The thirty-third annual Sunset Concert Series will kick off next week with the rhythm-and-blues / jazz / funk fusion of Space Capone. The band's eponymous frontman has made a name for himself in his adopted hometown of Nashville, Tennessee through improvisational and highly danceable live shows that combine soulful vocals with horns, guitars, synths, and percussion. Space Capone will perform Thursday, June 16 at 7 p.m. on the steps of SIU's Shryock Auditorium.
As a funk band in the country capital of the world, Space Capone is used to defying people's expectations. Along with the band itself, lead singer Aaron Winters assumes the name Space Capone and has crafted a stage persona that is equal parts Prince, George Clinton, and Beck-- the latter another funky white boy who must be green with envy at Capone's soaring falsetto.
"I definitely don't mind getting compared to Prince, but people have this urge to make us something simple and to give us a label," Capone recently told Nightlife. "I just want to say to them, 'Stop talking about it and just listen!' Anyone who wouldn't give us a shot because of what someone else wrote isn't in this for the right reasons."
Originally from Indiana, Capone moved to Nashville years ago, having already adopted a steady diet of funk, jazz, soul, and rhythm and blues. And while the city remains most famous for its country stars, Capone said the funk scene is burgeoning and that the regional distinctiveness of their sound has allowed them more exposure.
"It's not a novelty act. It's just me," he said. "But I do think that we've benefited from the fact that we're more different in Nashville than we might be in New York or L.A. In Nashville, there are a lot of people who are so sick of the whole woe-is-me, singer / songwriter kind of country. There aren't many shows to dance to in Nashville, and most of them are techno, house, and trance, so a lot of people come to our shows not really knowing what to expect.
"I get to see the shock on peoples' faces when we first start playing," Capone said with a laugh. "A lot of people seem to think that they have to decide really quickly whether they like something or not, but I think it takes longer with us, because there's a little period of surprise first."
And when the surprise ends, the dancing begins. Space Capone's two full-length albums-- 2008's Volume I: Transformation and 2010's Volume II: Arrival, Arousal-- reveal a deceptively mature approach to songwriting that juxtaposes complex jazz syncopations and horn progressions with lyrics like "She's got me feeling how I look, which is very, very sexy." (Also, from a ridiculously catchy posterior tribute called "Booty": "With an ass like that, it's be a sin to dance all alone.")
"Rick James was never serious, and you don't have to be if the songs are strong enough," Capone said. "Some of my peers in Nashville will go to shows, and it's a room full of people with their arms crossed, not smiling, not dancing, not looking like they're having fun at all. That vibe, it's gotta change! And I'm going to need some help with that."
This refreshing lack of pretension allows Space Capone to take accessible, commercial songs like "Booty" and "I Just Wanna Dance"-- two of the band's singles that both have excellent videos available online-- and transform them into freewheeling improvisational whirlwinds live.
"The live shows are always jazzier and the albums are always poppier," he explained. "You take a lot of performers, like a [Lady] Gaga, and their goal with the live show is to recreate the album. We don't want to do that. The live shows are all improvisation, completely on the spot. We have a couple links in each song that can go in different directions, and I'll yell out one of them when we're playing live, and then the trumpet player and the horns just look at each other and start making faces to figure out who's going to take the next solo."
Capone-- who has spent the first weeks of June in the studio in Nashville working on his third full-length release-- also said that he has to resist the impulse to overload the recordings with all the tricks the band has in their live arsenal.
"I was just having a conversation with my producer about this yesterday.... and he said that you have to leave some of it behind for the live show, so you can give people something new," Capone said. "If there's no third harmony on the album, then they can sing it in their car, or be surprised by a new horn line at the live show."
Sunset Concert attendees may also be surprised at how comfortable Space Capone is in an open outdoor setting-- but even if the whole city of Carbondale comes to the show, it still won't be close to their biggest crowd. The band was one of the winners of the 2010 Road to Bonnaroo contest and was rewarded with a spot on the epic festival's lineup.
"I love playing outside, and we've never had a problem getting our sound out outdoors," Capone said. "Some of our best shows have been at festivals, definitely, and I like playing on larger stages."
When asked about the band's experience playing in front of tens of thousands of people, Capone laughed. "Bonnaroo was... hectic. It's a refugee camp, but the people aren't refugees. We were all ready to pass out at the end of it, so we knew it was good."
Since the festival last year, the group has focused on stage choreography, modernizing their sound within Nashville's burgeoning funk scene-- and sax solos.
"I love sax solos!" Capone enthused. "I love them and I want to bring them back. I've also been consciously trying to make our sound newer. So many people comment that we sound like we're from the seventies or eighties, and there's a lot to like about that, but I also want the band to have a sort of technology to it. I want to experiment more with effects like Autotune, not for the lead but for the background vocals.
"We're a totally different live band than we were the last time we were in Carbondale," he added. (They were one of the many Sunset Concert rain casualties in 2009.) "We're going to have three synths this time. We've really been doing a lot with synth bass lately, and last time we had no synths."
Capone estimated an eight- or nine-person lineup for the Sunset Concert. Core players Capone, Neal Dahlgren (lead guitar), Sam Farkus (guitar), Drew Wilson (bass), and Mikey Martel (horns) will be joined by drums, synths, and backup singers.
Capone also said that the band hopes the show will be a launching point for a fan base in Southern Illinois. "I really want to be playing in Carbondale more often," Capone mused. "We're so close, and I hear a lot about what a great music scene you guys have. So I'm starting a campaign right now for Space Capone to play at the Hangar 9. Give us your support and help us make this happen!"
For more about Space Capone, log on to <http://www.SpaceCapone.com>.
The 2011 Sunset Concert series is sponsored by the city of Carbondale, the Carbondale Park District, the SIU Student Center, and the SIU Student Programming Council. While glass bottles, pets, and kegs are prohibited, the concerts are free and open to everyone.
who: Space Capone
what: Sunset Concert Series (funk, rhythm and blues)
where: Steps of Shryock Auditorium
when: Thursday, June 16