(Photo by Rick Phipps)
There are not many better jobs in the world then being a musician. The great thing about being a committed musician is the freedom of expression. That freedom that allows a true artist to express their talent, their instincts and no employer in the world can take that away because it is very personal and pure, therefore uncompromisable.
Tal Bergman belongs, without any shadow of a doubt, to this very special and selected group of artists. Both as a drummer and as a producer, Bergman likes every time to put 110 per cent of himself into his music projects. He is totally devoted and committed to the music cause and its values. His understanding and knowledge of music reaches many different genres, which Bergman manages to combine beautifully with the help of fellow musicians like Joe Bonamassa, Ron DeJesus, Mike Merritt, Renato Neto and Daniel Sadownick. This stellar cast, together with Bergman, forms the Rock Candy Funk Party, an instrumental supergroup now on their second album, called Groove Is King, recently reviewed on our website.
Bergman has kindly accepted to talk to Bluebird Reviews about Groove Is King and his philosophy about music and life in general.
BBR - Tal, welcome to Bluebird Reviews and many congratulations to you and the whole Rock Candy Funk Party for such a stunning record. Considering that you have been intensively live touring in the last 36 months or so, how long did it take to pre-plan the tracks that ended up on Groove Is King?
TB - It took a lot of manoeuvring and we had really short time to make it. The way we approached this record was that we were not going to the studio to record until I had a concept for the whole album in my mind. Once I had the concept clear in my head, then I discussed it with the band, to be sure they were all on board with that and fortunately they all were. Even when I was on the road, I had a little portable studio built in my PC, so every time I was coming up with new ideas, bass lines and interesting grooves, I could keep them with me and work on them. Ron (DeJesus) and Mike (Merritt) did the same, Joe (Bonamassa) had some ideas too and so did Renato (Neto). We had to plan when we had time available, so each of us could get together and cut all the live rhytm sections. I wanted to maintain the same freshness of sound and music essence that we had on our first album (We Want O' Groove). On top of that, whilst each of us brought their own ideas in for the album, we still managed to write new stuff for the record collectively, as we did on our first record, but this time with the understanding I was going to overdub some of the material. All the parts recorded were very well executed and sounding solid and it was a joy to work with my imagination on those perfectly executed parts. Once I finished all the main tracking of the stuff we recorded, I went through the overdubs part, then I sent to Randy Brecker and his wife Ada (Rovatti) the rhythm section tracks and Randy and Ada did the horns arrangements. The process in recording the album took its time, but we made it. I treated the record almost like it was a pop record, with a lot of details on the production side, ensuring that every note was the right one, though still maintaining the feeling and vibes of a live band within the whole production. A lot of work to be done but a lot of fun at the same time.
BBR - The album works so well on many different levels, due to the fact that every single musician, play a vital part in the structure of every track. At which point did you decide to amp up the album's sound by having a horn session recording with you?
TB - That was pre-planned long before we went to the studio. It was something I wanted to do all along, before starting the recording process.
BBR - The modernised cover version of Rock Candy by Brother Jack McDuff is one of the many stand-out tracks on the record and almost an inevitable choice for you, given the band's name. Considering how well the album has been received worldwide in many different charts, including the jazz ones, are you pondering whether, on future albums, we may find more jazz contaminated tunes?
TB - I am sure about it. The reason is that, in my mind, everything that we play, as a band, is always a bit jazzy, because all in all, that is where we came from. Jazz, for me, is such a big word that, every time we get to improvise on a track, we all know we are creating jazz in that moment. I don't take too much notice of how some people may call what we play, when we improvise on a live tune, because myself and the boys know that is fundamentally jazz. Raw sound, no trickeries, it is just us playing and feeling the vibes. We know that, what we are doing in that moment, is the essence of our music belief, as a band and it will always be. That is why we let our musical flow go. And if such flow is good enough for everyone in the band to be recorded on an album, so be it. We all hope that the album is going to sell well. If it does, we are all utterly pleased and not just for economic reasons but also because it demonstrates that people respect what we are, as musicians. Fundamentally, for us, to make an album like this, is a labour of love. The most fascinating part of our band is that we all come from different parts of the world. We all bring in our experiences, background and music knowledge. You cannot have a better definition of being a world music band than what we are and what we try to achieve, in musical terms.
