THE BRANDON BROWN COLLECTIVE (THE BBC)
INTERVIEW WITH BRANDON BROWN & MACKENZIE 2018
“Alright … from the roota to the toota god-dammit!”
Lifted from the classic, early nineties Eddie Murphy movie Boomerang, it’s a saying band leader Brandon Brown uses to introduce the monstrous funk jam What You On - encouraging his group to give it everything.
“Ah Brandon, you’re such an old man.” One of the girls in the 12 strong collective can be heard to quip in response, teasing him.
“He says stuff like that … all the time.” States lead singer Mackenzie, on the phone from LA. “He’s a young cat but a really wise old soul. When we greet each other, he’s like ‘hey man, what it is?!’ That’s him. Everyday.”
It’s that vintage sensibility which has inspired The Brandon Brown Collective - or “The BBC” as they refer to themselves online when pre-fixed with a hashtag – to boldly groove forth into the uncertain Black-American music scene and become that rare thing since the emergence of hip-hop: the glorious, stage hogging-multi player funky soul combo.
“It’s funny; it never started out that way. At first I just wanted to brayynch out, play some grooves and do a solo bass album,” laughs Brandon, on another line from the Sherman Oaks area of LA; the way he lingers on vowels often betraying his Tennessee roots.
“That then grew into a 5-piece band, co-created with my brother – though not my actual brother, I call him that because we’ve known each since we were keeeds - drummer/producer Stanley Randolph, along with guitarist “Cool” Kyle Bolden and some others.”
The other no-named guys in the 1st band, originally titled New Genesis (“Like the bible” says Brandon), wanted to hold back on the jam’s that the group had been cooking up. Not to be denied, that’s when The BBC was born, a 12 piece juggernaut of funk – the core band of bass, drums, keys & guitar augmented with a percussionist, an extra keyboard player, a 3 piece brass section and a trio of singers; paying homage to the greats of Earth Wind & Fire, Tower of Power & the productions of Quincy Jones. Expert players who’d toured with megastars like Stevie Wonder, The Jacksons (Brandon served as their music director), Isaac Hayes and Prince’s old band the NPG etc., to come together and create their own classics.
“We call our music the ‘The New Old’,” Says Brandon. “We don’t sample and though it may sound familiar, it’s all new material.”
In lead singer Mackenzie, Brandon has found a kindred spirit. A virtuoso frontman, Mackenzie, with his cut off shirt sleeves, carries himself like a country-funk star who moves like James Brown; a tenor with range that can summon a guttural cry, or slip into a smooth falsetto.
“I call him Mack, or Mack-Attack. When we first met and I heard him I was like, ‘Man, this dude is baad.’” The feeling was mutual for Mackenzie.
“When I first moved out here to LA my fiancé encouraged me to hook up with the Memphis cats she knew and it was just like family from the jump. I came from a farm in Virginia, but I could tell straight away Brandon was a country boy just like I was, same values. I could also tell he loved music just as much as I did.”
Mackenzie first heard the track for What You On in a recording studio both Brandon & producer Stanley Randolph own in North Hollywood - a space Brandon affectionately calls “The Time Machine”.
“I came by with an open mind,” Mackenzie recalls, “and as soon as they played the track I was like ‘This is nuts!’ I’m 27 years old, obsessed with music of the sixties and seventies - Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Rick James and all that stuff, but no-one was doing anything like that around here. I loved it.”
The BBC reckon they’ve recorded over a 100 songs in the Time Machine. Contenders for an as yet unreleased debut record, with only an EP’s worth making it out so far via iTunes & streaming services such as Spotify & Soundcloud. Along with What You On there’s the gorgeous Hey Lover that sounds like ‘74/’75 era EWF (with a shot of Marv). The twilight funk of Honey featuring authentic disco-diva Kiki Kyte, feel good dancer Spirit and the excellent, quartet styled funk of Come Back Home.
“I want 9 songs on the album, that’s all. Like Thriller. But it won’t come out ‘til it’s ready. Because we have our own studio, we can be patient. People are asking us all the time, ‘Where is the music?’” Brandon laughs. “But I tell them ‘Don’t worry the music’s there – it’s not gonna change. It’ll still sound good next month.’”
Album or not, despite a growing number of tour dates making ends meet is still a challenge.
“At this stage me and my brother (Stanley) pay for everything out of pocket. We’re all making a sacrifice, nobody’s making any real money right now but we are doing paid gigs. The money is definitely there we just have to go out and get it, but the currency for it you have to create yourself.”
Having read the posthumously published biography, My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire, by his hero Maurice White, Brandon finds inspiration in the more than just the music. “When I read that book I was like ‘Man he’s given me all the answers!’ I learnt what not to do with a band, but also what it takes to make a band successful, to make millions of dollars but do it with great music, great people and integrity.”
Fans are cramming into venues, trying to witness what all the fuss is about. See the afro’d lead singer who glides across the stage, or Alayna’s jewel encrusted headpiece, or listen to that trumpeter Chris Grey who blows like Dizzy Gillespie on Do I Do (says Brandon: “I call them the Smokin’ Horns. Sometimes I turn around and say ‘Phew, whachu doin’ back there!’”)
The timing feels right, like it’s the funk the world has been waiting for.
“We were in the Time Machine and I said to the guys, ‘It’s like Michael (Jackson) and Maurice are listening. Like man, I can really feel it’. And that night we had a gig in West Hollywood, just another random show, but guess who turns up? Quincy Jones & Verdine White!”
He has the selfies to prove it.
“I’m telling you man, sho’ nuff they were there that night at that geyeeg. It was crazy.”