Solid Bronze Are Rounding Into Form

Ian Everett and George Miller have always been on the same wavelength. After all, they grew up together, right outside of Trenton, New Jersey. Both got into music at a young age, too, though Miller had a head start. He learned drums from his dad, who ran in the local jazz and psych-rock scenes. Meanwhile, Everett taught himself bass after picking through the punk bins at Princeton Record Exchange. But once he discovered that his love for ’90s hip-hop was built from samples of Curtis Mayfield and Sly & The Family Stone, he flipped to funk. 

Everett and Miller first crossed paths as bandmates in I Have Been Floated, which fizzled out in 2016. A year later, the two formed Solid Bronze. Their new band was only supposed to be a low-stakes recording project. But their first album was chock-full of assorted instruments. The Fruit Basket had dashes of bluesy harmonica, a slice of fried vocoder, lots of tootling horns and synth squibbles.

It also had help from several star-studded guests. But Everett and Miller played close to every single note. When local venues came calling, they went looking for some extra hands. The assembled crew was a patchwork of friend’s brothers and members of other bands. But those stray pieces fit so seamlessly that they officially became a part of Solid Bronze when the time came to hit the studio for album number two. 

There’s still plenty of funk to be found on the new Solid Bronze album. “Yakisoba Dub” opens with newcomer Tommy Heutmaker sliding in with a slick and scratchy guitar lick that’ll have you loose as a midnight goose. But the vibe on Mt. Fuji is different. It’s headier, more meditative, even a little bit somber. These songs were recorded at the peak of the pandemic and you can hear the band trying to slip from under that dark cloud even during their brightest moments. “Green Light” is sprung by a strutting bassline but the free and easy, open-air melody is nipped at by anxious wondering. 

“I feel like I’m stuck, baby, sitting at a traffic light,” Everett sighs along with Nilah Montgomery, who was sworn in as the band’s fifth member after a show last fall.  

But Mt. Fuji is ultimately a peaceful journey that leads Solid Bronze to a higher plane of consciousness. Writing for keys and baritone sax brought out the band’s shared affinity for jazz. Everyone stands out. Mark Gallagher’s horn blows like mist over a mountain on the title track. And Eric Johnson’s woozy organ whirs cast the 11-minute closer in the same sorrowful mood as a New Orleans funeral. But the album is bound together under one groove. Some songs seem to circle around a returning theme. Even when Miller sneaks off on an extended drum break or the whole band lets loose into scronking free-form improvisation, they find a way to come together. 

Solid Bronze are celebrating the vinyl release of Mt. Fuji with a special show at Studio 17 on Saturday, February 11. Tickets are sold out. But you can buy the album on Bandcamp. 

I talked with Everett over e-mail about his new bandmates, their new record and what they have planned for the show. 

With Mt. Fuji, Solid Bronze expanded to a six-piece. How did that transformation come about? 

The band grew, basically, as a means to play the songs live. Through the recording of The Fruit Basket, George and I hadn’t really thought much about playing shows. It was still just a recording project. There were other players on the album but more so a list of notable guests, not full-time members. 

As the recording wrapped on The Fruit Basket,  George and I put out some feelers for players. Tommy [Heutmaker] was the first to respond. He’s the brother of a friend so it was an easy enough fit. We got in touch with Mark [Gallagher] through a buddy of mine who had met him through booking his other band in Asbury Park. As it turned out, he lived quite close and things clicked with him pretty quickly as well. Mark knew Eric Johnson from playing together in a sort of bluesy group in the area and recommended him as an organ player. And if I remember correctly, he did pretty much stick to the Hammond to start and then we got him playing synth solos down the line. 

It took about a year for everyone to fall into place, but things were feeling good and songs started to come as a full band. Nilah came in to record vocals on Mt. Fuji and didn’t become an official member until we played our first show since the start of the pandemic in September of 2021. 

Soul Selects is based in Hopewell, New Jersey, which isn’t too far from where you and George grew up. How did you end up releasing Mt. Fuji through their label? 

We’ve known Chris Harford, one of the heads of the label, for years. He’s  played a large part in the band from the very early stages. He even co-produced The Fruit Basket with Dean Ween. Mt. Fuji was nearly done and he was just gaining some gusto with getting the label going. He asked if we’d be interested in having them release it. Which of course, we were.

The band is celebrating the vinyl release of Mt Fuji with a show at Studio 17. Did you have a hand in how the vinyl was designed? How did you decide on that venue?

Soul Selects gave us full control over the album design so I was able to get it to where it was in my mind’s eye, so to speak. Shoutout to them for that. Artwork and packaging is a huge part in an album’s life. Getting the opportunity to see all the details come together is always a special thing.

Studio 17 has a connection with Soul Selects. It felt like a good, intimate spot.

What do you have planned for the show? Any big surprises? 

