Photos © 2016 by: Roman Sobus
After generating more heat than the sun on the Lake Shore stage at Lollapalooza, Con Brio vocalist, Ziek McCarter took time out to speak with us a bit about their new album, Paradise, his musical background and more!
DK: How are you doing this afternoon Ziek?
ZM: Feeling nice and lovely today, thank you.
DK: I have to say that you and the band really blew me away on stage today. There were people around me not familiar with the band; I was very familiar having seen your performances on Youtube and even knowing what the band is capable of, did not expect the level of energy that you all brought to the stage this afternoon.
ZM: Yeah, thank you. We didn’t know what to expect either. This is our first show back, we were just overseas in Japan and Europe and this is the best way to break the ice with a nice, hot Chicago sun in front of a Lollapalooza crowd, it was amazing.
DK: I couldn’t tell which was hotter, the actual sun or the heat off the stage… (laughs)
DK: So, you’ve just released your album entitled “Paradise” but what has the band been up to between your EP “Kiss the Sun” and this release?
ZM: We’ve really just been touring a whole lot, writing and touring and growing as a band. We went to Europe off of Kiss the Sun, it is crazy that that six track EP took us to Europe and exposed us to a new fan base and this second time that we just came back from there the crowds were a lot larger, playing big festivals and so Kiss the Sun took us very far and we learned a lot and a lot of that can be seen and digested with Paradise because we wrote it in the process of touring at the beginning of the year we finally recorded it.
DK: Was there a theme for the album?
ZM: Yes, there was definitely a theme for a year, I had Paradise as the album title a year before we recorded it.
DK: And how about the album cover, it seems there is a good story behind the album cover. Who did the album cover for you?
ZM: Her name is Thailan When and she’s an artist based out of Oakland and we’ve been a fan of her work for a long time. We, actually after releasing ‘Kiss the Sun’ we saw her work and we knew we wanted to work with her in some capacity and by the time it came to do ‘Paradise’ we looked at her website (http://www.thailanwhen.com/) saw that artwork and instantly, it was like “that’s sweet, we want to use that” and she so graciously allowed us to, so thank you; to her.
DK: Now how did you get started in music?
ZM: I just started singing, performing and dancing around the house a lot; it was something that was a deep passion for me and I performed in talent shows growing up and had a keyboard around my house and I used to write songs in my head all the time. By the time I got to the last stretch of high school I knew without a doubt that I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. I’ve always known it, but like, when it comes time to be an adult, it was like, ‘hey this is what I’m gonna do’ and I’ve done it ever since.
DK: Now what do you have lined up for the rest of your tour?
ZM: We’re playing another show tonight with Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats and then tonight after that show we drive to Virginia to play FloydFest, then San Francisco to play Outside Lands Music & Arts Fest and we’ll be doing some dates with Grace Potter after that; she’s so amazing, we get to tour with her, take a little break and then get back to Japan and Europe for the second stretch.
DK: Awesome! Well, I know time is tight and I’ll let you get back, but I want to thank you so very much for your time and I wish you and Con Brio all the best in your career, thanks again!
ZM: Thank you also!
Con Brio Tour Dates:
07/31/16 FLOYD, VA AT FLOYDFEST
08/06/16 SAN FRANCISCO, CA AT OUTSIDE LANDS MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL
08/15/16 SAN DIEGO, CA AT HUMPHREYS CONCERTS BY THE BAY
08/18/16 SALT LAKE CITY, UT AT RED BUTTE GARDEN
09/15/16 TELLURIDE, CO AT TELLURIDE BLUES & BREWS FESTIVAL
09/16/16 TELLURIDE, CO AT TELLURIDE BLUES & BREWS FESTIVAL
09/22/16 SALT LAKE CITY, UT AT THE STATE ROOM
10/27/16 LIVE OAK, FLORIDA AT SUWANNEE HULAWEEN OFFICIAL PRE PARTY
11/23/16 OSAKA AT SHANGRI-LA
11/24/16 TOKYO AT DUO MUSIC EXCHANGE
11/27/16 NIJMEGEN, NETHERLANDS AT DOORNROOSJE
11/28/16 GRONINGEN AT JAZZCAFE DE SPIEGHEL
11/29/16 AMSTERDAM AT PARADISO UPSTAIRS
11/30/16 HAMBURG AT NOCHTSPEICHER
12/01/16 MAASTRICHT AT MUZIEKGIETERIJ
12/04/16 KOLN AT YUCA
12/05/16 BERLIN AT MASCHINENHAUS
12/06/16 ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS AT BIRD
12/07/16 UTRECHT, NETHERLANDS AT TIVOLIVREDENBURG
Biography: The night before Con Brio headed into the studio to record their first full-length album, 23-year-old Ziek McCarter had a dream. In it, the singer received a visit from his father, an Army veteran who died at the hands of East Texas police in 2011. His father delivered an invitation: Come with me to paradise.
