Interview: Lightning Orchestra

This Thursday night, I’ll be headed to the Center of the World, Funk, Soul and Afrobeat Dance Party featuring the Lightning Orchestra, Kebbi Williams and the Wolfpack at  Aisle 5 in Little Five Points.  Lightning Orchestra is one of my favorite local bands.  I have only had a chance to hear these folks play a few times but I fell in love with them the first time I listened.

Interview: Lightning Orchestra

I got a chance to chat with Sean McMorris and Travis Murphy during a quiet moment when these guys were not preparing for the show later this week.

What was the first album that you added to your personal music library?

[Sean] The first album I got was Dressed To Kill. Back in the 70s, there used to be a big department store called Service Merchandise right where the D&K Men’s Store is on Memorial Dr in Atlanta. When we would go, I would make a beeline to the record department to look at album covers. When I saw these dudes with facepaint and suits on, I thought it was the coolest thing I ever saw (I was about 5 years old at the time). So I begged my dad to buy it for me just based on the album cover. Anyone who really knows me knows that moment changed my life.

[Travis] The first records I bought of my own volition were from my dad’s Columbia House subscription. Back in those days, you could start a subscription with Columbia House, and get your first 10 CD’s or something for like 10 cents. So, my dad used to always cancel his subscriptions and start new ones under a different name and get like hundreds of CD’s for nothing that way. He let me in on the action one time, and the first records I ordered were Warren G’s Regulate…G Funk Era, Alliyah Age Aint Nothin But A Number, and I think like the Weezer Blue Album.

What was your most recent addition to your personal music library?

[Sean] I buy downloads for work, and they don’t usually don’t reflect my taste. The last purchase was I Smile by Kirk Franklin.  For my personal collection Trio Of Doom with John McLaughlin, Tony Williams, and Jaco Pastorius.

[Travis] I think it was Shugie Otis’ Wings Of Love. I’m a huge Shugie fan, and when I first heardInspiration Information in like 2005-2006, it pretty much changed my life. I can’t stress enough how much that record blew my mind, and how much his music in general blows my mind. Anyway, I wasn’t aware until this past summer that a year or two ago, they released a bunch of his other stuff made after that period, and added it to Inspiration Information as a double album, with that album representing that body of work, being Wings Of Love. When I first heard the cut “Things We Like To Do” off of it over the summer, it pretty much made my brain fall out of my head. I listened to it literally like 20 times in a row. His sense of harmony, and arrangement is completely out of this world. All praise be to Shuggie!

What was your first live music experience? Which venue and which artist(s)?

[Sean] The Jackson’s Victory was my first show. Somehow, my dad scored 3rd row seats to the biggest tour of the country. Tthis was essentially the Thriller tour, but Joe conned Michael into doing it with his brothers. I stood directly in front of Tito, one of my favorite rhythm guitarists.

[Travis] My first live music experiences were when I was just a little kid about 5 to 9 or so, my Dad was a Shriner, and he used to play sax in the Shrine band. It was kind of like a big band kind of vibe. Sometimes, kinda swing music sorta stuff if i remember correctly, which i may not. He was also a clown in the Shrine circus named Toonz and he would have his sax with him all the time, and would perform in the circus and parades and stuff like that. The Shrine Circus was no joke. It was a very quality circus. My Dad stopped playing completely though sometime around when I was 9 or so. Other than that, my first “real” concert/ live music event was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles “Coming Out Of Their Shell Tour”. I was about 7 when I saw it. I remember sitting in totally rapt anticipation waiting for it to begin, and then I remember walking out. The rest of my memory, it’s like i was blank slated or something. I never understood why I couldn’t remember anything about it until about 6 years ago, a friend had a VHS of the performance footage, and we sat down to watch it, and that’s when I understood why none of it stuck in my memory. They opened that show up with like a 20 minute power ballad sung by Splinter about skipping stones… it was CRAZY BORING. I must have fallen asleep, along with hundreds, possibly thousands of other children.

If you could cover one album in your music library which would it be?

[Sean] The album that I would cover is Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life. That is definitely on my list of desert island recordings.

