I have a major soft spot for bands with New Orleans in their background. Anybody that has been to NOLA knows what I mean. The quality of keys, guitars, and especially horns is simply a sound that’s just so damn good and unique to that city. The Nth Power without a doubt fits that criteria. This is evident from their recently released new album, Live To Be Free, which they boldly recorded live. I had the chance to interview the band’s drummer and leader, Nikki Glaspie, on a variety of fun topics about their new album, their upcoming show at The Pourhouse in Charleston, SC, legendary drummers such as John Bonham, her many years playing with Maceo Parker, and The Nth Power’s incredible 15-person band tribute show for Earth Wind and Fire that included an 18 song setlist dazzling thousands of fans.
Formed during an impromptu late-night jam at Jazz Fest 2012 in New Orleans, the relentlessly funky and soulful band believes in music as a higher power tapping into an energy that is simultaneously sexy and spiritual, with songs that will inspire audiences to dance, groove, make love or just stand there with goose bumps.
The quartet hails from diverse musical backgrounds, races and creeds. Female powerhouse Nikki Glaspie was Beyonce’s world-touring drummer for five years before she joined Ivan Neville’s New Orleans funk outfit, Dumpstaphunk. Bassist Nate Edgar of Groovechild and John Browns Body perfectly compliments Singer and Guitarist Nick Cassarino who came from the Jennifer Hartswick Band and toured with Big Daddy Kane. Finally rounding off the ensemble is the newest and youngest member, Courtney J Mell Smith who brings his soulful vocals and keyboard abilities to the table.
(Try and tell me this tune doesn’t feel like a modern Stevie Ray Vaughan jam!)
Writers on the Storm: Live to be Free is ranked ninth on the JamBase radio chart ahead of Phish’s live album…so you made it!
Nikki: “Hahaha. I wish that were true and was all that it took.”
You guys have been labeled a jam band from earlier years but listening to your new album, the song “Take My Soul,” I hear Gary Clark Jr and Stevie Ray Vaughan and that really came through on this live album. So many bands I see live I’m like “Wow! This song is banging!” but then on their album it sounds like a slow song.
Nikki: “Yea. That’s exactly why we made a live album. Our fans were like, they loved the studio stuff, but it’s just different. In a studio you’re in a controlled environment and can do no wrong. If you mess up you can fix it. It just doesn’t have the same energy as live. We are live musicians. That’s what we do. So, we thought we might as well do a live record. Because there’s a lot of adrenaline that is involved. You know…you play a note and it’s gone. It happened. You can’t get it back. That’s something that I love. I love not knowing what’s going to happen or what’s coming next. It’s a huge risk taker because you can’t fix it.”
So this album was recorded over 2-3 shows. When the album finished, listening it to it do wish you could redo some things like a drum beat there, etc?
Nikki: “Yea, there’s always something you wish you would have done differently. We wouldn’t be human if that was the case. You just roll with it. We did three nights, but the majority of it was taken from the Brooklyn show which was a couple weeks later then the Boston show. We were still writing the lyrics the first day that we recorded the live Boston show. Brooklyn was really the one that was used.”
It’s been over a year since Abundance was released how would you rate it looking back over the last year.
Nikki: “I think it went incredibly well. I think the songs were relatable. People were able to listen to the songs and understand what we were trying to do with the songs or how were were trying to get the message across. It was used as a vehicle to reach more people. Our debut effort, if you will, went great.”
Is it too early to talk next album and dates?
Nikki: “Yes, it’s too early for that (laughing). We’re writing. Stay writing. Continue to write.”
You’re playing The Pourhouse (Charleston, SC) in a couple weeks (January 5th, 2016). You’ve played there before…what can you say about that venue and the crowds?
Nikki: “Dude. I love The Pourhouse. I’ve personally been coming to The Pourhouse since 2002. I love that room. I love that venue. I love Alex. He’s a really good dude. Everybody that is there is awesome. The vibe is always great. Always. And of the course the food next door is amazing.”
