Music Features

Smoove & Turrell (interview)

With a film based on the 1970s Northern Soul movement having recently hit the screens (read our review of the soundtrack here), what better time to talk to Smoove & Turrell. The self-styled ‘Northern Funk’ combo have a sound that’s steeped in the Northern Soul tradition, and have won fans far and wide in 2014 with their stellar third album, Broken Toys. Joe Rivers caught up with Jonathan Watson, better known as Smoove, for the low-down.

Joe: With the imminent release of Elaine Constantine’s Northern Soul film, can you tell me a little bit about how you first discovered Northern Soul music and what the genre means to you?

Smoove: I knew a little bit about Northern Soul when I was a growing up in the ‘80s but in 2000 I really discovered a passion for it when I went with [DJ and impresario] Eddie Piller on an acid jazz weekender in Italy. It was an incredible experience meeting lots of DJs who had been in the Northern game for many years and a real eye opener. Northern Soul is a lot more than just music, it’s a way of life for some and it’s a movement that still remains strong to this day!

J: What’s your opinion on the current Northern Soul scene? I tend to think it’s a little too nostalgic and doesn’t properly embrace new sounds – would you agree?

S: It really depends on who you’re talking to but most people I meet in the scene are very open minded and embrace a lot of modern soul and funk music. In the ‘90s I also found a lot of Northern heads would really like soulful house music but whether or not it was the music or the drugs is another conversation altogether.

J: Could you see a vibrant and exciting new scene happening in 2014, in a similar way to how Northern Soul grew in the 1970s?

S: I’m not too sure about the scene growing but a few years ago kids were walking around with the ‘Keep the Faith’ Northern Soul logo on their school bags but I’m pretty sure that was just a fashion thing! The recent Northern Soul movie has stirred up a lot of great publicity so it will be interesting to see if a new generation of kids get into it.

J: You seem to have been on tour practically all year. How’s it going and do you still get that same buzz from playing live?

S: It’s been an exhausting tour but a lot of fun too; we’ve picked up a lot of new fans along the way. Playing live is always such a buzz but I also enjoy DJing too which is just as exciting.

J: What kind of experience should people expect from a Smoove & Turrell gig that you wouldn’t get on your average night out?

S: It’s hard to say really but we find that the more the audience gives us then the more we respond back in return. It’s all about keeping up a certain energy in the room.

J: Now that the new album has been out a few months, are you happy with the reception it’s been getting?

S: It’s been incredible the amount of support we’ve had, and also from DJs and radio stations worldwide. Especially our new single, Will You Be Mine, which has really strong remixes from Ashley Beedle and Opolopo.

J: When you write, do things tend to come together quickly and naturally, or is it more of a slow, methodical process? And how do you know when a song is finished and no more can be added to it?

S: It’s a bit of both really. Some ideas happen real quick but then I can spend months structuring and mixing the finished song. I find it really natural to decide when a song is complete as I just seem to know when everything has its own place.

J: Does it frustrate you that soul and funk – styles of music that have been popular and big sellers in the past – are now largely ignored by the mainstream press?

S: Not at all, soul and funk is a niche market, a bit like how jazz has its own place too. Everything needs to be boxed up into sections, that’s just how the industry works, so there’s no point fighting it. No disrespect to those genres but I actually find it amusing that sometimes people can’t box Smoove &Turrell up, as we are much more than funk and soul.

J: Can you recommend one classic soul track that you think everyone should hear?

S: D’Angelo - Brown Sugar

Broken Toys is out now on Jalapeno Records. The new single, Will You Be Mine, was released 20th October.