Durand Jones, soul singer: Something Else! Interview

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Louisiana-born soul-singing sensation Durand Jones got started, long before his debut album Durand Jones and the Indications was even a dream yet, in the church. That laid the ground work for a burgeoning music career, but only after a move to Bloomington, Ind. There, he joined the Indiana University Soul Revue, and subsequently began collaborating with the writing and producing duo of Aaron Frazer and Blake Rhein. Together, they began writing and recording music straight to tape, leading directly to the new studio release on Ohio-based Colemine Records.

Jones joined Preston Frazier for a Something Else! Sitdown to discuss his new album, how he connected with the Indications, and how his roots inform this unique throwback sound …

PRESTON FRAZIER: The songs on your debut album are consistently strong, start to finish. Tell us about the writing process.
DURAND JONES: This is a hard question. [Laughs.] With the writing process, I aimed to keep it in subjects that many soul artists follow – the party, political and social consciousness, and love songs. Aaron, Blake and I began to write tunes in the late fall of 2012. The last song we recorded was “Now I’m Gone,” in 2014. We were just doing this for fun on Sunday nights. It was a huge stress reliever for dealing with grad school for me. All of the songs were co-written, except “Now I’m Gone” — which was written by Blake. The arrangements were done by the band.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Who most influenced you?
DURAND JONES: Another hard one. I couldn’t just name one. From all of the singers in church I heard growing up, to the soul greats like Otis [Redding], Sam Cooke, Al Green, Solomon Burke, James Brown, etc., to even saxophone playing. It all has played a pivotal part in my singing. My influence in writing music is fluid, so I wouldn’t feeling comfortable answering this question right now in my life. Maybe I will have a definite answer 15-20 years down the road.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Where were you born? Were you raised in a musical family?
DURAND JONES: I was born in New Orleans, and my parents shortly moved back to my Dad’s hometown called Hillaryville, Louisiana. Everyone down there leaves out the L’s in Hillary when pronouncing it. It’s very, very small and rural – the kind of place where, as a kid, you’d get scolded for not speaking to the adults on their porches as you passed by. Lots of sugarcane. It lays right on a bend of the Mississippi river. That’s where I grew up. My grandmother played organ as a hobby back in the day, but that’s about it. My dad was a basketball player in school and he wanted his sons to be, as well. I just got all the wrong genes to be an athlete!

PRESTON FRAZIER: What age did you start singing? What was your first instrument?
DURAND JONES: I was singing ever since I could remember, but I was always bashful about it and only would sing at home. I was an unbearably shy kid, growing up. I knew early on though that I wanted to be involved in music in some way, so when I was old enough to join a band, I picked up the saxophone. That started my love for classical music and jazz.

PRESTON FRAZIER: What impact did church have in forming your musical foundation?
DURAND JONES: A huge one, when it came to singing. I grew up in a religious household, so church was a thing every Sunday. My grandmother didn’t care if you were sick either! I started to sing so much at home that my grandmother put me in the choir at church. I thought it’d be so nerve racking to sing in a group back then. I didn’t sing a word in the choir for weeks, I just mouthed them. That’s how nervous I was. When I started to warm up to the idea and started to actually sing, the director noticed my voice and gave me a solo. That next Sunday, the church went nuts when I led the song. People were giving me hugs and some people even gave me money after the sermon. I was 16 when that happened. I think that was the moment I realized I could do something with my voice.

PRESTON FRAZIER: How did you decide on Southeastern Louisiana University?
DURAND JONES: M-O-N-E-Y! I got a nice scholarship to major in music education with a concentration in classical saxophone. I’m really glad I went there. I wanted to go to grad school to get a master’s in classical performance after I finished. I applied to several schools and had no intention of going to Indiana University, until I met the IU saxophone professor Otis Murphy when he came to Southeastern for a small residency. He convinced me to join him in the fall in Bloomington after I graduated. It’s funny to think about how by chance this has all happened.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Tell us about your musical endeavors prior to the Indications.
DURAND JONES: In high school, I played sax in a ska/punk band called Raley’s Revenge with some friends. In college, I played sax and sang the soul stuff in a cover band called Rewind. This is where I really learned from James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Otis, Stevie [Wonder], and so many other greats. I played sax in a gypsy jazz group called Carter McFarland and the Telegraph Salesmen, as well. When I moved to Bloomington, I played alto and traveled across the country with a classical saxophone group called the Kenari Quartet. We even won some national and international awards. I played bari-sax in a band called Jefferson Street Parade Band. I also wrote and arranged horn parts for the IU Soul Revue. That’s where I met Blake Rhein, and the birth of DJ and the Indications happened. My intention was to be a professional saxophonist, never the singer/frontman.

PRESTON FRAZIER: What led to the formation of the Indications?
DURAND JONES: My assistantship was with the Indiana University Soul Revue when I first came to Bloomington for school. We were short on guys that year and the director kept pushing me to sing some songs to fill out our set. I reluctantly agreed. [Guitarist] Blake Rhein was the student sound engineer for the group. After he heard me sing he invited me to come over to his place to hang and listen to some soul tunes. That is where I met [drummer] Aaron Frazer. Our listening sessions began to mold into jam sessions. These guys were already in a band called Charlie Patton’s War with Kyle Houpt [bass and guitar] and Justin Hubler on keys. The four of them had been playing together for years before I got to Bloomington. Eventually, they invited me to sing some Otis Redding tunes at a basement show they were playing, and that is really how it all started. These guys work like a fine-tuned machine. They were all recording arts students, so they knew what the hell they were doing and were damn good at it. I’ve never seen a band of four compliment each other so well, I couldn’t have gotten any luckier.

PRESTON FRAZIER: What’s next for you?
DURAND JONES: We are lining some tour dates in the Midwest and East Coast this fall. We also have a pretty hip music video coming out for one of the tunes, so be on the lookout for it! We’ve also been talking about the next of idea/concept that we hope to put out in the near future. I’m very excited for it.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Finally, what are your Top 5 albums?
DURAND JONES: I feel this would vary from day to day, because there are so many and it really depends on my mood. But for today, in no particular order: Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley; Innervisions by Stevie Wonder; Multiple by Joe Henderson; King and Queen by Otis Redding & Carla Thomas; One Night Stand! by Sam Cooke; and (a close sixth) Sweet Touch of Love by Allen Toussaint. Sorry, I had to add one more. These type of questions always get me!

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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