The Budos Band are an eleven-piece (and sometimes larger) instrumental funk-soul-Ethiopiques-style band from Shaolin—Staten Island—who recently had a song appear on Wale’s Mixtape About Nothing and who name all their albums in numerical sequence, although they are considering skipping ‘III’ just to torture people. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
Do you still practice in that former Pentacostal church?
Jared Tankel (baritone sax): Yeah, we do. We have pentagrams hanging on the wall.
Mulatu Astatke said he tries to repurpose religious instruments for secular compositions. Is that connected to Budos band making secular music in a religious structure?
We’ve been in that building for 15 years now at this point. Keep in mind that half the band has come along the way, but that practice space has been inhabited by Budonians for the last 15 years—so I don’t doubt that there had been some repurposing, both intentional and unintentional. The space is just a second home for a lot of the guys. We’ve spent so much time there over the years. It’s been the hang, the party spot, the practice spot and it definitely has that history to it that’s really important. And it stinks like the rest of us, too.
Which is your favorite metal band that practices down the hall?
Oh man, I don’t even know their name. ‘Favorite’ is a generous term. We’re not opposed to metal at all, but we’re the one non-metal rock band in the building so we’re surrounded by—for the most part—pretty bad metal bands. Sometimes they try and cover Metallica or Slayer and—not trying to talk shit on them, but it leaves something to be desired. It’s hard to hear what we’re doing.
Ever consider a Slayer cover?
I’ll tell you what—we actually tried out doing Black Sabbath ‘Black Sabbath’ because a lot of us like Sabbath and there’s a metal thread through our tastes. And it was a little weird—we felt like we weren’t quite doing it justice. Having the horns play—you couldn’t have anybody play Ozzy’s voice for the lyrics and since we don’t have a vocalist so we tried to do it instrumental and it was kind of weird. We had this dream of doing a Black Sabbath cover album—just covering the entire album. We had attempted to initially start with ‘Black Sabbath’ and it just felt weird and a couple of the guys who are more metal purists weren’t really down with it, so we put it on the shelf.
Where did that idea come from?
A couple of us were having dinner one night and talking about how bands do cover songs. We’ve done a couple of cover songs on the album and we stick pretty close to the family of the genre that we are associated with. And we were like, ‘What if we totally did something completely different?’ And Sabbath—like I said, a lot of us are fans and we definitely go for that heaviness and darkness, and we share at least that with them so why don’t we give it a shot? We talked to our manager and he flipped out and thought it was the best idea ever—but like I said, it didn’t feel right.
How was it decided that you’re the guy who takes care of all the Budos money?
It’s funny because I was one of the last guys to join the band—about 6 years ago now. It’s a crew. There’s a couple of guys that started playing with them around the same time as me and aren’t around anymore and quickly got the picture that they were not part of what was going on. I don’t know why but we jive really well. Some people think we’re hard to get along with which I don’t really agree with.
Would you say ‘Screw you if you think we’re hard to get along with’?
Yeah. It’s that pack mentality and a bunch of the guys grew up together so there’s a common brotherhood sort of feeling I think. Sometyimes guys do stupid stuff and things get broken and some of the guys like to drink a little too much beer now and then probably. But like I said—we look out for each other. I’ve gotten really good at talking to hotel managers. I think part of it is—getting back to your first question—since we’ve been able to make some records and be on the road and stuff, somebody needed to step up and do some of the organizational, taking-care-of-talking-to-hotel-manager sort of things.
Is that easier with all your guys standing right behind you?
That depends. Sometimes they aren’t there—they’re still sleeping or they’re in the car. We almost got kicked out of one place last year, but we worked everything out. When it comes down to it, we’re all good guys and we’re not trying to make somebody’s life more difficult but sometimes we do stupid shit so it’s more about finding a common ground. This place that we almost got kicked out of, the people that run it were from Staten Island originally, and that came up and then we were best friends all of a sudden after a couple of guys just destroyed one of the rooms.
How badly was it destroyed? Who-level?
It was pretty impressive. I went in there in the morning and they had made a point to touch every single thing in the room. Beds were flipped over, the tables were flipped over, the mirror was off the wall, the microwave was flipped over, the TV was turned around. It was thought out. I think only one thing was actually broken-broken beyond repair—maybe a lamp and a chair—but besides that it just looked like a disaster zone, lots of broken glass.
That’s good you’re so thorough.
There was another place with a hole in the wall one time.
How important is scholarship and research is to the kind of music you guys make?
The way the band first came to all this was our drummer was a DJ at the College of Staten Island radio station and he came across some Desco records and he was like, ‘Wow this is amazing. These records must be from the ‘60s!’ But no, these guys are making this now in New York. Desco is no longer around—now it’s Daptone.
Do the Daptone guys know this story?
Yeah, they know that the band got our inspiration and the roots of what we’re doing by listening to what they were doing for sure. The ferry rides came into play when the guys started taking the ferry to Antibalas shows in the city around 2000 or a little earlier.
How did you go from zero to deep Afrobeat-Ethiopiques music?
That initial discovery of Desco was big and then just following that train and then once you get into it there’s never an ending—so we got the soul thing and the funk thing and then the Afrobeat thing and then the Ethiopian jazz thing which was huge for us. I can’t remember who was the one who initially brought in the Ethiopique series, but it became required listening and everyone was so heavy into it—we all are to a certain extent, but on that second album, that sound came through a lot in our writing.
Is that the sound you feel most comfortable with now?
We’ll be playing a lot of new songs out there—8 or 9 songs from Budos III. We’re thinking about calling it Budos IV, but we’re not sure.
Budos IV? Not Budos III? Did you have a conversation where you sat around and thought about how you’re going to mess with people?
