. I know we are getting airplay in France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and as far away as Brazil, Australia and Japan. US radio is very different, there are lots of syndicated UK soul shows broadcast there, but we are slowly but surely making inroads in the US and Canada.

So, one great album – how do you follow that?

With another one!!! We’re ready to go and hope to be recording new music very soon. It won’t be three years until the next album, that’s for sure. More singles in the pipeline for this year, beyond that, who knows ? Anything can happen !

Where can we learn more?

Easy … … twitter : @outputinputband

OUTPUT/INPUT’S ‘Forward Motion’ is out now. Full review @