Good old-fashioned soul music can be hard to come by in 2014, but Southern-influenced, Brooklyn-based band The Revelations have never struggled to keep a hold on it. Led by Wes Mingus (guitar), Gintas Janusonis (drums) and Rell Gaddis (vocals), along with Ben Zwerin (bass), The Revelations have managed to take their diverse individual strengths to cultivate an even stronger, multidimensional collective. Gaddis is a former Roc-A-Fella signee with songwriting credits including Usher’s “Here I Stand,” while the band has backed Wu-Tang and others.
Their third album, The Cost Of Living (out now), recorded in Memphis at Hi Records’ Royal Studios and featuring appearances by Stax Records musicians, remaining modern and urban at the same time, speaks to that miscellany wholly. “I can’t say enough about the band, the brotherhood, the camaraderie, the ability to really give ourselves as a unit to the craft, the fan base and each other,” says Gaddis. “When you have so many good elements on your side, it’s almost crazy not to take advantage of them. We’re flying by the seats of our pants independently, but as far as what we’re doing, how it’s getting done and what we feel about it, everybody’s on the same page. It’s just something we should be doing, and now we’re creating a fan base of people who are starting to believe the same thing. It’s hard no to feel great about it.”
Life+Times caught up with Gaddis to discuss The Cost Of Living and the band’s evolution and inspiration.
Life+Times: This is your first time as the lead vocalist for the group, but you’ve been writing with them since the group’s beginning. How did you first get with them, and what set the stage for you to emerge now as the lead vocalist?
Rell Gaddis: When it first began, it was through a peer of mine named Boola, he makes beats. He called me on behalf of [producer] Bob Perry, who I think at the time was senior A&R of Koch/eOne. He had put together a band. I met them in Brooklyn at their spot, the first studio they were recording out of in Williamsburg, and met Tre Williams, an artist deep-rooted in grassroots soul music. He had a real raspy, soulful, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett type of style. I’m a country boy – he’s from Florida, I’m from South Carolina – so we vibed. We began to write music for a soul project he was working on. It was called The Bleeding Edge, I wrote the majority of the project with him, and [The Revelations] put it out. That was my first time being in a band setting, being around talented musicians, watching them write sheet music and compose as we go. Though I was familiar with it through gospel and church, it was not until that moment where I was able to really go in depth. I was able to tap into something that I wasn’t before. Tre [and the band] went on to do a second album, Concrete Blues. By that time, our relationship – I was co-vocalist by then – was able to really take flight in regards to having a band behind me. The difference in the feel, sound, the crowd, it just gave me layers that I didn’t have before, and I took to it and stayed with it. Me and the band would work together throughout the years with Tre and on other projects, predominantly other shows, backing up other artists that loved The Revelations sound and professionalism. They produced outside of that, so there were a whole lot of things that we could all do together which led to the point now where I’m lead vocalist of The Revelations, looking forward to taking it to the streets and the stage with a great live show for people. So, Cost Of Living came out of us growing through Tre, Bob, trial and error, recording, writing, shows and learning each other.
L+T: This album was recorded in Memphis. Talk about the decision to record it there and how it influenced the music.
RG: This was something that they had done already with Tre, so they were going back home and I was going to where they lived for the first time. Memphis, Tennessee, the home of soul; you feel it, you see it, it’s everywhere, there’s no getting around it, it’s a part of life out there. We went to Hi Records’ Royal Studios, the home of many great soul artists from the ‘60s and ‘70s: Al Green, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay, etc. I don’t know exactly how we got there, if it was Bob [Perry] who was connected to Boo Mitchell, the son of Willie Mitchell; Boo is the CEO of Hi Records, he runs it now and executive produced [The Cost Of Living]. He brought in all the greats that we were blessed to still have around who played on all of Al Green’s hits. They’re playing on this album as well alongside me and the fellas, they basically gave us their seal of approval. To have that coming from guys who’s careers stretch back that far is [incredible]. To stand where Al Green was standing – they didn’t let us use his mic, and rightfully so – but to stand where he was standing, and feel that energy, is like, “Wow.” You still feel it. To have that be a part of the process of recording your album, it’s kind of hard to put that into words.
