Interview: Southern Cookin’ in Brooklyn With THE GOLD MAGNOLIAS

Based in NYC, The Gold Magnolias are a fast-rising group of southern soul patrols that can play with the best of them. Their blend of saxophone-heavy funk with upbeat rock & roll is a recipe that instantly gets listeners on their feet. After witnessing this firsthand at One-2-One Bar in Austin, I was able to catch up with members Hudson Muller (Vocals/Keys) and Ryan Anselmi (Saxophone).

From left: Ryan Anselmi (Saxophone), Evan Felts (Vocals/Keys/Guitar), Daniel Foose (Bass), Hudson Muller (Vocals/Guitar), Jeff Barton (Drums)

(Ryan initially on the call)

Michael Gunter: Hey Ryan – really appreciate you taking the time to work with us. We’re big fans of your music.

Ryan Anselmi: Thanks man! I know Hudson is going to be joining us as well. He’s probably still working out in Brooklyn, while I’m currently in Manhattan. I work in the Village at The New School – I’ve been teaching here since 2008.

MG: Wow – how do you balance it all?

RA: For years there were definitely days where I would have a gig until 2 or 3am, and then I’d be back at the school at 8am the next day. I mean that’s what I moved here for, so I’d rather do that than not.

MG: Damn! That’s admirable.

RA: Or insane (laughs) – one or the other. I get the privilege of teaching the incoming classes, like theory and basic ear training, and I have some saxophone students. It’s a mixed bag with each semester, and as each semester’s needs come in, I just play whatever roll they need me. Some of my students (ex: Camila Meza, Yotam Silberstein) have gone on to do some pretty cool stuff.

MG: So that means you’ve been to Fat Cat?

RA: Oh yeah! I used to play there quite a bit. At one point I had friends that ran the bar and worked the door, so I pretty much lived there. I’d play there, hang out, then go to work, play there, hangout…I learned a lot and met a ton of cool people.

MG: Is that where you got introduced to the Gold Magnolias? Where did it all begin for you?

RA: After I moved here from Kansas City in 2005, I started meeting folks and playing around the city. Daniel Foose (Gold Magnolias, Bass) and I met at a jazz gig at 'Garage'. We played together quite a bit, and he invited me to sit in with his friends in Brooklyn. At the time I thought – and I still do – that Daniel is quite the musician. So I was pretty intimidated and thought that I’d never be able to hang. But I finally caved in, and I met Evan (Gold Magnolias, Vocals/Keys/Guitar) and Hud (Gold Magnolias, Vocals/Guitar). It was a blast – they felt like old friends immediately. We just jammed, and it took off from there.

MG: Where do you guys play?

RA: We effectively call Jeff (Gold Magnolias, Drums) and Evan’s house the Magnolia Motel because it’s a spot where we hold rehearsals and record while other artists come in and out. One of the reasons for that traffic is because Evan has built a home studio.

MG: I love it. And how are you able to prominently incorporate the sax? And does having a multi-instrument background help in that sense?

RA: It definitely does. The core group is just the five of us, and we really…we just jam. Hudson and Evan will bring a sketch in – like a skeleton of a song. Maybe in an “A-B-A-B” form – chorus, verse, chorus. And then we try not to drill too deep into it – just have fun with it, you know? Try this person with this instrument, maybe get David in here to play piano on this…and it blooms into this larger thing.

It really starts with Evan and Hud – they’re the major songwriters of the group. Daniel, Jeff, and I have brought a couple of sketches in, and we’re recording them. They’re fun, and everybody came to the table to flush them out, but I think the gems really come from when Evan or Hud sketches a story.

(Speak of the devil – Hudson joins the call)

Hudson Muller: Hey guys!

RA: Hey Hud!

MG: We were just talking about the band’s songwriting and recording process through the Magnolia Motel. We’d love to get your take on what everybody brings to the table and how those jam sessions turn into finished songs.

HM: (Evan and Jeff) have really done a lot of work on the place to make it sound good by putting up all the acoustic panels with a bunch of recording equipment. Usually Evan or myself will bring a song to the table, although recently we’ve all been bringing stuff. We’ll hash it out, incorporate everyone’s ideas through several takes, and cut a demo.