[Travis] If i could cover one album in my music library…this is one of those questions you kinda gotta go with just the first thing that comes to mind because there are so many great ones. I think that the album I would most like to cover is Curtis Mayfield Live At The Bitter End. To me, everything about that album is perfect. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a more honest sound than the sound of that band. Curtis really streamlined things, and had the band down to just 5 cats, himself included. 2 guitars, bass, drums, percussion, and vox. It is just so completely raw and honest, and Curtis is one of my all time favorites. The bass player on that album, Joseph “Lucky” Scott is also one of my favorites bassists ever.

What artist do you wish more people had in their music library?

[Sean] Anything from the ECM catalog. They’re a jazz label out of Scandanavia, and they create very ambient jazz that’s very heavy on texture. It’s my favorite music in the world.

[Travis] Again there are so many, it’s hard! To me, Fela Kuti is pretty much the baddest mofo to have ever walked the planet, so he is definitely one. Another of my favorite artists ever though, is Ishmael Butler. Some people might know that he had a group in the 90’s called Digable Planets, and they were great. He now has a group, just him and one other guy named Maraire, and they are called Shabazz Palaces. I’m a huge Shabazz fan, and I have all of their records. I really feel that Ishmael is like the Jimi Hendrix of hip-hop, but at this point, I think the music Shabazz makes, actually transcends the label of Hip-hop or almost any other genre one might try to attach to it. It is some of the most original, fresh, poetic music i have ever heard with true depth and a cosmic expansiveness. Everyone should definitely check out Shabazz Palaces. It’s something you have to be willing to go on the journey with though, if you listen to their stuff. and for me each time I listen, it grows on me even more, and I appreciate it on an even deeper level. Some music really sources something, and takes you places, introduces the listener to new places in the universe, and their music does this for me, absolutely.

When we last talked you mentioned working on some original music and an ongoing set of gigs at Aisle 5. What’s next for Lightning Orchestra?

[Travis] YES! Concerning the original music, the first show doing the original material with Lightning Orchestra is happening at Mammal Gallery on Friday February 19th. We have put together about 8 tunes at this point, and I am really proud of how they are coming together. The original stuff is very much in the same vein as the type of music we already play with Lightning Orchestra (funk, soul, and afrobeat) so my intention was to create tunes that were as high of a caliber as everything we would normally play during a set covering Roy Ayers, Fela, Isaac Hayes, War etc., in the hopes that eventually the original material could be incorporated into the set seamlessly. Not saying that I have succeeded in that necessarily, or trying to put myself on the same level as those masters, just saying that playing all this stuff all the time really raises the standard for what can be integrated, and has also really helped me in taking my songwriting and arranging to a whole other level. I feel that the original material holds up in terms of the Lightning Orchestra standard for funkiness, and am super excited about it. For now, the moniker I’m using to showcase that stuff is White Lion Shim Sung, and since this show on the 19th is being played with everybody in Lightning Orchestra, it is billed as White Lion Shim Sung and the Lightning Orchestra. As far as what is in store for Lightning Orchestra, this month Thursday February 11th at Aisle 5, is the second installment of our monthly Funk, Soul, and Afrobeat residency “Center Of The World”. We are playing with the legendary Kebbi WIlliams and The Wolfpack, and I feel it is going to be absolutely amazing. If all goes well, hopefully it will keep happening monthly. We have a radio show coming up at WREK on March 8th, and I hope we can get in the studio in the next few months to lay down some recordings of this original stuff we’ve been putting together.

The Lightning Orchestra Band Setlist on Spotify

Lightning Orchestra is: Travis Murphy (electric bass), Dash Smith (vocals & trumpet) , Sean McMorris (guitar), Stephen Burns (guitar), Scotty Bryan (vocals & drums), Jeremy Saude (percussions), Yaya Brown (percussions), Ayo Cooley (keyboard), Abby Wren (keyboard & vocals), Tiffany White (vocals), Daniel Wytanis (trombone), Taylor Kennedy (saxophone), Maddy Davis (vibes), and Marquinn Mason (saxophone).