Electric Cowbell is Brooklyn’s hardest-working new label, having dropped nearly a dozen 45s in under two years. It’s impossible to really pin the label to a scene, since they seem to have dancing shoes in all of them: steamy Barbés global bounce, the Prospect Park afrobeat revival, Williamsburg’s hand-painted Secret Project Robot loftpunk, Daptone nu-vintage funk and Zebulon’s skittery freakjazz—not to mention the label’s founder used to play drums for GWAR. But all their bands do share an intense love of unstoppable grooves and probably sound best on vinyl. The label’s new CD comp 101 Things To Do In Bongolia compiles A-sides and remixes from their first 10 singles, including the long-sold-out “Adderech Arada” from Boston’s Ethiofunk collective Debo Band, a dubby remix of Greg Ginn’s new cocktail-country project, a taste of two-decade-strong indie salsa crew Bio Ritmo, and an otherworldy bumble from local improv-freaks Talibam! The album’s highlight is its gleeful opening—a bit of afrofunk fusion from Superhuman Happiness, the beaming groovemonster from Antibalas saxophonist Stuart Bogie. “Human Happiness” was recorded to 8-track tape in the basement of Daptone producer Gabe Roth (who came downstairs and played tambourine during the session), and it skates along with a relaxed-yet-joyous vibe through slowly escalating horn lines and squelchy drum machine squawk. The current Superhuman Happiness lineup (Bogie, Luke O’Malley, Miles Arntzen, Jared Samuel, Nikhil Yerawadekar, Eric Biondo and Ryan Ferreira) is working on a full-length for 2012, but for now feel free to cop Bongolia, which features five songs from the group—including two with Fela! star Sahr Ngaujah.
Download: Superhuman Happiness, “Human Happiness”
What is “Human Happiness” about?
This song is an instrumental, so whatever is in your head is what the song is about. The music was playful, funky, and above all instills a sense of joy in the listener and performer alike… ideally. Our next four singles all have that flavor and take it further with lyrics and singing.
What inspired it musically?
I wrote this tune working as a medical secretary at UC in San Francisco. I originally wrote it as a quartet for strings and clarinet and called it “Brother Jon.” Along with three other pieces, I gave recordings to my family as Christmas gifts, and dedicated a song to each of them. Full-band versions of those tunes make up Fall Down Seven Times, Stand Up Eight. My oldest friend in the world Zachary Mastoon was in New York to help me produce the track and he made up that sweet-ass beat—what finesse that guy has! You can imagine a young clarinetist lost in a big old research hospital humming tunes to himself… that’s about what inspired it.
What do you remember about the session?
I worked with most of the musicians one at a time. Luke O’Malley and I had a blast making his parts. You know that guitar break in the first open section after the first head? We got deep into the ideas of the guitars taking to each other. Also, recording Eric Biondo’s awesome trumpet solo: I blabbered on and on about this and that, he said, “All right, all right, I know what you want” and he proceeded to play the most simple, elegant and melodic musical poetry.
There’s an interesting drum machine groove on here.
My sweetheart Tatiana bought me that! A circuit bent SK-1. Me and Zach recorded that first. With the homemade switches on there you can alter the beats to make fills and stuff. When i was a kid, the SK-1 was an enviable possession—I never had one til later. To use it meant I checked something off my list from waaay back. Thanks, Tat! There is something so playful about that beat it make, it’s disarming, both familiar while having a relatively harsh sound at the same time. Like a manchild with a squeaky voice telling you good morning—maybe that’s what the song is about.
You do a lot of “improv games” in Superhuman Happiness…
I enjoy doing theatrical improv and have taken a few classes over at the PIT and Gotham. I am very average at it, and hate getting out of my comfort zone in scene work, but I found doing these games in musical versions is fun and engaging for the group musical mind. Our band is a unit of drastically different personalities and skill sets. The musical application of these games focuses on ways to cooperate in the creation of music while also honing our skills as players. They make us laugh, warm us up, and occasionally lead directly into writing a song together.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in New York?
I remember playing with Antibalas in Central Park at the Shakespeare place—what’s it called? We did the song “Indictment” where I would yell and freak out… Too much fun! I ran up to the mic and had barely uttered my first yell and by stepping on the base of the stand I forced the mic into my face and chipped a tooth. We carried on and, as the song progressed, I started to cue the band with various gestures and kicked a shoe 20 feet in the air, ending the number with a chipped tooth and one shoe on.
What’s your favorite place to eat in New York City?
I like eating popcorn on the couch next to Tatiana. I also like eating when Luke and Ryan come over and we cook while working on tracks. I also liked eating at the Richardson when Jared used to cook there. I like eating Amy’s cookies with Miles and Nikhil in Miles’ basement, and I absolutely love eating a cheese steak or some greasy mess with Biondo at Dram Shop. They got good wings, too. But Great Jones has the best wings. I don’t care what are doing to me, those things are too good to be true. Last, but actually first, I eat at Dizzy’s in Park Slope all the time. We eat there so much that I baked them a pie at Christmas.
The 101 Things To Do In Bongolia release party is tonight at Union Pool with DJ Das Booty, DJ Misery Creep, DJ Pumpkin Belly, DJ Jesse Lent and DJ Marihito. It’s free!