Record Of The Week: ‘Private Space’ By Durand Jones & The Indications

Durand Jones & The Indications (Aaron Frazer -drums/vocals, Blake Rhein – guitar, Steve Okonski – keys, Mike Montgomery – bass) had to halt their activity along with the rest of the world, after building momentum with the success of their second album, 2019’s American Love Call.

During the pandemic, some members of the band took a breather, while Frazer embarked on a solo project, recording his debut album, Introducing…, with Dan Auerbach in Nashville. Then the group reunited for their third full-length, Private Space.

Much like on their first two albums, the band recreates modern soul and disco sounds of the ’70s and ’80s. This time, Frazer and Rhein drew inspiration from disco-filled, pre-pandemic DJ sets, while Jones studied the styles, discographies and even documentaries of The Isley Brothers and Al Green. Together, they used all these tools to create their own sonic space.

“Love Will Work It Out” opens the album with a consciousness in line with the band’s earlier work, its lyrics summarizing the current political climate and the continued fight for social justice that’s continued through the global pandemic. The approach is akin to the ones artists like Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers and Sly and the Family Stone used 50 years before, saying that love will conquer all.

With things opening back up after a year of isolation, the group wanted to give listeners a reason to go straight to the dance floor. “Witchoo” has the ultimate summer house party feel, while “The Way That I Do” will have you stepping with your favorite person, even if you haven’t been able to dance with them for a while.

In the statement for the album release, Jones said, “At the end of the day, I just want people to close their eyes and forget where they are, just the way a Stevie Wonder album does for me.”

Closing your eyes to escape into the Indications’ music about love, happiness and community will re-center your mind on a world of grooving, with light visible at the end of the darkness.

On The Record: A Q&A With Durand Jones & The Indications

Marquis Munson: I know it’s been tough with the pandemic and  we’re kind of slowly getting back to some sense of normalcy. How is everything going with you guys?

Durand Jones: It was wild because right before the pandemic. We were really hitting our stride. We were really getting into the rhythm of touring. I think we all were starting to figure out how we all could individually and collectively make sure we were in the best way possible, where we could maximize on everything and get the best show that we could, which was really dope. We were going to go to Asia in 2020 as well, which is something new and exciting for us. And then the whole pandemic halted everything.

It halted us making this record, which necessarily wasn’t a bad thing. I kind of think it gave us a little time to breathe and to really create something that really had intention. I know that once this record was out, we were really hoping that life would be back to some type of normalcy at least, and that this record could be something that’s uplifting, joyful and celebratory for people. It’s a summer record, for sure. It’s something to play with your friends, to have a good time with, maybe even with close loved one that you feel a little something something with. You know what I’m saying? It definitely encapsulates all of that. And we just really wanted to invoke that feeling, especially after the crazy year that we just had.

Blake Rehin: Obviously, the pandemic is so hard for a lot of people and hard for us as a band, in terms of just running our business. But there’s definitely a lot of aspects of 2020 that I was really grateful for. It was good to slow down for a little while, because as Durand said, we’d been hitting it really hard for a few years. To kind of be forced to take that time to get off the road and work on physical and mental health was great. I also think that having a little bit extra time to work on the record was such a blessing. The previous record we made in between tour dates, and it was really stressful to work like that. Making this record amid a pandemic was definitely a different type of stress. But just having that extra time to work on writing the songs was something I’m really thankful for.

MM: You guys are in separate locations, Durand in San Antonio, Blake in Chicago. You guys have been together since your college days, then the pandemic stopped people from getting together. Did the distance make a difference when you guys were finally able to get back together and start working on music?

DJ: I don’t feel like it was a difference. If anything, it was bit of assurance: This is why we’re still together. This is why we’re still doing this, because whenever we get together all in one room and whenever everyone is used to their maximum potential, great music will happen. Magic occurs, which is quite rare, at least in the experiences that I’ve had working with other groups and different bands over the past. So yeah, to me it was just like, “Yeah we got this.” [Laughs]

MM: Where did you guys record the album?

BR: We did this in New York, Brooklyn and then we took about a week to go upstate New York. I rented a cabin and did some overdubbing and then finished it off at a different studio in Brooklyn. So we were there for almost a month in total working on the record.

MM: How did you guys come up with the title Private Space?

BR: One of the first songs we wrote for the album was a song called “Private Space” and it just felt really fitting. I felt like it can be tied into 2020 in a lot of different ways, how we were all kind of isolated in our own private space. I think it also about just that feeling of isolation, but almost in a good way.

MM: Every album you guys have had a different recording approach, from Aaron’s parent’s basement to studios in New York. What was the recording process like for Private Space?

