Komorebi Records (pronounced Ko-mo-reh-bi) is a spanking new creative project headed jointly by Michael Franco, Jeffrey Hill Jr., Paul Fullerton and Alexis McCoy. "It's a Japanese word. Literally it translates to 'the scene produced by sunlight filtering in through leaves,'" explains Franco, his height camouflaged by a large Macbook and sloped posture. "We try and make it through all the distractions and filters we may have -- people wanting to talk about material things, or things that may not be the purest topics that have to do with art. We're trying to make it through all that and still make it out to you, as the listener."
Under Komorebi, and in conjunction with the label's three other acts, Franco and Hill Jr. make instrumental hip-hop as guitar/percussion duo Franco-Hill. The two were RFT Music Award nominees in 2013, and performed at last June's RFT Showcase to a sudsy crowd at Flamingo Bowl. Hill banged out bracketed beats while Franco demonstrated his reverence for Jimmy Hendrix.
The pair, along with Fullerton (musically known as ill Temperament), "wound up piling up on Wyoming and living and making music together," explains Franco. When the three lived together, the fourth key player of Komorebi, McCoy (a.k.a. Sixela Yoccm) was always there. Yoccm splits her time between Komorebi and another hip-hop fellowship, MME. "We just all made music and hung out with cats, Marvin and King Tut," Fullerton says, leaning over and pointing to a four-eyed feline face tattooed on his arm. "I used to hate cats."
Komorebi is used by the gang of four as both a creative outlet and a safe haven to explore their goals to live with stability as musicians. "You feel more secure making music. When you have a team of people who are working towards the same goal, they are there for you. They don't think you're crazy for wanting to make music. They are going to back you no matter what. There is nothing more important, or healthier, than that." Franco further elaborates on the Wyoming space's creative experience with an anecdote. "We were really, really always in a great mood when we were making music there. There was a period of a month where PJ [Fullerton] would have a new beat, Jeff [Hill Jr., who makes beats as theblackbrucewayne] would have a new beat, and I would have a new beat in the living room. All of a sudden Jeff decided he would start freestyling, all the time."
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Franco speaks with intent as he delves into Komorebi's mission: to make socially conscious jazz and soul-laced hip-hop available to the masses. "It's all a way for us to put our music out together. We've been sitting in the dark as individual solo musicians, except for when Jeff and I came together as Franco-Hill. We could either continue to make music and put it out on our social networks -- kind of shoot it out into the dark -- or we could work together so we can all help each other. It's all one cohesive thing."
This "cohesive thing" explores worldwide topics of tension. "I know a lot of what music is and how we view music is creating a moment, of course, but we're looking at music more so as a form of communication," explains Franco. "We grew up listening not to beatmakers, but to Miles Davis. Musicians who understood their power as an entertainer and used that platform to talk about things that needed to be spoken about." Franco references Davis' opinions on race, which were governed by his experiences as a musician. In a 1962 article with Playboy, Davis condoned congeniality among races and presented his desire for respect to be given to non-white musicians. He condemns with reason myopic stances on race relations by turning his interview into a discussion board. This serves as an inspiration of sorts for the Komorebi musicians.
The label, as a primarily instrumental outlet, states its case for social matters with various samples and lyrics that pin women's rights and social stratification to the sound board. As the group gears up to be among the youngest family of St. Louis music makers (average age: 22), they give a nod toward Damon Davis' imprint, Farfetched, and also note the Indyground crew. Franco is close with Davis and has recorded guitar parts for Farfetched's cross-genre Prologue collaborations. "I was there when Damon said, 'Man, I have to do this.' It is definitely inspiring to watch FarFetched over the last three years and see it become something," he says. Fullerton sneaks into the conversation as talk turns to St. Louis. "When I first met Jeff, he touched on how to him, hip-hop was creating beautiful art with limited resources. I think St. Louis has a huge part of that. There is not a lot going on, but there is a lot of space to do what you want."
Komorebi dropped its first single last Tuesday. ill Temperament's "Weak Knees" is off Homesick, which is set to drop Valentine's Day. Sixela Yoccum's album will be out in March. More music is up for grabs at Komorebi's online store. Entering "RFT" at checkout will net 50% off your entire purchase. Canny cats, huh?
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