Con Brio is bringing it on home to San Francisco in celebration of the new year, appearing at Swedish American Music Hall for two nights, on December 30th and 31st. The band, so well known for their super-charged shows and for keeping the vibe eternally positive, has some new sounds and songs to introduce on those dates, as teasers for their second full-length album, to be released this spring. Frontman Ziek McCarter chatted to AXS about Con Brio's New Year's plans, upcoming LP, and favorite memories of 2017.
AXS: This is the third year that you've played SF on New Year's Eve, but this will be your first time at Swedish American Hall.
Ziek McCarter: We shot our music video, "Money," there, at the Swedish and Cafe du Nord. Noise Pop [who books the venue], we've been friends with them for a little bit now, so it's good we can do New Year's in this way.
ZM: No, Ben [Benjamin Andrews, guitarist], knows them; it was his recommendation. Mama's Soup, the drummer tours with Fantastic Negrito, and I connected with him in Paris, France, while we were on tour together. We keep up with each other; we have some friends in the band, and they're also an Oakland/East Bay band. Marcus [Marcus Stephens, saxophonist], brought them up, put them on the table for New Year's. Perfect. I've been wanting to see them play, and work on the bill together. The lead singer, Olivia [Ruff]. she's an amazing spirit.
AXS: You've got a new album in the works. With your last album, Paradise, you were excited about branching out and showcasing more of Con Brio's musical styles, thereby demonstrating a fuller spectrum of who you are. What would you say is different about this album?
ZM: What's different about this album is that it's next level all around. It's next level first and foremost with the songwriting; it's next level in regard to the production, the producer that we have on board. He's really dialed in to what we were reaching for in regard to pinpointing our sound, the Con Brio sound. [It isn't] regurgitating a style or an era; it's more carving out our own voice within this album, and using the dynamics of each band member. I went in and did some writing sessions this fall to improve upon what I was already doing, and it really served us well. We've got a nice batch of songs, and we're reeling 'em in now. It'll still be Con Brio; it'll have some of the classic elements and styles of soul/R&B, but there are some other elements in the production that brings it to a modern tone.
AXS: Can you give me any hints about the songs on the album?
ZM: I can tell you the names of some songs. "Royal Rage" is the title of one; the title of another one is "Too Lit To Quit." [We're] still trying to create the sonic utopia and harmony for these times. We'll have some singles coming out soon. One single that we just put out recently, "All Over Me," [we released] pivoting on the London Souls tour [summer of 2017]. That was a split seven inch that we did with them. ["All Over Me" will not be on the upcoming LP].
AXS: That tour and single was written up pretty extensively. It seemed like you guys really hit it off.
ZM: We were already friends with them. Jonathan [Jonathan Kirchner, bass], is friends with Chris [Chris St. Hilaire, drummer of The London Souls]. They went to high school together in New York. We saw them at SXSW the first year we went; we saw them at Electric Forest. We just kicked it, hung out. We were always crossing paths; there's a brotherhood there. When the opportunity came to tour, we reached out to them. We did the split single and toured the East Coast together, played some cities we never played before, and played some venues we never played before, like The Hamilton in Washington DC. It's a beautiful venue.
AXS: Con Brio has had a pretty great year. When you think back over 2017, what were some of your favorite shows or experiences?
ZM: I had a really good time at BottleRock. It was fun playing that show and the reception was amazing. When we played SF Jazz, that was amazing also - two nights at SF Jazz this summer. We toured with The Revivalists; we toured with Galactic; we toured with the Monophonics; we toured with The London Souls. We did some great tours this year. Touring with The Revivalists was amazing;. that was when they had just penned that hit, "I Wish I knew You When I Was Young," and so every venue we played was sold out. We went to LA this summer to play Arroyo Seco [Weekend] at the Rose Bowl [Stadium], and that was crazy too! We made some important strides this year. We've been touring non-stop, and some places we revisited, like BottleRock, and Japan; we went to France this year also, but it was more of creating this new wave of what's to come. Throughout it all, we were still being fueled by Paradise, in terms of all the opportunities that we got, the tours that we got, all the festivals [were fueled by] what we created up until that point; it was Paradise. In our minds, in everyone's minds, we knew that we had to be gearing up for this next album, and for how much better we wanted to be as a group. All of our voices have come in in the new wave; we've had songs brought in by different members. It's great to see how all of our creative voices are coming through even more with this album.
AXS: That's gonna be cool to hear. Are we getting any previews of your new album at the New Year's shows?
ZM: We have been playing some of the songs, so yeah!