For years Stuart Bogie and Joe Russo have collaborated on numerous musical projects. In studio or on stage, the synergy between the two is something special, and it’s on display with “The Prophets in The City.“
From note one, the album is exemplary – an in-your-face meeting between Bogie, his long-time woodwind friends and Russo, whose drumming contributions elevate this release.
Throughout the album, Bogie aimed to recreate the hustle and bustle of New York City, and the album’s ferocious sound accomplished that goal. Despite the continual intensity of the music, “The Prophets“ never becomes overwhelming.
Slideandbanjo.com spoke with Bogie, who broke down his vision for the album and how he put everything together. He began with how he put together the lineup, including getting his longtime pal Russo on board.
Bogie: In the early stages of putting things together, I was daydreaming how to bring the project to fruition. In music like this, the drummer is the chief priest or priestess. They’re in charge of the dynamics, pacing, and whole metabolism of sound. They are the heart of the organism that is the ensemble. It’s a cliché, but that shit is true. Drums are the heart. I knew the best opportunity these ideas had to grow wings was to be with one of the best drummers in the world.
It just so happened I was playing in several projects with him. Including his own…JRAD. I told him about it, he said that sounds great, send me some music. I was so nervous about it even though we’re deep buds. I didn’t want to pop the question. Eventually I did. I played him a demo. He listened to it for like 20 seconds and was like “let’s do it.” Book the sessions. I definitely overworked that pitch.
S&B: With Joe on board and some rough ideas to work with, how did you start to narrow things down from there?
Bogie: I’ve always had personal projects I work on. This one came after I had a long look in the mirror. I wanted to dig into acoustic music. When people think of acoustic music, they usually think of mandolins and wooden stools to sit on. When I say acoustic, I’m thinking of the trombone. I guess most people think acoustic is non-electric. This music has to do a lot with vibrations and the way sound behaves in space. I’m trying to get into the mystical properties of vibration. I’m trying make music that conjures things from people’s subconscious. I’m making music to communicate with the spirits. Instrumental music is wonderful for that because it doesn’t put words in your mouth. I’m not a fan of guided meditations. That’s an oxymoron. I don’t want that.
S&B: So you’re trying to create something from its literal entrance into the universe?
Bogie: I feel the same way about emotions, art, and music. The only way to create anything is to first create nothing. Because you can do that. You can create silence. From that silence, things are born. The courage I had to find in myself was to face that silence. I had to face that void and find out what’s talking to me. What ghosts are ringing my bell.
I was able to create a collection of compositions that employed my experience playing winds. Which has its own sacred and religious properties. People have been blowing horns in bands for a long time. People have been building things with music that you can’t with brick and mortar.
S&B: You had good timing with this project, getting everything rolling right before Covid shut things down. That gave you the time to put the fine touches on it while the world was on pause.
Bogie: We were fortunate to do the major pieces, the major operations that required multiple people to be in the studio at the same time just before covid. During the pandemic, we sewed it together. Did a handful of overdubs. On the album, those are credited as different people’s houses. The majority of the music was recorded live in front of other people. We couldn’t have made this record with overdubs.
S&B: Since you took such an organic approach to creating the album, did you start with one big concept and narrow that down to individual songs? Or were these individual songs that worked together to create a larger concept?
Bogie: It’s definitely a combination of both. I just followed the muse and listened to the intention of the piece. Some of them started to flower, crystallize, and break off into smaller pieces. That’s really beautiful and beneficial. Even if you don’t use all of it, you still have pieces born from the same seed that have a relationship to each other. Together, they create a thing larger than just one song can create. Now you’re talking symphonics and larger concepts. You end up with a record that has a coherence and meaning. We wanted it to be natural and true to its origin. That’s what we did with this one.
S&B: Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. After the furious pace of the opener “The Prophets in the City,” you don’t slow down at all as you move into “The Witness.” It has a unique rhythm to it.
Bogie: If you combine the chant like patterns, they can sustain a lot of repetition. I learned this musical currency from studying Fela Kuti’s music for over a decade. I remain a student of the great master. I’m a big fan of Terry Riley and music like that. Through repetition, new things emerge. You can experience it in techno and house music. I love repetition. If it’s not worth repeating, I don’t want to hear it once. The need for repetition and chant is one of the great experiences of modern music. We’re getting larger things from the repetition of small ones.
