With a little help from Finland, Myron & E bring sweet Bay Area soul to the vinyl grooves
If you type "Myron and E" into the search engine on YouTube.com, you'll likely find a simple video clip of a record player with one of the duo's 7-inch singles on the turntable. Play the video clip, and the turntable's needle will descend on the vinyl. And then some of the most wonderfully sweet grooves will pipe through your speakers.
Ba-ba-ba's fill the air, and the backbeat pops along like a Holland-Dozier-Holland gem, perhaps the Supremes' "Back in My Arms Again." The voice of Myron is ragged yet soulful and insistent. "This old heart of mine can't take much more of what it's been given," he sings, as E contributes "shoo-bee-doo-wah" ad libs. "And you showed no shame breaking my heart." The entire performance lasts just under three minutes, just like they used to make 'em.
The song, "It's A Shame," was released on Helsinki, Finland, imprint Timmion Records in January. It's one of four singles Myron & E has recorded with The Soul Investigators, a Finnish soul band whose members run Timmion. (L.A.-based major-indie powerhouse Stones Throw Records has licensed two of the singles, "Cold Game" and "It's A Shame," for U.S. distribution.) All of the singles sound like a lark, but that's part of their charm.
"It just came together," says Myron Glasper, snapping his fingers to illustrate, during an interview at Eric Cooke's apartment in the Lower Haight. Cooke, better known as DJ and producer E Da Boss, cohosts a club night at Oakland spot the Layover on Saturdays called "The 45 Session." His bedroom is filled with boxes of 7-inch records, including mint copies of Myron & E's latest jam with the Soul Investigators, "The Pot Club." As an ode to "Oaksterdam" and California's burgeoning cannabis industry, complete with midnight-hour "rapp" vocals from Myron, it's the duo's most contemporary-sounding effort to date. A full-length album, Going in Circles, is due for imminent release. E Da Boss thinks it'll drop by December, but early 2011 appears more likely.
The Myron & E thing happened by accident. A few years ago, E Da Boss was on a European tour with local producer Nick Andre; as E Da Boss and Nick Andre, the duo has released projects such as 2010's Robot Practice EP. Traveling through Helsinki, they met the Soul Investigators and sparked an impromptu jam session. E Da Boss grabbed a microphone and began singing. "They kept telling me, 'You sound good, you must sing.' I didn't really pay attention to it," he remembers. Later in 2008, E Da Boss was assembling a solo production showcase for Om Records, and reached out to The Soul Investigators for sounds he could chop up into hip-hop beats. (He says Om Records dismantled its hip-hop division before the album could drop. All that came from it was a 2007 single, "Go Left.")
When E Da Boss contacted The Soul Investigators, the group made a counter-offer: if they sent him some music, would he sing on it? E Da Boss thought of Myron; the two have been friends since touring around the world as part of Blackalicious' backing band. "When they sent the beat over, I called Myron and said, 'These guys want me to sing on some stuff. Come over here and help me write a song.'" Within an hour, they wrote an endearingly classic tune called "Cold Game."
Perhaps Myron and E Da Boss' years of experience in the music industry accounts for their effortless throwback soul. Originally from Los Angeles, Myron has worked as a dancer (he made a few appearances on the classic hip-hop sketch comedy In Living Color), an R&B singer (he has recorded sessions with Sir Jinx, Foster & McElroy and Dwayne Wiggins), and a backup vocalist (for CeCe Peniston, the Coup, and Lyrics Born). When gigs are few, he even drives a big-rig truck. "Real talk, I will jump in the rig if there ain't no work. Yeah, cuddy! Rrrr-rrr!" Myron says, eliciting peals of laughter as he trills a few lines from Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again."
Myron & E's first four singles have made an impact among soul fans and bloggers in the States, but the two say they've had far more success in Europe. Last summer, they performed for thousands at Helsinki's Pori Jazz Festival. Myron opines that audiences there are more accepting of all forms of music. "They can go from gangsta rap to Norah Jones," he says. Suffice to say that U.S. audiences don't want Snoop Dogg at a Norah Jones concert.
And then there's the question of the "retro-soul" resurgence itself. It can hardly be called a trend anymore since it's been more than a decade since Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings recorded its first singles for the now-defunct Desco imprint, arguably marking the scene's evolution from acid jazz revivalism to full-on deep funk aesthetics. Much of the genre's creative energy hasn't come from the black community, though, but from discerning record collectors inspired by a musical world that disappeared long ago. That has made for some uncomfortable conversations about appropriation — E Da Boss compares it to the way British rockers adopted Southern folk blues idioms in the 1960s.
"If I went up to the homies in the hood and said, 'Let's do this music,' it probably won't happen because it's all about the R&B and neo-soul, the Chris Browns, and the R. Kellys," Myron says. Some notable black artists like Raphael Saddiq, Cee-Lo Green, and Solange Knowles have begun using a "retro-soul" sound, particularly as the style has grown popular. Still, Myron & E know their efforts, however great, can't compare to the soul legends of Motown and Stax. As Myron says, "It's easy to make something that already exists better."
MYRON & E
Backed by Hot Pocket; with Kings Go Forth, The Selector DJ Kirk
Fri/19, 10 p.m.; $10–$13
647 Valencia, SF