McCarter woke up with a song in his bones. “It was one of the most spiritual moments of my life,” he recalls. It was up to him, he knew, to rise above injustice, and to perform in a way that lifted up those around him as well. To make Con Brio’s music a place of serenity, compassion — even euphoria — right here on earth.
Paradise, which saw the San Francisco band teaming with legendary producer Mario Caldato Jr. (Beastie Boys, Beck, Seu Jorge), is the result: a declaration of independence you can dance to; an assertion of what can happen when the human spirit is truly free.
Formed in 2013, Con Brio is the offspring of seven musicians with diverse backgrounds but a shared love for the vibrant Bay Area funk and psychedelic-soul sound pioneered by groups like Sly & the Family Stone.
By 2015, when the band self-produced their debut EP, Kiss the Sun, Con Brio had already become a West Coast institution on the strength of their magnetic live show, with McCarter’s swiveling hips, splits and backflips earning him frequent comparisons to a young Michael Jackson or James Brown.
After a busy 2015 spent touring the U.S. and Europe, playing alongside veterans Galactic and Fishbone, and racking up critical acclaim on proving grounds like Austin City Limits — where PopMatters declared Con Brio “the best new live band in America” — they headed home to parlay their momentum, chemistry and tight live sound into a full-length record.
In an era when much has been made of the “death of the album,” there’s no question that Paradise, released internationally in summer 2016, is a fully-formed journey — a trip made all the more immersive by Caldato’s raw, live style of production. “We tried to create a narrative in the studio, in the same way that we segue between songs live,” explains McCarter of the record’s arc.
From the first primal wail of Benjamin Andrews’ electric guitar on the title track — Paradise is bookended by intro and outro versions — the album tells a story about modern life through its contradictions: “Liftoff” speaks of an urge to fly, to transcend the day-to-day with a starry, bird’s-eye view. “Hard Times” brings us crashing back to earth with the struggles of city life, inequality, and a fractured society desperate for healing. “Money” is a revolution, a rejection of societal pressure to equate success with a paycheck and abandon one’s dreams in the process.
“Free & Brave,” the band’s most overtly political anthem, is also arguably its most infectious. Over a driving R&B groove courtesy of veteran rhythm section Jonathan Kirchner and Andrew Laubacher (bass and drums), McCarter name-checks Trayvon Martin and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Clearly inspired by his own personal relationship with police brutality, the song is equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful.
“‘Free & Brave’ is in part a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, but it was also created to serve as a reminder — to myself and to whoever finds joy in that song — that there is a light there. We don’t have to get bogged down, we don’t have to feel helpless,” says McCarter. “We might not see it on a daily basis, but we are still ‘the land of the free and home of the brave’…I still take pride in that, in what pieces of joy and happiness we can create here with our actions.”
Of course, songs about love and passion remain Con Brio’s native tongue. (At a recent Australian festival in which the band shared a bill with D’Angelo, one journalist told McCarter his sex appeal had eclipsed that of his longtime idol. McCarter continues to have no comment.) So it’s a refreshing surprise that the strongest love song on Paradise, in fact, is “Honey,” a sweet, spacious and vulnerable tune that allows the band’s horn section, Brendan Liu and Marcus Stephens, to shine. Though the band’s built a reputation on sonic bravado, it’s choices like these — moments in which the music’s power flows from its subtlety — that truly highlight where Con Brio is going.
As for where they’re literally going: The second half of 2016 will see Con Brio embarking on an ambitious international touring schedule, including stops at the lion’s share of major American music festivals (Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Summerfest and San Francisco’s own Outside Lands); Fuji Rock, Japan’s largest annual music event; Montreal Jazz Fest, the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands; London; Paris; and more.
Which is not to say they’re intimidated. After performing most of these songs live throughout the past year, the team is running on adrenaline, and they’re thrilled to finally put this record in people’s hands. To bring old fans along for the journey, to help new fans lose themselves in a beat or a message. To spread music that, hopefully, shakes away the daily grind — and nurtures listeners’ dreams about what their version of paradise on earth might look like, even for the duration of a song.
Ziek McCarter already knows what his looks like, because Con Brio’s building it. And from where he’s sitting, they’re well past ready for liftoff.
“We don’t want to walk, we don’t want to drive,” he says with a laugh. “We want to fly. We want to levitate.”
Ziek McCarter – Vocals
Brendan Liu – Trumpet
Marcus Stephens – Tenor Saxophone
Benjamin Andrews – Guitar
Patrick Glynn – Keyboards
Jonathan Kirchner – Bass
Andrew Laubacher – Drums