No funking around in Fort Wayne
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra releasing debut album; playing Columbia Street West on Saturday
His balcony sits high up at Three Rivers Apartments.
It overlooks the city’s landscape, especially the river, and this is where Aaron King goes when he needs to find a mix of peace and motivation.
This little spot especially came in handy when, six weeks before he was supposed to be in a studio recording music for the Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra, a fellow lyricist with the band quit — leaving King to write all the lyrics for the group’s first album himself instead of just half, as originally planned.
“I would work all day at my job, then come and write all night,” King said.
Putting together an album is never an easy task. Ask any musician. Whether an established group from almost any genre or an up and coming group on the cusp of stardom, getting the pieces together to create a full-length record is hard work — even with a record company backing you.
Now try it as a local band in a mid-sized city, where everyone has regular jobs, family obligations and you’re pouring your own money into making it all happen.
Everything gets exponentially harder.
This Saturday, the Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra is releasing its debut album, “Funk Band for the Common Man.” A release party is being held at Columbia Street West, where the band will perform, and it will be the culmination of what King set out to do almost three years ago, when he put the group together.
“The goal has always been to record an album,” he said.
The road to get there, though, was long and winding.
* * *
They became a fixture in the Fort Wayne music scene quickly.
The year King formed the band, the Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra won Battle of Bands XI. They won five Whatzup Whammys the same year — the most ever at the time — including ones for performer of the year, best new performer, best funk band and best live band.
A blend of funk, hip hop, R&B and soul make up the bedrock for the bond’s music, and the group regularly performs covers of well-known songs from the 1970s through today. Almost nothing has been off-limits — tunes from The Commodores, Chicago, Biggie Smalls, Dr. Dre, Stevie Wonder and Snoop Dogg have all been covered by the band.
When King started the band, he was looking for personalities with musical chops who get along with each other easily.
But the band has changed since that initial year, both in line-up and artistically, according to King. Five members from the original line-up remain, helping the group as a whole become a cohesive unit on stage and in practice.
“After performing together for three years, we know what each other is thinking on stage,” King said. “We have definitely improved.”
That still didn’t mean there weren’t arguments and disagreements, especially when it came time deciding where and when to record and album. That’s partly why this record is coming out now, and not on the heels of the band becoming a well-known local act.
“So much of the hold-up was deciding where and how to do it,” King said. “We started the process at another studio, but we were not gelling with the engineer.”
It went so astray, the band recorded about a half and album worth of material but used nothing from those sessions.
That’s when King contacted Chuck Surack, owner of Sweetwater Studios.
* * *
Sweetwater Studios actually consists of three state-of-the-art recording spaces, specially designed for a variety of projects.
Sitting along U.S. 30 away from the city, the stories of famous musicians showing up at Sweetwater while playing gigs in Fort Wayne — or maybe just dropping in — are legion. As far as music goes, Sweetwater has become — at least to most folks — thee place in the Fort Wayne area to go.
Those facilities attracted King, as well as the employees.
According to its website, Sweetwater’s studio team promises to capture the sound of any group or musician, eschewing the chase for whatever’s hot or trending. That’s exactly what King found when the Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra began collaborating with Sweetwater in the winter of 2016.
“One aspect I was passionate about was recording songs live as a group for the rhythm tracks, so that our endings could be authentic and timed out how we wanted, rather than recording one musician at a time and then relying on the fade out most musicians use,” King said. “That’s one of the things I love about this album. We have actual endings to songs.”
The band dropped $5,000 for four days of recording at Sweetwater. The Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra had several months to get ready for those summertime dates, and that’s when some of the disagreements between members came into play, according to King.
There was doubt they could put a record together in four days. There was a ton of practice. If someone missed a rehearsal, others became anxious. If it didn’t feel like the band was progressing fast enough, those anxieties only became heightened. One member — the other lyricist — quit.
The money was stressful. Some members had reservations about putting that much cash on the line. Which was even understandable to King — nobody wants to put up that kind of cash and not get what they hoped for in return, he said.
Such is the life of putting together an album when you still have day jobs.
Still, King believed in the project. He believed in what they were doing.
“Even though we had different opinions to begin with, once we put the ball in motion, we all dedicated ourselves one thousand percent to practicing and writing the best stuff we could,” King said.
And it proved to be true.
The only trouble with the recording process was “managing the clock,” King said. But by the time they hit the studio, the band was a well-oiled machine.
* * *
There’s a weird mixture of joy and relief for many artists when a work is finally finished.
For King, when he listened to Funk Band for the Common Man in its final form for the first time, it was no different.
“Thank God!” is how he described his first thoughts.
But that didn’t come after four days of recording at Sweetwater Studios. That, in many ways, was just a middle-step in the long process. The mixing process took forever, King said. He dispersed the initial mixes of the album to all the members, who listened and took notes to be collected.
Those notes were sent back to Sweetwater.
This happened three times over the course of several months before everyone agreed they were happy — which was a relief, but a short-lived one, according to King. The artwork for the cover of the album needed to be done, which added about another month.
In the end, though, it was entirely worth it, King said. He and his bandmates ended up with 1,000 copies of what they put together through hard work and adversity — something that brought them all closer together and a little artifact for them to remember this particular time in their lives.
“We made a piece of art that is going to last forever,” King said. “I think overcoming all of the doubt and years of discussing the right way to do it and finally having it mixed, mastered and printed is a sigh of relief. We lost some friends along the way just from clashing work ethics, but there is never greatness without frustration.”
“My band mates are my best friends and I’m really proud of them for taking a chance and believing in this vision,” he continued.
There’s a lot of sweat that goes into making an album.
Ask any musician.
But when you’re the band for the common man, made by the common man, creating a record takes on a whole new meaning and becomes a whole new undertaking. King and his bandmates learned that, and Saturday night, they get to show everyone.