Q&A with fusion trio based in New Orleans, Shakespeare & the Blues (Cam Smith & Cassie Watson Francillon)

"Sometimes we need a sonic game plan for liberation. As long as the music is making you think/ recharge/ participate in your own experience a bit fuller than you imagined--then it's working. We have a responsibility to give the best versions of ourselves in that moment, as listeners and artists, and then to move and change. We want this album to be a testament to trust, open hearts, care and experimentation. Seeing the beauty in the flawed and unexpected real experiences that we wield first, individually, and then share. Those trials are your rubies."

Shakespeare & The Blues: NOLA Rhapsody 

Shakespeare & the Blues is a fusion trio based in New Orleans who’ll be releasing their debut album e.g.,Rhapsodic (2021) on Nouveau Electric Records, the label run by Louis Michot of Grammy winners Lost Bayou Ramblers. Making experimental music drawing on Jazz and Hip Hop influences, the trio features Cam Smith on drums and electronics, Cassie Watson Francillon on concert harp, and Bryan Webre (Lost Bayou Ramblers) on bass and electronics. The album was recorded at Mark Bingham’s Nina Hwy Studio in Henderson, LA, engineered and mixed by Smith and Webre; self-produced by the trio. The songs on e.g.,Rhapsodic are uninhibited explorations of genre blending, tied together by futurist grooves and virtuosic syncopating. They are composed around a startling selection of samples and soundbytes enmeshed in the trio’s visionary instrumental experimentation. Cam and Bryan started playing out together locally as Shakespeare & the Blues in 2019 performing free-flowing sets that never repeated ideas utilizing drums, bass, loops, samples, guitar and synths.

(Shakespeare & The Blues / Photo by Connor Reever)

One day Watson Francillon recruited Smith to participate in a harp-percussion duet she’d been commissioned to perform at New Orleans’ Cathedral of Peter and Paul. He in turn invited her to a Shakespeare & the Blues set at Banks Street Bar and eventually to sit in with them, which led to her joining the group. The trio immediately felt so locked in, they decided to go straight into Nina Hwy Studio to document their undeniable chemistry. They cut what’d end up as e.g., Rhapsodic from this session. Previous to Shakespeare & The Blues, Cassie Watson Francillon had played harp locally at the Marigny Opera House and the New Orleans Airlift Music Box Village.

Interview by Michael Limnios            Special Thanks: Howard Wuelfing (Howlin' Wuelf Media)

How has the New Orleans music and heritage influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Cassie: The heritage is indeed spectacular and rich. I've paid more attention to music's communicative and healing properties by way of how people gather, and use chants, drums, horns, wails and moans. Congo Square historically was a center for slave communication, ritual and worship. No matter what tribe or path we're from, we can convene on that heartfelt and sonic level. I've grown to understand the responsibility of being part of that culture. So, whether I'm in the 9th Ward or in Port Au Prince, I know the feel of the rhythms, almost instantaneously. Definitely having this lens allows a more connected experience in identifying parallels of how creole and African culture grieves and celebrates worldwide. It's almost impossible not to stop and get lost in the expressions that have still thrived throughout the diaspora. Those hearts still beat through the beats.

Cam: Growing up in New Orleans has honestly influenced me in ways I couldn't appreciate until I got older which I'm sure is true for most people. But my appetite for spicy food (and music) is ingrained in me because of New Orleans. On a more serious note, the sense of community that shows up during times of hardship is something that I try to carry with me every where I go.

How do you describe 'Shakespeare & the Blues' music philosophy? Where does band's creative drive come from? What is the story behind band's name?

Cassie: There's an old African proverb that goes "alone we go fast, together we go far." The philosophy is to connect as much as possible, meet each other on different wavelengths and assist the blossoming. Cam Smith and Bryan Webre (the original band members) pulled that name from their heads thinking it was cool and groovy. Granted, they founded the band using live sound-byte samples of speeches, so I could easily understand what they were laying down with the name.

