The past few years have been a bit of a whirlwind for the band fDeluxe. When SoulTrain.com first interviewed the soul/funk collective in 2011, the band formerly known as The Family was gearing up to drop their brand new album Gaslight, their first full-length project since their self-titled debut was released in 1985. With that first outing, The Family proved they were more than merely one of Prince’s Paisley Park novelty projects; although Prince wrote and arranged the bulk of the album, vocalists St. Paul Peterson and Susannah Melvoin, saxophonist Eric Leeds, drummer Jellybean Johnson, and singer/dancer/ex-mirror handler Jerome Benton (both formerly of The Time) each brought their unique talents and instincts to the album. The end result was a funky, soulful, sensual record that delivered hits like “The Screams of Passion”and “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
The Family disbanded shortly after the album’s release, leaving fans with little more than a precious first taste of something as sumptuous as it was ephemeral; it was the sultry summer fling that ended abruptly with the first amber leaves of the fall. After initially re-forming as The Family 2.0 and finally as fDeluxe, the once-quintessential-quintet-turned-awesome-foursome led off with the aforementioned Gaslight and followed quickly with a remix album, Relit, a live album, Live & Tight as a Funk Fiend’s Fix, and an eclectic collection of covers, AM Static. To further make up for lost time, fDeluxe blessed stages in Europe, LA, San Francisco, New York, and their hometown, Minneapolis, for a handful of one- and two-night gigs, marking the first time many of their longtime fans would see the band perform live.
With 2015 ushering in the 30th anniversary of The Family, the album that started it all, St. Paul et al knew they had to do something special to commemorate the occasion. The band took to its Facebook page to solicit ideas and suggestions from the fans for how to celebrate this milestone, and even created special 30th anniversary merch for their website. Most fans agreed a full-on live performance was in order, and the band agreed.
On Tuesday, November 24, just in time for Thanksgiving, fDeluxe will take the stage at Minneapolis’ Dakota Jazz Club to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their debut album. The show will also serve as a benefit for the Southdale YMCA, adding purpose to the party.
fDeluxe’s St. Paul Peterson and Eric Leeds spoke to SoulTrain.com about three decades of funk n’ soul, and what the future holds for the band.
SoulTrain.com: When you were recording The Family, did you have any idea that it would remain such an important, well-loved work amongst fans 30 years later?
St. Paul Peterson: I was so young when that record was done, and of course I had no idea what kind of opportunity it would get, let alone the longevity it would have. My biggest concern at that point was making sure I was fitting in and doing everything right, but it was so early on in my relationship with Prince and with my band mates. It was recorded so disjointedly; Prince basically recorded it, had Eric come in, then Susannah, then David Z. would record my vocals. For it to turn into the classic it’s become, I had no idea.
Eric Leeds: I met Prince on the day of the first session. For me it was basically, “Hey, how are you? You got some music you want me to play?” We just did it. To be absolutely honest, it was a recording session for me. I had absolutely no idea or any presumption about what my relationship was going to be with Prince. I hadn’t even met Paul yet when I did my initial sessions. It was my understanding that the album was not going to be released until close to a year after we had started doing the first recording sessions. My feeling was a lot could happen within a year, especially with somebody as mercurial as Prince. A year from now he may lose interest in the project and it may never see the light of day. So I just took it as it came, and was relieved when the album was finally released!
SoulTrain.com: Had you heard any of the music beforehand? Did you have charts, or were you coming in and creating in the moment?
Eric Leeds: It was pretty much in the moment. The first session I did, I think he had four songs on the album. Literally, I shook hands with him, and he asked me if I wanted him to give me a cassette to listen to for a few days if I wanted. But I looked at him and said, “If you’re ready to go, I’m ready to go,” so he kind of smiled and we hit it. And that was it. I basically heard each song for the first time as I was working on it with him.
St. Paul Peterson: David, who was producing the vocals at the time, and Jellybean in tow by his side for support, walked me through and really produced me. I was pretty green back in those days. I didn’t have a clue! I think the reason [Prince] chose me was that he’d heard that I had some raw talent and I’d sung in The Time. It goes back to that story with our dressing rooms being a curtain away during Purple Rain, and he heard me and Morris trying to out-lick each other. So that was the extent of it; I’d never recorded my vocals before. I was an instrumentalist for the most part. It was David’s job to coax that performance out of me—to mimic, if you will, the inflections and attitude Prince was conveying in the demos.
