Pocket Dwellers find new horizons

The Pocket Dwellers are slated to play Alfie’s on Thursday.
The Pocket Dwellers are slated to play Alfie’s on Thursday.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of brsk.net

Interview/Concert Preview: The Pocket Dwellers, Sept. 29 @ Alfie’s

The Pocket Dwellers, a Toronto-based septet—that means seven, count ’em, seven people—are veterans of the scene, but of what scene is hard to say. The group incorporates aspects of hip hop, jazz, rock, and most other imaginable genres into their music.

When asked to name the band’s influences, drummer Marco Raposo names artists as varied as James Brown, Mos Def, The Roots and A Tribe Called Quest. The band includes an MC, Nigel A. Williams, and a DJ, Sheldon Moore, among its ranks, in addition to tenor and alto sax, guitar, bass and drums. These places are filled, respectively, by Dennis Passley Jr., Johnny Griffith, Christian McKibbin, Gordon Shields, and Raposo.

In an interview with the Journal, Raposo described how he found the group’s 2000 release Digitally Organic in nearly every section in music stores.

“Sometimes it would be in hip hop, sometimes it would be in jazz, sometimes it would be in acid jazz, sometimes it would be in miscellaneous,” Raposo said. “[This blurring of musical boundaries] hindered us a bit at times, but nowadays it’s not an issue. It’s what we’re known as—we have influences from everything.” But their hotly anticipated new album PD-atrics, due out on Oct. 4, should be easier to shelve: Raposo affirms that the new sound is decidedly hip hop, and definitely urban.

“It’s a little more focused,” he said.

This new focus may reflect the changes in music the band has observed over the years.

“[Since the ’90s] acid jazz has sort of died out,” Raposo said. “Then the jam-band scene kind of came in and we’ve been on the fringe of that the whole time. We can’t be categorized ... we’re not really a jam band ... it’s kind of changed now. We’re like hip hop and funk.” While Raposo praised artists such as K-OS and Outkast for blurring lines and stereotypes in the rap and hip hop worlds, he also observed the “dominance of ‘bling’ rap.”

“50-Cent [and] people like that are becoming the icons of hip hop,” Raposo said. “There’s a place for it ... that’s a style of hip hop. The problem is the imbalance of it all.”

The new album is a step forward in many ways for the band, exploring some more serious lyrical content on tracks like “Poor Little White Girl” and “Photogenic” while managing to maintain the all-around good-time feel that makes Pocket Dwellers shows fun.

“Lyrically, ‘Poor Little White Girl’ was just something [Williams] had on his mind,” Raposo said, highlighting the band’s policy of supporting one another’s artistic efforts. But while they address some heavy subjects addressed in their lyrics, the Pocket Dwellers are here to have a good time, not to depress people.

“We’re serious about our opinions on world issues, but I wouldn’t call us a political band by any means.”

In addition to the new album, a video for the song “Trust Us” has already been produced and will be hitting MuchMusic in early October.

The band has been around since 1996, playing hundreds of shows, touring Canada seven times, and building up a name for themselves in Toronto, where recent gigs included stops at The Opera House and The Mod Club. The Dwellers have managed to cross the pond at least once, and have made their way around much of the United States. It’s easy to see how nine years would fly by. Even after all that time together, with only minimal variation in the band’s line-up, it’s the group’s enjoyment on stage that gets the crowd going.

“When there’s a good crowd, every night’s a brand new night,” Raposo said.

A recent signing to Bluenote—a subsidiary of music giant EMI Canada—has also been a huge plus for the band. Raposo considers Bluenote—a parent label that includes Feist, K-OS, and The Gorillaz—a good company to be in.

Future plans include extended American tours. NACA, the American equivalent of COCA (the Canadian Organization of Campus Activities) has signed the Pocket Dwellers to hit most major universities across the country. Still, Raposo said the band is looking forward to playing Kingston on their current tour.

“Queen’s has been good to us in the past,” Raposo said.

To understand the Pocket Dwellers’ approach to music, it’s all in the name. Raposo tells the story of playing around Toronto with Shields (bass) and Passley Jr. (tenor sax).

The three were playing with Alex Anthony, who had a stint with Parliament Funkadelic where he picked up a theory on music—“A discipline of the funk school,” Raposo said.

“When Gord and I would start experimenting too much, he would turn around and say ‘get in the pocket’ which was an expression for ‘tighten it up, stay disciplined, play the groove’ ... it comes from that school of thought that we are here to make people dance, have fun, move.”

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Get in the pocket and exercise your happy feet when The Pocket Dwellers bring their funkity funk funk to Alfie’s on Thursday night. Don’t forget your dancing shoes.

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