Since debuting a year and a half ago, The Xandra Corpora Band, or XCB which they assure me they don’t mind being called, has become one of Nagoya’s most-loved acts. Songwriter and guitarist Xandra Corpora, having established herself firmly in the music scene of San Francisco, moved to Japan to “experience life outside of America.” It was here that she found herself back into music thanks to the GC Live Monday Jam sessions.
Photos by Felipe Orita Gonçales
Xandra: I never really went to jam sessions in America because they were kind of elite, only if you were of a certain high level of musicality. I found here that people are extremely open and supportive to all levels. The jam sessions in Japan are a huge part of meeting people and doing music.
It was at these jams where she first ran into bassist Lesley Bartlett, from Australia, and Adam Demby, a drummer from New Jersey. Both veterans of the local music scene, they’ve played in a number of other local bands.
Xandra: I started collaborating with Lesley and Tomo Shaga. He and I wrote a song together called Black Typhoon, and I decided I really wanted to record it. So I asked Lesley and Adam to be session musicians for that track. I was experimenting with other musicians, and having quite a lot of fun playing again. Lesley and I were getting tight as friends, and we fit in together. And I was actually playing with another drummer and he cancelled at the last minute for this gig that was kind of important, and Adam came in and saved the day. And from then on, he was the man.
Talk to this trio about working together and it’s plain to see that they’ve become fast friends. There’s none of the battle of egos that often comes when talented artists strive to make their voices heard.
Adam: Xandra writes the songs, and then we arrange it together. But there’s so much of my flavor, and Lesley’s and Xandra’s; we all contribute into the songs so much of ourselves that it really takes on a new flavor, which is us. We do what’s best for the song.
Lesley: We’re all extremely motivated. We really want to make new music all the time.
Their new music, a sound that jumps from blues to funk to rock, never staying in one place long enough to get nailed down, is inspired from each of their music experiences.
Xandra: My biggest vocal influences are probably Lauryn Hill and Christina Aguilera. I’m a closest pop head. Also B.B. King, he’s maybe the best vocalist and guitar player combination in all of music. Ella Fitzgerald as well, her voice is perfect all the time. Stevie Ray Vaughn, he’s just so soulful. In terms of songwriting, Bill Withers and Ani DiFranco.
Lesley: I think a lot about 60s and 70s R&B bass players. Take a little bit from there and blues and funk, James Brown. I listen to the songs and pull from the library of sounds in my head.
Adam: One song is straight blues, and I find myself thinking, what would Steve Gadd or Jamie Oldaker have done with Eric Clapton? And then with another song that’s very much like a jazz tune, and I’m thinking what would Ed Thigpen have done with his brushes. And then another tune which is very much not R&B or blues, but it’s such an interesting feel that I ask what would Simon Phillips do in Toto.
Lesley: We do listen to a lot of Toto when you drive, by the way.
Their constant tour schedule has kept them on the road many weekends (presumably while cranking up the Toto). In the last few months, XCB played in Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe. When pressed to name a favorite stop, they don’t just have one.
Adam: Osaka is crazy. Love it. The people there are so open. And Kobe was just…
Xandra: Kobe was so awesome. We didn’t know anybody there, didn’t know what to expect, but it was just wonderful. The people are so awesome there.
Adam: I want to give a huge shout out to Nagano, the Tracks Bar and Roots Cafe in Hakuba, they did so much for us. We didn’t have a fan base there, and they gave us opportunities to play when no one knew us. And the response was amazing.
It was also during this time that they entered in and did quite well in the Hard Rock Café’s Hard Rock Rising competition in Osaka. Having successfully passed the second round, they are gearing up for their next battle on June 1. And after that it’s back home to get ready for the release of their debut album “Soul Fires”, a mixture of songs from two periods in Xandra’s life; before and after Japan, a collection of stories she’s been carrying around and is ready to let go.
Xandra: It’s quite a mixture of different kinds of feels. A lot of the music I’ve been wanting to put out for years, so it’s a big deal for me to finally share these tunes. I’ve always been difficult to classify musically, because I pull influences from a lot of different places. And so the whole concept of the album was it’s more about the individual songs, rather than making a jazz album, or a funk album. We wanted to pay homage to the individual identities of the songs. Thus the name “Soul Fires”.
Lesley: I guess the overall sound is just like a chameleon, it just adapts to the situation. The album is like a snapshot in time for me. It’s a fun thing to do and it’s precious but not overly precious. For me, it’s just let’s make art!
Xandra: There’s this one song called “the River Song”. It’s about going down to the river and drowning yourself because life’s too fucking hard. It’s an ode to my uncle who killed himself last year. And you can’t be precious about a song about suicide, you’ve got to let go. So, we recorded it live. We couldn’t get the energy we wanted with overdubbing, so we did it live in the studio playing and singing together.
Adam: It really feels alive. There’s something about “the River Song”. Like Xandra was saying you can’t perfect a song about suicide. It’s going to be what it is. This song is now so alive because we went into it letting go of everything and accepting what will come out of it.
With the release of “Soul Fires” in the near future, the Xandra Corpora Band has turned their sights further afield. Not to just a return to the road:
Xandra: We’re kinda always on tour. We’re trying to play as much as possible, and the country’s not so huge. It’s important for us to continue to build momentum.
But also a look into the hopes for where this momentum could take them:
Lesley: It would be super cool to get into more outdoor events. I love the feeling of looking out and above us is sky. To have a crack at Fuji Rock, for example, we need a CD. We hope to start applying for events outside of Japan as well, like the Winnipeg Folk Festival or the Falls Festival in Australia.
Adam: It’s different then outdoor events, but the first thing that comes to mind is Madison Square Garden. Led Zeppelin played there. Being back in New York, man… And also Blue Note. I really want to play Blue Note. But whether it’s Madison Square Garden, Blue Note, Slow Blues, or Otis’, I would love to be able to get around and play all over, while having the finances to do it.
Dreaming big but also remembering the message of “Soul Fires”, and just let go.
Xandra: CD sales and money is not something I’m concerned with at all. Which is maybe stupid, maybe I’m going to die super broke. But I’ve never been motivated by money, ergo my goal is to travel as far as I can for the purpose of music and make art and music with as many different artists as I can until I leave this earth. And if I die broke I don’t think it would be an unworthy aim to have spent my existence for music.
Adam: If we can make all the art we are able to in our lifetime, no matter how poor we are we would die rich.
Lesley: Absolutely, you can’t take that shit with you.
You can pick up a copy of Soul Fires at the release party on July 2 at Heartland Studio in the same building as Diamond Hall in Shinsakae. The doors open at 19:00, and music starts at 19:30. BLANKA, the much loved dance jam band out of Nishio will open. For this night only, the new CD will be ¥1,500. Tickets are ¥2,000 if you get on the RSVP list. Get all the details on their Facebook page or at www.xandracorpora.com