SoulTrain.com: fDeluxe has an extremely active social media following, so it’s no surprise that you went directly to your fanbase for ideas on how to commemorate the 30th anniversary of The Family. Will the band perform the entire album at the show?
St. Paul Peterson: That’s the plan! And of course we’ll play the new records, too.
Eric Leeds: We’ve got some basic ideas about how we want to approach it, but nothing has been engraved in stone. We haven’t decided exactly what we’re gonna do yet—we like it to be in the moment for us, too.
SoulTrain.com: And will there be a commemorative video or live album from the performance, or is this more of a one-off?
St. Paul Peterson: I think this is a one-off for now. We have high hopes to do a few more concerts, maybe next year. We’re still in our 30th anniversary until August 2016, and Eric and I do a lot of work with each other as it is. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see Eric and me, and hopefully the rest of the folks.
SoulTrain.com: Tell us about Southdale YMCA, the organization next week’s show will benefit.
St. Paul Peterson: It’s an outreach program that serves low-income families and provides the community with services the Y offers by bringing the Y to them. The focus is on youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. I’m on the board of this YMCA and I see first-hand the good work they do; they provide over $400,000 in assistance to 2,200 people in our area alone. We wanted to raise some money for them, and the best way I know how is through music!
SoulTrain.com: I had the pleasure of coming to Minneapolis last year to catch you guys at Dakota, and I was surprised that Susannah didn’t perform. She recently posted on Facebook that she wouldn’t be performing at the upcoming show, either. Susannah is an essential part of The Family/fDeluxe. How do you, as a band, decide to move forward without one of your key players?
St. Paul Peterson: Susannah’s always welcome to join us. Whether she’s able to or not is up to her and what’s going on in her life. She’s a part of this band, she’ll always be part of this band just like Jerome is. Jerome’s always got an open invitation to come because this is based off of
the record we did 30 years ago, so they’re always welcome. That said, we have to keep moving forward, and that’s why Eric and I have done so much music together. We genuinely enjoy playing together, whether it’s our instrumental jazz/funk project called LP Music (Leeds Peterson Music), or as fDeluxe in whatever way that presents itself in the future. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ll continue making music together, unless Eric doesn’t like me anymore—which is very possible [laughs].
Eric Leeds: The thing about fDeluxe is that it’s kind of like an ongoing thing. We have the benefit of the market for how music is really distributed now; it isn’t so much about about CDs or set albums as it is about single downloads and things like that. We can play into that to our advantage; we’ve got the fDeluxe website and so many other [digital] avenues to release music, so whenever Paul or Susannah or any one of us has an idea for a song that would fit the brand of what fDeluxe is musically it’s very simple for us to get together—even via the internet—to make new music. For the people who have supported this music for so many years, I would just say every once in awhile, we’ll throw something new out there and keep it going like that. It doesn’t cost us anything other than our time, and this is what we like to spend our time doing anyway.
SoulTrain.com: Let’s go back 30 years. Outside of the technological advances over the past 3 decades, what have each of you learned as musicians, producers, and music creators that you didn’t know in 1985?
St. Paul Peterson: You got 3 hours? [laughs] I can tell you that, as you age, you learn about what is important to a band’s sound, what’s important to enhance a song and not ruin a song. You figure out what’s good and what’s too much, what will aid the song and pay tribute to the message you’re trying to get across. It’s less about how great is my lick here that I’m playing, and more about the feeling on the entire track as a whole. You don’t know that when you’re 17 years old. How could you possibly know that when you haven’t had enough years on the planet?
You learn to let things settle, to not put stuff on that doesn’t belong—which I think all good producers struggle with to this day, especially in the day of perfecting everything. I think I’m starting to go the other way. I’m over here at the college (Minneapolis Media Institute, where Paul is an instructor) and I just laid down a bass part on 2-inch tape, which was really fun. We started talking about the philosophy of what that is in the musical conversation, because you can’t polish everything. It’s really about the pushes and the pulls in the music and everything not being absolutely perfect, the feeling that you get and how the track makes you feel. Ultimately it’s an experience we’re trying to portray to the listener. I wish I would’ve had insight 30 years ago.
Eric Leeds: The whole thing about music is just telling stories, that’s essentially what I think our job is. We’re all 30 years older, and I think that should be reflected in the music. I don’t think the music should sound old or dated. To the contrary, when Paul and Susannah and Jellybean and I were talking years ago about doing the new album that would become the first fDeluxe album, my curiosity was based on the fact that The Family album was essentially music that was written by Prince. Thirty years later, he’s not going to be involved in this, so I have no basis of experience or comparison in what Susannah or Paul would be writing. My thought was, if the new music of fDeluxe was going to sound like The Family album 30 years ago, then I probably wasn’t going to be interested in doing that.
