Concord Records’ NEXT Collective brings together what many are calling the supergroup of this generation of musicians. Combining the talents of Ben Williams, Christian Scott, Matt Stevens, Jamire Williams, Kris Bowers, Walter Smith III, Logan Richardson and Gerald Clayton, these musicians give some credence to the term “supergroup.” Originally conceived by Chris Dunn, Senior A&R at Concord, the record moves past the outdated “jazz” labeling and delves into the more pop-oriented influences of these incredible musicians.
Leading up to the February 26th release of ‘Cover Art,’ we will be bringing you interviews with the musicians and previews of the songs each one arranged for the record, so check back with us often! Today we are launching with some insight from Ben Williams who holds down the bass with NEXT Collective and arranged “Fly or Die” by N.E.R.D. for ‘Cover Art.”
Tell me about how you first got involved with the idea for the NEXT Collective.
The idea first came from Chris Dunn who is the Senior A&R guy at Concord Records —where I’m also on the label. Most of the guys in the group are actually. So this was an idea that Concord brought to us and they just told us that they wanted to put a project together with some of the guys that are on their roster and a couple others as well. So they told me who all was involved and I said yes of course. I mean, for all of us to be able to get together like that is really something special.
Then Chris told us what the concept was — everybody was going to bring in an arrangement of some type of pop song that was written recently. It sounded like a lot of fun. Everything about it sounded like a great idea.
So they let you pick which arrangement you wanted to do?
Yeah, that part was totally up to us. We all individually picked a song and it’s actually amazing how great it turned out because we had no idea what anyone else was doing. We were just kind of crossing our fingers and hoping it was going to all fit together.
You arranged “Fly or Die.” Why did you pick to feature N.E.R.D. and what was the process like in arranging it for this group?
I’m a big fan of N.E.R.D. — I’ve always been a fan of their work. To me they’ve always been very cutting edge and really able to mix genres. Of course Pharrell is known a lot from the Neptunes and all of the production that he’s done for Jay-Z and Kanye and everybody. But N.E.R.D. in and of itself is pretty experimental. They’re really touching on the rock thing very hard, but interpreting it in a hip-hop perspective. So their music is just so creative.
They weren’t necessarily the first group that came to my mind, but I was going through my iTunes and seeing what kind of material would be good to work with. That song just popped out at me.
How long did it take you to arrange?
It took me a couple of days. We actually didn’t really have a whole lot of time to put all of the music together.
Did you originally write in the bass breakdown or was that something that came about in the studio?
That was definitely written in the arrangement. It’s a cool thing actually — the classic rock power chord, which is basically the root, the 5th, and the octave, has no 3rd in it. And that sound is really easy to do on the bass because that’s basically what we do a lot. We’re playing fifths, one of the easiest double-stops to play on the bass. So you play that and it almost sounds like a rock power chord on the guitar. I was keeping it in the vein of the rock element of that song.
Did you have a favorite of any of tunes the other guys picked?
Man, I loved everything that everybody did! I really liked what Christian did with “No Church in the Wild;” that was really dope. The way he is able to interpret melodies is incredible. To just even go there and pick that song — it’s Jay-Z and Kanye on trumpet [laughs].
What was the vibe like in the studio?
There wasn’t much rehearsal. We had a short get together with some of the group members, not even everybody because some guys were on the West Coast and others were in Europe. You can imagine the scheduling nightmare. So a lot of the rehearsal was actually done right in the studio. It just speaks to the camaraderie of the group though. There’s a connection between all of us. It was the first time all of us had played together in this setting, but all of us have played together. Jamire and Gerald and Matt were all on my record. I’ve played with Gerald’s group and Jamire’s group. Christian played on my record and Jamire and Matt played with Christian on his stuff. So there are all of these links that were already there.
So it definitely wasn’t a bunch of strangers in the studio trying to make something happen. The vibe was already there; it was just a matter of working out the songs.
What do you see as the legacy for this record?
I feel like this really fits in with the movement that’s going on in the music right now. I always hesitate to use the words “jazz musicians,” because it’s just too small for what we are doing. We’re doing things our way and making our own rules. Everybody in the group individually has their own projects and everybody is pushing the envelope doing their own things. So coming together like this conceptually makes a really strong statement. This is the closest thing you’ll have to a supergroup of this generation.
Interview by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)
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