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Interview with Joseph Woullard

Joe Woullard and Martin Perna
Joseph Woullard (Black Joe Lewis, Hard Proof Afrobeat, Ocote Soul Sounds)
(Interview by Nicolas Ragonneau, for Paris DJs - March 2012)

As SXSW 2012 begins, we've caught up with Austin talented sax and flute player Joseph Woullard. He plays in no less than 3 Austin bands (garage act Black Joe Lewis, afrobeat combo Hard Proof Afrobeat and afrolatin funksters Ocote Soul Sounds) and has a few gigs during the festival (check the links at the end of interview for details). He talks about sax playing, Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears, being in a texan afrobeat band, and at last he gives his own Austin tips.
Joe Woullard
Joseph Woullard (Black Joe Lewis, Hard Proof Afrobeat, Ocote Soul Sounds)
(Interview by Nicolas Ragonneau, for Paris DJs - March 2012)

01. Tell me about your SXSW schedule.
I'm doing a few gigs with Hard Proof and Cilantro Boombox and a couple with Black Joe Lewis and Ocote Soul Sounds. Details are still fluid, but I'm looking forward to an ESL Records showcase with Hard Proof, Cilantro, and Ocote on 3/13. Hard Proof is participating in a NOLA showcase, and also partnering with Zenzile and bands from Angers for a "French invasion" day party. We will publish full schedules when the shows are all firm.

02.What are your Austin tips? Any places and clubs to recommand?
Some of my favorite Austin restaurants are Hoover's (soul food,, Mr. Natural (vegetarian and vegan Mexican food and pastries,, and Your Mom's Burger Bar ( All are on the East side of Austin, and close to where the action is.
In terms of clubs, I really like Sahara Lounge (1413 Webberville Rd) and Frank (407 Colorado St). Both clubs have great bands most nights of the week, even after SXSW has come and gone.

03. Where are you from ? When did you start playing music ?
I grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I began playing music in elementary school, but I was about twelve or so (in middle school) when I began playing the sax.

04. What did you listen to when you were a child ?
I mostly listened to what my parents listened to: Motown/Stax era soul and R&B, some contemporary blues, oldies, classic rock.

When I became a teenager, I mostly listened to stuff all other teens were into at the time: hip-hop, grunge rock, etc. But I also started seriously listening to jazz, primarily Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Miles. You know, the folks that many typically start with when they start getting into modern jazz.

05. Why did you chose to play saxophone especially ?
My father also plays saxophone and had a couple around the house, so it was initially a combination of emulation and convenience. I was really hooked after I started hearing more music featuring fantastic performances by saxophonists.

06. What kind of sax players influenced or influence you ?
In addition to the guys I mentioned earlier, Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and Wayne Shorter have been very strong influences to me. I've also spent lots of time listening to Maceo Parker, King Curtis, and Eddie Harris. There are also a lot of current players that I really like too, too many to list. I'm always influenced by players that I get to work with or observe directly.

07. Tell us about your collaboration with Ocote Soul Sounds & Adrian Quesada.
I think that all the Ocote albums have been amazing, and I was a fan prior to meeting any of the musicians. Martin and Adrian create and perform the majority of the studio tracks, so my collaboration with thus far Ocote has been in live performance settings. The group version has really only coalesced in the last few years since Martin moved to Austin, and I've been fortunate to be involved in it's growth and evolution.

08. What about your second band, the Honeybears ?
The Hard Proof Horns (Hard Proof Afrobeat's horn section) are also the Honeybear Horns. Black Joe Lewis is a funky blues band, and it's certainly influenced by soul music, but I think we basically try to play rock and roll. It's not that weird when you really think about it, because most of the early rock and roll bands were based primarily on the blues and many featured horns.

09. You also play in Hard Proof Afrobeat.
Hard Proof developed out of a little jazz combo thing that I used to do on Sundays with Stephen Bidwell, Derek Phelps, and Michael Faircloth. It quickly grew to about 10-12 members at times, and is currently a 9-piece instrumental group. Although horn-driven Afrobeat is our primary influence, we also draw much inspiration from Ethiopian and other sub-Saharan musical styles.

KVRX Live: Lion by hardproof

10. Percussions play a major role in Hard Proof Afrobeat (compared to other Fela's modern disciples). What do you want to bring to afrobeat ?
I'd say that we want to create strong compositions and develop our own unique sound within the genre. Fela's imprint is very large and we are all big fans, but we do not wish to simply imitate him. Or any of our peers, for that matter.

11. What does afrobeat mean to you ?
To me, musically, it's about the groove. The way that guitars, horns, and percussion weave a quilt of poly-rhythms, and multiple melodies are often stacked on top of each other. All instruments are rhythm instruments. I think it's very symphonic music, but it is also very accessible and great for dancing.
But it's hard to adequately express what Afrobeat really means to me. When I first heard Fela, I was kind of overwhelmed by the intensity of his lyrics and music. Fela was a very complex and controversial person, but I think he expressed a lot of universal truths and was a musical genius. His passion for his people and culture gives the music energy that resonates far beyond the specifics of Nigeria.

12. From this side of the ocean, Austin Texas does not seem the best place in the USA to play soul and afrobeat music (compared to Chicago, NY or San Francisco). But maybe it's a cliché ?
It is true that the scene for these kinds of musics is more pronounced in places like NYC, SF, or Chicago, but I think Austin provides more opportunity to create and develop new musical projects in general. We can let things mature and develop organically here in a way that I don't think you typically can in those other cities, mainly because they are expensive and life moves very fast.
Besides, there is also a lot of cross-pollination between all these different cities. We are ultimately drawing from a relatively small pool of players worldwide as opposed to more mainstream genres, so you end up crossing paths with the same people. I believe that technology now enables us to essentially build global scenes, and people are able to seek out music they like wherever (or whenever) it comes from.

13. Can we expect new music from Black Joe Lewis and Harproof Afrobeat soon?
Yes! Hard Proof and Black Joe Lewis are both on course to record new tracks later this year. My electro-Latin pop collaboration (with DJ/multi-instrumentalist Felix Pacheco) is preparing its first album, and it's sounding great. Lots of great musicians from bands I've worked with have guest spots on the album. My horn section was fortunate to record on a new song by The Toadies, and with a great indie band The Preservation. I've also recorded some dub plates with McPullish and Don Chani (with the Hard Proof Horns), and I will soon record a few tracks with a great Latin/ska/pop band called La Guerrilla. I've been busy; I'm sure I'm forgetting a few.

14. You told me of a possible collaboration with Gato Loco.
It really could happen any time now! I just crashed with Gato Loco bandleader Clifton Hyde in Brooklyn recently, so we are actively making plans now. I might even join them for a tour or two later this year.

15. What do you do when you don't tour, practise or record ? Do you have hobbies ?
Family time pretty much fills all the space in between, but I do occasionally draw and paint, and we like spending time outdoors. I used to consider music and travel as my main hobbies, but that's my job now.

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears : official | discogs | facebook | myspace | twitter
Hard Proof Afrobeat : official | discogs | facebook | myspace | bandcamp | twitter
Ocote Soul Sounds : official | martin perna | facebook | myspace | parisdjs | twitter

Nicolas Ragonneau

Nicolas Ragonneau

Stay informed of all things Paris DJs and beyond thanks to our Twitter news

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