On Andy Noble's answering machine there's a message encouraging callers to leave their number and information if they have records to sell. He doesn't sound desperate, not remotely. Last year, the bass player for and founder of Milwaukee funk band Kings Go Forth closed up the storefront for Lotus Land record shop and took his vinyl operation fully online. He still wheels and deals (and spins regularly) to make a living, and his knowledge of, even reverence for, deep funk, soul and jazz, the serious underground shit you won't find on Craigslist, fuels the spiraling grooves and arrangements of the Kings' titanic ten-piece sound.
I caught Noble the week before Kings Go Forth's return to St. Louis for a mid-afternoon set in Forest Park. Like his band, the DJ, musician and record hunter held nothing back.
Roy Kasten: Kings Go Forth formed around 2007. Can you talk about how the sound of the band has evolved?
Andy Noble: I'm the person responsible for writing and arranging most of the stuff, so in terms of evolution, a lot of it is my taste and what I like. A lot of it is just me figuring out what the band can do and what they can't. If you write something in your head, everything is great. You hear Al Green singing this song or James Brown the next song, but in reality you have to reconcile that with what your guys can actually do. The range of the singers, where they can project and where they can't, what the musicians sound good playing and what they don't.
It's just getting better and knowing what they sound good doing. You try to play more into that instead of your fantasy of what you exactly want. You try to be more realistic. The band playing a pretty good song they play really well is going to come off better than a great song they can't play well.
It's a good thing the band doesn't have ten people.
That does make it super hard. You learn your strengths. In our group, the drummer, Jeremy [Kuzniar] and the conga player [Cecilio Negron Jr.], everything you give them they sound great on ten seconds later. And so I crutch on the drums in the same way that a rock band will crutch on the guitars. If you're in Van Halen, you do a verse and then a chorus and another verse, and then what do you do? Guess what, you're going to have Eddie play a fucking solo. It's not brain surgery. For us, I do the same thing, but I go more towards the drums. In funk and soul music, the drums are playing the role that guitar is playing in rock.
Do you feel as if Kings Go Forth is a side project or an extension of your work as a DJ and a guy who is really into records?
They're definitely related. I wouldn't be dedicating so much time to Kings Go Forth except for the fact that it has had some success. There's demand for it so I have to dedicate time to it. I learned that when you do little projects, maybe with a friend, you act in their play or you help them out with music for their video project, you have to prepared. If I could talk to my younger self what I'd say is be prepared that any project could become successful. It could become a huge part of your life. If you're not comfortable working on it a lot more, you might want to think about it. With Kings Go Forth, being in a band is something I like doing, but it wasn't something at that time I wanted to do all the time, unlike a lot of people. But now I'm there. If I said I didn't want to do it anymore I'd be letting a lot of people down. I never thought about that originally.
If you're in Milwaukee, you do not prepare for anything to be successful. It's in the psychological climate here in the arts. You don't think about that as a possibility. You do it because it's interesting to you, because you have ideas. It's very pure in that sense. In Milwaukee, the chance of success is basically zero. If you make a film, no one is gong to see it. If you make an album, not one is going to listen to it. You write a book, no one is going to read it. It's a given. You do it because you want to do it. But then when the band took off, I was like, man, I'm 33, 34 when it started to have success. I wanted to do that when I was 19. So now I make the best of it.
The music that you're passionate about, those bands maybe had success at one time, but those records are forgotten or overlooked over time.
I would go one step further. I would say most of the bands that influenced me were never popular, never had success. Maybe some of the groups were locally popular for a year or two, maybe for a decade. But as far as success, the way we define it now, breaking out of your city, getting airplay nationally or selling records nationally, it's zero percent. It just didn't happen. That sound was small studios, and they never really hit. There were parallels in rock music. It was an explosion of sound. When the Rolling Stones had a hit with "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," six billion garage bands formed in American and recorded pretty good records all at the same time. That basically meant that even if you made a great, great record you had a crummy chance of having it break out. Just sifting through all of that. Nobody could do it. Those bands languished in obscurity. We'll probably languish in obscurity before too long.
So your whole plan to set yourself up for failure was a failure.
Well, sort of, but not really. The Kings Go Forth have been one of the biggest failures of my life. It really has been. It has come at a time that was the worst time for it. It seriously destroyed aspects of my life that if I could get them back and exchange for any success I've had, I would. I am not speaking for the band. This is just for me. I don't want to marginalize the band's version, their take on it, and they are all valid. But we don't make any money. I have a file on my phone with all the money the band owes me. I'm in the red all the time. I do make money with my record business, but I lose money with the group.
Can you name a couple of records that every fan of Kings Go Forth needs to hear?
That's really hard to narrow down. I'd rather name a compilation. A friend in Chicago compiled a CD for Jazzman records in London called Midwest Funk. That was a culmination of ten or fifteen years of record digging and intense research, just peeling back to get to the best of the best of the underground groups from the Midwest. That stuff is really, really dear to me. I think "The Creator Has a Master Plan" by Pharaoh Sanders, that's not all that obscure, but it can be a life changer if someone hears it at the right time.
I got to see the band at Off Broadway earlier this year, and the groove was hypnotic. I found that I was truly losing myself in the music, but then I felt like I was missing out on things. I was overwhelmed by it. Was I missing the hooks or other parts that were important?
If you do anything good to anybody with a piece of music that's enough. The way you're interpreting it might be over intellectualizing things. If you're enjoying it and getting into it, I would say don't think about it too much. If you really want to think about something for a long time, go listen to Magic City by Sun Ra. That is not what we're doing. We're not making intellectual music. There's plenty of intellectual music out there to listen to. I could give you a whole list. But soul and funk music is simple. It's not supposed to mow your lawn and do your taxes. It's just there, hopefully it's dance music and has emotional resonance in the vocals. If it does that, then that's what it's supposed to do. That's the beauty of it. It's rhythm and the blues. It's not rhythm and blues and algorithms.