Without doubt one of the truest “SOUL” albums of 2015 so far has been ‘The Tin Man’ from AARON PARNELL BROWN. The complex but concise nine tracker has won the hearts of underground soul lovers since UK soul scribe Toby Walker (see www.soulwalking.co.uk) discovered the self-released album earlier in the year. With regular plays on Jazz FM, the lead track ‘Just Leave’ has drawn comparison with Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway and because of the buzz on Aaron, Ralph Tee (who knows a thing or two about proper soul) has stepped in and signed the album for exclusive release on his Expansion Records so that everyone can now have the opportunity to enjoy the subtle soul gem. With the release scheduled from July 24th, what better time to learn a bit more about Mr. Brown…. so here we go, an exclusive interview with soul’s newest star and, as ever, we start with some background….
I grew up for my first eleven years or so in Philadelphia where much of my family is from. While in elementary school I started playing music on the flute. After moving to South Carolina in middle school I transferred to the trumpet which I really loved. I really fell in love with jazz and soul music when I started playing the trumpet. My Dad was a big soul and jazz lover and he introduced me to jazz greats such as Clifford Brown (from nearby Wilmington, DE), John Coltrane (who lived in Philly for awhile), and, of course, Miles Davis. He also introduced me to all the soul music he loved from the 70’s such as the great Philly acts – The Stylistics, The Delfonics, Teddy Pendergrass, and Blue Magic – as well as other great soul acts such as Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, New Birth, and Enchantment. In high school I had a bad basketball accident where I got hit in the mouth and wasn’t able to play the trumpet well after that – which lead me to picking up the guitar and singing. I never really thought I had a great voice, but I just loved to sing because in many ways I thought it was similar to playing the trumpet with regards to finding and singing great melodic lines. I guess my ambitions growing up were to play professional basketball or baseball. I loved both sports, especially basketball, and worked tirelessly to make that happen, but unfortunately I just wasn’t good enough. Growing up music, was more of just something I really enjoyed doing. I played music all the time just because it really made me feel great, not because I wanted to be a superstar or anything.
OK … so what about your musical influences…. who are your heroes?
My primary singing influences are Stevie Wonder (his tone, range, and control), Donny Hathaway (his tone and emotion), Frank Sinatra (his phrasing), Prince (his style), Nina Simone (all that emotion!), and Mick Jagger (what a horrible singer, but I just can’t get enough of his style).
When did you to decide to make Music a career choice? Was it a difficult decision?
I’m still deciding to make music a career choice!!! Really, I just love making music and love performing for audiences so I’m trying to keep my decision-making as simple as that when it comes to my future in the music business. It’s really tough to make a living in this business and I’m really only in the beginning of that, so to not be discouraged I always come back to the question of – “do you like playing music? Yes” “do you enjoy performing music? Yes” well then don’t think about it, just do it as much as you can till you can’t do it anymore.
What were your first professional music experiences?
My first professional music experiences were in a band called Alien Red. We played a mix of soul, blues, rock, punk, country, and just about everything else too. We played lots of gigs to great crowds, empty rooms, and all other kinds of audiences. It was there were I really got a chance to see and feel if a career in music was for me. We’d drive 4 or 5 hours to play a show and get paid in fries and cigarettes (or not get paid at all!) and then we’d drive home unpack all of our gear and then I’d go into work the next day. That experience was pretty rough, but while it was happening it never ever felt like work which opened my eyes to what I want to do in life. One story that was pretty funny was when we had our first gig in New York City and we were so excited. It was in the financial district at a crappy little bar and were so excited to play the show, but in the middle of our second song the owner stops us and asks us if more people were coming to the show, because there was no one there, and we said no. Then he says “this isn’t a practice space” and just kicks us out the bar in the middle of the song – and this is after we drove 3 hours to get there!
What about your first recordings?
With Alien Red, I was still learning how to write songs, play guitar, and perform in front of an audience so we did a lot of experimenting with just about everything which you can hear in the music we made. We definitely hit a lot of highpoints, but also were still figuring things out when things ended. My first solo album was called ‘Sing’. The main goal was just to make music that I like and also to get on the famous radio station in Philadelphia called WXPN. I ended up accomplishing both of these goals and much more. The main difference musically between ‘Sing’ and ‘The Tin Man’ are the expectations that I had going into the studio for each album. With Sing I just had simple expectations, but with ‘The Tin Man’ I really wanted to make an album that would reach audiences in a positive way well beyond Philadelphia. Musically I wanted it to be more stylistically cohesive and just ultimately more soulful.
Tell us more about that first album… you called yourself Aaron and the Spell didn’t you?
With my first album I had little expectations for it. I just wanted to make something that I enjoyed, that might have the chance for other people to like it to. This being said, I just picked “Aaron & The Spell” simply because I liked it and potentially thought that project might lead to becoming a proper band in the future and not just be a solo project.
Did the album enjoy any kind of success?