DJ: For this album, we planned to do it in a studio again. But what made it so much different, it was January of this year in New York City. So we’re in the middle of the pandemic. Once we got to New York City, we all had to isolate for several days. Whenever I left the studio, I didn’t have contact with anybody, like physically. I was home alone and we had to take COVID tests. You always had that looming shadow or thing in the back of your mind. It’s like, “What if I get COVID? What if somebody in the same room as me gets COVID? What’s going to happen to the schedule of this thing? Will we have to stop this? Will we have to push back? All of those things were looming in our heads as well, so it was kind of a little tense. But also the blinders are on and you have this mission; you just want to execute and deliver. So that’s what made it so much different for me this time. Doing it in the middle of a pandemic. It just added this whole different level of stress.

MM: I can tell that you guys drew inspiration from what you were listening to. What were you listening to in the pandemic in the process of making this album?

BR: The inspiration for this album came from pre-pandemic. Aaron and I got really into DJing, playing disco records and stuff like that. What I love about DJing is that you have this immediate response; you play a record and you know if it works or not. So it’s kind of cool through that experience seeing what people respond to.

Throughout the pandemic and over the past couple of years, I’ve definitely spent a lot more time listening to new releases versus listening to ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s music, which was the core of my influence when we started the band. So artists like Steve Lacy, I really love his guitar playing and a lot of his songwriting. And then there’s a group in the U.K. called Sault and I love the work they do, too. So those have been some of my biggest inspirations,

DJ: During the pandemic, I would do these things called “master class.” At least that’s what I like to call it. It’s not necessarily a master class, but it’s just some way to attain or grab something from another artist who’s very seasoned and very experienced in what they’ve done, people who’ve had decades long careers. Like, why were they able to last that long? So what I would do is I would take an artist and I would try to listen to all of their discography and I’ll try to watch as many documentaries as could on them and then also watch live shows. And I want to see the good shows and the bad shows because you can learn what not to do from the bad s***. So I would do that with people like Al Green, the Isley Brothers, Dionne Warwick. I did it with, strangely enough, Eartha Kitt.

I didn’t learn a lot about music stuff from Eartha Kitt, but unpackaging childhood trauma. There’s a quote, “If you don’t deal with your childhood trauma, it’ll show up in your relationships as an adult.” That is truth, man.  And I learned that from Eartha Kitt, and she helped me unpack so much stuff. I did it with Jimi Hendrix for this project that I did during the pandemic with some guys from Bright Eyes and Red Hot Chili Peppers. All of that stuff really helped me become a better songwriter for the stuff that I wrote for Private Space.

And I will also throw in there, even though she’s not a musician, Toni Morrison. I read a lot of Toni Morrison during the pandemic and the way that she approaches literature and writing really affected me as a songwriter in a really beautiful way. Yeah, that’s what I was into, man. I was just trying to dig deep, baby.

MM: From a songwriting standpoint I can definitely hear some deeper lyrics and Al Green inspiration, and from the music standpoint, I hear a little disco as well. Blake you mentioned DJing and you guys are vinyl record collectors. So have you guys been getting back to your record collecting, going to different record stores?

BR: Yeah, there’s one place in Chicago I really like in particular that used to be called Logan Hardware now it’s called Electric Jungle. So it’s run by this guy named John and he’s just super nice. He moved from a storefront and now he’s in this lofted space where it’s like adjacent to a wood shop. It’s like you go up there and just hang with him, and I really like that.

One of my favorite parts about record buying is the sense of community and being able to talk to people and share knowledge. The whole period where going outside and going to stores and stuff wasn’t a thing, I just wasn’t buying any records. Buying records online doesn’t really appeal to me. I really like the feeling of going out and digging through stuff, looking at things and talking to people and getting recommendations. So I’ve been getting back into it a little bit. It’s one of my favorite things to do on tour. So I’m really excited to get back out on the road and visit some more stores.

MM: You guys have been doing the retro sound successfully for a while now. But we’re starting to see different artists doing a new form of disco and Silk Sonic using Philadelphia Soul. All those retro sounds are coming back. And as a fan that didn’t have the opportunity to grow up in an era of Earth, Wind & Fire, Curtis Mayfield, Sly and the Family Stone, it’s good to see artists reliving those sounds in 2021. Why do you think many artists are going back to that ‘70s and ‘80s nostalgia sound as of late?

DJ: I think because, just as you said, it’s nostalgic and through that, it feels timeless. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard saying, “Imma leave the door open.” [singing]. From old people to young people, my little five-year-old niece all the way to my 60-year-old father. To me, that is a sign that something is timeless.

There’s this line from this really great poem that goes “Sometimes I laugh and I forget what century I’m in.” And I feel like a great song will put you in your feelings and make you forget how old you are. Sometimes, especially in the African-American community, you’ll be jamming out to a song and an older folk like your uncle or your auntie will be like, “What you know about that?” It’s kind of like that feeling, though; it’s just like I don’t know what I know about it. I just know it makes me feel something. I close my eyes and I forget what century or how old I am. Maybe this is too old for me. I don’t know. But I think that’s the reason why people are going back to it.

