"Sometimes being at a crossroads feels like you're starting over again."
With those words, Ivan Galvez, percussionist for the True Loves, sums up the band's current status. The past few months have been difficult, to put it mildly. After spending two years rocketing up the ladder of Seattle's music scene as the whip-tight, eight-piece backing band for soul singer Grace Love, she and the band parted ways at the end of the summer. The split came as a shock to fans: Together, they were killing stages across the Northwest and ready to tour outside the region. While Love has spoken about her desire to play a different style of music, the True Loves have voiced their disappointment in a good thing passed too soon.
But like Galvez says, they're starting over, and the second coming of the True Loves might be closer to their original intent. In early 2014, the band's core members—Galvez, guitarist Jimmy James, drummer David McGraw and bassist Bryant Moore—first came together for jam sessions at a rehearsal space called SodoPop, beholden to vintage soul and funk. The idea, says McGraw, was to be an instrumental band in the vein of the Wrecking Crew or the Funk Brothers, playing behind various vocalists of their choosing. Love joined after another casual jam session, this one at the Sea Monster Lounge in Wallingford, and before long they'd recorded their first singles. Very quickly—perhaps too quickly—Grace Love & the True Loves became darlings of Seattle music until their untimely breakup. Even now, it still stings.
"Now I know what not to do," says McGraw.
These days the True Loves have returned to their old digs at SodoPop. They're writing new material and readying for their upcoming Dec. 3 performance alongside Industrial Revelation, launching Band Crush, City Arts' new series of live-band mashups. I sat down with Gavlez and James—McGraw joined us about 30 minutes into the two-hour conversation—to talk about the True Loves then, now and in the future.
How did the Band Crush gig come about?
Jimmy James: We had a meeting with Kevin Sur [of production company Artist Home, a Band Crush partner] about it, shortly after the split. He thought it would be a good idea to try it.
Have you done something similar before?
Ivan Galvez: Not like this, where you pick another band to do a double bill with and share songs. That’s what's cool about it. You admire another group enough to learn their material, pick a few songs and interpret it your way. I think that’s a cool opportunity.
James: We've done shows with [Industrial Revelation] in the past at different festivals—Timber! Fest, places like that.
Galvez: When the True Loves first started, within the first few months we did a show at Chop Suey with them.
You guys very quickly became part of this real-deal soul scene that spans the country. You caught the ear of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings early on, right?
James: Definitely. We've had a conversation with [Dap-Kings bandleader] Gabe Roth one time in a conference call, he gave us good advice. We consider the Dap-Kings family. It's crazy, going from being a fan of theirs to being family. They've been an inspiration to us. Sharon, of course, and the whole group has been an inspiration.
Galvez: Not just creatively but the sense of family they give. You understand that there's that side of the music that’s business, but the fact that they did that part of it and also had that family unit, that’s inspiring as well. Because all of that goes into the music, be it a live show or a recording, being able to feel an understand where your fellow musician is gonna take things. That harmony is amazing.
Jimmy, you struck up a friendship with Sharon Jones, right?
James: I met her so many times, and her being Facebook friends with me, we'd wish each other happy birthday and stuff like that. I never get star struck by anyone but they were the group that I got star struck by. It would be the same feeling meeting Jimi Hendrix. I wouldn’t know what to say. But I love [Sharon's] strength, her perseverance, her work ethic. To just say, "I don’t care what my age is, I'm gonna work for it and put myself out there," it makes people like me like, gosh, she could do it regardless, that means I could do it.
What will they do now that she died? They can't really replace her.
James: Nobody would go for it, they’ve been in the game too long. And nobody could replace Sharon anyway. That’s impossible. She's the queen and they're the kings and that’s it.
But here you guys are, carrying on without Grace. What's the difference between them and you?
James: The difference is… well, I say we just take baby steps. And we focus on ourselves. Just doing that, you know, focusing on what we're doing and how do we move forward. Just doing what we're doing.
Galvez: It's interesting you say that because you hit a crossroads and sometimes being at a crossroads feels like you're starting over again. That’s what we're inspired by. We're back to where it all started: SodoPop, that small rehearsal studio, creating new music. We have a handful of songs ready to go and we can't wait for this coming show. Not to mention playing some of the Industrial Revelation stuff.
How have you been preparing for the show? Do you have sheet music or horn charts or stuff like that?
Galvez: Just listening to their tunes, actually. There's some correspondence—obviously you don’t wanna go into the show blind. So we discussed which songs of their we're gonna do and what songs of ours they're gonna do. Depending on the instrument you play, each musician has their different needs. Our horn section is writing up their parts. Jimmy has got almost like a photographic memory—an audiographic memory, if there is such a word.
James: The cool thing about it is that we'll have our twist on it and they’ll have their twist on it. It'll be exciting to hear another band interpret our songs. You wanna hear how they'd do it in their way and then hear how we do it in our way. It leaves you in suspense.
