Seamlessly blending sounds of soul, electro ,hip-hop , and jazz is the DC based ,production triad Columbia Nights No strangers to the Culture Starved platform, the crew speaks on defining their “sonic space” , as Soultronic music. Drawing inspiration from Herbie Hancock ,Sly Stone & J-Dilla , Columbia Nights’ purpose is to advance the music art form ,and inspire others to do the same. Exhibiting great discipline between day jobs ,and long evening sessions bouncing from each other’s apartments has benefited the triad with a plethora of music. Although currently independent; Columbia Nights appreciates such platforms as Soundcloud ,Vimeo , and of course Culture Starved ,which allow them to penetrate the “mainstream giant model”.
Why did you decide to start Columbia Nights?
Hayling Price: We set out to make the kind music that we’d want to listen to. And hopefully in the process, that means we can help push the artform forward in some small way.
Why the name “Columbia Nights”? Does it have anything to with Columbia Heights?
HP: That’s right, it’s about the place and the time. John and I were living in Columbia Heights when we first started recording, and we’d bounce between each other’s apartments for our evening sessions. We also had day jobs, so we carved out a few evenings each week to listen to records and work on our own music. These moments continue at Jason’s place, and I still consider them our Columbia Nights. Think of it as “Midnight Marauding” a la Phife, Tip, and Ali.
Interesting… So how did you all meet?
John E Daise: All of us met in stages. Jason and I met in high school and played together in jazz band. While in college, Jason and Hayling were in a hip hop band together, which I joined later on. After graduating, Hayling and I both moved to DC where we started just working on a few ideas late at night after work. These evening sessions are where Columbia Nights began. Jason at this point was working in Philadelphia. When Jason came back to DC, we all reconnected to form the current lineup.
Jason “BrotherSpanky” Edwards: I actually even had the pleasure of working on the debut project, playing a fair amount of live percussion on the album as well, before getting the opportunity to join the group formally and be a part of the creative and generative process.
Two years ago, you released Dawn | Dusk. What was the response to that project like? What did you learn from it?
HP: Starting from scratch we didn’t know how much attention the project would get, so we were excited to see outlets and critics showing love. We knew our sound didn’t fit the description of what was trendy at the time, but it turned out that staying true to ourselves and pursuing an original sound helped us capture a lot of ears. The first-go round was great, but to reach new listeners we’re developing more of a strategy for our next release. That said, the new work will still be uncompromisingly us.
What elements do you think artists should consider before embarking on a big project like an EP?
HP: I think it’s important to have a vision. What do you want to say? We viewed our first EP as an opening statement of purpose, and it was helpful for us to think through how we wanted to add to the larger conversation as that process was happening.
BS: I think it’s definitely important to also have a plethora of material. If you’re working on a 5 song EP, have 15 potential songs you feel are good enough to make the album and narrow your scope accordingly. Being prolific has always been a personal creative goal of mine, and the quality control discipline of only giving the public your best product is always evident to the listener.
Your beats fused with Sarah Abdul-Malik’s voice on Dawn | Dusk was magical. How did that collaboration come about?
HP: She was studying at the Howard Jazz Studies department at the time, and after a chance meeting through a mutual friend we realized we had similar musical sensibilities. I invited her to link with us for a session, and we quickly realized we were all on a similar wavelength. From there, recording together just made sense.
What is soultronic? And how in the world did you come up with it?
HP: Soultronic is shorthand for the sonic space we’ve created for ourselves. They’re usually described as opposites, but we view analog and digital sounds as a spectrum and try to explore the sweet spot between the two. To us, that means using digital technology in ways that feel organic while blending in analog sounds and live instrumentation. Whether it’s through mixing techniques or the gear we’re using, we’re constantly pushing to synthesize our influences in new ways.
What artist(s) are you interested in working with in the future? MNEK maybe (crosses fingers)?
JD: I am interested in working with a long list of people, but not long ago I had a vivid dream of us working with Toro Y Moi in one session and KING in a separate session.
BS: We’re always on the lookout to collaborate with like minded artists; particularly singers and songwriters. From a vocal perspective, the attitude, delivery, and timbre of artists like Bilal, D’Angelo and Erykah Badu have been influential to the development of our sound. I think it’s likely that a Soulquarian-meets-Soultronic collaboration might congeal quite compatibly.
So when I listen to a lot of your music, especially Heart Aglow and Make Some Room, it gives me all that mushy “love” energy. It makes me wonder, are there any special (wink wink) women , or moments that inspire your music? If so, explain.