Cam: At the risk of sounding cliche, I don't describe it. I'd much rather let the music speak for itself, cause as soon as I do try and describe it we'll be coming with something different all together. I will say that its definitely heavy on the improv. The creative drive has to come from the very moment for me, and I'd assume the same for my band mates. I think fact that the spark was different everything is what made us want to "do it for real" to begin with.

"The heritage is indeed spectacular and rich. I've paid more attention to music's communicative and healing properties by way of how people gather, and use chants, drums, horns, wails and moans. Congo Square historically was a center for slave communication, ritual and worship. No matter what tribe or path we're from, we can convene on that heartfelt and sonic level." (Photo: Cassie Watson Francillon)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Cassie: Sure- before I joined, they had asked me to sit in. I was still magnificently blown away by having seen them perform and overall kind of shy. One time I drove my harp all the way there and didn't tell them it was in the car until Bryan made a joke about "where's your harp? we told you to bring it." From that point on, I never "half-brought" my axe again.  The next time I went to play with them, my father had been shot in the back by an armed robber, earlier that morning. He was in critical condition in the hospital, pending news. I felt very helpless and made the choice to still go onstage that night. Kind of make music as an active prayer. 

Cam: For me the very first time we played at Banks St bar was special. We had ZERO plans but had so much fun just clumsily trying things out on that unsuspecting group of people who just wanted a drink.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Cassie: The venues! So many are hurting. I miss having these spaces. I hope folks will slowly be able to connect in person again. We really need that. I also hope we can push the focus towards talking after shows and not over the music when it's happening. This time has made me listen closer than ever and realize we can't take in-person performances for granted.

Cam: I think there's a place for everything. I don't wanna say I miss anything about the actual music, cause the music of the past is still there and I can revisit it whenever I want. One fear would definitely be people constantly trying to recreate the past. MUSIC (art in general) HAS TO EVOLVE lest it becomes more of a product than anything.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Cassie: Representation, sustainability and equity. More diversity in race, class, gender, education levels. Less gate-keeping and marginalization. Show me people who look like me doing the bomb ish.  Sorry, you said one thing?

Cam: Radio would only be for unknown/unsigned artists. We already get the stars' music everywhere. TV, internet, movies... not to mention its what people buy and look for anyway. It would be cool if radio was for the little people like why do I need to constantly be fed what already has a million downloads plus getting even more promo through memes and what not.

"I think there's a place for everything. I don't wanna say I miss anything about the actual music, cause the music of the past is still there and I can revisit it whenever I want. One fear would definitely be people constantly trying to recreate the past. MUSIC (art in general) HAS TO EVOLVE lest it becomes more of a product than anything." (Shakespeare & The Blues / Photo by Connor Reever)

Why do you think that the NOLA music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Cassie: It hits the soul. Gritty, real, authentic. Nothing like it. Giving you something you can feel--not what you're just told to.

Cam: Because there nothing like it; it goes hand in hand with the culture.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Cassie: I've learned to keep an open mind. Be ready to teach and be taught. Someone's essence when coming to play with you speaks volumes. I've also learned that there are so many unknowns that will be appreciated later. The creator has a master plan and one demand.

Cam: You never know who will lead to another open door but also know your worth! Too many people call themselves music lovers but are unwilling to pay a fair wage.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Cassie: Sometimes we need a sonic game plan for liberation. As long as the music is making you think/ recharge/ participate in your own experience a bit fuller than you imagined--then it's working. We have a responsibility to give the best versions of ourselves in that moment, as listeners and artists, and then to move and change. We want this album to be a testament to trust, open hearts, care and experimentation. Seeing the beauty in the flawed and unexpected real experiences that we wield first, individually, and then share. Those trials are your rubies.

Cam: Our music (so far) lyrics so I haven't thought to deeply about that. But I certainly think this album in particular could be great to reflect to. Go inward!

Shakespeare And The Blues - Home

Views: 22

Comments are closed for this blog post

social media

Members

© 2021   Created by Michael Limnios Blues Network.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service