Naughty Professor Talks New Live Album and More [Interview]
If you have never heard of New Orleans’ Naughty Professor, you’re going to want to change that immediately. Any description of this band will not do their sound justice because no matter what you think of when your friend says, “You’ve got to hear these guys, Naughty Professor. They’re a six-piece jazz/funk group out of New Orleans….,” they will pretty much blow those expectations out of the water. The band was recently nominated, alongside veterans of New Orleans Jazz including Galactic, Nigel Hall, George Porter, Jr., Jon Cleary, and New Orleans Suspects, for OffBeat Magazine’s “Best of the Beat” award in the Best R&B/Funk Artist and Best R&B/Funk Album categories. Although they did not take the win, the fact that six guys playing together for less than five years are being recognized among New Orleans legends should tell you all that you need to know.
Naughty Professor just dropped a live album bundle through BitTorrent, Inc. which includes a full live album, ‘In the Flesh’, behind the scenes tour footage, bonus tracks from their incredible album ‘Out on a Limb’, and more. I had the chance to sit down with Naughty Professor trumpet man, John Culbreth, to talk about the new live album, as well as the band’s background, future, and some exciting things on the horizon. So get to know Naughty Professor, and then head over to BitTorrent, Inc. to pick up your FREE ‘In the Flesh’ download!
SR: Hey John! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. So, first things first, who’s in the band?
JC: Yeah, no problem! So, there are six of us: My name is John Culbreth, I play trumpet. Starting with the horn section, Nick Ellman plays Alto and Bari Saxophone, Ian Bowman is on Tenor Saxophone, and then the rhythm section is Sam Shahin on Drums, Noah Young on Bass, and Bill Daniel on Guitar.
SR: How did you guys meet?
JC: We all met as Freshmen in the Jazz program at Loyola University in New Orleans. All of us just really wanted to start a band instantly. We all had that urge at the same time and we just happened to vibe with each other. We started booking gigs, and people liked it, so we just kept going and now it’s just what we do, now that we’re all graduated.
SR: So was there a naughty professor at Loyola?
JC: I mean, Naughty Professor is more of a philosophy and a musical concept, but there may have been a naughty professor. Really, though, Naughty Professor is just a combination of six people who, when playing together on stage form this essence of “naughty professor”, which is kind of a joint vision of what kind of music we’re trying to play and the goals of our music. We all have different enough ears, but a vision and taste that is similar enough that we have some really great, innovative sounding stuff when it comes together, with everyone putting their individual stamp on the stuff that we write.
SR: Yeah, for sure. So then, what is the vision? What is the Naughty Professor Mission statement?
JC: Well, we don’t have an official mission statement, but if we did it would probably read something like, “We write music that we don’t hate and then we try to play it well, and in the process just try to be as chill as possible”. I think all of us have this hunger for good music, to listen to it and to play it, and that drives us to write things that aren’t settling for anything, or that don’t feel like they’ve been fully realized. We’re really careful with what we put in a song just because we want it to come off as genuine and as something that really fits in the music. Often we’ll have something just sitting on the rack, not really playing it for a while until it’s finished. There are a lot of songs in the pipeline that have yet to be played in a working arrangement or have any sort of presence in the live shows just because we have to be comfortable with what we’re putting out first.
SR: Nice, I like that. You can definitely tell that you guys take a lot of time writing and conceptualizing your songs. You’re not just going out and jamming on stuff, and that’s one of my favorite things about Naughty Professor – the fact that you’re writing really complex compositions with tons of layers that are always surprising and unpredictable, but the tunes still groove and are super fun to listen to. What is your writing process like? Does it start with an idea that is fleshed out as a group, or does one person usually take the lead and bring in a completely written out piece?
JC: Definitely. We all write and it’s an incredibly collaborative writing process. Most of the time the person that writes a song will write, at most, a skeleton of a song and by the end of the process it will sound completely different because the person who wrote it has kind of a limited view of what the song could become, before these other people add their expertise to it. So if a horn player writes a song, usually the rhythm section will add the rhythm parts because the horn players won’t know what’s going to feel as good, or what’s going to come off the best way possible, as well as the rhythm section will. They will be able to make it their own and make it sound super organic, versus if the rhythm section writes something, the horns will have often have to decide how to play it and phrase it – what dynamics to use, harmonizing, stuff like that. Every song is going to be different, but generally that’s kind of the pattern that seems to happen. It is a cool way to do it because we all get to own our parts and be proud of our own contributions. Nothing slips through the cracks that way, so to speak.
SR: Awesome. And the song will have a blend of everyone’s different influences that way, as well. Your sound obviously heavy jazz/funk influence, but it’s clear you all pull inspiration from a wide range of styles. Who is coming from where as far as influences go?
JC: Yeah, well, I could go on for a long time about this. We are all listening to music constantly and always trying to broaden our horizons, but I will try to sum it up with an incomplete list of names that we all generally draw inspiration from, at least for this band: John Coltrane, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Freddy Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, James Brown, Frank Zappa, Earth, Wind and Fire, Chicago, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, The Roots…and the list goes on.
SR: Solid. Anyone that you’re listening to currently who you think are really pushing the envelope and being innovative musically?
JC: All of us have really been digging Kneebody. They’re a sweet jazz group out of New York doing some really cool stuff, and all of the musicians are really at the top of their game, so that really appeals to our jazz ear; Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly was awesome; Tegran Hamasyan, Terence Blanchard E-Collective is really sweet, Snarky Puppy, Chris Dave and the Drumhedz, Robert Glasper. I guess that is a pretty comprehensive list there….
