by Jane Roser
Webster’s Dictionary defines funk as ‘music that combines elements of rhythm and blues and soul music and that is characterized by a percussive vocal style, static harmonies, and a strong bass line with heavy downbeats‘. New Jersey based musician Charles Laurita has taken the funkadelic sound a step further with his own brand of ‘alternafunk’. The songs on his new EP have a very cool swagger to them and you can almost picture Richard Roundtree strutting down the street to Laurita’s original tune ‘Ruled The World’ in the opening credits of Shaft.
“I’m interested in so many different genres of music, so I feel like my songs are a combination of a few different styles. I originally just wanted to put a rock band together, but I started getting into funk, Motown, and disco, so that heavily affected what I was looking for my group to sound like,” explains Laurita.
Charles Laurita, as a multi-instrumentalist virtuoso, is basically a twentieth century Mozart (yes, I went there). He started playing guitar at the age of ten and is also proficient in (deep breath) bass, drums, keyboards, ukulele, mandolin and harmonica and has graced renowned venues such as The Stone Pony and World Cafe Live. Laurita is not alone, though. His band, The Mischief, features Kenny Hamilton on bass, Darwin Morua on drums, Chandler Scales on sax, Steve Balalis on trombone and Sean Joyce on trumpet. Basically, there’s something for everyone.
“A horn section was the missing piece that would help create a huge, detailed wall of sound. The one thing I really tried to do with my sound was try to attract a diverse demographic. I always hated how people looked to musical genres as barriers to separate people, so why not attempt to bring people together instead? You can dance to our songs, yet they are theoretically interesting; they have melodies reminiscent of pop songs, yet our songs combine rock, blues, funk, R&B, and disco,” says Laurita.
Charles Laurita and The Mischief released their seven-track, self-titled, EP this summer. Now, they are busier than ever playing gigs and enjoying a positive, encouraging audience response.
“The record release party (on June 14 at the Princeton Manor Banquet) went incredibly well. We had over 350 people in attendance and sold over 220 CDs,” says Laurita. The band felt accomplished, of course, because all of their hard work had paid off. “It seemed as if people really dug our stuff, and most of the people who were there I’d never even seen before, so that was an awesome feeling. Most people have no idea what to expect when they see a rock band with horns, but we’ve been getting tons of positive feed back. People are still talking about the release party, so I’m happy we made an impact!”
While the EP is comprised of original material, Laurita loves to pay homage to some of his favorite artists, often performing thrilling versions of Lady Gaga, The Eurythmics and Rocky Horror Picture Show tunes. “I always enjoy playing songs that aren’t my own, but I like making a new arrangement and doing my own version. I feel there’s a big difference between “covering” a song and “imitating” a song. I would really love to try to make an arrangement for Lady Gaga’s song “Teeth”. I love the stomping feel of that song! Or some other pop songs like “Hit Me Baby One More Time”. I love playing songs that no one would expect a band like mine to play. The musical element of surprise is such a great tool to use.”
Many of Laurita’s songs are inspired by imagination and he enjoys writing about his passions- superheroes, science fiction, The Legend of Zelda- which makes his songs, as well as his live shows, very unique, thoughtful, and, well…..fun. “I could never write about heartbreak, it would be depressing! Despite having some musical influences, I’m mainly inspired by Stan Lee, Walt Disney, and Ray Harryhausen. Those guys were way ahead of their time, and they all worked by the same principal- imagination is the most powerful tool, and the sky is the limit. I love that idea, and I feel like that mentality transcends into my songwriting.”
I always feel that a person’s character and personality can truly be defined by what they have downloaded onto their iPod (if they’ll admit to it, for instance, I have Christina Perri, U2 and Nine Inch Nails on mine, but I won’t admit to having the Muppets’ greatest hits on there…until now). If you ask Laurita what’s on his iPod, you get a fabulous who’s who of every musical genre under the sun.
“The real question is what’s NOT on my iPod,” he says. A sample of his “recently played” list includes Stevie Wonder, Public Enemy, Marvin Gaye, Bach, Smash Mouth, Kool & The Gang, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Christina Aguilera, The Lion King and Ray Charles. Looking at what he listens to makes Laurita think of the famous quote by Duke Ellington – “There are only two kinds of music; good music and bad music”.
“I try to listen to everything because every style of music inspires me,” Laurita says.
Charles Laurita and The Mischief have had a phenomenal year so far, the highlights being the studio sessions recording the EP and the release party. “I’ve recorded many times, either for myself or doing session work for other people, but when we were in there doing our EP it just felt unreal. We took it very seriously, but we still had fun and goofed off (slightly). We had a blast because it was something none of us had ever done before on that level, and it was a major accomplishment for all of us. It was great having the studio session and the release party because it was essentially a major milestone for the band, and now we’re looking towards the future.”
And what does the future hold? What can we expect just around the corner? “You can expect progress! I figure if we keep moving, there’s no way we can do wrong. I’m always constantly writing new material, and the band is always rehearsing to stay tight. Some days I’ll just write multiple ideas down, or I’ll have some random epiphany to help with a part of a song I’m stuck on. I love bringing new songs into the mix because my bandmates work incredibly hard to make the song work. Also, I’m starting to plan out some ideas for music videos, because I’m very much into film and editing.”
If you can make it to one of their shows (the next one is at 9:00pm on August 24th at Cedar Gardens Pub in Mercerville, NJ), be prepared to expect the unexpected. If you happen to feel the need to hand jive, boogie or just get down, make love, bring a comfy pair of dancing shoes because you’ll need them.
You can buy Charles Laurita and The Mischief’s EP on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon Music, and Google Music, or you can listen to their songs for free on their Reverbnation page.