Being the drummer for Beyonce certainly stands out on your bio but what stood out to me most was you’re playing with Maceo Parker (saxophonist for James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic). What did you learn playing with him?
Nikki: “I’m still doing it which is awesome. But what I learned is showmanship. Mastery of the crowd. Maceo’s been performing longer than we’ve been alive. He just knows how to do it. He knows how to talk to the crowd, interact with them, and make them feel like it’s something special they’re coming to see, which it is. They’re coming to see a legend. I also learned dynamics. I’ve played dynamics before but he takes it to the next level. He likes the funk to simmer not boiling over. I learned to play with intensity very quietly. Extremely quiet.”
Who would you say are the best drummers of all time and your influences?
Nikki: “John Bonham is a huge influence of mine. Point blank. He’s probably the biggest influence I have besides Dennis Chambers. The way that Bonham hit the drums and his groove. I studied Zepplin for a long time and that starts to become part of who I am. Bernard Purdie…he’s one of the greatest. Jabo Starks. Clyde Stubblefield. I also love a drummer by the name of Fish. He used to play in Fishbone. He’s an amazing drummer. Frankie Kash Waddy. He was a guy playing with Bootsy [Collins], so naturally he’d be an influence. So, yea, those are my guys. And then of course there’s Terri Lyne Carrington. Seeing her play the drums was absolutely incredible. She’s a huge influence. Particularly as being a female.”
What about The London Souls drummer, Chris St. Hilaire, also from Brooklyn?
Nikki: “Dude! He’s one of my favorites today! To me, he’s the perfect marriage of John Bonham and Zigaboo. They [The London Souls] are beautiful people.”
Didn’t you do a Led Zepplin tribute with him?
Nikki: “I did a Zepplin tribute with Dumpstaphunk. We also did this thing called Infectious where last January we took over a venue. We did a residency at the Knitting Factory, which is where we did our live album. So every Tuesday of every week in January we had different members of different bands come down and play with us. We had themed nights. So, the first night was rock night, and Chris came down and it was insane. It was super awesome. We setup two drum sets and went at it. We did play some Zepplin that night.”
Did you two drum battle?
Nikki: “We traded, yea!”
[Click to read our interview with drummer Chris St. Hilaire: The London Souls Talk New Album and Upcoming Tour with Sturgill Simpson]
What bands do you listen to when going from gig to gig in the van?
Nikki: “Recently we’ve been listening to a lot of Earth Wind and Fire just because we’ve had to play it. We have to study it. It is not easy. Every time we listen to it we heard something new. We also listen to the SoS band. Marvin Gaye. We’ve been listening to a lot of Marley lately.”
Looking back, what’s the best gig you’ve ever played?
Nikki: “The last one I played. Every time. For me it’s more of a gratitude thing that I get to do this. But honestly, we just played Earth Window and Power and it was incredible. It was a really good band and the largest I had ever assembled. It was 15 people. Nth power is a quartet (laughing). We had 11 extra people on stage. Everyone came in and we played as one. That was the amazing thing. There were cats that I called and they didn’t know the person standing beside them but they played like they had played together their whole life.”
Rashawn Ross of Dave Matthews Band came and played trumpet. We had The Regiment Horns which were really good friends of mine from school…they played with Justin Timberlake. And Marcie Chapa who was my old bandmate from Beyonce. And Adam Joseph who was my first production partner. He came and sang with us. Ian Neville. Dumpstaphunk on guitar. Kofi Burbridge from Tedeschi Trucks Band on the other 2s. Crystal Torres. And Natalie Cressman. The band was just awesome. A lot of people didn’t know each other but they met that night. It was a lot of admiration and mutual respect around the stage. I enjoyed bringing people together but, I really enjoyed seeing everyone’s reaction to each other. No one had any idea of what anyone was capable of until we did the show and then it was like “Oh shit, this guy is killing it!!!”
Click here for upcoming tour dates which extend through February 2017.