MATCHING UP THE VIBES: Frobeck could be a jam band, but instead streamline varied elements into a solid groove.
Frobeck's new disc a funky soul vaccination
By Karl Byrn
The Sonoma County–based quartet Frobeck fashion a complex blend of funk, soul, pop, rock, gospel and jazz with a simple appeal that can bring unexpected attention. Upon winning the 2008 NORBAY award for Best Rock Band, guitarist and vocalist Kris Dilbeck says he initially thought, "We're not a rock band, we're a funk band," though he's come to a new realization. "Our shows," he says today, "can get pretty rocking."
Vocalist and keyboardist Spencer Burrows notes, "Our music is hard to niche; there's a lot happening." Fans of regional jam band scenes have taken notice, and Frobeck "can be kind of like chameleons," Burrows says, "because we have all these styles. We're not a jam band, but the fact that we could be is kind of nice."
Frobeck's funky, rocking jams find sweet focus on their recently released third disc Other Side of the Light, which the band will feature at a record-release party this Friday at Hopmonk Tavern. Dilbeck and Burrows write warm originals that mix upbeat pop-rock, like the Steely Dan/Boz Scaggs–style vibe of the title track, with traditional soul movers in the style of Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles soul movers like "Please Don't Say."
Further creative excitement is generated when bassist Steve Froberg, who played with Burrows in the '90s with Eric Lindell and the Reds, and new drummer Paul Spina, from the reggae act Groundation, expand the songs with jazz-based artistry and monster grooves. Talented guest vocalists and instrumentalists alike give Other Side of the Light traces of reggae, folk-blues and jazz improv.
"The hard thing is, if you pull from all those styles, you can have a record that's completely disconnected," says Dilbeck, who produced the disc with engineer and mixer (and original drummer) Cory Stuck. "We do a really good job of bringing it all into this one thing. It's not like there's a jazz song, then all of a sudden a country song. The album is one piece of work."
Burrows, who met Dilbeck in the Sonoma State University choir in the late '90s and again when they both later attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, enthuses that "we're really getting our sound." Other Side of the Light, he says, "feels like we found it. Whatever it is we sound like, it's there." The songwriting team is comfortable with that sound being eclectic and evolving. "What we're influenced by together and separately is what makes up Frobeck," says Dilbeck, who notes that the four diverse musicians find common ground admiring Bay Area horn funk legends Tower of Power. "With Frobeck," he says, "I don't feel I have to write a certain style of music."
Other Side of the Light is also a technical move forward, recorded at the prestigious Prairie Sun Studios using the band's victory earnings from a 2008 battle of the bands at the Mystic Theatre. "The recording and songwriting process develops better each time," says Dilbeck. "The arrangements are a little more developed and a little more interesting on this record." Burrows adds, "We're physically better players than we were over the last years. You keep getting better at your craft."
Frobeck's 2010 game plan includes lining up professional management and expanded regional touring. Burrows imagines the coming year will be "very much like a boiling point—we're here, it's boiling, and it takes that one degree to get over the top. We've got people talking about us, starting to hear us, and this year is going to be a huge boost." That boost is really about connecting with audiences, as both songwriters proudly note the personal nature of the new material.
"We can write about us or see if that matches up to or vibes with the problems or happiness of other people," Burrows says, adding, "One of our hopes is to help the local scene by inspiring people to get out and listen to original music. We invite you to come out and be part of our journey."
Frobeck celebrate 'Other Side of the Light' with a record release party on Friday, Jan. 22, at Hopmonk Tavern, 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol. Opening the show is Sonoma County jam band Seraphin. 8pm. $10–$12; 21 and over. 707.829.7300.
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