Funk/soul band The New Mastersounds are, according to their social media profiles, split between Leeds, England and Denver, CO.
That in itself is a fascinating combination of cultures; Leeds, while vibrant, is an archetypal northern English city — dark and urban. It doesn’t have the outdoorsy attraction of metro Denver, nor its extreme seasons.
But that dichotomy is a comfortable one for this band. Guitarist Eddie Roberts is the trans-Atlantic journeyman, having moved to the States a decade ago.
“We started playing in the U.S. in 2004, realized that this is where our biggest audience is gonna be, and then started playing here a lot,” Roberts says. “Eventually, in 2010, because I’m the band leader and manager, I realized that I needed to be in the U.S. Actually, I moved to San Francisco — I was there 2010 to 2013. Bounced around the country and finally settled in Denver because that’s where the woman I married was living. The rest of the band are still in Europe — two in the U.K. and one in Spain.”
The band is completed by drummer Simon Allen, bassist Pete Shand, and keys man Joe Tatton, plus recently added guest vocalist Lamar Williams Jr. When Roberts relocated to the States, there was no question of breaking up the band or finding a new New Mastersounds.
“With it being 20 years, there’s so much ESP,” he says. “We’ve been playing together for so long. And really, we were playing together before the 20 years. I played with the bass player in different other projects, the drummer in different other projects, so we’ve probably known each other and played together for knocking on 30 years. There’s so much musical history there, we just get together on the road and away we go.”
Roberts likes to describe the band’s sound as “The Meters on steroids,” which is cute but there’s a lot more to the jam band-funk blend.
“The original band was from Leeds but we now have this vocalist Lamar Williams Jr. with us — we made an album and released that in September,” he says. “He’s out of Atlanta — he’s the son of the bass player of the same name, Lamar Williams. So our sound has changed a little bit recently, it’s become more soulful. It used to be straight up funky jams. Instrumental. Now, we’ve got this vocal element to it which we’re really enjoying and audiences are really enjoying. He’s probably on about half the set with us. That’s debuting material from the new album.”
That new album is Shake It, which came out on Roberts’ own Color Red label. The name of the imprint recalls the state that he now calls home; the jam band scene in the Denver area has helped the band settle.
“I had so many friends here and there’s such a great scene here,” Roberts says. “I actually moved from San Francisco to New Orleans and then New Orleans to Denver so I definitely hit some of the best cities in the U.S. The new album came out on the label Color Red, which is the label that I started in Colorado, Color Red meaning Colorado.”
The New Mastersounds celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2019, and Roberts can look back on some impressive achievements in those two decades.
“We played quite a few shows with Art Neville,” he says. “That was incredible. We’ve played Fuji Rock a couple of times in Japan, which was incredible. 150,000 people and not a single piece of litter anywhere… Playing the Fillmore in San Francisco was huge. It was before I’d moved to San Francisco, and I remember phoning back to the U.K. and realizing that I was standing under a photograph of Jimi Hendrix playing there — I was pretty overwhelmed… Pretty incredible for a kid from Swansea and a band from Leeds.”
It’s perhaps not surprising then that he’s not particularly chomping at the bit to live in the U.K. again. He does like the occasional visit, mind you.
“I’m from Wales originally anyway, and I go back to Wales quite a bit,” he says. “But I went to music school in Leeds and then ended up staying there for quite some time. We just played a 20-year anniversary of the club where we originally played and it coincided with the 20 years of the band, and that was great. A real homecoming, a celebration of the 20 years.”
On the other hand, you can’t keep him out of San Francisco. Despite moving away, Roberts returns to our city regularly and he’s back with the New Mastersounds this week to play two nights at The Chapel.
“I have so many great shows there and I’m always looking to do little shows there,” he says. “I’ll come and do the Boom Boom Room. Just do little shows like that to keep my finger in the city. San Francisco has always been a big place for us. We actually played the Boom Boom, that was the third show we ever played in the U.S.”
These sets will be their first with Lamar Williams Jr. in San Francisco, adding an extra edge.
“It’s gonna be a nice change from the usual Mastersounds jams,” Roberts says. “We’ve got two nights and we’re gonna get to stretch out a bit, which is kinda nice. We’ve got this great band Josh Hoyer and Soul Colossal opening for us. I’m just producing their album on Color Red — that’s gonna be coming out next April or May. He’s a soul powerhouse and it’s a great band. So it’ll be a good old holiday celebration.”
As the band enter their 21st year (they’ll be legal), a holiday celebration seems entirely appropriate.
The New Mastersounds play with Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossol at 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 27 and Saturday, Dec. 28 at The Chapel.