Yes, the album was pretty successful locally in Philadelphia. Not so much internationally or nationally, but I really was very happy with the amount of local success I received.
Take us from there to ‘The Tin Man’…
‘The Tin Man’ was recorded last summer with producer Matt Pierson. I first got in touch with him through the manager I had at that time. He ended up coming to one of my shows in New York City at Rockwood Music Hall and he really liked my music. We chatted for quite awhile and found we had many of the same musical interests in soul and jazz and eventually we decided to do an album together. As a producer Matt is very laid back yet he knows musically where everything should go and he firmly but gently guides everyone to the right spot. What I learned most from working with him is that you need to have a clear idea of the sound and feel of the album before going into record a project and once you begin the project you filter all decisions through your initial idea of what you want it to be in the end. By doing this, you can eliminate ideas, even if they are interesting, but you don’t have to wonder if you are doing the right thing or not because you’ve already set a course for the project in the beginning. I also learned from him that the more talented musicians you work with, the less you have to instruct because if the musicians you work with are very talented more than likely they will not only play the “right thing” but they will probably play an even better version of the “right thing” that you didn’t think of.
Why the title…. is it a reference To the Wizard of Oz… Do you know the America song of that name (also covered by soul man John Edwards)?
No, I don’t know the America song…. but the title ‘The Tin Man’ refers to all the changes that have come to my life over the last several years such as falling in love, pursuing a full time music career, and conquering personal challenges. As in the Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man found that he always had a heart, but it was just rusty…through the success of my last album, I’ve found where I need to be. I was lost in many ways, but now I’ve found the love and purpose in my life to give my music greater
The album’s big tune is ‘Just Leave’ … what can you tell us about that… some have compared it to a Marvin Gaye sound…. what would you say?
When I wrote “Just Leave” with my buddy and bandmate Adam Zielinski about a year ago, I was just so excited about its potential to be like one of those great 70’s soul songs that just instantly draws you in with a cool intro, a really killer groove, and very colorful chord changes that help the listener feel what’s going on in the content of the song. 70’s Stevie Wonder was the main influence on the recording of the song. In fact, at Strange Weather recording studio in Brooklyn where the song was tracked Daniel, the owner and engineer, asked me before setting up the mics “What are you going for?” and I immediately told him “1974 Stevie Wonder” to which he responded “awesome.” The lyrics for the song were inspired by the lyrics of many of Nina Simone’s songs where they depict life as much more complicated and nuanced than just in black and white/right or wrong (i.e. “Don’t Explain,” “Don’t Smoke in Bed,” & “Either Way I Lose”). I’m very interested in exploring the “grey” in life because to me it’s much closer to the truth of how life really is. So, that’s how I approached this song where someone is in a committed relationship and has a family, but at one time was unfaithful to their partner and now they realize their mistake, but their former object of affection just won’t let them get on with being the good person they think they could be. To complicate things a bit further, the person in the relationship is physically obsessed with this other person and knows enough about themselves to realize that they can’t end this by themselves and basically begs the other person to leave them alone, hence “Just Leave.”
There are some covers too… tell us about them … why choose them? How have you made them different?
Well, I wanted to include covers on this album for the first time in my career to just really try something new. The Elton John song ‘We All Fall In Love Sometimes’ was suggested by Matt Pierson and I immediately said yes. I knew the song very well before he suggested it because it was one of my favorite Jeff Buckley songs. I confess, I actually didn’t even know ‘We All Fall In Love Sometimes’ was an Elton John song before that, but the Jeff Buckley version always really touched my heart every time I heard it and the approach we took was similar to how Donny Hathaway approached covering Blood, Sweat, and Tears songs. With ‘Everlasting Light’, I’m a big Black Keys fan and I was just listening to them one day when it the song came on and the idea struck me that I could strip away a lot of the extra stuff and make it a simple gospel inspired tune that would hopefully take the listener directly to the emotional sentiment in the lyric.
Since the release a lot has happened….. Tell us more
Well, I’ve got to chat with a lot of great fans, DJs, Music Writers, and a bunch of other people from around the world (Japan, Germany, Australia, UK, Netherlands, France and many more places). That really has been very exciting for me to chat with all these folks about my music. I’m also in the process of planning both a US tour and a UK/Europe Tour for the fall. I’ve never toured Europe so that is very exciting for me… and most importantly, of course, I’ve now got the deal with Ralph Tee’s Expansion.
So where are you at right now…. and what about the immediate future….
Right now I’m really committed to taking my music on the road to play for as many people as possible both solo and with a band. In addition, I’ve already begun to write for my next album.
Where would you like to be in, say five years time?
Regularly touring the world behind at least 2 new albums and meeting many new fans along the way! Also, I’d really like to win a Grammy (or two)!
AARON PARNELL BROWN’S ‘THE TIN MAN’ is released on Expansion Records on July 24th…… find a full review in our reviews archive……