BBR - Now, please, tell us a secret; who had the idea of including Billy Gibbons as a royal MC on Groove Is King?
TB - One day I was sitting with Joe (Bonamassa) and he came up with the idea of having somebody doing some sort of MC intros and segues on the album. I was very keen on the idea and I said: "Let's do it". I then asked Joe who would be his favourite artist playing that role and Joe said: "Well, why we don't call Billy Gibbons?". So I gave him a ring and ask if he could make it and to be in the studio on the following day and he immediately said: "Sure!". I knew some people connected to him and it was a fortunate coincidence he was able to make it to the studio, that day. He was totally supportive of our music and he enjoyed doing the MC part. At first, we thought not to mention Billy on the album notes, because we wanted to surprise our fans. Then we thought: "What the heck, let's reveal it, it might be a further boost to the album". Which I am sure, it proved to be as such. Just between you and I, I didn't ask Billy to do any guitar part because we had already enough guitarists in the band (Bonamassa and DeJesus) and I didn't want to offend anyone! (chuckles)
BBR - Tal, in your splendid career you have been and still are sometimes a producer for other artists and mostly an incredibly talented drummer. When the time comes to combine together those two aspects, as for the case of the Rock Candy Funk Party project, how tricky it becomes to mix the flair and power of improvisation of a musician with the methodical approach of a producer?
TB - It is not easy but I have gotta tell you, for a drummer, it becomes very natural to be a producer too. I am able to have the whole concept of an album in my head, due to the nature of my work as a drummer and, even if I am in the same room with other musicians playing, I am immediately able to tell whether, what we are playing in that moment, is going to the wrong or the right direction. I certainly don't find the two roles conflictual in any way with one another and, as I was saying before, doing what I do as a drummer allows me to be able to spot whether the construction of a tune is going where it should or it is not. I guess that, developing such skills, is part of what I am as a musician and my total commitment to music.
BBR - Has If Six Was Eight been created as an impromptu in the studio, simply by trading licks with Daniel Sadownick or was that something you deliberately wanted to add to the album, as an extra spice to this wonderful music dish that is Groove Is King?
TB - This track is totally live and it was entirely improvised by myself and Daniel, sitting in a room, from beginning to end. There are no overdubs whatsoever on the tune. We had no idea what we were going to do. We just started playing and it just happened. Danny was even playing with his feet, at some point, while we were dueting on the track, which was amazing. I wanted very strongly to have that track on the album because of its rawness and the fact there was no pre-planning at all. I then took my part and Danny's part, separate them and then mix them together into two stereo tracks in my hotel room one night that I was on tour. If you listen very carefully to the tune with an earphone, you will note the stereo effect of myself playing on one side of your earphone and Danny on the other. All the effects you can hear on If Six Was Eight are solely coming from the drumming and the percussions, nothing else. There are all different effects coming in and out that I combined, a bit like a DJ. I wanted to do something that sounds very primitive, from a sonic side but applying such sounds, at the same time, in the modern era by using sound design. Which comes, by the way, by the rhytm itself of what we play. I like the idea of using tecnology to amplify the natural beauty of sounds created by musicians, rather than letting tecnology using me, from a musical prospect.
BBR - Of all the possible covers one would expect on a Rock Candy Funk Party album, Peter Gabriel's Digging In The Dirt took me and surely many listeners pleasantly by surprise. Was there any particular reason behind choosing to cover this song?
