Gedeon Luke’s debut EP, Perfect Ain’t Perfect, strutted onto my “Best of 2012” list after only a few spins — ironically enough sharing the bill with the original Disciples of Soul. Since then, Luke’s short stax of trax have been on near constant iPod repeat play. I’ve been damn near giddy about it because the emotional experience of discovering a new favorite record hits many of the same beats as falling in love: euphoria, enlightenment and plenty of electricity.
My gravitation to the record may have as much to do with what Luke is throwing down as it does what everyone else is throwing out. Ask yourself, how long has it been since Prince released anything worthy of his potential? I hear great things about the upcoming D’Angelo record, but the waiting is the hardest part. These days, Lenny Kravitz spends more time hanging out with Katniss than he does in a recording studio.
With Perfect Ain’t Perfect, Luke and producer Marc Swersky have crafted an uplifting, raw, soulful and timeless mini-masterpiece. It could have easily been released between 1963 and 1973. It will sound just as fresh in 2023. The title speaks volumes. There is no Auto Tune; mistakes are made, it sounds organic, real, visceral and most importantly, it rocks hard in a funky place (to borrow a line from Prince when he used to do exactly that).
This weekend, POPDOSE caught up with Luke to discuss his passion for the craft the influence of the great masters.
POPDOSE: Comparisons to Prince, Al Green, D’Angelo, Lenny Kravitz are gonna happen — were these the artists you grew up listening to?
GEDEON LUKE: My main influence was Al Green. People like Prince, D’Angelo, Lenny… they all just listened to him, like I did. Al Green was able to skirt the line between sex and God. Prince does the same. The thing about it is all of those artists… they weren’t afraid to talk about love, sex, spirituality… Everything now is too damn PC and we forget about the things that matter the most. When you stop and start writing about truth, the things that matter…that’s when you start writing like one of those great artists. It’s all about passion and pain…the yin and the yang.
My life is a journey right now. I won’t say the word struggle…that’s sad. So, I’ll just say journey, because that’s just life. I don’t have the Rolls Royce, that’s for sure. But I don’t need that. I’m starting to see more of what I need and what I want. I know what the world needs now, and that’s real music. I’ll tell you this – I’m the happiest now, more than I’ve ever been in my whole life, because I see the vision. It’s all coming together…it really is. I’ve been feeling like a force of nature is preparing me to be in front of a billion people…but not without a fight. It’s all just a testimony. And, one day I’ll testify about this… about it all.
Let’s walk readers through the new album. “Lend Me Your Sunshine” is a full blown gospel rave up. How did you capture that on tape?
Sunshine is so simple it’s ridiculous. The whole song was inspired by the piano chords. The original version was vastly different than the recorded version. The entire record changed when Jack Daley (Lenny Kravitz) agreed to be the bass player. My producer and I decided to flip the focus of the music so that the bass was the driving force. It all started with Sunshine.
“Soul Child” would have just killed in the Tarantino movie Jackie Brown.
We went back to the roots for Soul Child. It is a song very much influenced by Curtis Mayfield. During the recording, the horns became the secondary hook in the song. That song was cut in two takes…vocals…everything. And Bobby Sparks threw on the grease with his clavinet playing.
Does the inspiration for Soul Child walk this Earth or is she just a fantasy?
I’m always seeking. Always seeking love. Not any kind of love….a soul kind a love. So is she a fantasy? I don’t know, is she? You can’t tell the world everything… just take it all in. We’re all just soul children looking for love.
Things slow down for the exquisite, heartbreaking ballad, “The Hurting Kind.”
Hurting Kind all started when I was shown a lyric written by our good friend, Charlie Midnight (James Brown, Joni Mitchell). It was always meant to be simple and focused on the vocals but when we did the first takes in the studio, something was missing. It all sounded good but still something wasn’t there. Marc Swersky, my producer, called me into the control room and said, “Sex it up, Dude. SEX IT UP!” I went back out in the live room and told my guitar player to play off of me like the Isley Brothers would do. After that the song was cut in one take. It features the magical playing of Eli Menenzes on guitar and James Poyser (The Roots) on piano. The icing on the cake is the angelic background vocals by my baby sister, Evvie McKinney and my soul sister, Brielle Brown.
“Gray” was the first song I heard from you, it was the soundtrack to a YouTube video seeking relief for Hurricane Sandy victims. How did it come together?
We wrote “Gray” two weeks before going into the studio. The song was really inspired Carole King and Bill Withers and was all written around a popular children’s nursery rhyme. The glue to this song was the magic of the rhythm section and the slinky and sexy groove laid down by Sarah Tomek on drums and Danny Sadownick (Maxwell) on percussion. If you hang around long enough and listen to the end of the song, you’ll hear an amazing group of kids singing away.
Blockbuster songs bookend the EP, “Standing on Top of the World” is such a release of positive energy.
This is my message to the world, a celebration of love, peace and soul. You can feel the heart of every musician on this song. Since it was one of the first songs we recorded, I really wanted to give it a non-rehearsed, organic, real feel to set the spirit in the room. We pressed record and the whole thing just started from there. In a very nonchalant way, I started a roll call, introducing the band. We just jammed. It’s spontaneous, it’s joyful and it rocks! We cut the whole thing in two takes. And if anything on this record isn’t perfect, “Standing” would be it. There were some things flying around in there…all over the place…but I just said, fuck it…keep ‘em in there…’cuz perfect ain’t perfect.
All of my songs start out as stripped down demos written mostly with an acoustic guitar and a recorder. We don’t try to steer the song, we let the song steer us. “Sunshine” and “Standing” were no different.
Did we intend for them to be gospel infused? No, but if that’s where the songs want to go… who am I to stop ‘em! Oh, and when you put 14 background vocalists in a room, raised in the church, and a three piece horn section — I guess you get a little gospel groove goin’ on.
What’s on tap for 2013? Are you ready to get in a van and head out on the road?
I’m gearing up for some shows this week to debut the new band. On Wednesday January 30th, I’m playing The Saint in Asbury Park at 9:00pm (tickets) and Thursday Jan 31st I’m at The Cutting Room in NYC at 7:45pm (tickets).
It’s going to be full on spiritual revival of love, peace and soul. A soul revolution! The band is force of funkified nature. I hope that people leave changed after they hear this band play. After this week, we’re heading right into the studio. I’ve been blessed with a few more songs that need to go on my record. As far as touring goes, I hope to be on the road as much as possible. I know we’re going to be focused on the East Coast. My dream for 2013 is to bring it back to Memphis.
My full debut album will be out in early spring.
If you could pull any undiscovered singer or musician up on stage with you to jam, who would that be?
My baby sister, Evvie McKinney. Evvie is featured on “Going Up”, a song on my full record. She’s an old soul. She brings the church, but she also has that angelic quality to her voice. The two together are magic. She’s a beautiful spirit and ready to be heard.
If you could get up on stage and jam with anyone (alive, not dead), who would that be?
Oh man… Springsteen, Al Green, The Isley Brothers, The BarKays, Stevie Wonder, The Stones, Prince, Booker T and the MG’s….
To hear more from Gedeon Luke, listen to his recent interview on Jon Grayson’s syndicated radio show, Overnight America. In the 20 minute talk, Luke opens up about his rough childhood in the Memphis projects. He discusses Auto Tune and what it takes to keep it real in the music industry these days.