What started as a college band turned into a full-time job for Durand Jones & the Indications. The five-piece band has already been around the world with their two previous records and is now about the release the third. Known for their modern take on retro soul music, Private Space, sees them show a variety of musical facets. We caught up with the singers Durand Jones and Aaron Frazer to chat about the release of the record, private spaces, and whether love will save us.
Durand and Aaron bonded over their love for old soul music and have been working together for a long time. With Blake Rhein, the guitarist, they form the core of the band. The other two members of the group are bassist Mike Montgomery and keys and organist Steve Okonski. As the Indications they provide a musical base for the vocal interplay of the two singers. Aaron, who released his solo debut Introducing… earlier this year also shines on the collaborative record with the soaring falsettos accompanied by Durand’s rich soulful voice.
On Private Space, Aaron and Durand say, they are revealing more of themselves than on the last two records. “Our first record was made for absolutely no purpose other than to have fun together”, Aaron laughs. “And you have twelve months to make your second record they say. So, the pressure was on for American Love Call, not just to finish it quickly but also to fulfill the expectations that people had set forth after our debut.”
“On this record, I felt more freedom to just make the record we want. We don’t need to be anything else than ourselves and for me there is some sort of glee in thwarting the expectations and throwing some sounds on the record that people wouldn’t necessarily expect from us.”
And Private Space does convey different characters in and within each song. The more restrained Witchoo is driven by a gentle bass guitar groove, violins, and Aaron’s pitch perfect falsettos are accompanied by background singers. At its core it is still the retro soul sound that Durand Jones & the Indications love, but a different approach to that.
Growing as a Band
Over time the band matured, not just musically. “On the first record I was so premature in songwriting. Since then, I have honed the craft. I have always been an avid lover of poetry”, Duran adds, “but I didn’t really understand how to turn my poetry into songs and music.” The singer explains that now he allows himself to go where the music tells him to when writing a poem. He then takes an idea or a line from those abstract writings in his journal to craft the lyrics to the song.
“It feels like the band has grown collectively. We have been through things, fallen in love more, had our hearts broken, and all that stuff. That happens in that part of ourselves that we call our soul and that is also where the music comes from. I feel like we just go to live a bit and that allowed us to make this record freer.”
When you listen to Durand’s smooth vocals, it might be a surprise that singing was not his initial intention. “I never thought that I would be a soul singer going through school. But that just says – make plans for your life and watch the universe laugh at you”, the artists who was originally enrolled in classical saxophone studies gins. Well, it seems like the path the universe did set him and the band on is not a half bad one.
Passing The Ball Back And Forth
The growth of the artists does not just show in their individual skills they have developed but also in the way they approach collective songwriting. “When you are on the road with people for 200 days a year, they become like family members”, Durand says about the relationship to the bandmates. “Of course, things have changed since college. We are not kids anymore, and we have arguments as well but in the end we love each other and have a collective goal. A friendship is one thing, but an artistic partnership is a relationship that requires work like any other. Talking, processing, taking time for each other, making mistakes, and doing better.”
“We are at our best when we write collaboratively. Like some of the great duos in soccer or basketball we pass the ball back and forth until we get to where we want to be.”
Even through the pandemic, when bouncing ideas back and forth had to be done online, the band stayed in touch exchanging ideas. “For the first few months none of us really had it in us to create anything. But slowly the music did come. And the basis for some of the songs came from that – emailing back and forth and building on each other’s ideas.”
The title of the record is derived from a song that was written pre-pandemic but as the album title it takes on a new meaning set against the backdrop of the isolation that came with the pandemic. The meaning of privacy and private spaces has changed for many. The distinction between workspaces and private spaces has become blurred by the invasion of the home office turning bedrooms and kitchen tables into office desks. The privacy we used to seek out turned to agonizing isolation. The track on the other hand, takes us back when that was something we actively sought out.
“The song Private Space is about being in a room full of people while aching to be alone with someone and having some privacy. And there are all those references to space and astral things.”
Those references also made it into the album artwork, which shows the band in a somewhat 2001: Space Odyssey style of colorful light. “Over time of course the definition of private space changed”, Duran says. “We all had to hunker down and quarantine and be away from our public lives, so it felt absolutely right to be the title of the album”. The multiple meanings of Private Space leave a lot of room for interpretation and the somewhat futuristic vibe of the spacey cover also plays into the theme of the optimistic look onto the future.
