By Will Harris
Moulded from the musical hotbed of Detroit, Michigan, it’s perhaps unsurprising that, given the diverse and immeasurably influential music of their hometown, dynamic three-piece Paul Lamb & The Detroit Breakdown produce an invigorating sound that incorporates many genres into one blues-rock-funk package. Nowhere is this clearer than on their new album Ready, Aim, Fire (out 4th November), an enjoyable collection that grooves, moves and rocks in equal measure. As the power trio gear up for the album’s release and their ram-packed UK tour in November, main man Paul spoke to Will Harris about his musical origins, putting together the new record and treading the line between rock, funk and blues.
Beginning from the beginning, how did you first get into playing music?
I first got into music when I was a collegiate athlete; I went to college on a full-ride basketball scholarship, but I broke my leg. I’d put endless amounts of time just into playing basketball and all of a sudden I couldn’t play anymore. So a friend of mine handed me a guitar, and I just transferred all of that energy and time right into it. I just used to watch Hendrix videos and just kinda watched what his hands were doing, I never took any lessons or anything. I started playing pretty late: I was about 19 years old before I started playing music.
When did you start playing with bands?
When I was in college and shortly thereafter, once I got my hands around it, actually originally I started playing bass, so I joined a couple of RnB bands in college just to pay for books and whatnot, and after I got out of college I realised I just really had a love for it and I was going to try it out for a couple of years and see what happens, and many years later I’m still churning away at it!
So you mentioned Hendrix as one of your influences. When did you first start really getting into music just as a listener?
My dad was a heavy record collector, so I had my own record collection; I had hundreds of albums by the time I was 10 years old. It was something that I spent all my money on and every holiday or birthday I always asked for music, so I got into it at a really young age. I think my first record was Jimi Hendrix’ Smash Hits.
Are there any Detroit artists that had a big influence on you as well?
Aw, tons! Growing up I was surrounded by all the Motown stuff. Parliament Funkadelic is absolutely one of my favourite bands of all time, anything George Clinton does is great, but then you’ve got your Bob Segers, et cetera. I was also into the MC5, The Stooges, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, the list is kind of endless. We were always surrounded by music, it’s a very musical city. There would be lots of big acts just hanging around all the time, you’d be hangin’ out with Jimmy McCarty and guys like that; they were just always there and I thought that was just always how it was in every city.
I think your music really stands out in this genre that they call ‘blues-rock’, but do you see yourself as a rocker first, or a bluesman, or neither?
It’s funny, I guess nowadays if it’s got guitar solos in it anymore it falls into this blues-rock category, but obviously always influenced by the blues and always influenced by rock ‘n’ roll, heavily influenced by funk music; with our stuff there’s always kind of a funky groove, we land everything on the one and take those old James Brown tricks, and incorporate that. And it’s really sort of a Detroit thing; I can hear a drummer I’ve never seen before and hear him or her play and know instantly if they’re from Detroit or not, it’s just a thing, you know!
When you started out did you intend to be a rock player?
I mean I think it’s just evolved that way from the stuff I was listening to and the natural attitude that comes with the music. It’s funny because people tell me all the time, “wow, you’re hard rock!” and I don’t really hear that way, I hear a lot of the Motown influence in there, but because we turn it up loud and there’s a little distortion in there, it becomes kind of rock. I guess we make a lot of noise for a three-piece!
How are you feeling about Ready, Fire, Aim?
Yeah I’m really pleased with it. We didn’t have a lot of time to make it but it all came together well. We’ve been on the road so much we got off the road and just straight in the studio. From what we were working with I think it came out really good, and I invited a bunch of friends to come and guest on it and everybody showed up, so we had the whole studio full of musicians and it was kind of funny watching each one take their turn on the songs, just in line waiting! We had a good time doing it and it had a lot of positive energy, a lot of laughter, that always makes for a good setting.
What was it like to have the likes of Joanne Shaw Taylor, Erich Goebel and Bobby East collaborating on the album?
It was an honour. I worked with Joanne before and I’ve worked with Bobby East before, but Erich Goebel is one of my favourite Detroit guitar players and I’ve been following him for years — longer than I’ve been playing in a band. We became friends through the scene and I just asked him if he could come and play, and he’s just such a spectacular player. But the funny thing is, I have been woodshedding like crazy to emulate these guitar solos — you have to be careful because if you put it on your record you have to pull it off live! But it’s actually really raised my chops playing with these guys and girls.
