It's somewhat of an oddity to be a band in Missoula, roughly 500 miles even from Seattle, and play pop, R&B, funk and soul – all forms that are dominant in popular culture but barely present in predominantly white western Montana, outside of the college-town enthusiasm for funk.
Shakewell, a five-year-old band of 20-somethings, addresses that on their debut album, "Marzoula," a glossy, catchy 14-track album that will have a physical release on Friday.
"It's about the paradox of being from Montana and playing funk, pop music, urban music," said guitarist and synth player Emmet Ore. "We grew up in the right time, the right place to have access to all the music we could ever imagine, and this album also questions our relationship with technology, and how that's changing our relationships with ourselves and other people," he said.
Cove Jasmin, one of the group's lead vocalists, qualified that a little. It's a concept album, but you don't have to listen to it as one. "It's pop music," he said, noting that those themes are couched in double entendres and word play. After all, Shakewell is nothing if not a party band.
To record it, they had assistance from a veteran figure in danceable music. The seven-piece band recorded the album with producer Alan Evans, drummer for the funk-soul-jazz trio Soulive.
"We're obviously huge fans of his work and have been influenced by it for a long time," Jasmine said.
They had about a week to record at Evergroove Studio in Evergreen, Colorado, and not much time to fuss.
"You just have to accept what happens to an extent," Jasmin said. "Al was really trying to ingrain in us" that they needed to embrace their own sound instead of doing take after take.
"The record sounds more like we sound live than sounding overproduced," Ore said.
The current line-up of the band is Jasmin and Ore, plus Jordan Smith on vocals and guitar; Aaron Johnson on drums; Sam Ore, Emmet's brother, on bass; Tanner Fruit on alto and tenor saxophone and Nathan Crawford on trumpet.
It spans from one of the earliest songs the band wrote, "Bad Dream," a more old-school-flavored, sunny, good-times funk tune, to newer ones like "Selfie," which has a disco-funk groove and contemporary synthesizer sheen. They all have outside interests that flavor the album. Ore, for one, makes beats. "It's the kind of electronic music that a funk guitar player would make," Jasmin said.
"I'm in love with the synths right now," Ore said. "I can't get enough of the synths in my life."
Johnson, the drummer, has an instrumental hip-hop/electronic beats project, the Partygoers.
Fruit and Crawford, the horn players, have played in other projects and jazz bands before, and accentuate the organic funk vibe. While synths are used, they never cool into the dark electronic sound that's popular in post-Weekend R&B.
The album's dotted with short musical interludes; in one of the most clever, an ear-worm ballad called "U Kno Me" transitions into an extended, electronics-flavored jam, "Subtxt," that eventually reprises the verses.
Friday's album release party at the Top Hat, a venue they've played frequently along with the Union Club, is really only to mark the physical, CD release.
Evans is in the process of launching a label, Vintage League Music, that may release the album digitally in the next several months on Spotify and iTunes.
Many of the band members come from musical families. Jasmin's dad, Chip, sang folk music in the schools around Montana for decades and played fiddle with the contra dance nights in Missoula. The Ore brothers' parents play bluegrass and country, and still have family jam sessions.
Jasmin and Emmet played in a prog-leaning rock band together in Bend, Oregon. When the two moved back to Missoula, they opted to form a funk band instead of one that inspired brooding.
Almost since the beginning, they played about one or two gigs a week, and cut their teeth at the Union Club, where bands are required to play for four hours on a weekend evening, a gig that Ore said helped them hone their skills. They hope to start touring more out of state now that they has an album and a potential digital release through Davis' project. That he agreed to record them in the first place felt like a stamp of approval from outside of their home base.
"That was a really big relief as a band," Jasmin said. "'This is working."