Galvez: It’s the perfect name for the show. You feel like you have a crush on somebody. Interested, intrigued.
What about Industrial Revelation's music is so intriguing?
James: I like that the freedom and fearlessness of their playing. You listen to Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, this freedom of expression that’s so wide open. It's something else than what it is, not a particular genre. It just sounds like freedom to me.
James: [Industrial Revelation bassist] Evan Flory-Barnes and I, we go way back. He used to live a block from me and we used to catch the same bus all the time. He'd walk down the street with his huge bass, and me with my little guitar case—I don’t know how he does it. We never said anything for years. Until like six years later we finally talked. He was like you're the guy with the guitar! I was like, you're the guy with the bass!
Galvez: D'Vonne [Lewis, IR drummer] and my younger sister, they used to play together. He was about my sister's age and they'd hang out.
McGraw: My first getting into the Seattle music scene was through Aham [Oluo, IR trumpet player] because he and Bryant [Moore, True Loves bassist] are good friends. We had a band for a minute.
Galvez: This is reminiscent of that family vibe that I was talking about.
They don't have a guitarist, so Jimmy, how do you find where you fit in?
James: I just listen to what's not there. It's weird, hard to describe. I'm gonna come up with something but not take away from what they do. It's like writing an extra character in The Wizard of Oz or something. We're gonna put a robot in there!
Are you leaving anything up to improvisation?
Galvez: Everything we said we're gonna do of theirs we've been studying and working on. Where the improv comes into play is at some point we'll join each other on-stage and play a song or two songs of ours and one or two of theirs. That’s where it's gonna be interesting.
You've had a couple shows without Grace already, right?
Galvez: We were at the South Lake Union block party. That was our first show post-Grace, which was really fun.
James: Really it was at Nectar, with Skerik's Bandleabra. That was our first show post-Grace.
So you have that experience of playing without her.
James: That’s how we stared out in the first place. All instrumentals.
Galvez: Seventy to 80 percent of the songs were already written but just instrumental.
Soul music is filled with studio bands or backing bands that were awesome but almost invisible. The Wrecking Crew, the Muscle Shoals bands, the Funk Brothers. Most of them never got any recognition at the time.
James: Booker T & the MGs were the house band for Otis Redding and Sam & Dave and Rufus and Carla Thomas. Then they were their own group when they hit with "Green Onions." So they were known as not just a studio group but also as their own thing with horns and all that. It is possible.
And the Bar-Kays…
James: There was the first Bar-Kays, and two survived and the rest died with Otis, and then there was the new version of the Bar-Kays later on. They were fresh out of high school and went on tour with Otis Redding. Imagine that!
Galvez: That’s how shit used to get done. No YouTube, no Facebook or SnapChat. Just Route 66.
You said many of your songs were already written before Grace got on board, like you guys had already done a lot of the work before she joined.
James: I can give an example: "Fire," how that song started. We were doing a show as Telefunction, that’s was the name of this loose thing he put together at the Seamonster one Saturday night. We were down there, and I remember I had this riff in my head, I asked David to give me this beat that I was looking for.
McGraw: Telefunction—that was a one-night thing we had.
James: He gave me the beat and I'm doing the melody and Grace sung the lyrics and that’s how the song came about.
Galvez: It's like a pot of soup. You start with a little garlic and onions, add a little meat… No tofu in this music, I'll tell you that! You just start throwing stuff in.
James: That's how it started. I had a rough version and she came up with the words right there on the fly. I remember it was just exciting, you know. It was a lot of fun.
So what happened with Grace?
McGraw: I think I don’t wanna dredge any of this up. I don’t wanna be dishonest but I don’t wanna re-litigate it or start a new argument. Right now we're focused on the future. Jimmy, you said it best—it's about transparency.
James: It was emotionally taxing on the group. But we wish her the best in the future. Things are what they are, but we wish her the best.
McGraw: We got to experience a trajectory through the music scene in this city that most bands don’t. She was a big part of that, but not all of it. Really we're focused on what's next for us.
Galvez: Going back to where it started. Get back to back to basics, back to roots. We left songs on the table.
It sounds trite but maybe it worked out for the best.
Galvez: Just like a good book, you have different chapters.
McGraw: You can't keep fighting the current. You have to go wit the flow… if you wanna talk about trite.
Galvez: When it first started out it felt easy. It just lined up right. If it doesn’t feel right then it's probably not working.
James: A band is like a marriage. You have your ups and downs but you try to work it out. Sometimes there are irreconcilable differences and you end up getting divorced.
Galvez: Except I ain't getting no child support, man! I'm just kidding.
McGraw: But as far as moving forward, I can't imagine a better band than Industrial Relelation to do this Band Crush thing with. We just have so much respect for them, as individuals and as musicians. We're really excited.