We’re playing the whole album, which is something new for us. There’s two songs on Mt Fuji that we’ve never done live before, so that could be a surprise. We’ve got a couple things outside of our normal setup too, so we’re excited.

I hear more jazz on Mt Fuji. There even seems like there’s a main theme that you keep circling back to for much of the record. Am I just hearing things?

You’re certainly not hearing things. I’d say the influence of jazz came out a bit more this time around. Part of it was writing with and for sax and keys as part of the band. I’d say all of us are pretty massive fans of all forms of jazz styles so if the energy starts to go in that direction we’ll roll with it. 

Personally, I have zero musical training in the theory or practice of jazz but my bandmates have some chops so I lean on that often. We were playing “King of Pressure” as an instrumental for a couple months prior to recording. But it’s structure got much tighter in the studio.

You’ve said that making The Fruit Basket taught you a lot about how George approaches the drums. How did what you learned from your first record help you make this one? And how stoked were you when George broke out the drum solo on “King of Pressure”?  

Recording The Fruit Basket,  I learned that George hears rhythm outside of the standard drum set. As we were tracking, his vision would come together by adding auxiliary percussion and these can be just as melodic as anything on guitar or piano. He always makes the right call. Sometimes, he adds. Sometimes, he takes away. Either way, he knows what the move is. Truly the pulse of the band.

I’m pretty sure I pushed for George to take the solo in “King of Pressure”. He’d never ask for it on his own. I did the same in a previous band of ours. Drum solos have a tradition to them that felt appropriate on the album and I love George’s playing on it. One take by the way. Also probably my favorite drum solo.

The rest of the band also gets to show out. How did those moments come about? Was there a lot of improvisation going on while you were recording? 

By the time we started recording on Mt. Fuji, two songs existed without lyrics, one song was an idea, two were demoed and one didn’t exist. Each one has a bit of a different story as to how everyone’s parts came to be, but working with these different styles of bringing songs to the table helped to keep us thinking in different ways. Some have heavy improvisation and a few stuck to the initial ideas. Since we basically did all of the recording ourselves and were on no timeline, it made it possible to try any and all methods.

“Green Light” came out of one of the home recordings I did during peak COVID quarantine. I had no intention of using those recordings for anything other than to keep myself busy. They were entirely on synth and my old Maestro drum machine. But outside of the sax and vocals, “Green Light” sounds pretty close to that home recording.  

“Supernatural Dream” was something I demoed, too. The ending section was nicked from a jam at practice that I’d recorded on my phone. 

The lyrics on Mt. Fuji seem like you’re trying to break free from societal pressures. When coming up with the lyrics, what was on everyone’s mind?

We started recording in the summer of 2020, which was a pretty volatile time. That was the springboard for the album’s lyrics. 

I was feeling pretty shaken by everything. Not only was there a despicable president with a religious following running for re-election, there were careless murders that seemed to be coming on a weekly basis at the hands of p*lice or civilians acting like p*lice, and massive protests that came as a result of these deaths. All the while, I was working with the public at a grocery store during a worldwide pandemic. It was all pretty bleak. I had to turn off my social media accounts. I couldn’t watch another ‘Karen’ video or read another anti-BLM post from someone I knew. 

In a sense, the lyrics are the yin to the music’s yang. They didn’t come easy. But there’s a Nina Simone interview where she says that real art “addresses the now” and there was so much “now” to address that I had to pull it out somehow. 

“Mt. Fuji” as an album title is an example of not questioning inspiration. The song was the first one written for the album and it was pretty much ready to go. Just gave it some overdub studio treatment. The rest of the songs seemed to follow it’s aesthetic to the point that calling the album Mt. Fuji almost defaulted. 

I was also doing a lot of cooking at the time to help keep myself sane. I really connected with ramen and Japanese cuisine. There was something therapeutic about it to me. In the midst of insane news feeds, cooking was a way to detach from that world. Similarly, the songs were starting to come to life and I was noticing parallels between the recording and culinary processes. The gatefold of the album is a spread of food I made as a tribute to this connection. 

“Trudgin’ Blues” ends the record on a more somber note than the other songs. Where did that shift come from? 

This song came out of something that George, Tommy and I had jammed a couple years ago, before anyone else was even in the band. I had cut my finger with a woodcutting tool that day. So instead of playing bass, I played piano and keys and somehow the chords and structure for the main part of the song got played for a while. I always liked the feel of it. When the rest of the songs were shaping up, we decided to see if we could turn it into something. 

When we recorded this song for the album, there was loads of improvisation. I did little runs in the midst of the main chords and then there’s the whole “free” section, which was planned for but basically only played once. That section felt almost a bit like scream therapy, a way to express something deep without having to say a word. Musically, this song probably stands out the most, but it invoked a real sadness that was already running through the album lyrically. We recorded it pretty late at night, did a single take and knew it couldn’t have been anything but the closing tune.

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