This year the Ethio-psych-funk group deliver another batch of theatric songs, Budos Band V, that are equally appropriate for car chase sequences as they are for funeral sunsets. Qwest TV caught up with Brian Profilio to discuss, among many things, Budos’ origin story as well as their album-by-album progression as a unit.
Of Daptone’s team of bands, Budos has emerged as the darkest, the ones with ominous sounds and aggressively driving deliveries, the ones where warm melodies are replaced by intense horn stabs, where arrangements are peeks and valleys rather than sunny strolls. The group’s DNA is made up of members of the Dap Kings, Menahan Street Band (Charles Bradley’s backing troupe) and others from the venerated Brooklyn imprint.
Brian Profilio, workhorse drummer and backbone of Budos explains the group’s formation. “Budos formed after a bunch of us went to see Antibalas play their first gig back in ‘98. Those guys blew our minds. It was like nothing we had ever heard before. We’d go watch them play every week at this club called No Moore. Eventually, we decided to give afro-beat a try and started recruiting all of our friends to play different instruments, mostly percussion and horns. We started writing our own songs and eventually recorded our first album on Daptone records in 2004.”
Talk about how Budos came to be. It’s various members of the Daptone family, right?
The core members of the band had been playing music together for about 5 years before the Budos became a band. We had a couple of little bands going but the project that caught Gabe Roth and Daptone Records’ ear was an instrumental funk band we had called The Bullet. It was Tommy Brenneck on guitar, Dan Foder on bass and myself as the drummer. We just covered a bunch of Meters, JB’s and Dyke and the Blazers songs. Roth figured we’d be a good match for this vocalist he had worked with named Charles Bradley. We recorded a few 45’s at the House of Soul in Bushwick with Charles on the vocals. That was the first work we ever did for Daptone. Things grew from there, with Brenneck eventually joining the Dap-Kings and writing and recording Charles Bradley’s albums.
Walk us through the song writing process. Is it ever difficult due to the shear number of band members?
Most of the time the bass or the guitar will start up a rhythm and I’ll back it up with a beat. Then the bass and guitar will sync up, either by doubling up or by playing a harmony off each other. The horns will work on a horn head or melody while we repeat the riff and we’ll set up a verse/chorus model. Then we’ll spice it up with solos and breaks. With the exception of the horns, we’re all playing rhythm so everyone knows what their place is in the band. At this point, songs just kind of fall together, we all know our roles.
Budos been described in many terms, “Ethio-punk,” “psych-proto-metal,” etc. and the sound has progressed through the years How would you best describe the current state of your sound?
I really have no idea what genre we fit into these days. It really is a mix of genres but in a very sneaky way. Nothing we do is blatantly connected to a genre but if you listen close you can hear elements from all different parts of music; afro-beat, funk, Ethiopia, psych and ‘70s rock. I’ll break down our albums and influences so you can see where each style fits into our sound.
Yes, please. There’s a lack of understanding of what you guys do.
We started out playing our own style of afro-beat. It was short, punchy and pretty hyper. A good example of that would be the “Budos Theme” on our first album. On the second album we started integrating even more Ethiopian style riffs and horn parts into our songs, using Arabic scales and darker rhythm tracks. By the third album we noticed this connection between Ethiopian jazz and ‘70s rock. They both have a fuzzed-out, distorted vibe so we started to move more in a rock direction. It just made the songs really fun to play and our live shows started getting more and more aggressive. With our last two albums, Burnt Offering and V, we took some of the elements we had on the first albums and combined it with the loud, aggressive style we do when we play live shows. But as aggressive as it might get, it never really crosses over into metal. It might rock at times, but it’s never metal.
What projects by other artists would you say have had the most impact on your own recordings?
There are hundreds of bands and artists that have had an influence on our music, some obvious, like Mulatu Astake and Black Sabbath, some less obvious and more obscure.
How is life on the road? What’s one of your most memorable live shows? Which was one of the largest? What was that experience like?
We used to go on the road a lot more than we do now. It’s a harder to go away for long stretches now, most of us are fathers with full time jobs. I’m a schoolteacher so I can only do gigs on the weekends or on vacations. But as far as the road goes, I think we’re really great at road life. We have friends and spots we go to in most major cities now so it’s always a party when we head out.
I’m sure each of us would have different answers for which live show was the best. As for me, one of the most memorable live shows was when we opened up for Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats at Red Rocks for two nights. That amphitheater is just incredible. There are few words for when you’re sitting on stage looking up at 10,000 people in that space. I had butterflies in my stomach for the first time I can remember before a gig. Truly an amazing experience.
Compare and contrast the new album versus the previous ones for us.
Well, even though it’s a new album with new songs, it still sounds like the Budos. You have the rough bass lines, the huge horn parts, the fuzzed out guitars, it’s all there. We pulled from some of our earlier influences as well so we have a pretty thick mix of styles going.
Has it always been purposeful to make instrumentals? Or were there ever talks of vocal work in your songs too?
We were always an instrumental band. The closest we ever came to vocals is all of us yelling, ‘Hey!’ on an early track. None of us had the charisma, swagger or desire to be a front man for the type of music we played. One of us trying to sing like Fela Kuti or James Brown would have been utterly ridiculous. The only person to have ever sung over music was Charles Bradley and that’s pretty much how its gonna stay.
How do you guys plan your sets?
It’s actually a bit of challenge to write a set for an instrumental group. It’s mostly about tempo and mood. Sometimes we start with a slow burner to set the stage, other times we come out swinging with a fast and heavy track. It all depends on the venue, audience, and the length of our set. There’s always about five standards that we play every show, but the other tracks can change, especially if we’re playing the same venue for more than one night.
If you had to pick only a 3 songs from your catalogue to represent Budos for new listeners, which ones would those be?
“Up from the South” for sure. That’s definitely our most popular song. Maybe “Old Engine Oil.” I know it’s new, but it really has all the elements you’d expect from us. Not sure about the third. I really like the song “Burnt Offering,” it’s so unhinged.
Do you guys have time in between gigs to practice for new material? What can we expect from the next project?
Yeah we actually have a whole sixth album already recorded. Last summer we recorded like fifteen-twenty tracks that we were going to use with a hip-hop group. They were just going to sample our songs and chop them up for their album. The deal fell through and now we have a ton of these short, pumped up session tracks. They’re 2-3 minutes each. They’ll make for a really fun record.
And finally, I’ve always wondered this: what is the origin of the band’s name?
We were originally called Los Barbudos, The Bearded Ones. Afro-beat is revolutionary, political music and we thought the name fit, not because we cared about Fidel Castro’s revolutionary army but because we all had beards. Turned out that named carried a little too much baggage so we chopped it into the Budos Band. A lot of our favorite Ethiopian bands were called The “blank” Band – The Wallis Band comes to mind. So we just used that formula.