S&B: My favorite song is “Take Them On.” I think it’s a standout on an album full of standouts. To me, that song is one of the best I’ve heard anywhere since ironically, “Added Addition” from Circles Around the Sun Meets Joe Russo in 2019. When the blast of the trumpet merges with Russo’s drumming, it’s off to the races.
Bogie: Early in the process, I knew “Take Them On” would lead off side B. I love the relationship of vinyl to the sequencing of records. I believe the first song in the second act should whoop ass.
There are a lot of New York horn bands in our community. They all have an amazing different flavor they bring. I’m a part of that larger community. I wanted to open those doors and let those winds blow through. I found a nice high melody for the trumpet. I wanted something where the audience could jump in with something simple to scream. It feels wonderful and cathartic to do that. It’s unifying and gratifying to feel that together.
I struggled with only a couple of aspects of that song. There was one moment where in the middle of the pandemic, I sent it to my old friend Eric Biondo. He’s in The Budos Band. We were in Antibalas and Superhuman Happiness for years. He’s an amazing artist and gifted trumpet player. He ended up playing me this perfect trumpet solo. It comes out like morse code. The song is aggressive. It focuses on 4 or 5 notes. I put an echo on it so it feels urgent. Like a sonar sounding. It gets me every time. I feel a jolt of adrenaline. Eric knows how to push my buttons. It rocked my world.
S&B: Not all of the album is upbeat and in your face. There are several slower pieces, such as “We Met Them by the Water” and “God in Us” that, despite taking a slower pace, still manage to paint the picture of New York you were trying to capture.
Bogie: In the softer pieces, they’re like shadow tonalities taken from the other compositions. So much of this is about New York and the spiritual life of New York. Those softer pieces are reflections in water. The peace amongst the midst of the chaos. For those, Joe composed and performed these beautiful patterns on these metal bars. The sound has a fast decay. He played it with mallets so it feels like a marimba. The context of this record is New York City. So, it’s rough shit. There’s clanging and metal. That sound fit right into that concept. Joe would set up his parameters of the tonality of what we put together and just go. The creative flow of his mind is something to behold.
“God In Us” always felt like a winter song to me. The title is about the holiness inside each little creature. It’s somehow more evident in the dead of winter. My old clarinet teacher talked about walking in winter in the woods. You see a tree that appears to have no sign of life. But it’s alive. God is in it.
S&B: Another area I feel the album stands out are the little things. It’s very polished and full of unique elements you don’t find in most albums. “We Organize” is a good example of that. It’s a seamless mix of live and recorded material. You’re able to maximize the sound by adding nuggets the musicians contributed from home during Covid. Then you take a musical right turn at the end that still manages to keep the same flow.
Bogie: I am an album listener. As a kid, I loved the Beatles‘ later albums, Zeppelin, and Hendrix. Then you get to the advent of hip hop in the early 90’s, and the sequence is so important. There are skits, narratives, and themes. It’s exploding as a sonic experience. I try to carry that into my job producing albums. I look very closely at texture, key, tempo, relationships, and the feeling of narrative.
We had exactly one live performance before the pandemic and we recoded a bunch of that music. I was able to take that live music and sew it into the album. I sewed in live moments which I felt carried a rawness and gesture the album needed to scream this is a human experience.
It was wonderful to put that quote in the end there. It’s actually the most poorly organized song on the record. That’s the point. In the second half of album, it’s like we’ve achieved a sense of victory. “Take Them On” is that victory. It has the champion feeling. “We Organize” comes out of that song and you know what. We have to agree. We have to come after each other for things of less significance. I have admiration for the activists fighting for justice. There’s a tribute to that process in the song. It’s the struggle of togetherness.
S&B: Finally, the end of the record doesn’t come to a dramatic conclusion you might expect from music of this pace. Instead, everything slowly fades away at the end of “God in Us.” This seemed like another example of putting your personal touch on things.
Bogie: The album is not entirely programmatic. Music is dream-like, so you can have the ending at the beginning. You can move those things around, and it still bears the same meaning. By programmatic, it means even if it has a darker ending, it doesn’t mean the whole album is dark. Certain things feel seasonal. Each side of the album has a moment of repose with mallet percussion. These are all ways we balanced it out. To make sure all the ideas floating around get their chance at existing, you need to try a lot of ideas. Some of them won’t bear fruit.
S&B: Thanks so much for your time, Stuart. You’ve made an incredible album and should be very proud. Continued success.