In loving memory of Maria and Antonio Vasquez
Mixed by Wes West. Engineered by Matt Davis and Wes West. Produced by The MGDs. All songs performed by The MGDs. NOD by V. Dickerson, D. Urso, P. Huff, J. Hill and Rudy Vasquez. Special guest Mikal Shapiro on Holeylewya. Album art by Rudy Vasquez. Layout by Cameron Haddad.
Published: March 15, 2016
Music > Feature
The MGDs come together for a promising new album
Of the dozen songs on the MGDs' newest album, Wake Up, only three are under the five-minute mark. You could say the groove band has a lot to share. With six members, each claiming a stake in the songwriting, brevity is not a priority.
It isn't the length of Wake Up that will surprise listeners, but rather the album's ambling from one style of music to another. Soul, funk, reggae, smooth jazz, Latin rhythms and more are traversed in the album's 72 minutes. For any other band, weaving all those elements together might not have been an option, but singer and drummer Matt Davis insists that there was no other way for the MGDs.
"There are six of us, and we're all influenced differently," Davis says. "Our bass player, Greg Bush, was a big Rush guy back in the day, and he likes the progressive, complicated stuff. I like funk and soul, and our sax player, Rudy Vasquez, brings a Latin flavor in. And Damon [Parker, keys and vocals] is all about New Orleans jazz. When we write songs, it usually starts with one person — they write a song and bring it to the table, and then we finish it out pretty diplomatically."
One of the most interesting songs on the album is the final "Where's Chuck," written by Vasquez and named for the famed jazz trumpeter Chuck Mangione. It's a dynamic, rollicking instrumental filled with warm horns and charging brass — and it was the most complicated track to record, according to Davis.
"The melody is progressive, and if you flub a note, we're starting over," he says. "The timing is awkward, which will throw you off as a listener. We wanted to put it at the end because it's so different. At the end of the day, I don't think we really planned on being all over spectrum — that's just what we felt at the time when we were writing. There are no limitations."
It was doubly important for each member to feel like they had enough breathing room on the album, Parker says, because this is the first release that reflects the MGDs' lineup as it currently stands. When the band formed in 2008, it consisted of Davis, Bush and Parker (the MGDs is an anagram of that trio's first names); by 2013, just a few months after the band had released its self-titled debut, Vasquez had joined as a full-time member, along with guitarist Scott Middleton and trumpeter Eric Martens.
"This is the whole essence of Wake Up is that, even though it's the second album as the MGDs, it's really the first album with every member being a part of making the album," Parker says. "There's a little taste of everyone from the band."
Wake Up works as a cohesive release, each song — no matter how different — fitting nicely after the one before it. But even that balance, Parker says, wasn't necessarily the goal.
"Really, we just don't want to do something that's been done before," he says. "For business reasons, I guess it's important to have a one- or two-word genre tag on your music, but it's not something that we worry about. The next record we do, we want to focus on having three- or four-minute songs, because that's something we've never done. Honestly, this band is more for us than for anything, and if people like it, that's icing on the cake. I think the big thing is all of us being satisfied with what we do."
Davis, who has been friends with Parker and Bush for more than a decade, adds that though the MGDs is far from the only project for any of its members, it is one of the most rewarding.
"For me, it's my baby," he says. "The demanding part of it is probably more stressful on our families, because it does take time. But it fulfills me and, I imagine, the other guys, too. If I didn't have it, I'd feel like I was missing something in my life. I guess we're lucky in that, because we get to do something we love."•
The MGDs album release show
Green Lady Lounge
Saturday, March 19
The Bridge 90.9 FM
Published: March 14, 2016
The MGDs Release “Wake Up” This Weekend
by: Michelle Bacon
Whether it’s at their monthly residency at The Phoenix or on a large outdoor stage opening for Robert Randolph, The MGDs know how to nudge an audience out of their seats. Their richly dense songs—influenced by New Orleans funk, blues, soul and old school R&B —have a freshness and enthusiasm that gets people on their feet. This weekend, The MGDs are releasing their second album, Wake Up, establishing themselves as a rare gem in Kansas City’s music scene.
“They know where to push and what’s going to sound good, all without getting too comfortable,” says Damon Parker, the group’s frontman and keyboardist. Much of this can be attributed to the band’s tried-and-true drummer Matt Davis, bassist Greg Bush and keyboardist Damon Parker (the initials of their first names make up the band’s acronym), the three of whom have been playing together since they were 17.
By the time Parker joined them in the rock/jam cover band Everlasting Salsa, Davis and Bush had already been making music together for three years. They later continued in The Hellhound Junkies and eventually formed The MGDs in 2009, mostly playing New Orleans’ covers and material they thought was too funky for their main group. In 2013, they were joined by saxophone player Rudy Vasquez, and in 2014 added Scott Middleton on guitar and Eric Martens on trumpet.
The addition of the funky guitar leads and warm brass tones enmeshed perfectly with the trio’s vibe, giving them the opportunity to evolve into new musical territory. Wake Up is the product of this evolution, the band’s first release with all 6 members. “Every one of us has put our own flavor in each tune,” says Parker. Along with that characteristic New Orleans jazz flavor, The MGDs run the gamut. Take “ABW,” an instrumental track with salsa influences led by a Santana-esque guitar lead, or “Soul Cannon,” a funky soul groove.
The band’s evolution has become more apparent over the past 2 years spent making Wake Up, polished by their monthly gig at The Phoenix and performances at big local events, including Boulevardia, Plaza Art Fair, Sunset Music Fest and a World Series game. But in that time, Parker explains that, though the band’s sound has changed, its direction has remained the same. “Everyone shares their ideas to create the sound and identity that is the MGDs,” he says. “We’re out to have fun, and play great music for people who enjoy just that.”
The MGDs are releasing Wake Up this Saturday at a special release party at The Orion Room in The Green Lady Lounge. Show starts at 9 pm.Visit this link for more information.
Michelle Bacon is a musician and writer dedicated to the Kansas City music community. As editor of The Deli KC and staff member at Midwest Music Foundation, she advocates for and helps spotlight music in the area. She also plays with The Philistines and Chris Meck & the Guilty Birds. Her grandma is 102 years old and by far the coolest person she knows.