Walking into the humble, unassuming rehearsal space of this band reminded me of my high school days when friends and I would hang out and listen to music in one of our parents’ houses. It was easy to forget that I was not only getting ready to interview some of D.C’s heavy hitters but I was sitting in the workshop of creativity that developed a calendar list of shared stage performances with world-renowned artists including Chrisette Michelle, Drake, Marsha Ambrosius, Ledisi, Dionne Farris, Common, Jaguar Wright, Angie Stone, Raheem DeVaughn, 2 Chainz, Tabi Bonney and Meek Mill.
I am most honored to introduce you to the band, Black Alley. With a sound as unique as their name, Black Alley had to create a genre for their music and so dubbed it the “soul garage” sound. Listen and you will understand the connection. The garage is normally the place you store a bit of every essential.
To recreate soul garage, you need go-go. You need funk. You need jazz. You need rock. You need pop. You need a passionate lead vocalist. You have to grab a bit of life from every corner of American existence to get this.
Today is Sunday, February 10, 2013 and I am meeting with Black Alley’s stunning lead vocalist, Kacey, Mack Tyson on keys, drummer Danny “The Animal” Henderson, and Walter “Bo Beedy” Clark on percussion.
Me: I would like to open with the fact that your name struck me as having a great historical significance for Washington, D.C. Anyone who has been here knows that we are the city of a million alleyways and if you took D.C. History in high school you learned that those alleys served as residential neighborhoods for black families before the civil rights era. So in a sense your name, “Black Alley”, represents the root of present-day D.C. Do you have anything to say about that?
Kacey: Yes, our name does have roots in D.C. history but it also represents the underground. A lot of things happen in alleys, you know. [She glanced my way as she said this and my mind started to race to every alley scene I’d seen in a movie…] Our name represents the underground, hidden and often unseen talent in our city.
Me: [Much like the families that lived in the alleyways of the District, however, this band could not stay hidden for too long. The sound was too loud, too strong, too significant to stay muffled and go unrecognized.
Now back to the interview…
Me: I understand. How many of your members are actually from D.C. or the DMV? How did you all come together?
Danny “The Animal” Henderson: We all are. We began as a band with fewer and different members. Mack, Bo Beedy and I are some of the original members. Over time more members came on board to develop the band we have now.
[In five years, the band member acquisition and development of soul garage has won Black Alley the 2011 DMV Award for Best Live Performance, the 2012 Washington Area Music Association Award (WAMMIE) for Best Urban Contemporary Group, and they are currently nominees for three 2013 WAMMIEs.]
Me: Can you tell me the extent of the influence go-go music has had on your sound? Were any of your members originally go-go band players?
Mack Tyson: Two of us played in go-go bands, Beedy and myself. Our sound expanded with the musical influences of other members. Hope is classically trained and has a jazz influence. Eric A.K.A Champ has a rock background. Danny, Kacey and Josh have gospel backgrounds.
[For unaware readers, go-go is a genre of music that developed and matured in the District of Columbia. Percussion instruments provide the base for go-go music and contribute to the tradition of our city’s band formations. Black Alley’s song, “Heavy Hitters”, has a strong go-go influence and the name of the song plays on the percussion instrumentation required for execution. I think this is the author’s favorite song from Black Alley to date.
Appreciate the go-go break down 4 minutes and 33 seconds in/Animal and Beedy Do This, OMG
Now back to the interview…
Me: Growing up in D.C. in the 80s and 90s it was almost impossible for me to imagine city natives enjoying rock music! What are your thoughts on that?
Kacey: Rock has always been a sound that black people loved but moved away from over time. Appreciation for the rock influence in our sound was inevitable. We are just grateful that the fusion of our talents have allowed us to resurrect music that is already a part of our culture.
[I was an undercover rock head in the 1990s. I listened to Jimi Hendrix and the Cranberries with the same love I held for the latest rap and reggae singles but I kept it hidden most of the time for fear of ridicule. The world just gets smaller and smaller and I can totally see Black Alley performing to a jumping crowd of skin heads in south London similar to their enthusiastic fans every Thursday and Friday nights at Bar 7 and Liv in Washington, D.C.]
Me: With such a unique, soulful and infectious sound that encompasses so many musical genres, you can easily be dubbed the musical face of D.C. [I had to count them off on my fingers.] Go-go heads can relate. Jazz fans relate. Neo-soul lovers are sure to rock out not to mention rock music head bangers… so you seem to represent almost every person who travels to our city from somewhere else and makes this place their home. In addition, the music of Black Alley is readily transferrable to cities and towns all over the United States and the rest of the world. Do you have plans to branch out beyond the limits of the diamond?
Danny “The Animal” Henderson: This weekend we’re going to Houston for the NBA All Star Weekend.
Me: Yeah! I read that!
Kacey: And coming right back, it’s all about the work! [LAUGHTER]
Danny “The Animal” Henderson: We’ve been to Miami, L.A., North Carolina, Philly a couple of times, New York a few times and South Dakota…yes, South Dakota! People have been asking us to come to Japan and London so we’re ready to take the sound across the seas.
Me: And the world deserves a chance to experience soul garage, definitely!
To conclude I want to thank you for offering The SNS Nightlife the opportunity to interview with you and adding me to your press features. I also want to congratulate you on your recognitions by the Washington Area Music Association and 93.9 WKYS and your 2011 win of the WHFS/Best Buy/California Tortilla “Battle to Breakout” band competition.
Thank you so much for your time.
Everyone: Thank you!
Kacey: [In her casual beautiful way] This is the best interview we’ve ever had.
[Thanks Kacey. Black Alley’s current album, "Soul, Swagger, Rock, Sneakers" is available at blackalley.bandcamp.com and on iTunes.]
The SNS Nightlife would also like to give a special thank you to Black Alley’s public relations managers, Twenty28.
Omar Kashif: 202.487.3811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Cam Poles: 202.486.3553 or email@example.com
TWENTY28: 703.539.2028 or firstname.lastname@example.org