L+T: You’ve written for several artist including Usher, worked with JAY Z and Roc-A-Fella, and the band is based in Brookyln and has backed Wu-Tang among others. How is it taking those pop, hip-hop, mainstream sensibilities and combining them with the blues, soul and Southern sound?
RG: I wish that part was rocket science. Everything else required a little more explanation. The bottom line with this was simple. I’ve been trying all forms of music all my life, and I’m sure the brothers have been trying too. So, we’re the same, simple chameleons when it comes to music. It’s styles, approaches, rhyme patterns, melodies, progressions, instruments, vocals. Everything about the music is me in a way, and that’s not in arrogance but in humility. I respect all parts of the craft of music, it is the foremost universal language that we have. It’s the one way we can communicate all around the world. Whether people understand the language or not, they understand the feel. It was the diversity that we all had individually that we put together collectively, from gospel, to the blues I listened to on Sunday afternoon, the Clarence Carter and the James Brown – early James when he was singing, “Try Me” and “Please, Please, Please” – this is what I was listening to growing up. I’m a ‘90s [guy] on top of all of that. I love ‘90s R&B, it’s the reason why pursued a career in music. You can remember how diverse the ‘90s were in regards to R&B, coming from all directions there were groups, individuals, males, females, jazz, all types. We do use where we came from as a road map. None of us are locked into one genre in particular and I think that’s the greatness of our formula, everybody bringing their own individual knowledge to the table. Not withholding, but bringing what we know to the table and trying to do the best music that we can while keeping our own stamp on the project. All we’re doing is recording what we love.
L+T: The lead single, “Why When The Love Is Gone,” is an Isley Brothers cover, and there are some other covers on the album, as well. Why did you choose to cover that particular song, and who are some common influences among the group?
RG: Bob [Perry], Gintas, Wes, myself, we have a lot to do with that. Our influences definitely come from old-school. The three [covers] that we have [on the album] are just three of a few. I had no idea covers were so heavily involved with the live instrumentation process until I started to listen and look at old concerts of the great bands, rock and roll, pop, you name it: Bruce Springsteen, Earth, Wind & Fire, Rolling Stones. That’s not something you see in R&B. There might be a loop here and there, but the material is fairly new. The covers came from inspirations from all of us. From Bob’s inspirations, Los Lobos is definitely one of his groups and he insisted on us doing one of their joints, so we did “This Time.” We moved on to “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination”, which is a Bobby Blue Bland version of a Gladys Knight song. He’s another one of my favorites. “Imagination” was a challenge, because trying to deliver that without the raspy sound was difficult. “Why When The Love Is Gone” was one of the last for me [to record]. We wanted to rock out, wanted to make sure there were things on there that people could groove and move to. “Why When The Love Is Gone” was something out-of-the-box for Ron Isley as far as I was concerned because I know their sound; this was not that Isley’s sound, this was doo-wop, a Motown sound. This was high energy, not smooth like “Who’s That Lady?” At first I was scared of it because I’m a baritone and he’s a tenor, so out of respect, I didn’t know if we could bring that idea across, but again, we did. And again, Revelations kicked ass.
L+T: What’s the message behind the album title The Cost Of Living?
RG: The Cost Of Living was something we all agreed on as an album title. Bob, I think, was the first to throw that one on the table. We took a look at the material and we felt like it was the right one. I don’t really have an explanation as to why “cost of living” ties into the project, I think it ties more into people, to today’s time, to what we’re going through, our questions. Government, education, all these things are concerns to the average person. It would be hard to talk about any one subject matter in a time where people’s minds are on so many different things. I won’t say love is not as prevalent – because it is depending on where you are – but I’ll say that it’s not as commercial. Hustling, the need to be on top of your personal life, mind, body and soul, these things are more commercial, which is a good thing because it shows that we’re starting to be more conscious of what we’re doing. So why not have an album that’s free, easy listening and still touch on subject matter without taking you out of a feel good zone where all these things are going on but it’s ok? Not a zone where all these things are going on, but “So what? Why care?” That’s not what we think, and I think that we have an album that say’s “It’s Ok, it’s alright. These things do happen and are going on. The cost of living is a big deal, but here’s some music to ease that big deal and remind you of simpler times.” It eases the tension of having to deal with today’s issues.
The Cost Of Living is available here.