Kings Go Forth is a band that seems to have come out of nowhere, getting noticed before even playing its first gig in Milwaukee and nabbing a pile of 88Nine Milwaukee music awards.
But don't be fooled, most of these guys have been involved in the Milwaukee music scene for years. Singer Dan Fernandez was in Mood Groove and International Jet Set and singer and guitarist Matt Norberg was in The Elevators and Highball Holiday. Andy Noble and Dave Wake are also local stalwarts.
But regardless of the band members' resumes, what makes Kings Go Forth so popular is its alluring and instantly accessible - and wildly infectious -- mix of classic R&B and rock steady.
Add Fernandez's soulful tenor that is the perfect mix of grit and gloss and you realize it'd be more surprising if the band wasn't popular.
We recently caught up with Fernandez via e-mail from Argentina to ask about Kings Go Forth.
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell me who is in the band.
Dan Fernandez: Vocalist Matt Norberg also plays rhythm guitar and (vocalist) Black Wolf (Bilal). Bass: Andy Noble, lead guitar: Dan Flynn, keyboards: Dave Wake, trumpet: Jed Groser, trombone: Dave Cusma, drums: Jeremy Kuzniar
(and) congas/percussion: Cecilio Negron, Jr.
OMC: A lot of you guys have a long musical history together, right?
DF: Many of us have been in bands together or otherwise crossed musical paths in the past, either playing in a group together, or just meeting for a show or recording session here and there.
OMC: Can you tell us how this band came to be?
DF: In late 2006 there was a Highball Holiday reunion show, Andy was subbing for them on bass, and I sang on a few tunes. After the show -- which was a lot of fun -- we were chatting about musical ideas, and Andy brought up the idea of doing a group with three singers doing harmonies; at the time the idea was more about doing rock steady and less about soul.
I said I'd be interested but didn't think it would come together ... but somehow it did and we started practicing in early 2007, beginning with eight people and later adding Dave Wake and Ceeloe, so now we're 10 strong. That's a lot of people, but having keys and congas really filled out our sound and it's hard to imagine KGF without them!
OMC: It seems like local success has come pretty quickly, which must be pretty satisfying.
DF: The response has been phenomenal, beyond any initial expectations I had. And the radio airplay has been a pleasant surprise too. Thanks Milwaukee! It still feels a little strange to have people I've never met come up and tell me how much they love our band! I'm just trying to appreciate it as much as possible, and never take the support for granted. We'll keep working hard, and hope the fans will stick around.
OMC: Were you surprised to have won so many of the Milwaukee Music Awards this year?
DF: Yeah, man! We're proud of what we've done so far, but I don't think any of us expected this kind of result. I was probably the most surprised because I didn't realize all of the categories we were nominated for! The Lackloves surprised us as well -- they graciously gave us a mini-broom that read "Congrats on the sweep!" Nice. We're not doing this for awards, of course, but it's satisfying to know that our hard work over the past two years is being recognized.
OMC: Are you looking to expand the geographical horizons of the band or is that too hard at the moment due to life commitments?
DF: Well if you're talking about touring, it is a difficult proposition. All of us have jobs, other bands, families, etc., that make it hard for us to plan on doing any sort of extended touring. So far we've played only one gig in Chicago, where I'd love to do more shows since I live there! Myriad offers have come in to play out of town, from Madison to New York.
For now, we want to be in a position to do some limited touring, maybe a week here and there, long weekends or whatever. But the Internet makes it so easy to spread music all over the world, it lessens the adverse impact of not being able to tour much. That being said, we have gotten a lot of international support -- including spots on two compilations from Italy and Japan -- and we're dreaming about heading overseas for a mini-tour.
DF: It's definitely a challenge to keep this group going since our lives pull us in so many directions. I'm in Chicago and the rest of the guys are in Milwaukee. We usually have one "full" band practice on the weekend and a smaller-group practice during the week, but it's a rare occasion when all of us are together at either one. Plus there are other musical commitments; for example, four of our guys play in De La Buena, Andy's in The Chain and Dan Flynn's in Codebreaker.
And several members have family commitments on top of that. Just coordinating the schedule of 10 people takes a lot of focus and hard work. What helps is that this is the most talented and experienced group I've been in, so it's a lot easier to talk about what we're trying to do in a particular song, and to actually make it happen.
We also get along well, which doesn't hurt! Finally, we use technology to a great extent to make things easier -- for example, we share practice recordings via the Internet so we can all work on songs during the week. Our unsung hero right now is Jeremy, whose expertise with recording engineering saves us countless hours in the studio.
If we could go back in time and do this band at 20 or 22, we'd have a lot less responsibilities than we do now, but I don't think we would have the knowledge, patience or experience to pull off this type of group. And with that experience comes a greater appreciation for what we've accomplished so far, and a greater willingness to look past a lot of the inconveniences.
OMC: I love the Curtis Mayfield inspiration in the band; do you think you're part of a renaissance of classic soul and R&B, with Sharon Jones, the Dap Kings and others?
DF: First of all, it's heartening to be talked about in the same circles as accomplished performers like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings -- we were amped when our first show was an opening slot for that very group! And there are a lot of great soul and funk groups out there.
But we think we bring something unique to the table, not only because of our three lead singers, but also because we're not confined to any specific type of music. We just want to keep writing good songs, whatever genre works for us. Notwithstanding our recordings thus far, we've also played reggae, rock steady, ska and rock in addition to the soul stuff.
As to whether we're part of a soul or R&B renaissance, I can't say, but it definitely seems like a good time to be doing what we're doing, as this undercurrent of appreciation for soul and funk is spilling over into the mainstream. There are more major-label artists now going back to a more classic soul sound, people like Amy Winehouse, Raphael Saadiq and the like. That means there is a greater group of people right now who are open to giving our music a chance, which is great.
But the mainstream tastes will change at some point and so we try not to worry too much about trends. Our thinking is that good music, especially music with harmonies, will always find some sort of audience. It may not always be the biggest or most popular thing out there, but there will be people who enjoy it.
OMC: Any plans for a full-length CD soon?
DF: Yes, we're working on it now and hope to have a CD/LP ready by July. Actually, I guess we no longer have a choice about that, since we set a date of July 24 for our release show!
OMC: What else is the band doing these days?
DF: We're not gigging much lately, since we are trying to finish that LP/CD. Almost all of our time is being spent writing, refining and recording tunes. We really have our work cut out for us, so wish us luck!
OMC: When is the next Milwaukee show?
DF: April 18 at The Mad Planet. After that, we probably won't be playing again in Milwaukee until the record release, so we hope people can make it to the Planet! One can always check our page at www.myspace.com/kingsgoforth for updates on shows, etc.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.