Con Brio on Self-Reinvention and Singing With Spirit

Step inside a Con Brio show on a given night in San Francisco, and you’ll hear a warm blend of sounds flowing from the stage: Trumpet, saxophone, electric, guitar, keyboard — and the raw, almost unnervingly strong vocals of 22-year-old Ziek McCarter, who often seems to be channeling a young Michael Jackson. Fusing dirty funk, psychedelic music, Afro-soul, electronic, and R&B sounds, the five-piece band is an experimentation in and of itself: Though the band has been together and playing around S.F. since 2009, it’s undergone a couple of lineup changes over the past year, and its collaborative sound has grown right along with it.

Ahead of Con Brio’s show at the Rickshaw Stop tomorrow, Friday, Nov. 7, where band members will be celebrating the release of “Give It All,” the first single off the upcoming EP Kiss the Sun (which premiered today via Relix) we caught up with McCarter, keyboardist Micah Dubreuil, and drummer Andrew Laubacher to hear about the band’s reinvention, inspirations, and aspirations.
[jump] Con Brio is known for its wild live performances — dancing, energetic vocals, and improvisation.  Is it difficult getting that same energy to transfer over into recordings?
Ziek: I think both evoke emotion as far as how you approach it, but it’s completely different. I think we bring a lot more energy to live shows, because we also bring whatever is going on that day with us.

Micah: Yeah, and the flipside of that, for the record, is that we can add a lot of different sounds and textures to really make it dynamic. Psychedelic vocal delays, extra keyboards, extra parts, and background vocals. We try to make the whole thing breathe methodically and dynamically in a way that can hopefully make it as engaging as a live show, but in a different way.

I understand the single “Give It All” has a powerful backstory, inspired by the influence of Ziek’s father, who passed away a few years ago. Can you talk a bit more about what this song means?
Ziek: “Give It All” is inspired by many different elements of my life, one in particularly being my father…and my father falling in love with my mother. I like to look at that song like if my dad could sing a song about my mother what would it be? That is how I approached it, as if I was his spirit singing. Which is also really important because Con Brio means “with spirit,” so I take that into high consideration when I sing.

What were your goals for the EP that’s coming out in January?
Andrew: It’s like a whole new ball game, it’s a whole new band. We’ve added personnel, changed personnel, and it’s a completely different project at this point [than when the band started in 2009]. We’re really excited to have some recordings that represent what we are today, and what we’re going to become. And we’re really excited about the songs we got to work on together because after spending so much time together as a group in the studio and getting to know each other and the way we all work musically and personally — it’s been a great ride, and we get to share something we’re all so proud of.

You mentioned the name Con Brio means “with spirit”?
Micah: The name, ha, it’s really hard to nail down. We went through a lot of terrible options before we fell on this one. But yes, it’s an old classical music term meaning “with vigor” or “with spirit”…we felt like it captured the spirit of the musicians. All of us want to give as much as we can to the audience and to each other, [Con Brio] reflected that well. It’s a little bit vague and a little bit mysterious being in another language, too. It gave us all that to work with.

Your music is a very unique conglomeration of sounds. Where do you find your inspiration?
Andrew: Oh man…so many different places. For me, it can be music that I’m listening to or have listened to. It can be a book that I just read, it can be a conversation that I just had with friends that sticks with me. It’s from life, from living all these different things. And with music we get a release for that. We can share what we’re thinking and feeling. 

Ziek: Specifically for this record, they say art is a reflection of life, so of course it comes from my life. Musically, Micah wrote most of the trills on the record. Across the stage, the melodies come through me.

Micah: A lot of it is inspired from each other. I’m writing music that I want people to get excited singing over, Andrew to enjoy drumming to. Historically, it comes from James Brown, all the great masters…Stevie Wonder. Hip-hop, soul, D’Angelo, Prince, Michael Jackson. And whatever the funky stuff that’s happening now with electronica is. It’s bringing in this world that we’ve spent so much time listening to and hearing, trying to bring out different elements, and then channel them with a bunch of other people into this one moment. Then this whole other lyrical approach on top of it.

Andrew: Also, it’s sort of the way we answer your questions. We all chip in and say stuff. That’s the same when we’re working musically. It’s really inspiring. I’ll say, “Oh man, I have this idea,” and someone will take it and twist it and go a whole new direction and I’ll say, “That’s even cooler than what I was just thinking.” Everyone is shooting off ideas and we run with them. That in itself becomes inspiring while we’re working on it. The way we’re working on it.

What can we expect for the show on Friday?
Micah: We’ve been working on these recordings for a long time, and we’re really excited to share them with the world. It’s the culmination of a lot of work, and it’s going to be a good show.

Con Brio plays the Rickshaw Stop at 9 p.m. tomorrow, Nov. 7, with fellow locals Guy Fox, $12-$15;

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