HP: “Moments” is just the word. Even though those two covers have romantic undertones, none of our original songs actually contain those themes. Our music is inspired by a love in a more universal sense of the word. Everything from sharing a smile with a passing stranger to feeling God’s presence in your daily experiences, those are the moments we talk about capturing in our music.
BS: I think all great music, in some way, is inspired by the muse of love. Love for others, for self, for our Creator, for nature, or otherwise. Love is an ever-present and ever-relatable human experience, and I believe music that is informed by that most human, urgent, and universal essence is both lasting and profound.
You’ve spoken on what black music is missing before; however we would love an updated response. Has your opinion changed since your previous response?
JD: I believe black music is in a good place and there are plenty of artists who are creating interesting, thought provoking and challenging art. I believe what may be missing are spaces for these artists (both amateur and more experienced) to share their craft. The internet is a wonderful place but I’m speaking more in terms of physical spaces that are artist-friendly, where one does not need to pay to play and where average people can freely come in and enjoy something new and different. Rockwood Music Hall (in NYC) is a good example of such a space. I believe we need more spaces such as this.
HP: Culturally, I think black music is in an interesting place. There’s this generational shift where we’re seeing a lot people who were unfamiliar with our classics discovering things we grew up on for the first time. Mainstream producers and indie artists are referencing influences like Janet Jackson and early Timbaland production, repurposing these not-so-old classics with a 21st century flavor. It’s great seeing work that wasn’t always popular getting more attention, but it still raises questions about whether we’re moving forward with music, or simply re-hashing ideas. Then again, it’s cyclical, right? It makes me feel like our old heads who used to complain about sampling in the 90s.
BS: I sometimes wonder if the lens by which we view Black music is one filtered through the vista of the popular music landscape. If that is so, then Black music seems to have a tendency toward the vapid, repetitive, and banal. But in defining Black music not simply as popular music performed by Black artists, I honestly believe that the soul of Black music still pervades in a continuous current, perpetuated by those artists who tap into that stream. Those who study our greats, and who honor the legacy of our musical ancestors still produce music that stays true to the spirit of great Black music.
During the Starved Happy Hour Social Media Discussion, we posed the question; “What do you need?” to artists. In response you mentioned, “We need.. Listeners willing to eschew labels and think beyond genre.” Could you please elaborate on that initial response?
HP: We’ve studied and love many types of music, but also understand that genres are fundamentally just marketing devices. It helps someone buying or selling music when they can pick out an accessible reference point, so I understand why they exist. (How many times have you been introduced to a new artist with something like “their sound is like Artist X meets Artist Y”?) For musicians and producers who are synthesizing a range of influences into something new, it can be hard to reach new listeners when you can’t offer an easy point of comparison.
BS: I’m grateful that we live in an era where huge record labels (read: media conglomerates) are in many ways becoming extinct, or at least rapidly being forced to adapt to the current landscape. I’m also grateful for the simultaneous proliferation of media sources like Vimeo, SoundCloud and Bandcamp that make it possible for independent artists to reach a relatively large audience of listeners with discriminating tastes, but who don’t discriminate against the self-releasing artist. We need much more of this, and much less of the mainstream giant model that so often forces complex pegs into simplistic holes.
What effect do you want your music to have on people?
JD: My hope is that our music will bring people peace and even encourage people to create their own art.
BS: Music has always inspired me, and so I likewise hope to use it to inspire others.
Why do you all do what you do? (What is your purpose in art?)
JD: To put out positive energy into the world. Also I believe the purpose of art is self expression.
BS: I think when the Creator gives anyone a gift or talent, their purpose is to use it to the best of their abilities. For me, that’s what making music is.
5 years from now its 7pm. What do you hope to be doing?
BS: At 7 I’m usually eating dinner and listening to a record. So probably still that.
3 of your biggest musical inspirations? Ready, go!
HP: George Duke’s definitely on top for me. He was able to bridge the gap between jazz and funk with R&B and disco in really creative ways. As a keyboardist, Herbie Hancock’s my biggest inspiration, and as a producer I’m really digging what Flying Lotus is up to.
JD: James Jamerson, Herbie Hancock, Sly Stone
BS: I first heard Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters record when I was 10, and Harvey Mason’s playing on it made me want to be a drummer. As a composer and multi-instrumentalist, Stevie Wonder’s work has always inspired me. And more contemporarily, the late great J Dilla has definitely informed the way I’ve listened to records and how I both program and play drums.
To hear more soultronic work from Columbia Nights Click Here