MM: When you guys do shows, you see a very diverse crowd, all races and all ages enjoying this music. It has to feel good when you look out and see a different audience of people enjoying this music with an old school feel that you are recreating.

BR: In particular, we have a really big Latinx following on the West Coast. And there’s a whole lowrider culture and sweet soul music is a huge part of that. They’ve really embraced us and had so many people say, “Thank you for keeping this music alive and being a part of our culture.” And that’s really motivated me. When we’re out there on tour and things are hard and you’re tired when a fan comes up and says something like that after the show it really means a lot.

MM: On your second album American Love Call in 2019, you guys reflect on social injustice throughout the album. Three years later, during even tougher times in the country with the pandemic and the continued fight for social justice, it had to be hard summarizing the year 2020. But you guys do it on the song “Love Will Work It Out.” How difficult was it writing that song?

DJ: Honestly, it wasn’t hard at all. It just felt like the words falling out of the pen. All of the dudes in the band were in the main room of the studio. I was in the control room and they started jamming on something that Blake had come up with. And I just started writing.

Mainly, I just reflected on the time when I didn’t want to write music, which was around May of 2020, right around the time things were really heating up with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor protests. I just thought back to that time where I just wanted to step away from everything for just a little bit, just to breathe. It just all came really easy.

Once the dudes laid down a recording and came back into the control room, I was like, “Check out what I got here.” They really vibed with it and then I laid down the vocals for the demo. That was the start of it all.  

It hasn’t been intentional, but it’s also pretty cool how the very first record we started with “Make a Change,” a social commentary, political consciousness song. Moving on to American Love Call starting with “Morning in America,” another social consciousness, politically charged song. Now here we are with “Love Will Work It Out,” another social consciousness song. Dare I say more in the Martin Luther King philosophical approach more than the others, which is also really something fresh to it all.

MM: Blake, how did you come up with the groove for that song?

BR: It was it was something Aaron and I were bouncing back and forth. We’ve been kind of going for a sound where we’re just expanding the harmonic vocabulary, using different combinations of chords in a way that feels more like a soul-jazz interpretation. From there, part of the process that we’ve always had is we listen to a few different records and say “Hey I want to take the kind of guitar part from there. There’s a cool conga thing happening in this song.” You just start putting the pieces together, and experimentation has always been like a huge part of our process, and redoing it until you get it right.

MM: I don’t know if you guys did this by design. But I noticed on the album, it starts off with “Love Will Work It Out” the opening track and then it follows that up with “Witchoo.” To me it’s like you’re telling the listeners “We are going to address this serious topic, then it’s time to switch it up and let’s have some fun for the rest of the album.” How did you guys kind of make that work out that way?

BR: One of the feelings I had throughout 2020 was this feeling of whiplash of super heavy, disturbing news. And then you scroll through social media and there’s a meme making fun of it already. You kind of bounce back and forth between these moods. And it was kind of a challenging part of the pandemic for me mentally. But I think putting those songs back-to-back to me is very representative of how I felt throughout the year.

MM: What was the recording process like for “Witchoo”?

DJ It was at the same session that we did “Love Will Work It Out.” Aaron had this loop track called “Cool Breeze.” He had a melody in mind for the chorus, a really cool example of one of the ways that I feel like the Indications works very successfully. I took that melody from the chorus. I like to write poetry, so I wrote a poem of what he wanted this thing to be about. Aaron took that and then he edited it and made it into something that he really liked. From there, Blake came into the picture and added some chords and collaboratively worked on hashing out what the song could be. Is there a pre-chorus? Is the verse? Is there a group verse? We were figuring all of that stuff out together. From that, we came up with a rough draft of “Witchoo.” After working with some songwriters from this group, Songwrite Club, they helped us out to complete the song. And then we just went to the studio and recorded it.

MM: I saw the video for the song “The Way That I Do”  and I love it. The song feels like one of those grab your special person and go straight to the dance floor. Was that goal for that song to create this post-pandemic dance track?

BR: On the music video, it was a concept that Durand came up with. It feels like a steppers vibe. We spent a lot of our budget for music videos on these first two videos doing it in New York, because had a big crew. So we knew that this third video was going to have to be this smaller budget thing. So we decided to have one couple stepping. I reached out to my friend Andre Dixon and he put us in touch with the dancers in that video Pete and Linda Frazier, who are world champions of stepping. To this day, it maybe my favorite music video we’ve ever put together. It just works so well and I’m really proud of that. But I think overall  we wanted to make something people could celebrate and party, too. So fingers crossed, we’re not out of the pandemic yet, but we’re getting there.