MG: Does the fact that you have that studio at your discretion give you more freedom?

HM: Yeah! We’re able to hear a song back and go “this part is too long”, “this part we should cut”, etc. Things like that gives us a pretty good idea of what needs to happen with each song. We haven’t done a ton of collaborations (with other artists that come through the studio). I know Evan plays a lot in the work that he’s producing. But that’s something we’ve talked about – playing with guest artists or having somebody come sing on a track. That might be something for the future.

MG: Going back to the sound of The Gold Magnolias – you hear everything from blues, soul, country, funk, and anything in between.

HM: It’s pretty diverse. In a nutshell, we’d say it’s southern soul, rock & roll, rhythm, and blues. And we pull in some country since my background is more of a songwriter and a storyteller. A lot of the other guys come from a jazz or rock & roll background.

RA: My influences have been jazz, blues, and playing in rock & roll bands. Everybody here has a large pallet that they’re drawing from. It’s fun because we’re not stuck necessarily or pigeon-holed in one area. We can cross-pollinate different genres without having to worry about it not sounding like something specific.

'Southern Man' off the album The Gold Magnolias

MG: Hudson – your roots are in Austin, right?

HM: Yeah - I had a band in Austin for years. Dan and I grew up there. I felt that the things I was doing in Austin were wrapping up, and I had some good friends up here (in New York City) that were doing good things musically. I thought it would be a good place to try to continue growing and explore some new directions and sounds.

Austin is always going to be home for me, no matter how much it changes. My friends are there, and my family lived there until about a year ago. It’s still the city I grew up in, and I’ve got a lot of love for Austin and Texas in general. The music scene there is amazing, and I feel like everybody in Austin…they don’t have so much going on that you have to schedule everything (laughs). You can call up your friends at any time to come over and jam.

MG: Can’t argue with that – sounds like Austin is a lock for all future tours.

RA: We do an annual dip-down in the fall that cuts through our hometowns – Raleigh, Kansas City, Austin, and Tallulah, Louisiana (where Evan is from). Getting in touch and going back to those wells of nourishment and inspiration really does make a difference in sustaining the music we want to make. For example, getting to see Jimmy Vaughan two nights at C-Boys in Austin is drawing from the well of inspiration to write. The more we get together as a band, the more we can help each other flesh out ideas. We were just talking last night at rehearsal about the potential of making yet another record.

(Emphatic fist pump on my end of the line)

I think songs for us seem to come in waves…like a batch of six or eight at a time – and we work those by playing, performing, and refining them until we eventually put out a record. We’ll be bringing some new music we were working on last night. (Starts chanting) “Gumbo baby, Gumbo! Right Hud?”

HM: Yeah man! We’re putting some new songs together right now, including going back to some older ideas and trying to bring them home. We have several recorded that we were going to put out as an EP, but I think we’re going to lay them out as singles to spread things out over a few months.

MG: We’re looking forward to it. What do you view as the next big step for this band?

HM: Ryan’s got our 5-year plan (laughs). I’m more of an improviser – we’re a group of guys that love playing music together, and I just see that continuing. We’ll keep writing, recording, and doing all the things that bands do. It’d be great to say, “let’s play the big festivals and get on a major label” and so on, but that’s not really what we’re shooting for. We just love making music together and continuing to grow as songwriters. I love working with these guys.

The Gold Magnolias' debut self-titled album (c. 2011) and the more recent Sail On Glamdog (c. 2015) offer a wide-range of feel-good tunes, from the bluesy 'Easy Money' to the funky 'The Dirty French Fry'. Top hit 'Brooklyn Streets' recently clipped one million plays on Spotify, so be sure to check out all of their music via CD or your favorite streaming platform. And to all of our NYC friends - don't miss their show this Friday, 3/16 at Rockwood Music Hall.

#folk #funk #soul #blues #brooklyn #austin #austinmusic #brooklynmusic #goldmagnolias #southernmusic #indiemusic #musicreview

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