One of the many reasons Wu-Tang Clan star MC Ghostface Killah has remained musically vital has been his musical diversity. His haunting 2013 album "Twelve Reasons to Die" was a collaboration with Los Angeles-based producer Adrian Younge and Younge’s garage-soul band Venice Dawn.
In 2014, Ghostface recorded and released "36 Seasons," enlisting Brooklyn-based production squad the Revelations, featuring Milwaukee-born and -bred multi-instrumentalists Gintas Janusonis (who also sings angelically on the album's cover of the Persuaders’ "Thin Line Between Love and Hate") and Josh Werner, in tandem with guitarist Wes Mingus and singer Rell Gaddis.
For Janusonis and Werner, two of the most amiable, hard-working musicians you could meet, it’s been a long, exciting journey. Janusonis jokingly dubs the Revelations "overnight sensations, 20 years in the making."
Adventurous dance vocalist Ultra Naté’s 1998 album "Situation Critical" proved that Janusonis’s hard work had paid off. Late one Saturday night in 2001, R&B star Bilal sang "Soul Sista" on "Soul Train." Speaking with Don Cornelius after the performance, Bilal pointed to his muscular, blond drummer and introduced him as "sexy Gintas." On later recordings, he worked with Foxy Brown and M.O.P.
When reggae vocalist Matisyahu made his Milwaukee debut at Turner Hall in 2005, the room shook with the booming bass of a familiar face: Milwaukee’s own Josh Werner, formerly of the Peacemakers.
"Our American soul chops had been sharpened by cutting records and performing with Otis Clay, Latimore, Calvin Richardson, Swamp Dogg and a host of other soul singers, so we know where the heart of hip-hop sampling is," Werner explained. "It’s in American soul music. That’s where the art is … finding that moment that grips generations."
Over the years, Janusonis and Werner became the rhythm section for Lee "Scratch the Upsetter" Perry, Bill Laswell, Cormega, the RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan, particularly excelling on the latter’s 2009 non-sampled soul/rap album "Wu-Tang Chamber Music."
"I have a lot of respect for (RZA) because, with the huge success he had in the beginning of his career, he could have just stayed being a sampling beatmaker, but he’s actually taken the time to learn to play a few instruments and learn enough about music theory to be able to write charts to convey what he wants musicians to do," Janusonis says. "That's rare in the hip-hop world. The sessions for 'A Better Tomorrow' [the Wu-Tang Clan’s sixth album, released last year] that were done in Memphis at Royal Studios were the most musically creative and intensive hip-hop sessions I've ever done, second only to the '36 Seasons' project."
Janusonis credits Tommy Boy Records founder/CEO Tom Silverman for spreading the word of the Revelations’ musical skills to audiences the world over.
Werner recalls Janusonis’s early accomplishments in Milwaukee music: "Before I even touched a bass professionally, I had been seeing Gintas slay as a drummer for MCME [Milwaukee Creative Music Ensemble] and the Elevators, so once I took the step towards music, playing with him was a goal."
In 2008, Werner realized that goal when he and Janusonis teamed up for "Ultimate Breaks and Beats: The Instrumentals," a series of re-recordings of heavily sampled funk and soul tracks.
"He is an amazingly talented drummer," noted Kings Go Forth, Highball Holiday and Elevators singer/guitarist Matt Norberg, who worked with Janusonis decades ago in Milwaukee. "Percussively, Gintas took the Elevators to another level. I’m not surprised by his current success when you factor in his talent and drive."
Humble, hard-working, friendly and versatile (he drums, plays keyboards, produces and sings) Janusonis credits Midwestern jazz giants Gerald Cannon, Richard Davis, Melvin Rhyne, Berkeley Fudge, Manty Ellis, Carl Allen, Brian Lynch, Robert Hobbs, Vince Davis and Victor Campbell, among others, as musical mentors of his and Werner’s.
The equally upbeat and industrious Werner singles out Davis as a "mentor, teacher and dear friend." De La Buena co-founder/arranger/keyboardist/vocalist David Wake remembers Werner as "one of the hardest working, most joyful and most musical human beings I’ve ever met. I am honored to have cut my teeth with him at a very formative time in our musical and life journeys. I consider him a lifelong friend, teacher and contemporary. I will especially never forget playing duo with him in front of the deli at Koppa’s."
Of his recorded work to date, Werner’s favorite is "Helio Parallax Volume 1," featuring Janusonis and released on Bill Laswell’s MOD Technologies label.
"Trumpet player/keyboardist Takuya Nakamura and I were on a long tour, and we decided to record an all-analog, electronic dub-jazz-noir record," Werner said. "Vocalists Bianca Casady and Jahdan Blakkamoore guested as vocalists, as did Gintas on some key tracks. The record was dubbed live by Marihito Ayabe, as well as a few mixes from Laswell."
For Janusonis, the latest is the greatest.
"'36 Seasons,' because I think it’s the best work to date of our production team – Josh, myself and Wes Mingus."
Janusonis is also especially fond of his work on Lee Perry’s "Rise Again."
"I got to play on a Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry album produced by Bill Laswell, co-produced by Josh, alongside one of my all-time favorite drummers and producers Sly Dunbar, not to mention the rest of the stellar cast of players on the album."
"The Ghostface Killah record was very special," Werner concurred. "Gintas and I got to compose, produce and perform for arguably one of the top ten emcees of all time. We have quite a few releases with the RZA and Wu-Tang, but this one allowed some more flexibility musically and production wise. Kool G Rap, Pharoahe Monch and AZ also guested. I played some organ, upright bass and of course electric bass on this, and it was a real team effort."
When asked if the Revelations’ musical takeover on "36 Seasons" is their current modus operandi, Janusonis says, "Pretty much. At this point, the people we’re working with know what we do and are capable of. [W]e all have the instrumental chops to play anything required. Everyone has a ton of creative chops that add to the whole production and writing mix. We’ve been in the game, grinding for a long time, and it’s nice to look back and see some kind of recorded legacy of our work building up, while always looking ahead to what's next."