When I heard the music Paul and Susannah were writing, that’s when I got interested in getting involved. It was working with them on a level that we really didn’t work with each other 30 years ago because we were basically just doing a gig. We were playing roles that had been created for us by Prince. Now we were creating the roles ourselves. Much to Susannah’s and Paul’s credit, the music they write now reflects the fact that they’re 30 years older and they have lives, they have families, they have children. Whether they’re even articulating or thinking about it, that’s going to be reflected in the music that they write. The most important thing is that you can look back over the years and say, “How have I changed as a person in 30 years, and does the music reflect that?” I think the music they’ve written for the fDeluxe album definitely does.
Now, for me as the player in all of this, likewise I’d like to think that who I am as a person is reflected in how I play music—not even specifically in how I may have improved or evolved as a saxophone player, but just am I a different musician now than I was 30 years ago? I’d like to think I am, for the better.
We all share the same [musical] influences, so the vocabulary that we use is a vocabulary that has existed for a long time now. It’s just a matter of the people we are and how we’ve grown as individuals, and how we utilize that existing vocabulary to tell stories that are a little bit unique to us.
SoulTrain.com: It appears that The Family’s video(s) are the latest to disappear mysteriously from YouTube, and it’s well known that Prince and his team actively monitor the internet and remove unauthorized audio and video clips, and earlier this year he pulled all of his music off of streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music and put it all on Tidal. A quick Spotify search and The Family is nowhere to be found, but fDeluxe is. Without The Family’s one and only album being available to stream, do you think that affects how easily younger music fans can find that first record? Is that even a concern to the band?
Eric Leeds: The unfortunate reality is that we don’t control [The Family album]—Prince does. Prince is very careful about what he allows on the internet of any of his music or recordings, he’s very much in control of that—which is neither a good thing nor a bad thing necessarily. Specifically for The Family album, we don’t have the ability to just say, “Go check it out on the internet.” All the more reason why we really try to play this music live as much as we can. That’s really the only way we can keep that music out there. It is a little frustrating at times, because when we do have some younger people who come up at times who know about the album, I wish I had an easier answer for them for where they can get it. I’m a little curious if Prince or anybody at Warner Bros. has ever had any interest in trying to re-release the album; it would be a very simple thing to do. Nowadays, for music that’s considered “legacy music,” there are record labels that are in the business of licensing the music for a quick release. But I have no idea whether Prince or whomever is in control of the master recordings, if the interest is there.
SoulTrain.com: If you had to pick one or two songs from that first album as your favorite(s), which would each of you pick if you could?
St. Paul Peterson: “Nothing Compares 2 U” is probably one of my favorite songs of all time, not only because it’s the song that did the best off of that record—not even because of us, but because of Sinéad [O’Connor] and others who’ve covered it, but we lay claim to that record as being ours, and I think it’s a heart-wrenching, beautifully written simple song. I also love “The Screams of Passion” because of the imagery that Prince used and the poetry—beautiful!—over this nasty groove. It’s sexy, it’s very, very well-done.
Eric Leeds: I certainly can’t disagree with any of that. It’s hard to pick one, but generally speaking, I go for the hard-core funk first. To me, The Family really holds together as an album, and what I think makes the album work and what’s given it the cachet it’s had over the years is that it’s not just a collection of really good songs. In this case, it’s assembled in a way that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But, first among equals for me would be “High Fashion” and “Mutiny,” and I think of those two songs almost as one song. The fact that the album led off with those set the table for what comes after.
Treat yourself to some fDeluxe goodies at fdeluxe.com, and follow the band on Facebook and on Twitter at @TheFdeluxe. For tickets to Tuesday night’s show, visit the Dakota’s official website. To donate to the Southdale YMCA, visit http://give.ymcatwincities.org/stacyreiff2015.
Rhonda Nicole is the Managing Editor for SoulTrain.com, a soul singer/songwriter, music journalist, blogger, and curator of the BohemeRockstar Music Blog (IG @BohemeRockstar), splitting her time between the Bay Area and LA. Download her EP ‘Nuda Veritas’ on CDBaby and iTunes, keep up with her new music at soundcloud.com/rhonda-nicole, follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @wildhoneyrock, and dig her musical musings at rhondanicole.com.