You mentioned the strong funk influence that you feel when you’re writing your music. I think that’s especially the case with the latest album; was that a particular intention you went in with?
It wasn’t like a particular intention, it’s just more where I’m at currently with my song writing, and what I’ve been listening to; I’ve been listening to a lot of War lately and bands like that. You know, Keith Richards said it 50 years ago: be careful what you’re listening to when you’re writing a record, because it’s gonna be there!
How do the songs come together? Do you write on tour, are you writing all the time, or do you sit down and specifically write for an album?
For this particular album I’ve been writing for about a year and a half, and we’ve been on the road a lot and I just get some ideas and I’ll write them down, and we’ll get the band together and just sorta hash them out: I’ll just throw some ideas at them and we’ll see what sticks. I usually like to go into an album with about upwards of 30 songs, and then throw them at the band and whittle them away. I don’t usually put more than 10 songs on a record, but I had a couple of extra on there and I just thought they were worthy and I decided to include them. It’s a rollercoaster of feeling on it, from some really soft ballads to some harder rock stuff.
I understand the bed tracks were recorded live, have you always done it that way?
Yeah, we did our last record live to tape, and this time I just wanted to get the bed tracks solid and then layer it. I think it’s important that the band’s playing at the same time, to get the vibe goin’. And we’ll take several passes at it until we feel like it’s good, and fix anything that needs to be fixed — most of it can’t be because of the bleed from the mics and room mics on the drums, which means you’ve pretty much gotta get it right on the bed tracks.
I think it’s turned out sounding great; you can see why you’ve decided to work with [sound engineers] Al Sutton and Ed Wolfram again. How did you first come to work with them?
Al and I have been great friends since well before I was even playing music. He’s always been into recording bands and we even played in a band together when we were younger. But I’ve worked with Al throughout my entire musical career, and I think I’ve worked with him on every album I’ve ever made, even all the different bands. We work really well together and we know each other, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so we just get the job done a lot faster. And then working with Ed, that was just an education — that guy’s amazing! He builds all his own gear; he built all the recording consoles for Motown Studios, he hand-built and united a sound — it was that kind of an education. So it was really interesting getting to work with him, it was such an education.
How would you like the band to move forward in the future? Is there a particular direction you’d like to take or do you prefer for it just to develop organically?
It kind of develops organically, naturally, because it’s just the evolution of a band, but what I really wanna do for the next record, which is something that we haven’t done yet as a band, is as I write these songs play them live, and get ‘em so we play them live a hundred times before we even take them into the studio. Because when I’m writing songs and we go into the studio and record them, a lot of the time it’s the first time Joey [Spina, bass] and Layla [Hall, drums] have even heard them, and then we record it, arrange it a little bit and work it out and such, but live then when we take it on the road, it always develops into something else, and usually something better that we wish we’d recorded. So I’m adamant about the next record, I’ve already started writing for it, and we’ll start incorporating songs in the live show, so that when we go into the studio next time it’s there.
Paul Lamb & The Detroit Breakdown’s new album, Ready, Fire, Aim is released on 4th November. You can order it from http://www.p-a-u-lmusic.com/
The group will hit the road for an extensive UK tour in November, with dates in:
November 7th The Barley Sheaf, Liskeard
November 8th Penzance Acorn, Penzance
November 9th The Carrier’s Inn, Bude
November 10th The Ship Inn, Looe
November 11th The Barley, Truro
November 12th The New Inn, Tywardreath
November 14th The Green House, Bristol
November 16th The Meeting Room, Elland
November 19th The Robin 2, Bilston
November 21st The Little Blue Orange, Shipley
November 22nd The Polish Club, Barnsley
November 23rd The Golden Lion, Maryport
November 24th The Blues Bar, Harrogate
November 29th ArbroathHigh School, Arbrouth
November 29th Klozet Bar, Dundee
November 30th Abbey Music Shop, Arbroath
November 30th Non-Zero’s, Dundee
November 30th The Commercial Inn, Arbroath