There exists a perplexing tendency to romanticize the music of past generations and lament the “downfall” and gradual erosion of music over time. It is the critical equivalent of the age-old “grass is always greener” adage, a wistful longing for a return to the “golden generation” of music. The reality, however, is that music does not regress —it only progresses. Music is by its very nature dynamic, constantly transforming and adapting to explore new ideas and to revisit old ideas in innovative ways. Our culture is not a vacuum; today’s music is both an homage to and progression of that which came before it. There does not exist any “golden age” of music, nor of any genre; the golden age of music is the entire history and the complete body of music that has been created throughout human history.
This revelation came to me induced by a conversation with Austin’s very own Huggy & The Feel Goodz, a seven-piece soul outfit dedicating themselves to replenishing the world with much-needed good vibes through their unique brand of “New R&B.” With the release of their brand-new EP, Chapter One, the Feel Goodz expand upon the soulful standards set by genre-defining pioneers like Marvin Gaye and D’Angelo and imbue them with their own fresh attitude and desire to connect to new and modern audiences. We had the chance to ask Huggy himself and musical director Ari Burns a few questions that arose out of repeated listens to the Chapter One EP. We think that their answers will enrich your own listening experience, as they did ours; as such, this piece begins with an interview delving into the creative minds behind the EP’s concoction before we explore the music itself.
Vinyl List: What does R&B have to offer the world in this day and age? Has its role changed since the “golden era” of R&B?
Jonathan Huggins: R&B still has so much to offer the world. I wouldn’t say that R&B has past its golden age, but it has definitely gone through different evolutions. Whether it be with live instrumentations or with sounds from a laptop, the essence of R&B will still be there. Forever and always.
Ari Burns (Musical Director): To put it shortly, musicality. Lots of people like different types of music for different reasons – country music is famous for its storytelling, hip hop and rap for its unapologetic vocalization of black American culture, pop music for its accessibility, classical/orchestral music for its scope and longevity. What draws me (and many of my friends/peers) to R&B and Neo-Soul is the rare opportunity to bring music that is focused on subtle artistry to a large, commercial audience. I really love feeling like we can make music that is complex and satisfying to play without sacrificing our ability to connect with our audience – if it ‘Feels Good’, it’s good to go! And I think it’s always been this way in the R&B world on some level. Just listen to anything Quincy Jones worked on – especially the Luther Vandross stuff. Songs like “A House is not a Home” and “Superstar” that go on for 8-9 minutes with 3 or 4 widely known hooks buried in huge, lush string and big band arrangements! It’s incredible!
VL: How does your background in jazz influence your approach to the music Huggy and the Feel Goodz make? Outside of the music itself, how has it transformed the way you think about your own music?
Jonathan Huggins: The level of musicality and the level of musicianship this band achieves is unreal. We have such a deep respect for the music and appreciation for timing, rhythm, articulation, feel, groove, etc. that it is fun to improvise with each other and be creative with taking on some more complex chord structures, melodies, and forms.
Ari Burns: Having a band where all the members have a background in jazz has a lot of benefits, especially from a musical directing standpoint. It gives us a huge amount of flexibility not only in how we write our music, but how we perform it live as well. The Jazz idiom is so diverse and complex that it forces all of us who study it to become fluent in a multitude of musical styles; this is so important to me as the local MD because I can trust that any changes we need to make to our arrangements in order to fit the venue/crowd’s needs will be fulfilled in a way that’s consistent and convincing. Need to extend a song? I can point at anyone to improvise a solo! Need to play a song slower/faster? Easy. The list goes on and on.
I think my background in jazz has really lead me to really try and use my music to give space for people to fill in my large (usually stylistic) concepts with their own melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic ideas.
VL: What role does live performance play in the music?
Jonathan Huggins: I LIVE FOR THE LIVE PERFORMANCE! That special connection and sense of community that exists between not only the band members, but also the audience, is why I do music. Period.
VL: Is there an aspect to the music that you feel is under-appreciated or under-served in a specifically audial setting?
Jonathan Huggins: Each and every show is different and that’s what is so addicting. It is impossible to capture the spontaneity of a live show on a record. Whether it be a new fill by Greg Clifford our drummer (who is the shit), an audience call and response, or killer guitar solo, no show is ever the same.
VL: How have you experienced the reception to the Chapter One EP
Jonathan Huggins: The reception to the “Chapter One” EP has been great! I feel like Austin has welcomed us with open arms ranging from Stay Gold to ABGB. We are incredibly thankful and excited for new music!
Ari Burns : Originally, we conceived of the music from the Chapter One EP as all stuff we were going to play live. I think in a way that limited us in the way we wrote and ended up recording those tunes because we became very focused on only including sounds that we could create in real-time on-stage. There’s nothing wrong with that, but moving forward it’s going to be fun exploring how we can create and use different forms of audio to expand what we do in performance.
Armed with a basic understanding of what makes Huggy and the Feel Goodz tick, it is time that we dive into the music itself. Clocking in at just over 20 minutes, the album is a testament to the sultriness that is the hallmark of R&B. Opening track “Chocolate” is undeniably the most fun and sexy track on the EP, propelled by a buoyant horn riff that bubbles above the bass line rumbling beneath. Huggy’s vocals dance around the track, demonstrating his impressive understanding of how to use the freedom of his voice without being overly indulgent. The song slowly gains momentum, reaching its boiling point to burst into a breathtaking saxophone solo that serves as the climax to an incredibly sexy song.
The rest of the album takes a more mellow approach, with Huggy’s masterful vocals guiding his listeners through an EP that is equal parts inspiring, alluring and introspective. The EP is a celebration of love in all its forms: where “Chocolate” enthusiastically embraces its fun and sexy side, “Just Be You” urges the importance of self-love with its chorus of “just be you/cause nobody else will.””You Get To Me” and “Had Me Going” are pensive reflections on love that wasn’t meant to be. Even in this more melancholy tracks, however, the positive energy of Huggy & The Feel Goodz peeks through, with the band’s masterfully upbeat horns and guitar particularly pointing to better times ahead.
The album ends on a relaxing note with “In Love Again,” completing what was effectively a journey through the various stages of romance. The lust of “Chocolate” is transformed by the experiences and lessons learned through love gone wrong, and we arrive on the other side wiser and more mature, prepared to experience a truer form of love. “In Love Again” is probably the best example of the group’s propensity for restraint, using empty space very effectively to illustrate the natural hesitation to fall in love again after being hurt. Soon, however, Huggy & The Feel Goodz grow into the track, a gleaming jam that perfectly portrays the relaxed and warm feeling that love brings with it.
With “Chapter One,” Huggy & The Feel Goodz introduce themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the R&B scene. The warm intimacy of their music is tangible even in digital form; one can only imagine how the positivity and feel-good vibes swell and fill the air in live performance. Their reflections and expressions of love are desperately needed in a world that seems to be dominated more and more by violence and hatred. I cannot urge you enough to take time out of your day to support this group by going to one of their shows here in Austin and show them the levels of love that they are putting out into the world. I can assure you that I’ll be there, reveling in the opportunity to truly feel good.
Huggy & The Feel Goodz have upcoming (FREE!) performances at Stay Gold in Austin on Friday October 20th and October 27th. In early 2018 they will be releasing another new project, to be followed by a regional tour! Get on the hype train now, because it won’t be long before Huggy and the Feel Goodz become the face of new R&B.