John Popper: vocals, harmonica
DJ Logic: turntables
Tad Kinchla: bass
Marcus Bleeker: drums
The pocket. It's musical slang for the deep-groove sweet spot that any band interested in funk and rhythm is hoping to reach, a place where the perfect collision and synthesis of sounds can give a musician the most intoxicating of natural highs.
Deep within the womb of the pocket-that's where the music of the John Popper Project has nestled itself. In just two years since the group's namesake and turntable wiz DJ Logic pacted with Blues Traveler bassist Tad Kinchla and Mosaic drummer Marcus Bleeker for a round of on-the-side musical exploration, the band has already reached groove nirvana, with the 13 tracks composing its eponymous debut.
If the combination of Traveler frontman Popper's big-lunged vocals and rapid-fire harmonica and Logic's skiddy, beat-and-scratch style seemed an odd fit initially, with Kinchla and Bleeker they've emerged as expert pocket-detectors, able to find and ride a groove with ease. Says a proud Popper, "I'm happy to say, we're really good at it."
But while subterranean grooves form the core of The John Popper Project, the disc is about so much more. Landing the band in the studio for the first time, the disc's tracks were created as spontaneously as the group itself, with all four band members contributing equally to the songwriting process. Says Logic, "We were all listening to each others' iTunes, talking about music and just getting the idea and feel of each other. And when you're creating, all those ideas and stuff just comes into one, and you can hear that in the music."
Songs like the Shaft-worthy leadoff track "Lapdance"-an insanely funky blend of seventies sounds anchored by a swirling bassline-were created on the spot. Says Bleeker, "It was great, you have the drums on the bottom, and Tad plays six-string bass, so he's got a lot of space. Then you have John on top and Logic all over the place adding different textures and colors." Adds Popper: "With that song, and that kind of song, it's kind of like you don't care why it's good, you don't care what you're doing... you just want to keep doing it."
Appropriately, "All Good Children" both begins with the sound of playing children and finds Popper's harp and wistful lyrics frolicking over Bleeker and Kinchla's groove. "Everything," meanwhile, is the sound of the band burning down the musical highway, its bumpin'-bassline and roaring harmonica-spiced breaks the equivalent of musical donuts. Says Kinchla, "It's got this driving rhythm, and then John's very notable, pop voice comes in. It's a great combination."
On tracks like "Pack Your Love," meanwhile, the young group conjures some sort of intersection people Eastern atmospherics and DJ Rob Base. "Trigger" could be the love child of Roni Size and Charlie Daniels. Without a lead guitarist, the band plays a game of round robin on The John Popper Project, filling the spaces in songs through a game of hot potato: Popper will inject one track with squalls of harp, before or while Logic lays down stop-and-go scratch grooves and box-rocking beats, Kinchla spins a funky bassline and Bleeker throttles it down the track.
The seeds for The John Popper Project were planted in 2003, when Popper-during a break from Blues Traveler-booked a solo gig in San Francisco with onetime RatDog member/bass virtuoso Rob Wasserman. At that gig, Logic (who, ironically, happened to be in town performing with RatDog main man/Grateful Dead guitarist-vocalist Bob Weir) sat in for the entire, two-set evening. A year later, Popper and Logic decided to do a little more musical exploring.
Hitting the stage with Kinchla and Bleeker for a few experiments in their homebase of New York City, the group's confidence was bolstered by enthusiastic fans-excitement shared by critics once the band hit the road: "The blazing talents of DJ Logic partnered with John Popper's soulful and unique harp style makes the John Popper Project refreshingly melodic, surprisingly playful and impressively tight," wrote The Memphis Flyer. "Logic and Popper are artistically flexible and stylistically open-minded. Combined, the John Popper Project is a skillful interpolation of instrumental passages," raved MTV.com.
"I like the energy-their energy-and the spontaneity of it," producer Craig Street (Norah Jones, Chris Whitley, Derek Trucks) says of The John Popper Project. "It was kind of wide open, which made it incredibly interesting."
Says Popper, "Whether you want to fuck to it, eat to it, drink to it or smoke to it, I think it meets all that criteria. It's good, cool, just fun music."