Nooky Jones have been blanketing the Twin Cities with their lush, sweet sound for coming up on three years now.
Straddling the depths of the old-school likes of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Prince, the six-piece R&B band also borrow minimalist grooves and a neo-soul vibe directly from the D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, and Frank Ocean books of love.
Taking time to let their relationship with the Cities grow, Nooky Jones have finally put their aural silkiness down in the studio and created a smart, self-titled collection that’s part methodical slow jams and part sophisticated funkiness. While it may be too soon to declare their latest single, “Sweet Wine,” the jam of the summer, the live staple will no doubt be a part of many late night playlists -- and a highlight at this weekend’s two record release parties at the Icehouse.
Lead singer Cameron Kinghorn has a busy schedule -- he’s involved with up to 10 other musical projects as well as Nooky. But he couldn’t say no when we offered him an opportunity to sample the Icehouse’s cocktail menu.
Icehouse bartender Whitney Evans mixed us three delicious elixirs from what she calls “science-heavy cocktails,” but it really didn’t take much liquid lubrication to get Kinghorn excited about the shows coming up this weekend. As we partook of Evans' mastery, Cameron told us more about Nooky Jones' excellent debut.
Drink #1 -- Milkpunch
Copper and Kings brandy, Pernod, pomegranate, coconut, lime, black tea, clarified milk punch
City Pages: I think you can kinda get away with almost not tasting the brandy in this.
Whitney Evans: Oh, I mean, you almost don’t taste anything. It’s super high proof, like almost 80. I do a thing every month where I go somewhere to get ideas. I went to New Orleans and was inspired to make this one. The first place I went to was Cane & Table.
Cameron Kinghorn: I can get down with brandy. I am a big whiskey/bourbon guy. It’s smooth and I love the fruity flavor to it. And you can like... I gotta take another sip. I feel like when you go up to it, you can smell the tea. The milkpunch is blowing my mind!
CP: Well I like that you use the word “smooth” because that’s really what kept going in my mind listening to the new record. It’s all really nice for the summer. What were you going for with the new record?
CK: I think definitely the songs we put together for this album are smooth. They are all love songs. Different versions of love, a pretty big spectrum. Yeah, I think it turned out pretty smooth.
CP: Damn smooth. I like how you act like you don’t know you’re smooth.
CK: Ha ha, it happened to be kind of smooth.
CP: So Nooky Jones have waited a good amount of time put something out. What made you think it was time?
CK: We wanted to wait to make sure the music was in the right place. With this band the cool thing is the music is constantly developing. Every time we play it’s different. Every rehearsal someone will have some new ideas. I think that comes from the background we all come from, the jazz side of the thing. We’re comfortable and feel good when the music feels organic. So turning that thing into soul, R&B or pop -- it just took a little while before we felt like now the songs are how we want them to be and the arrangements are in the right place.
CP: I think the first time I saw Nooky Jones was at the Cabooze and you came out and started with “Baby Be Mine,” one of my favorite Michael Jackson tunes. I thought that was a ballsy move coming out of the gate with that song. I had never heard you sing before.
CK: Usually we kind of ease into it a little bit. For these release shows we will be starting out a little more vibey. But when we started it was definitely wanting to come out with a punch.
CP: Well, you do have a different role in Nooky Jones. You are a leader so to speak since you aren’t playing your trumpet. But I think a lot of people having seen you play trumpet with other bands maybe didn’t associate you with being a vocalist but more as part of the horns within a band. Has that changed?
CK: Nope. I mean our trumpet player, Adam. He’s the man.
CP: You guys don’t ever do dueling trumpets?
CK: Ha ha, naw. I would lose for sure. Going into it was like, having a horn section was about them doing their thing. With me removing myself from that I think it was an important separation.
CP: So who is exactly Nooky Jones? Is that you?
CK: Well we wanted something that was kind of a throwback vibe, but also had a certain connotation to it that’s sexy. Also a little tongue and cheek -- I mean nobody says “nooky” anymore, right? All the time I get “Hey, what’s up Nooky?” It’s fine.
