In this series, we profile emerging Canadian R&B/soul talent that can be found on the artist pages of CBC Music.
The traditional four-piece rock ’n’ roll band formula doesn’t apply to theflow. They keep the rhythm with guitar, bass and drums, and have a charismatic lead singer. But then they add keyboards, alto and tenor saxophones and trombone to the mix, topping it off with an emcee. That’s nine people, a diverse group of talented young musicians, ranging in age from late teens to 20s. Together they effortlessly blend soul, funk, hip-hop, and R&B.
“Our influences range quite a bit. Almost all of us are studying music, so there’s probably some jazz in there,” explains Wesley Allen, bass player and one of the original members of the group. “All of us really like D’Angelo, Pino Palladino, ?uestlove and the Roots and a Tribe Called Quest.” With shared interests in neo-soul and hip-hop pioneers, it’s not hard to hear how an emcee works within the band’s sound. “We’ve been doing more hip-hop songs, and we’ve been arranging horn parts that fit into a soul/hip-hop aesthetic and can include the whole band in a creative way.”
With such a large group of musicians, including everyone can be a challenge. “The band is a democracy,” Allen assures me. “We have these lengthy discussions at rehearsals.”
Gathering the band to practice is a commitment, “they are long, it’s an all-night endeavour.” The group has christened its rehearsal space “the meat locker” due to its location in a sketchy building at the end of a long, abandoned road. As Allen describes, “the only escape from the meat locker is the car, and only two people in the band have cars.”
This video clearly shows that, despite the horror movie setting, theflow can perform fresh and soulful sounds in the meat locker.
theflow covering J Dilla and N'Dea Davenport’s “Whatever You Want”
“We are really focusing on videos,” Allen says. “The music has been live off the floor every time. It’s sort of a performance.” Indeed, the videos capture just a taste of their live performance style, which Allen describes as very high energy. “Onstage we are always trying to be supportive, we try to go with it and enjoy the energy. If someone starts a solo, the band will scream and egg them on, asking the audience, did you hear that? We do a lot of solos, so we try to do little things to give the audiences cues as to what they should be looking at and listening to.”
What’s sure to be another show stopper at their live gigs is their funk-ified version of the pop hit “This Love” by Maroon 5. Allen explains that “the idea is to do the new hit cover that everyone will be searching for on YouTube.” Promotion is key for theflow. Everyone in the group has outside jobs and musical outlets, whether it be teaching, studying, freelancing or playing in a Michael Jackson cover band. But theflow are serious about their future. Allen currently plays with a few other bands, so he can speak from experience.
“Bands get so into the music, which is awesome, but the promotion suffers,” he explains. “We’ve been working on our fan base, trying to build that. We’re playing NXNE. We are going to record an album soon.”
The band’s uniqueness is welcome in a crowded music scene, but can also be detrimental when trying to appeal to mainstream audiences. Allen shares, “a promoter talked to us, and said you know maybe you should make it more generic, try to make it easier to watch.
“It’s really eclectic, we really struggle with that. We do have a unified sound whether or not we know what to call it.”
theflow will be playing Saturday, June 16 in Toronto as part of NXNE.
More in this series:
Up Next: Karen Jewels has trappings of an early Jennifer Hudson
Up next: Vaness aLegacy brings rock to R&B/soul
Comeback tracker: D'Angelo reveals all in GQ interview
On the Record: D’Angelo’s Voodoo, 12 years in retrospect
The aire of the Soulquarians
on Jun 14, 2012