John Culbreth defies Logic with MAGIC BOX
Though this is his debut solo release, John is no stranger to the creative process and the art of crafting music. As co-founder of instrumental sextet Naughty Professor, and having filled the role of sideman to a collection of other acts (The Revivalists, Vance Joy, Griz, Galactic, and more), John has played the role of touring musician for the last 8 years and counting.
That lifestyle, however, comes with its set of limitations. Initially, touring meant putting the creative on pause and just playing shows. While performing on the road for a living is full of exhilarating moments, it entails a ton of time away from home and countless hours spent traveling and waiting to perform.
His perspective changed over time after seeing examples of other artists successfully creating impactful music in spite of their rigorous schedules and distracting environments. When he heard that Donald Glover wrote the Childish Gambino record “Awaken, My Love” in his trailer while on set for the TV show Community, Culbreth knew he had no excuse not to keep creating outside his comfort zone. Inspired, John began spending time writing in the van and in the greenrooms of venues along the extensive route tour life was taking him.
At a certain point, though, he hit a wall.
“The process began simply as a cathartic exercise to keep myself sane. When it came to finishing arrangements, though, I struggled with choosing a stylistic direction to go in with this pile of unfocused musical sketches I had assembled. I felt boxed in by the constraints of using software (Logic), and I eventually realized a lot was getting lost in translation between my ear and the tiny midi keyboard I had been somewhat unceremoniously hammering my ideas into. It eventually occurred to me: ‘music is bigger than this!’ The ideas (aside from what I had already recorded on trumpet) needed soul breathed into them.”
John reached out to Steveland Swatkins (artist name: Swatkins), vocoder extraordinaire and keyboardist for Allen Stone. Having met Steve at an impromptu recording session at Neutral Sound Studios in New Orleans during Jazz Fest earlier that year, Culbreth hoped that Steve would be open to collaboration. He was.
“When I first dropped the tracks Steve recorded into the song (GoKarting) and hit play, my heart leapt…the song was alive! My next thought was ‘How great would these ideas sound if I keep doing this?’ Not long after that, I reached out to more of my peers in an invitation to co-create, including hip hop producer Es-K (who contributed to the overall sound of GoKarting and Top Secret) and Nashville based music collective Dynamo (who performed the band parts to my arrangement of John Lennon’s song, Imagine). The more musicians I involved, the more I was sure this was the direction I wanted to go in. I discovered that by featuring my friends’ musical voices and positioning their sounds alongside my own, the outcome magically becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”
The result is Magic Box, the first 4 songs to reach fruition. John hopes to perpetuate the global collaborative spirit and continue combining forces with today’s musical pioneers.
“The main lesson music has always taught me is this: you are not alone.”
Risks and challenges
The risk with producing an album as an independent artist is that there is no label bankrolling the process, and no machine to create awareness after the project is completed. So we find ourselves throwing hundreds of hours of effort and thousands of dollars into something that is worth a lot to ourselves as creative expression, but that doesn't have a definite financial worth outside of that unless we make it. I'm hoping to recuperate some of the costs of making this album by offering memberships and t-shirts!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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