Drink #2 -- The Devil’s Triangle
Greenall gin, falernum, pineapple, lime, Zirbenz pine liqueur
WE: The name is purely based on the fact that the Bermuda Triangle was the first area colonized by the British. It’s a tiki drink with gin, which is super weird. It’s my own falernum recipe. There are twelve different botanicals in it. Fresh lime juice and fresh almond milk made in house and Zirbenz pine liqueur.
CK: So how should we drink this? Through the straw?
WE: First through the straw. Then stir it.
CK: Ooh, dang. Yeah, that’s rad. Just looking at it I wasn’t expecting that. There’s some spice in there. So good!
CP: It tastes like a roll of Life Savers if you ate them all at one time. So the dynamics I think on the record are smooth. There isn’t a ton of contrast. Live do you feel you modulate a bit more?
CK: There are a few moments when things get a little crazy. When we do the live thing it can be everything from a straight-up ballad to something that gets super-funky. That’s what I really like -- performing with a band we can really keep the audience engaged. When you're hearing stuff that you feel is really good, you're willing to pay attention. Willing to have the quiet moments. We played up in Saint Cloud at the Red Carpet. We played one of our ballads and a bunch of people came out and were like, slow dancing. It blew my mind! It was almost like this shouldn’t be happening but it’s so great that it is.
CP: That is a rare skill in town. Because I think people are often too self conscious to funky dance let alone slow dance as a couple. So you provide a nice space for that. What can you say about Sonny Knight?
CK: Sonny, for me -- getting to meet and work with him was so important to me. They invited me to do those soul revues. That was the first time my name was on a bill at First Avenue. But then getting to play and sing with him, to sing with a legend -- for me those moments will be favorite moments of all time. I got to sing my favorite song, “Bring It on Home to Me” with him. It’s tough. He was one of the coolest dudes. Every time I talked to him, all he wanted to do was make people feel good about themselves and what they were doing. He’d say things to me like “When I grow up I want to be just like you!”
CP: Yeah, he really had a young spirit. Well let’s toast one to Sonny. Man, he definitely would like this drink.
Drink #3 -- The Pre-Prohibition
Icehouse Reserve Knob Creek Barrel, Cocchi Americano, orange cordial and cardamom
WE: I’m obsessed with Cocchi Americano. It has a light herbal, It’s considered a fortified wine.
CK: Yeah, this is my jam! I’m getting the orange. It’s kind of like an old fashioned but it’s thicker. There’s more body. It’s incredible. I love bourbon.
CP: Tell me about the release shows this weekend. It’s a great mix.
CK: I first met Aby through the New Standards. I’ve gotten to know her over the last year. She’s one of the best singers in town. Her stuff is so hip. I’ve seen her sit in with jazz bands and she is just killing it.
CP: Nobody sings like her.
CK: Aby is actually featured on our record, on “Someone Who.” It turned out super cool. So I wanted to have her on the show. Also Eric Mayson, he’s one of the best musicians in town. I know that they collaborate so I thought it’s be really great to have them do a duo set. Then Pho, who are playing Saturday, I been friends with and sang with them a couple times. It’s just straight-up funk. They are the band. Looking at the weekend I wanted it to be different things. Friday will be a party where they will crush it, but Saturday with Pho will be raging.
Icehouse has been my favorite place to play. This has been the most regular place we play and every show we’ve done here has been awesome. It’s a cool club. In my opinion this is one of the only rooms of it’s kind in town. You could have pretty much any kind of music here and it’ll work. But it especially works for the kind of music we are doing. We’ve played rock clubs, which are cool, it just doesn’t have the same vibe. I mean, we wear suits. In this room wearing suits feels right.
Nooky Jones debut album release party
With: Aby Wolf, Eric Mayson and DJ Sean McPherson (Friday); Pho and DJ Sarah White (Saturday)
When: 10 p.m. Fri. June 30, Sat. July 1
Tickets: $12/$15; more info here and here