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Wednesday September 17th 2014

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Answers from a Dap-King

By Jessica Forbes

As if you needed one more reason to get out of the house this weekend, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are returning to Vinyl Music Hall in support of their sixth full-length album “Give the People What They Want.”

Producer Mark Ronson famously turned to the Dap-Kings when seeking out an authentic soul sound for the late Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” and with good reason. Prior to that album’s release in 2006, the Dap-Kings had been performing soul music and recording on independent record labels for a decade, starting with Desco Records and, when that dissolved in 1999, Dap-Kings Gabriel Roth and Neal Sugarman co-founded Daptone Records; Daptone is now the label for their own bands, as well as Charles Bradley and several other soul, funk, gospel and Afrobeat artists.

The fall 2013 release and tour for “Give the People What They Want,” was delayed in June 2013, when vocalist Sharon Jones was diagnosed with bile duct and pancreatic cancer. After surgery and six months of chemotherapy that ended on New Year’s Day, Jones, 57, and the Dap-Kings are back on the road with their newest set of songs and Jones’ resiliency and undeniable talent on show.

Fernando Velez, percussionist and one of the founding members of the band, took time out to answer a few questions during the first week of their four-month tour, which kicked off at the Beacon Theatre in New York City on Feb. 6.

IN: As far as people describing the band as leading a soul revival (in light of the major-label success of artists like Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars, etc.), what are your thoughts on that?
VELEZ: We have been playing funk and soul music since ’95, ’96. Soul music never left, but the taste in popular music shifted in other directions. I’m glad to know that soul and funk are coming back to the forefront of popular music. We simply started playing that genre of music because our heart was in it. Everything else that has come our way, all the media attention is certainly welcomed, but we didn’t start doing it because we hoped someday it would be huge. It just happened organically through a lot of love for what we do and hard work.

IN: What have been the collaborations or feedback from musicians you look up to that stick out most in your mind?
VELEZ: We played the Playboy Jazz Festival a few years back and Bill Cosby, the emcee for years, was simply enthralled with our music. To see that big smile of his flashing from the side of the stage is pretty memorable. Also, Prince saw us playing on TV on Austin City Limits and he asked us to open a show at Madison Square Garden. After that, we played two more shows opening for him in Europe. We also had the honor of asking Allan Toussaint to open for two shows in New York City a few years ago. We played some songs together toward the end of his set. It was magical.

IN: When did you first hear Sharon sing?
VELEZ: I first heard Sharon sing when I went to a session during the Desco Records days, ’96 or ‘97. We then played a live show with her, might have been at Wetlands in downtown Manhattan. After playing that show I thought, “Wow, this would be amazing if we could do this for a living, take this show on the road.”

IN: How does the songwriting process usually go for you guys?
VELEZ: Most songs are brought in a semi-complete or complete form by someone in the band, and then they are brought to life in studio by all of us. There are very few times where we will jam to someone’s melody or hook in the studio and a song gets written there. We do collaborate a lot in the studio to enhance a song that needs X or Y.

IN: Have you all done much songwriting since Sharon’s returned or has time been focused on releasing the new album? Do you expect that what she and you all have experienced during her illness and recovery will play into future songwriting?
VELEZ: I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have been writing ideas for new songs. I believe we are always writing until it’s time to get together and make a new album. I’m sure there will be songs in the next album that will reflect what has happened to Sharon.

IN: What are the primary pros of being on an independent label?
VELEZ: From my perspective, being independent means you control everything. It means you can decide on the cover art, music content, touring, merch ideas, who you collaborate with, etc. The days of needing a label to make it are over. Now I think that if your music is good and creative, you can use all the Internet media channels in a way you couldn’t before.

SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS AT VINYL MUSIC HALL
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: $20-$25
DETAILS: vinylmusichall.com