And speaking of private spaces; for many, music can create exactly that. When you put on headphones and play a record you love, it has the power to transport you to different places. For Durand Jones, especially Stevie Wonder albums make him forget about where he is at the moment and provide a musical escape to a different space. The band makes music with the aspiration to create those kinds of moments for the listeners– music to travel to different spaces.
“Listening to our own music is less of an escapism than a reminder of memories”, the singer says when I ask whether their music has the same transporting quality to him. “They remind me of what it took in those times to make the songs. It brings back memories, like a musical diary”. Aaron agrees, “Sometimes it even brings back random bits of memories like what I ate for lunch the day we wrote that song or what shirt Blake was wearing in the recording studio. Or how when we were recording Sexy Thing, the engineer recording our vocals just said, ‘man you were really horny on this one’”, the singer grins.
Bridging Past, Present, and Future
Music lives in the moments of the past, the present, and the future at the same time. Evoking memories in the present and inspiring change for a different future. Durand Jones & the Indications have worked to create music that touches on all those layers. For Durand moments rather than whole songs are his favorite things on the record. “When I close my eyes and listen to the end of Private Space for example, I see colors and wavy things. And I love big singing, I grew up in a gospel church with a lot of singing so More Than Ever is one of my favorite things that I have ever sung with the Indications.”
For Aaron one of the favorite moments is Durand soaring over the key change on More Than Ever. “I feel like Durand, the music conjures colors. And the bridge of Love Will Work It Out for example feels just like smooth and blue and purple and black. It is such an interesting and complex moment on the album”.
Will Love Work It Out?
Throughout the record love and joy are the themes the band is following. Especially in the troublesome past months, the optimistic message of Private Space is as uplifting as the synthy soul grooves.
Folks overtaken by disease
All the people lost made me fall right onto my knee
All I could do is cry and shout
I knew I had to trust the faith that love would work it out
Joy will set us free
If you do believe
So don’t you ever doubt
That love will work it out
The lyrics to Love Will Work It Out recount the losses of the pandemic and the social injustices that the murder of George Floyd last May once again brought to light. But amidst all those struggles, Durand Jones & the Indications believe that “Joy will set us free” and that “love will work it out”, as the title already says. The single is beaming with optimism for a different future without talking down the struggles of the present. But how much of this hopeful optimism is realistic and how much is utopia?
Love as the Defeater of Injustice
“I think it is possible”, Durand says. “I was primarily raised by my grandmother, and she was a student of the Martin Luther King Philosophy. She also showed that to me and Dr. King always preached about love being the ultimate defeater of injustice and evil. It was her who instilled that philosophy in me as well.” Inspired by the MLK philosophy and being raised going to the Baptist church, the singer came to make the song title his philosophy.
“It may feel a little altruistic and like a far-fetched dream, but I believe that we as humans can one day look past each other’s differences and start loving each. And realize that we are on this small ass rock flailing around this hot ball of fire somewhere in the universe, whatever that is. We be fighting over the most stupid shit! I do believe that we can work it out and that love can make it happen.”
The Power of Love
The record from the opener to the closer sounds like a love letter – not just to romantic love. Reach Out is a vow to always be there for a loved one, while Private Space is a cheeky allude to finding some, well, private space. The careless flirtation of Sexy Thing is countered by the profound dedication of Ride Or Die. At its core it is a record about love. But as Aaron points out, it is not just romantic love and big hugs.
“Love can be so many different things. It can be setting a boundary, enforcing that boundary. It can be calling someone out and telling them they can do better because you care, and you know that they can do it better, it can be holding someone accountable. So, it is not just total unconditional affection for everyone. Love can manifest in a lot of different ways, and it is not a sign of weakness. It is a strength and has the power to overcome even the most uncomfortable situations and conflicts.”
Love Will Work It Out
The third album has that message not just in the lyrics but also seeping into the instrumentation. Bright funky guitar strums and the prevalent danceable bassline that drives most of the songs makes the groove go straight into the chest. Like the best of soul music, it touches the heartstrings but not with the stingy tuck that melancholic music has, but with a gentle reach that causes tears of joy and relief instead of sadness.
Between the inspiration of the soul greats and contemporary music, Durand Jones & the Indications carve a niche for a musical imaginary of utopia where love has overcome hate. And to move towards a different future, those optimistic imaginaries are key. Because if we cannot dream it, how are we supposed to make it happen? Private Space is like a musical vision for a future where love has already worked it out.
The new Durand Jones & the Indications album Private Space is out July 3oth via Dead Oceans.