If it wasn’t for the Wu-Tang Clan, most people wouldn’t think twice about Staten Island. Before the Wu put the borough on the map circa 1993, people equated the area more with landfills than anything else. Even now, Staten Island remains New York’s forgotten fifth borough, connected only to Brooklyn by the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Unless you’re hopping on a ferry, there’s no easy way to get into money-making Manhattan. It’s this disconnect with the city that puts Staten Island’s Budos Band in a strange predicament: a no man’s land of sorts, which its members curiously don’t mind existing in.
Having first made a name across the Verrazano about five years ago, there was a time when this eleven-piece Afro-Soul collective was actually considered a Brooklyn band. Even now, though some of its members have migrated to King’s County, repping Staten Island has become a core part of the Budos Band identity.
“There’s this falsehood [in] saying we’re a Brooklyn band ‘cause there’s so many bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs…that are kinda getting big out of Brooklyn,” explains founding member and drummer Brian Profilio. “I guess it’s this hometown pride like, ‘We’re from [Staten Island] and we’re not lying about it.’ We’re not trying to sound like we’re hipsters out of Brooklyn.”
Baritone saxophonist Jared Tankel, who’s originally from Rochester, New York, agrees. “Everybody’s a Brooklyn band these days and it’s kind of like, ‘You know what? Screw that.’ We’re from Staten Island and especially the guys that are from there originally rep that hard.”
Whether they live in their hometown hood or in Harlem, every Budos member convenes on the North Shore area of Staten Island every week to practice in their nondescript headquarters, in what Tankel describes as a “cracked out neighborhood.” That goes for the whole unit: Profilio, Jared Tankel, Andrew Greene, Dan Foder, Tom Brenneck, Mike Deller, Dame Rodriguez, Vincent Balestrino, Rob Lombardo, John Carbonella Jr., and Dave Guy.
Tankel adds that this unsightly area and meeting ground provide the perfect inspiration for his group’s grimy cadence. “It goes with the whole vibe of trying to make songs that sound like old 45s that you find on the floor somewhere—that sort of dusty old funk/soul sound,” he says.
The Budos Band has gone through several transitions in this rugged practice space since unofficially coming together almost a decade ago. What began as a stab at classic soul/funk in the vein of The Meters transitioned into an obsession with Afrobeat, which has lead to their current sound – their self-dubbed, “Instrumental Staten Island Afro-Soul.” No doubt the description is a mouthful, but it perfectly sums up the songs heard on their 2005 self-titled debut and especially on their new album, II (both released on Daptone Records).
“Afro-Soul I think is the best description for our music. It just has that Afro feel to it, and even more than funk, it has a real soul to feel to it,” explains Tankel. “And that’s certainly a lot of the music that we’re listening to these days—old soul 45s. I think that’s a big influence for us.”
With II, it’s easy to see that inspiration. Brisk ‘n buttery, horn-soaked songs like “Mas O Menos” sound like they’ve been lifted straight out of a car chase scene from an early-70s action flick. And in comparison to the more freeform songs they were playing in 2001, The Budos Band prides themselves in how focused their music has become.
“Before when we wrote longer Afrobeat songs, we kind of felt like everything was sounding the same,” says Tankel. “And creatively, it just wasn’t quite clicking for us. So the tighter funk arrangement definitely works better for us [in] writing songs as well. It’s just a lot easier for us to go in and write a couple songs in one night with this outlook.”
Profilio credits this sharpened songwriting simply to how well the band’s eleven members work together. “Nobody wants to be a star, nobody wants to get rich – no one wants to stand out any more than anyone else,” he explains. “For the most part, most of the songwriting is done by Tom, the guitar player, and Jared, the horn player. So Jared writes the horn parts, Tom writes the rhythm parts, and we’re at a point now if Jared or Tom introduces a song, everybody knows exactly what to do. It’s weird – every instrument just snaps into place.”
Despite the cohesiveness, some would argue that without a vocalist and a leader, Budos Band can only go so far. They beg to differ. In fact, with groups like their friends and label-mates The Dap-Kings starting to blow up playing with Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse, adding a singer is the last thing the crew wants to do.
“From the get-go, four or five years ago, it never really was a question for us,” says Tankel. “Other folks have thought about it, but for us, it was never really an issue.” Profilio argues that “it would just be too much – we don’t need a face or a voice. We have such a strong view of the way our music should be and the way we should present ourselves that if anyone starts pulling some rock star business or anything egocentric, we’re like, ‘What the hell?’ It just doesn’t work with us. Everything needs to be in its spot.”
In another five years, The Budos Band’s output may have evolved from how it sounds today, but you can bet they’ll have no frontman and that Staten Island will still be the heart of it all.