The Soulphonics & Ruby Velle with Lee Fields
9 p.m. Sat., Mar. 6. $10. The EARL, 488 Flat Shoals Ave. S.E., Atlanta, 404-522-3950, www.badearl.com
By Bob Townsend
The Soulphonics & Ruby Velle are giving a new voice to the sounds of ’60s and ’70s soul.
Taking after contemporary rhythm and blues revival artists, such as Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Amy Winehouse and Back Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, the young, eight-member band mixes classics covers with original music that conjures the heyday of James Brown and Aretha Franklin.
On Saturday at The EARL in East Atlanta, The Soulphonics & Ruby Velle will release a new single, “Feet On The Ground,” and make the evening even more special by playing a set with legendary ’70s soul singer Lee Fields.
Recently, the Soulphonics founding members — keyboardist Spencer Garn, guitarist Scott Clayton and singer Ruby Velle — sat down at George’s Bar & Restaurant in Virginia-Highland to talk about how they got together, and what it means to have soul in 2010.
As it turns out, they all grew up in different parts of Florida. Velle joined Garn and Clayton in Gainesville in 2006, around the time she graduated from the University of Florida.
“When we started in Florida, we were called the Elements,” Clayton said. “But the band has always had the same sound. It’s kind of a conceptual. It was like, ‘Let’s put together a big soul band with a three-piece horn section and put on suits and play.’”
“I was inspired by some of the other bands that were doing this kind of thing,” Garn said. “Mainly the Dap-Kings. But I was already a big fan of soul music.”
After relocating to Atlanta in 2007, the Soulphonics soon became known as one of the city’s hardest working funk and soul scenesters. In 2009, the band did a six month “residence” every Wednesday at the Star Bar in Little Five Points. Later, they appeared at the Highland Ballroom to pay homage to the famed Stax Records’ revue, with songs by the likes of Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MG’s, and Wilson Pickett.
“I think we’re ready for the day when The Soulphonics are playing every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night,” Clayton said. “But the Star-Bar gig really helped us solidify the lineup and find the right group of horn players.”
While Garn, Clayton, bassist Kevin Scott, and drummer Mark Raudabaugh lay down the groove, Velle commands attention at center stage — belting out songs, such as Arthur Conley’s infectious 1967 hit, “Sweet Soul Music,” with a big sassy voice that seems all the more uncanny coming from such a tiny young woman.
“I’ve always had a soulful voice, I guess,” Velle said. “Oddly, my early influences were more from folk music and classic rock. My uncle had a jam band, and I was singing with him when I was eight or nine years old. But once I started listening to soul music, it became kind of an addiction.”
Velle writes the lyrics for the Soulphonics original songs, and Garn and Clayton collaborate on the music and arrangements. Though the trio often reaches into the past for ideas, they’re trying hard to a create a fresh body of material they hope will translate to recording an album later this year.
“The formula is nothing new,” Clayton said. “Amy Winehouse has had success with it, and so has Sharon Jones, to a lesser degree. But the new music we’re writing doesn’t necessarily follow that ’60s soul formula. We’re using those elements and finding our own voice.”
“Recently, someone left a comment on our Facebook page,” Velle said. “It was like, ‘I saw you guys on TV. I just closed my eyes and imagined the days when I was listening to a 45 and it was exactly like that.’ To me, that was so cool that we could evoke that kind of emotion in someone.”