SR: Nice! I’ve got some listening to do. So, I heard you guys will be releasing a live album soon?
JC: Yeah! We’re about to release a live album through BitTorrent, which is exciting because we’ve never released live material in album form before. This particular concert just has this great raw energy, because we were playing with this slammin’ band, Dynamo, out of Nashville. We had never heard them before, and we were at their sound check and saw that they were some serious musicians, so we were like “Oh man, these guys are really good! We better hit the nitro boost.” When there are musicians in the building, we’ve got to step it up a notch, you know? So the sound engineer just happened to be multi tracking the band that night and he gave us the tracks. We’re making the album out of it because the energy that night was just amazing.
SR: Awesome. So it’s the full show from that night?
JC: Yeah. We got recordings from all over the country and we were initially thinking about having a compilation of the shows, but this one stood out so much so we just thought, “Why don’t we just put this one out?” It was really the best of the live stuff. We’ve kind of become a different beast live than from the studio stuff. The studio stuff is possibly the cleanest representation of what the compositional aspect of the song was, but a lot of the stuff really comes to life when it’s live, so we’re really excited about this one coming out.
SR: Sounds amazing. I can’t wait to hear it! It also looks like you’ve been working on some studio stuff, as well?
JC: Yep. We’ve been writing for the next studio album for a long time, but the ball really started getting rolling probably in January. We’re collaborating on every single song, and bringing in a whole bunch of musicians who we’ve wanted to work with for a while like Chali 2na from Jurassic 5, Dave Shaw from The Revivalists, and more musicians from New Orleans and all over the country.
SR: What’s the timeline on that one? Are you planning on having any of the guests come out for any shows?
JC: With all of the collaborations we’re doing, all of the sessions are spread out because not everyone we want is in town all of the time. We’re still not going to be done for a while, but we’re really excited about how it’s coming together. We’ve got four songs recorded, and we’ve been having some of the guests on the songs come out and play with us. We’re actually playing a show with Chali 2na in New Orleans coming up. We haven’t even recorded with him yet, but when he does come, he’s going to be performing with us, too; so that’s going to happen and will be heard the day we record it. We don’t really tour with a singer too often. It’s not a big enough part of our repertoire yet to bring someone on the road so most places out of New Orleans you probably won’t see any collaborators, unless it’s the occasional one where we happen to be in the same town.
SR: So cool. You guys haven’t really worked with vocalists very often in the past.
JC: We haven’t had a singer for a while, but for our next album most of the songs will have vocals. We are writing everything but the melody and the lyrics – it’s interesting because these songs were by themselves, without lyrics or even the vocal melody existing, and we were still playing them live, but they just happened to be conducive to putting lyrics and vocals on top so there’s just a counter melody to everything. It’s been a really cool way to write an album – to have these songs that have a very strong outlined arrangement but don’t necessarily have a continuous vocal line and a bridge, and then you add it and it’s like “Wow, this is a thickly textured song now.”
SR: Can’t wait to hear the finished product! New Orleans has got to be an awesome place to be based out of, as a musician. It seems like you guys are on the road a lot though, too. I just saw that you updated your tour schedule to add some dates in the Northeast.
JC: Yeah, we’re going home to New Orleans at the end of this week. We’ll be there for a couple of weeks, and then we’re going back out again. So we’ll be up around the Northeast for March through June. We’re going to hit Pennsylania, DC, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia – so, just a small tour.
SR: That sounds exhausting.
JC: We really started to hit the road when everyone graduated. We played 120 shows last year and we’re trying to up it again this year – just trying to keep the flywheel turning. It can be exhausting at times, but it’s always rewarding at some point. It’s only the nights that no one is listening that it feels like that, but that doesn’t happen too much anymore. If there are people there to listen, it’s going to be a great night – at least the musical part of it. Maybe I’ll be exhausted after the show and have to sleep in the van or something, but we all know what we signed up for. We really believe in this music, and it’s just what you’ve got to do, so we’re doing it.
SR: Well, we’re definitely glad that you do it. Do you have anything planned for Jazz Fest this year?
JC: We’re actually planning on recording during jazz fest. We’re going to try and get that knocked out while there are so many people in town. There’s nothing official in terms of shows as of now, but we’ll keep you posted!
SR: Perfect. Thanks so much for talking to us. I can’t wait to hear the live stuff, and see you guys out on the road in the future.
JC: Absolutely. Thank you!
Since I spoke with Naughty Professor, they played an amazing show with Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na, dropped their live album ‘In The Flesh’, which you can download here, and they are gearing up to hit the road yet again. Keep up with Naughty Professor on Facebook, Twitter, and on their Official Website, and do not miss this incredible band when they hit a city near you.
Mar 23 Canal Public House – Dayton, OH
Mar 24 Thunderbird – Pittsburgh, PA
Mar 25 Gypsy Sally’s – Washington, DC
Mar 26 Historic Mansion House – Mercersburg, PA
Mar 28 Hoss’s – Norfolk, VA
Mar 30 Martin’s – Roanoke, VA
Mar 31 Capitol Ale House – Richmond, VA
Apr 01 The Altamont Theatre – Asheville, NC
Apr 02 The Basement – Nashville, TN
Apr 14 Nowhere Bar – Athens, GA
Apr 15 Terminal West – Atlanta, GA
Apr 16 Congress St Social Club – Savannah, GA
Apr 27 Fiya Fest 2016 w/ Soulive and Guests – New Orleans, LA
May 26 Pop’s Farm – Axton, VA
Jun 04 Crawfish Fest – Augusta, NJ