Kinda, yeah. It was more like—‘I don’t know, maybe we should skip III. Fuck it, let’s just do IV.’ And when people ask, ‘What happened to Budos III?’ we can be like, ‘Oh, you didn’t get that? I guess it was super rare.’ The Ethiopian influence is still very much there, dark melodies and things. Definitely more of a metal influence on this one, too—again, we’re not a Sabbath cover-tribute thing, but heavy guitars and heavy bass lines. Not distorted, but playing in unison and sort of just heavy-sounding music. Especially our bass player and drummer who have a doom-metal side project. They’re still working on the name. For a little while it was called Bog, but I’m not sure if they’re sticking with that name or not.
Where do you guys like to source songs from? You’ve done Motown, Bollywood—
We kind of like to take things that people think they know and put our spin on them and hint at what’s there—so people know what we’re playing but put our stamp on it. The ‘Chicago Falcon’ thing was a fluke in that our guitar player was on tour with the Dap-Kings—he plays with them, too. He was in Holland and this guy in Holland was putting together this Bollywood comp and gave him some Bollywood music and we definitely improvised with it so even somebody that knew the original—which I don’t know if anyone does—they probably wouldn’t recognize it. So that one was a different story. It’s interesting because we’ve been talking about what we’re going to cover on this III/IV album and we’ve had a really hard time. We haven’t come up with any ideas yet. We did the Motown thing and we don’t really want to repeat ourselves like that. The first album had a Sly Stone cover and Sly is amazing—we love him and his songs are perfect for us to cover but we don’t want to repeat ourselves like that.
What makes a song perfect for you to cover?
The certain soulfulness behind it—and there is very much a psychedelic rock thing going on that we get into and I think those elements are what makes it so accessible to us. The first album we had the Ethiopiques cover—‘Aynotchesh Yererfu’—and we don’t want to go there again. We’re having a hard time. We’ve tried a lot of things out and nothing’s stuck yet, so we’ll see. We have that song ‘Up from The South’ that has been taken by a lot of folks in a lot of different ways but especially by b-boys and breakbeat guys as a great song, and we’re thinking of doing another song that goes in that direction. Or maybe we should do a rock song. But we don’t want to do something funky-funky because that’s not where we’re at right now.
What kind of rock stuff are you guys into these days?
It’s a wide wide range of stuff. Somebody suggested an early Floyd song—‘Bike,’ maybe? That was one suggestion.
Do you feel anything is off limits?
Probably folk. I don’t know if we could get down with that. Maybe not modern country, but we could do old country for sure. Some of the guys like surf rock. I think there’s a pretty wide range of stuff and that’s part of the reason why we’re having a hard time with the cover for this next one, having a hard time focusing in on the sound we want.
What exactly is the Budos stamp on a song?
The rawness. We don’t try and sound pretty like a full band would or an Afrobeat band would. Fela is amazing and incredible with the rawness that he had on his recordings but a lot of Afrobeat bands these days are trying to get a polished, pretty sounding-sound, especially in their horns and harmonies and bullshit. We’re heavy and raw.
What did you think of the whole Vampire Weekend ‘Afropop’ moment last year?
About three months before they were on the cover of Spin or whatever their first cover was, they opened for us at a eMusic party.
So do they really sound… African?
I haven’t really listened to their album to be perfectly honest, but I didn’t think so. I don’t really get it, to be perfectly honest. I don’t want to talk smack on another band too much, but I don’t really get it.
Ever think of covering one of their songs?
I think that’d be pretty funny, actually, but the guys wouldn’t go for it. It has to be pre-1980 at least.
Once Reagan got into office, it changed music for the worse?
Maybe. Certainly the music that permeates most of our listening diet is before then.
What year would make you guys feel the most at home?
I think it would vary widely depending on who you ask in the band. Maybe 2012 when supposedly the Mayan calendar calls for the end of the world.
What does Daptone change your song titles to and why?
The one example that I remember from the first album was ‘The Volcano Song’—which was really only named that because there was a volcano on the front of the album—was originally called ‘500 Wolves.’ We thought it sounded like a Ghostface Killa song title, so that’s the one that always sticks out. We come up with stupid names and I’m sure on the new album they’re going to rename one of our songs we titled ‘Super Dirge.’ ‘Plague Wind’ is another one.
Sounds like it all bled over from the doom band.
Our drummer names the songs, that’s why. He wants the album art to be like wolves tearing apart a carcass.
‘THE BUDOS BAND’ dripping blood over a pentagram?
If we can’t get it as album artwork, maybe we can at least make some t-shirts out of it.
What’s the best time you ever had with Inspectah Deck?
Our guitar player played with part of the Wu Tang at SXSW a few years ago and from how he says, he was a genuinely nice together dude who’s really talented and just—for whatever reason—hasn’t got his full due. He’s overshadowed by the other guys in Wu Tang. Maybe he had a little more modestly about him that made him a much cooler dude to play with and also has a talent that hasn’t been fully recognized.
What’s the best time you had with Maceo Parker?
Maceo is a legend and as a saxaphone player, he’s bar-none one of the best guys I’ve listened to a lot over the years. His band is weird. These old funk bands that have sort of a more jazzy funk whatever. They don’t look like dentists but they play like them.We played with him a couple of years ago at a festival in Vermont and just played with him a month ago in Philly. The best time we had around him or associated with him was probably stealing all the beer in his dressing room.
You stole Maceo Parker’s beers?
Shameful. But nothing happened.
THE BUDOS BAND WITH THE BOOGALOO ASSASSINS ON THU., APR. 16, AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 9 PM / $15 / 18+. ATTHEECHO.COM. THE BUDOS BAND’S II IS OUT NOW ON DAPTONE. VISIT THE BUDOS BAND AT THEBUDOS.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/BUDOSBAND.