MEN At Work: Brooklyn Dance Trio Takes NYC First

Originally published at bestnewbands.com, April 23, 2011 – Read the full text here

Last week, for the first time, in New York’s Bowery Ballroom, I watched MEN in costumes dance. I watched MEN sing. I watched MEN jam.

Wait, I paid to watch dudes?

I kid, of course (and to the readers, I apologize, I usually try to avoid bad puns). The Brooklyn-based disco-funk dance trio, fronted by JD Samson and joined by Ginger Brooks Takahashi and Michael O’Neill, sold out the Bowery Ballroom. MEN are now joined by Tami Hart (who you can see in the above photo). Tami replaced Ginger (more on that below), and is now the permanent bassist/2nd guitarist for the project.

So what does it take to be as cool as JD Samson, how does he really feel about labels, and what is the symbolism of a large banner that hang behind them onstage posing the question, “Who Am I To Feel So Free?”

Kristina Villarini: JD, how did you feel about the NYC tour kickoff show?

JD Samson: It was fun. I mean, it’s always stressful to play in New York. Every New York show is a high-pressure show. The sound on the stage could have been better, but what can you do?

KV: You can let me know if this is an appropriate question or not, but what happened to Ginger, and what can you tell me about Tami, who rocks a mean left-handed bass?

JDS: Ginger left the project to pursue her visual arts work. Tami has already brought so many things to the project. I first met Tam when I was 20 and she was 18, in North Carolina. I was working with Le Tigre and we were on the same label. So, we’ve kept in touch for a long time and now we’re getting the opportunity to reconnect.

KV: She looked really great up there. She fit right in. I imagine it would be hard for someone new to come in, since you and Michael have such terrific chemistry.

JDS: Yeah… We do have an intense chemistry, don’t we?

KV: For sure. So, can we talk about the banner that falls during the performance of “Who Am I To Feel So Free?” Is that a statement about freedom being taken for granted, or is there more to it?

JDS: Of course. We are so oppressed, as a world, and it’s about who causes that. Who takes that freedom from us? How many people are truly free in this world? It’s about the obsession we have with freedom, and the word. The heart of the song are questions of the reality of the word, and what it means. You know, why do human beings have to label everything?

KV: What do you think of labels?

JDS: I try not to be didactic. I don’t want to be divisive between myself and the audience. I want to maintain my role as a part of the proverbial “us,” as opposed to a politician and a preacher. I think all of that kind of rhetoric makes me not think about that stuff. I’m honest and sincere about my feelings.

KV: What’s the ideal in this band?

JDS: Some performances are the best thing ever. I love music and I love dancing. I love loving music and I love making love to music. But, making music is work. It’s my job. I don’t know. I’m lucky to have it be both.

KV: Tell me about playing at home versus elsewhere. You guys are on tour now…

JDS: It’s the mixture of additives versus something else. Sometimes this band is weird for people. The energy exchange is weird. MEN can cause people to feel things and people don’t want to be vulnerable. So, it’s challenging to make that exchange. But hometown crowds are also really weird. Sometimes I try to look into the crowd when we’re in New York, and I see this mass of people who are a part of my family. ‘Hey, that’s my ex-girlfriend.’ (Chuckles) It’s cool, but it’s staggering. We love playing small towns, or playing in places where people don’t see bands at all or bands like us. It’s cool to bring our message and our community to people.

KV: Well, does it ever get old?

JDS: Some of it does. We drive all of our things around in a van and play in dark, smoky clubs. This is our job, and I think people forget that sometimes. We have a bad day at work like everyone else sometimes. It’s a universal thing and it’s a business that we take seriously. We manage our own tours, we do our own books, etc., so there’s all of those things that are involved.

KV: Last month, I reviewed your record, and I talked about the battle I have with myself. I want to dance, but I want to listen to the heaviness of your words. How do you that, and do you intend to do it?

JDS: We are not really trying to do it. We are making music because we are musicians. We are talking about what is interesting and important to us, and what we want people to think about. It’s what we think about.