INTERVIEW

In a very basic, but-GIRLS-are-actually-guys kinda way, The One are a puzzling prospect, and not just because they are in fact two. Take Joe Ryan – he’s a hardcore drummer, isn’t he?

theone-thumb

Photography by Phil Sharp

THE UGLY SIDE OF NEW SOUL

In a very basic, but-GIRLS-are-actually-guys kinda way, The One are a puzzling prospect, and not just because they are in fact two. Take Joe Ryan, the drummer who dreamt up the future soul project in the first place. He’s a hardcore drummer, isn’t he? His other band, Fair Ohs, had us believing so, even if they have sailed more tropical seas since their early punk shows and recordings. Joe – a musician so proficient he teaches others how to bash when he’s not playing himself – still pounds as much as he swings, after a lifetime of forming noise bands with his brother Sam, who now tours as Tom Vek’s guitarist and performs with The One when they’re not one or two, but in fact four. Pete Havard also joins them then, but really The One are Joe and Emeson, a six foot five south Londoner who knows what’s expected of his appearance.

“When a big black dude walks into a room, everyone’s like, ‘oh, he’s going to sing some soul’,” he says, “and I’ve not tried to get away from that, or my background in soul, but there’s also an electronic side [to The One], and we’re trying to approach things in a different way, and that’s something I was doing in solo projects before.

“Working with Joe is still soulful, but there’s load of other elements in there. There’s latin in there, there’s jazz in there, some pop in there.”

Emerson doesn’t teach singing, but he should. When we meet in a north London pub, he plays a very convincing vocal coach as he assures me that anyone can sing. The owner of a classic baritone purr, it’s a little like Audley Harrison telling you anyone can box.

Emeson grew up on Stax, his dad an avid collector who would teach his son the history of each record he owned (“I’d be like, ‘But dad I wanna go outside and play,’ and he’d say, ‘Sit down, listen to that, and then I’m going to tell you where it’s from’.”), while Joe’s musical education originated in ’80s Minneapolis soul and Seattle grunge – a perfect mix of gnarly rock and classic pop. The two met when Joe heard Emeson sound-checking at east London arts centre the Institute of International Visual Arts.

“Music wise, Joe had already gone so far ahead,” says Emeson, “and I was singing in INIVA, in Hoxton, and this guy comes up to me as I’m warming up and says, ‘ooh, yeah, yeah, I just heard you warming up there and I really like what you’re doing’. We started talking about drumming and about this project he was thinking about working on and I was like, ‘there’s something interesting there,’ so we exchanged numbers and had a good ‘ol chin-wag, and then we didn’t speak again for about a year. And then out of the blue we got together and he started playing me this amazing stuff.”

Joe made the call (“I’m always the bloody instigator. Like, ‘Will you go out with me???’”), saying, “Well, why don’t you come to my studio (my bedroom) and we’ll try and put some vocals on?” And now, having spent a little over a year assembling songs via email (“The songwriting process was a lot like The Postal Service,” notes Joe, even though the pair do live in the same city) The One have completed their debut album, ‘Who Are You?’.

Inspired by Flyte Tyme Records, the ’80s label of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who have produced everyone from Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey to Janet Jackson, Barry White and Mary J Blige, it’s a proudly commercial sounding record in many ways, and yet with this being the year of new RnB and soul, it couldn’t have arrived at a better time. It fills in the blanks between James Blake’s dark, post-dubstep take on the genre, Alexander O’Neal’s FM hits and Cameo’s motoric sex beats. The synths are dub and funk influenced and the drums often simple and stark.

“The thing is, you can say all different things about it, because maybe it’s a bit more of a dance album than it’s meant to be, but everything about it is soul, really,” says Joe, while Emeson explains that songs like ‘This Time (It’s Over)’ and ‘Double Life’ are not tracks that even Luther could bed anyone with.

“The beauty,” he says, “is that the record doesn’t just address love, per se. Most soul records will. He loves her, she loves him. But even if our songs do deal with that, there’s another meaning there also.

“The way I see it, is ‘Who Are You?’ questions people’s characters – who you are, what you’re about. It talks about love, but it’s a bit murkier and darker, and not so straightforward. It questions are the things you’re doing now right for you? Is this what you want your life to be, and if not are you questioning that, or are you just going to go with it.

“So it does all of that and then it’s also just songs. And you can dance! Y’know, it’s weird playing ‘Let’s Get It Straight’ and seeing people just dancing to it, because it’s like, ‘Do you know what these lyrics are about?’. But then, it’s just a song that we wrote, and people can take what they want from that. It’s not like we’re going, ‘ooh we’re really quirky and here’s a double entendre, get us’. People can feel what we’re saying in the songs, and that’s cool, or they can just listen to them as songs and enjoy them that way. Either is a huge compliment. We just want to get them out there. That’s fulfilling enough.”

By Stuart Stubbs

Originally published in issue 32 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. October 2011.

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