Brotherhood of Men:
The Budos Band Keeps Pushing On
“I think there’s a sense of optimism and triumph because we made a record together despite the fact that we’re split between the coasts and it’s hard for us to get together,” says The Budos Band saxophone player Jared Tankel. “When we do get together and write music, record, [or] play shows, it’s the best thing for all of us. We just love it. I think that sense of joy and accomplishment and loving what we’re doing certainly translates into the music.”
Tankel is talking about Long in the Tooth, The Budos Band’s sixth studio album (released on October 9 on Daptone Records). As with their previous albums, this latest offering is a joyous, riotous mix of Afro-funk, soul, psychedelica and various bits and pieces of other genres for good measure – all delivered, as usual, as instrumentals.
“In 2002 or 2003 when we started really writing and playing together, I don’t think we would have expected to be where we are musically at this point,” Tankel says. “We couldn’t have predicted that or foreseen it. It’s been a natural evolution in the course of that time.”
For example, Tankel says, “The first record, The Budos Band, is definitely more of an Afrobeat/Afro-funk record. Along the way, we’ve incorporated jazz, American soul, psychedelic rock, blues rock, and some guitar distortion. We have our own unique spin on all of those genres crammed all together in one package.”
Besides exploring different genres, The Budos Band also like to mix it up with their approach to each album. This time, because some members (including Tankel) live in Los Angeles and others are still based in Staten Island, New York where the band first formed, they had to do the studio sessions in stages. The rhythm section would go in on different days than the horn section, for instance.
That in itself isn’t all that unusual – bands often record different parts separately – but in the case, Tankel says, there was some uncertainty about what would happen because “We were recording as we wrote. Sometimes in the past, we would have written these songs and played them live a ton of times before recording, and it leads to a different sounding and feeling record.” Doing it in this more in-the-moment way, he says, “gives it a freshness.”
Tankel admits that they didn’t necessarily have to do it this way, though: “We could plan it so that we’re all going to get together for writing sessions and then we’re going to play some of these songs live and then we’re going to record them all together,” he says, “but it would have taken another two years for that all to come together, probably. We just want to keep making new music and putting out new records and don’t want to wait for all the perfect times of life to line up. We want to make it work. I think that’s what we accomplished.”
The members were also motivated to make the recording sessions turn out well, Tankel says with a laugh, because “We’re all just long in the tooth, so we’re a little bit older, so we’ve got to figure out how to make it work!” In this way, then, Long in the Tooth makes perfect sense as the album’s title.
Ultimately, though, Tankel says that doing things this way wasn’t that much of a risk precisely because the members are all so seasoned by now. “We’ve been a band for almost 20 years, so we know each other well. We gel naturally, musically,” he says. “So I think part of it just takes care of itself.” Also, he adds, “Tom [Brenneck] is our guitar player but also produces our records – he’s amazing and is steering the ship the whole way. So we put a lot of trust and faith in him to make sure that it all comes together and makes sense.
“Everybody gets their say and we all respect each other a lot,” Tankel continues. “If somebody has an opinion or wants to share an idea, that member always gets their chance to voice their feelings or thoughts. If something’s a good idea, we have no problem honoring that and incorporating that into somebody else’s idea. Or if it’s not a good idea, letting that person know that it just doesn’t really work, and we just move on; whoever brought it up is not going to feel badly about it.”
Perhaps counterintuitively, the fact that The Budos Band is big – there are eight members – actually makes it easier for everyone to have equal input. “There’s really no ego involved because it is a large group. Nobody is the frontman. This is nobody’s star project. Nobody’s trying to be the face of this.” With this band, he says, “There’s just no room for it and no desire for it, so we’ve all come along in this together.”
Tankel credits the members’ close friendship for allowing this type of give and take to happen. “We genuinely like each other – there’s a genuine brotherhood, and the music just naturally comes from that. I don’t want to say the music is secondary – that’s the reason we are all together – but it is on a certain level. If a long time goes by and we haven’t seen each other, the first two hours of rehearsal, we probably won’t even pick up our instruments because we want to hang out and catch up with each other.”
That friendship began more than 15 years ago when all of the members met in Staten Island, in New York City. Tankel – who had begun playing saxophone in fourth grade while growing up in Rochester, New York before attending college in Philadelphia – met his future bandmates soon after moving to New York after graduation.
“Honestly, if it wasn’t for being in the Budos, I’m not sure where I’d be at, musically,” Tankel says. “I don’t know that I would necessarily be continuing to play as much as I do or be in a group. It just worked out that way. I met the right guys to have a band with.” He calls it “the best band in the world to be a part of.”
The Budos Band quickly became established as a favorite in New York City, and Tankel believes coming from Staten Island helped them discover their own distinctive sound. “I think the fact that the band’s based in Staten Island is important because it’s isolated. Other New Yorkers don’t necessarily go to Staten Island that much. So I think there’s a really vibrant art and music scene out there that is able to exist on its own terms without getting swept up in the hype machine of Brooklyn or Manhattan.” Even though a couple of members (including Tankel) now live in L.A., “We definitely consider ourselves a Staten Island band,” he says.
Devoted as the band has been to Staten Island, Tankel acknowledges that New York City overall did play a significant role in their career trajectory, as well. “When we were getting our start in the early 2000s, there was this serious and really vibrant funk and soul scene, mostly in Brooklyn, and it was a really great scene to plug into. We definitely benefited from being able to go out to see Sharon Jones shows and things like that. That was really important for us as a band to be part of that group of people as we started to make our own music and our own records.”
The Budos Band signed to the influential Daptone Records label (with whom they’ve remained ever since) and released their self-titled debut album in 2005. With Long in the Tooth, they’ve released six studio albums so far, all of which have been widely critically acclaimed. They’ve also earned a fiercely loyal fanbase that includes notable musicians such as Iggy Pop and Wu-Tang Clan.
Now, fifteen years after The Budos Band’s debut album, Tankel takes a moment to appreciate what they’ve accomplished – and what he thinks they have in store for the future. “I’m really proud of us as a band for making it this far, and I don’t see any signs of us slowing down or going away,” he says. “This [new] record is just adding fuel to the fire for us and we’ll be back at it and recording our seventh album as soon as we can.”
In the meantime, Tankel is happy to put out Long in the Tooth, even if it is arriving in the midst of topsy-turvy times. “We released it during a really crazy time socially, culturally, politically,” he says. “I just want it to be a good soundtrack for people as they navigate a pandemic and the crazy election and all of that. I want to empower people and make them feel like there’s a soundtrack for them to keep pushing on and hopefully making the end of this year and into next year a triumphant return for everybody.”
Photo by Shervin Lainez.