TB - Joe (Bonamassa) mentioned this song to me some time ago and I remembered that song having a fabulous groove. And it has some nice funky elements too. The problem we had was, how we were going to take a Peter Gabriel's song, with such amazing production and do justice to it in our way? You can imagine that, for an instrumental band, it was quite a task, especially by trying not to be too cheesy. We started from a strong foundation of drums and bass to make it nicely funky. When it came to the point of creating the structure of the melody, with Joe we decided to use an electric guitar and then doubling it with an acoustic one. Ron was great as always in working with Joe on the guitar parts, Renato (Neto) made an excellent job on the keys and Fred (Kron) took great care of the orchestration. To do the vocals, I called my friend Zia in Norway and, in order to create that incredible effect while she is singing, we did with Zia 30 tracks of vocals to create that magic sound on the tune. I gave Zia total freedom on how to arrange it in the way she thought was best. So, those incredible vocals you can hear on the tune, are all due to her phenomenal ability and musical skills. Randy Brecker once again did a magnificent job on horns too. To top this great team effort, Yossi, our producer, made the whole ensemble sound as funky as ever, which was the best result we could hope for.
BBR - The album is a true kaleidoscope that changes faces and colors so many times and constitutes, in my opinion the fun part of the whole album. How much does this album and the band musical concept in general, reflect your personality and your experiences, as a musician?
TB - It reflects a lot of who I am, although I feel that my music range is even wider of what there is already on this album. I can play some hard rock stuff on drums, then next thing I would do is to listen to some Nat King Cole tracks! This record is a collection of music genres that we all like, as a band. None of the stuff we played on Groove Is King would ever be something we didn't want to play in the first place, because this is what we are and what we like playing. In my opinion, the core thing that ties up the whole album, despite having so many different music layers on it, is the groove. We wanted to create strong vibes, strong grooves on this album, something that would make people move. It doesn't matter if we play rock parts or more quiet one, as long as we are able to create that groove that will make people move. Even on The Fabulous Tales track, the groove is the key part. I also arrived to the conclusion that, nowadays, the average amount of attention span that a music listener is putting on a new record is fairly short, if the record does not engage enough the listener. So why not proposing alternatives on just one record, musically speaking, to music fans? In America, I noticed that many radio stations seem to play just one music genre per time. Maybe there is a bit more purism, in the US, when it comes to music in its globality. In Europe and other part of the world, instead, people seem to be more opened to different types of music. Radio stations would play an hour of jazz, next one they would play funk, rock and so on. So, hopefully, we may sound like a very good music station on a sole record!
BBR - The Fabulous Tales Of Two Bands brought a smile on my face; loud, powerful, a totally unexpected fusion of EDM with 70's rock to close the album. Is this a kind of message for the fans, something like "Expect The Unexpected when you buy our records"?
TB - For sure. We love many kinds of music and we are not snubbing any type of music, as long as such genres provide great grooves. We just loved doing this track, moving the tempo from a Prodigy-like kind of style and bringing it to a Zeppelinesque, orchestral sound. We just loved the idea and we said to each other: "Why not?". It was fun doing it and there is that "nasty" element, in the sound, that we loved a lot. Perfect combination for us. It sums up what our record is and our musical philosophy, it is like "You either love it or hate it", no mid-ways. The record is what we are, is a statement of our love for what we do and what we like the most.
BBR - Your fans love you immensely because you give them love back by being always very amicable, loquacious, spontaneous and smiling in every circumstance. Is this the real secret that makes you one of the most loved music artists?
TB - Thank you, I never thought about it. I am what I am. I like to treat everyone with the maximum respect and I love what I do for a living. And I never forget that, if I manage to do what I do, is because of the love people give back to me. I guess it is a two way street kind of concept. I just love to play my music and try to give good vibes to people. If such people love what I do, it is a great feeling for me. In my personal view, by liking what I do, they become already friends of mine, because we empathise on music and surely, based on that root, there is certainly ground to connect on a human level too with each of them. It is too much work for me to wear a mask and pretending to be who I am not. So, as I feel about my music, I guess my personality is a bit like that, I am what I am, take it or leave it.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Groove Is King is available on Mascot Label Group
Rock Candy Funk Party Official Website